Mystery Mail Order Split Skirt Jumpsuit

This is my attempt at a compromise between skirts and pants, technically ‘culottes’…with a vintage interpretation.  I’m not exactly sure if this is the best look on me, especially with the mid-length wide bottoms, but I love it despite such misgivings because it is so comfy, different, and a creative use of a border design (if I do say so myself).  This is by no means my first jumpsuit (see my others here and here), only my first faux-dress one!

My title alludes to the mystery vintage pattern I used to make my culottes jumpsuit.  It was one of those many mail order patterns of the modern mid-century, but what was particularly bothering me was I could not date the design.  I estimated that the design was early 60’s (or even late 50’s for a stretch) based on the hairstyle alone.  Then, I shared the pattern on Instagram, and someone apparently knew enough based on the pattern number to date this to circa 1962.  I still don’t know what company or newspaper this particular one came from, and if anyone can tip me off, please, do share!  For now, though at least I know what decade to understand this…but whatever past time it is from, I like my new and unusual jumpsuit!

This is my submission for the “Sew Together for Summer” challenge of 2019, co-hosted by the blogger at “Sew Sarah Smith” with the Instagrammers Suzy at “sewing_in_spain” and Monika at “rocco.sienna”.  This year’s theme is jumpsuits, dungarees, overalls, playsuits, and rompers…something one piece that has bifurcated bottoms.  This garment certainly falls in this category!  However, one is never enough of a good thing so this is just my first part for the challenge…part two will be a full 50’s playsuit, coming soon since the closing date is June 21!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a lightweight chambray cotton denim with a border embroidery stitched along the selvedge; facing in a lightweight plain cotton

PATTERN:  a Mail Order pattern no.1495, ca. 1962

NOTIONS:  I needed lots of thread and bias tape to finish the edges (chambray frays like crazy otherwise), with some interfacing and four waistband style hook-n-eyes

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This took me about 10 to 12 hours to make and was finished on May 18, 2019.

TOTAL COST:  just under $30

Whatever company this pattern was from, I am impressed.  For such a simple, unassuming line drawing and such a basic looking pattern (unprinted tissue, simple instruction sheet) it was sneakily complex.  The entire neckline and shoulder strap was one large and unusual shaped continuous piece that took copious amounts of pins, patience, and expertise to make correctly.  The pleating needed precise marking at the cutting out stage and lots of ironing afterwards.  Happily, I didn’t have to deal with much fitting issues – according to my tissue fit and preliminary measurements, this mystery mail order pattern ran one size smaller than what was listed, and I was correct.  Other than having to adjust this jumpsuit’s slightly long torso, it turned out pretty much perfect for me as it was straight out of the envelope.

Split skirts have interesting construction, especially when they are pleated like this one.  They also make for very large pattern pieces!  The deep pleats that meet at both the center front and back hide the crotch seam and make it look like a skirt.  I figured correctly that it made a better box pleat to sew the center fold-line together from the inside rather than just top-stitching the creases down next to one another, as the pattern instructed.  Depending on how much wear this jumpsuit sees, I might come back later and embroider on some “arrow heads”, the proper (and beautiful) way to stabilize the ending point of a pleat to prevent or stop a hole from forming in the fabric.

I normally hate box pleats in skirt backs because they rarely stay looking nice between sitting and everything life calls for, but a good hot steam of the iron keeps them pretty good.  The box pleating in the back was a lot more challenging than the front, needing much hand stitching, because of the center zipper running through the middle.  You are basically trying to have a fold line end right where the edge of the zipper teeth are!  I made sure to have a bit extra ease in the fit because if something like this fit snugly the back pleats over the zipper would not come together at all and only pull apart.

A border running above a hemline is rather conventional, so my favorite part of this jumpsuit is the way I have the embroidery border wrap around the neckline, too.  It really balances out all the interest at the hemline, in my opinion, and brings just enough attention to what might be lost otherwise – the fabulous strap design which is the closing method.  This jumpsuit has wrap-over-from-the-back straps, pretty much like overalls, that end as wide, cornered tab closings on the front of the bodice.

The pattern called for buttons to close the shoulder tabs, but they are the only thing holding up the 2 something yards of fabric in the skirt.  Thus I opted for two strong sliding hook-and-eyes to close each strap…but with the back zipper I really could have just sewn the front tabs down permanently and not had them workable.  Oh well!  It’s always way cooler to have the tab closings actually work, and at least I know what garment to raid if I ever need some last minute notions for another project.

The open, eyelet-style embroidered border presented several creative challenges.   First off, the dress’ neckline and straps needed a facing to complete the eyelet without making it obvious the openings in the embroidery designs were being filled in.  The only answer to that was to make the facing a similar weight plain white cotton, and interface it in likewise cotton interfacing, as well.  Secondly, after completely hand stitching the entire neckline and shoulder straps and tab closings, I was bracing myself to do more of that to the hem.  However, the hemming was easy once I just figured on following along with what was already there.  Then I was able to use a close zig-zag stitch (much like a loose button hole stitch) on my sewing machine and just follow along with the scalloping of the bottom to the border.  I’m tricky like that!  Hubby shook his head at me like I was cheating out of doing the hem right – but hey…I’ll save myself both time and bodily misery where I legitimately can.

Speaking of misery, in order to give my culotte jumpsuit a ‘test run’, I wore them over to frolic and play in my parents’ backyard (the backdrop for our pictures).  Yup, my new jumpsuit is certainly great for jungle gym climbing, puppy dog chasing, and general child level play!  However, my ‘test run’ (watch it here) sure caused me so much achy arms and tired legs for the next several days afterwards!  I suppose I need more play clothes like this if only to have a reason to exercise while having fun like I did that day.

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Peace, Love, and a Jumpsuit

Finally…at long last, I have made my first jumpsuit and I love it like I never thought I could!  Wearing this, I have mostly got over my feeling that I am wearing either a grown-up’s baby onesie or nightwear pajamas, and am loving how comfortable a jumpsuit is…although it does feel weird to have both a top-and-bottom without two separate pieces (besides being even weirder to use the toilet)!  I went for the Disco era as my source and inspiration for this…the era when the jumpsuits were killer and at the height of their perfection, in my opinion.  A jumpsuit of the 70’s was the body-conscious and fuss-free dressing option preferred for superstars like Abba, Cher, Bianca Jagger, and Diana Ross…so many also flaunted their look that decade!

I wanted a slimming, detailed, and utilitarian option classic to the 70’s era which had a slight nod to the military reference in this garment’s history.  The pattern I used had everything I wanted, it was bought for 25 cents locally, and yet it made my first dive into jumpsuits so much more challenging than already was the case!  It was very petite in height as it was for teens, and in a very small size proportions, so it needed dramatic work on my part to even consider it being usable.  I am not only impressed with my re-grading and re-sizing (I can’t help but pat myself on the back here), but what amazes me is how this pattern was a “Learn to Sew” project for teens…complete with a visor-style hat!  This would probably be labelled an intermediate pattern, or even an advanced one, today.  This helped me gain further respect for the sewing skills expected of even the modern 1970s.

My outfit is completed with my mother’s vintage sunglasses bought in 1969, new old-style leather platform sandals, and my husband’s guitar!  This was the era of peacefulness compared to the tumultuous 60’s so here I am hanging out in a city park, on a calm Sunday afternoon.  The 70’s, dubbed the “ME Decade”, were focused on equality, self-expression, personal betterment, and awareness…so I even hugged a tree in its honor!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  A medium weight, raised pin-striped twill, in a soft and forgiving 97% cotton, 3% spandex blend.

PATTERNS:  McCall’s #5421, year 1977

NOTIONS:  I needed very simple notions, everything which was on hand already – thread, some interfacing, bias tape, and a long vintage metal zipper down the front.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was made in about 20 hours (not counting time to adjust the pattern) and was completed on May 17, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  Every seam edge is individually bound in pastel yellow ¼ inch bias tape for a neat and clean inside.

TOTAL COST:  A few yards of the twill cost me about $23 (including shipping) from the Etsy shop “Fabric Genie” in California.

I’ll admit, I was ready for a failure here when I started this project and am ecstatic that it is a success.  Not that this was expensive fabric, but it is very nice material that I was terrified to waste both money and time as well on something I could not estimate how it would end up.  I do think that the sizing and design for the pattern are really good (so it wasn’t all my pattern re-sizing work), and some notes that whomever made this before me wrote down were extremely helpful.  The written note to make a 3 inch hem was just what I needed.  Overall, I had to add in 4 inches vertically around the body and two inches horizontally between the chest and the waist.  Usually I re-trace out patterns onto sheer, lightweight medical paper when they need cutting and splicing, but I worked on the original pattern this time.  There was no way I was going to retrace pattern pieces so overwhelmingly one-piece.

You see, for my jumpsuit, the design has not one horizontal seam so the pattern pieces were skinny and just seemed to keep going when laid out.  The neck down to the hem is one long 60 inch length!  There is a front princess seam that runs the length of the side fronts, starting from the armscye seam, over the bust and down through the hips, waist and thigh.  This was a very wavy princess seam on the pattern and I knew that was a good sign for a nice curvy fit.  Otherwise the back was in a basic right and left paneling.

The deep hip pockets and the belt that grazes over the top of them both run into the front princess seam and are attached there so that the middle is left beautifully smooth, lengthening the appearance and focusing on the zipper.  This is why I ‘splurged’ (in my mind) and used a long 20 inch vintage metal zipper from my stash of notions which came with the cabinet for my vintage 1960 Necci sewing machine.  Metal zippers are so sturdy compared to the modern plastic ones, and give a vintage garment an authentic feel when they are added to a sewing project using an old pattern.  Yet the longer the length, the harder to come by…at least in my experience. Thus, I wanted to do things right.  The instructions more or less had you slap it on the seam edge, but I wanted things to look nice so I buried the zipper in between the front and the inner front facing so that the top 6 to 10 inches that I leave unzipped below my neck would be cleanly impeccable.

This military-esque jumpsuit needed a metal zipper.  I possess an authentic WWII flight suit (jumpsuit) and it has a long front metal zipper, even though such a thing was still a novelty at the time.  There was no beating around the bush when it came to making uniform of quality back then – manufacturers made these long metal teeth zippers only for government use so mine is probably post-WWII yet older than the 70’s (with its all-cotton twill tape on the edges).

Besides cleaning up the way the zipper is added on, the only other change I made (not counting re-sizing as a change) was to add binding along the outer edge of the sleeveless armhole.  I needed to bring the top shoulder seam to take out about an inch in the body, and this left the armholes a little more open than I wanted.  In order to not make them any smaller than they would be by facing them and turning the edges in, I made strips of fabric and had these be both the finishing and interest along the edge.  I think that going sleeveless will help this jumpsuit be a real seasonal transition garment, good for spring and fall with a blazer and summer as it is, especially since the fabric color is muted.

I think I owe a good part of my success to my happiness with the fabric I picked out.  This fabric in particular is a novelty pinstripe so it is much more interesting, fun, and ornamental, but nevertheless – I am so sold on a stretch twill for a jumpsuit.  It is stable enough to feel pretty close to a lightweight denim, but stretchy enough to be forgiving in a garment like a jumpsuit that can always benefit from some body-hugging fabric properties.  The whole garment moves along with you when you move, there is no blouse to come untucked!  Of course, this struck me as the style of jumpsuit that was meant for a sensible and durable fabric, after all – not a slinky, fancy, or luxuriant material.  I think either an older vintage form of a jumpsuit or at least an extravagant evening version will be in order in my future projects now that I have made my first one!

In today’s fashion industry, a jumpsuit, playsuit, romper, dungarees and pantsuit are all the same terms used to mean a one piece outfit. This is rather confusing and not true, technically…even though all but the last are all-in-one piece.  A playsuit has short pants legs and is normally only the base part of add-on garments pieces (such as a skirt) to transition between adult play and career time; a romper is a loose-fitting children’s version of a playsuit; dungarees are in heavy material and a coverall for construction work or painting; a pantsuit is generally a trousers with a suit coat (two separate items).  What is a jumpsuit is commonly considered long length pants connected to a one piece body, with or without sleeves or a collar.

Sadly, what is not even considered to be lumped into the ‘all-in-one trousers garment’ inclusion are the wrap-on, easy, breezy and chic beach ‘lounging’ pajamas that were so popular during the 1930s for the warmer seasons while holidaying.  I see them as distant yet distinct relative to jumpsuits.  After all, the first fashionable pyjamas were actually invented for a very somber purpose – for citizens to wear to bed during the First World War in expectation of being roused out of bed (and home) at a moment’s notice in the middle of the night to go find public shelter when there was a zeppelin raid.  WWI air raid pyjamas were an amazing organic item, being created and taken up by the populace as “civilian armour” (before any designer claimed fame for them) and started out as two separate pieces which quickly turned into one for many reasons. They might not have been for jumping out of planes, but they were originally meant for ease in wearing during war…and war is the human tragedy that has claimed a portion the jumpsuit usage ever since.

From there, fashion pyjamas, or the early jumpsuits, became a fashion forward option for relaxing.  From the color-blocked or crazy striped bright and bold versions in cotton, linen, or crepe, to the elevated status of the elegant versions for evening at the hands of Chanel (as early as 1922), Schiaparelli, and Vionnet (see pattern no. 15, year 1937, from the Betty Kirke book), all of whom offered silk satin or jersey options in very full pants legs, the likes of a chic vintage pyjama has not been seen since the emergence of 1970s palazzo style jumpsuits.

A Florentine artist and designer who went by the name of Thayat has the popular claim to fame for creating the first ever jumpsuit in 1919 as a practical piece of clothing worn by parachuters and sky divers (quite literally a suit for jumping!) as well as race car drivers and aviators.  During WWII of the 1940s, it seems as if the jumpsuit had a sole purpose of being for paratoopers or women in service.  Following conflicts, such as the Korean War and especially the Vietnam War, continued and established the jumpsuit, in a very utilitarian and very literal sense of its term.  A jumpsuit used during war is specific to the needs of those who are jumping into unknown situations and require a garment which will stay on, protect, and cover the body as naturally as a second skin, but better, with pockets and straps and handles to be there for your every need.  After all, when preparing for or fighting a war, clothing is the last thing that should get in the way!

In the same breath, jumpsuits have the amazing adaptability to be for every other human need, fashion or otherwise.  In 1937, while studying at Reed College in Oregon, US, fashion designer Emilio Pucci designed a jumpsuit for the college skiing team and ten years later they were featured in Harper’s Bazaar magazine, afterwards quickly ordered for sale in New York’s Lord and Taylor store.  The famous actress Katharine Hepburn gave the jumpsuit a touch of Hollywood glamour when she wore a monogrammed silk one-piece in the 1937 film Stage Door.  The white jumpsuit, embellished with rhinestones, worn by Elvis in his performances during the 1950’s might just about be the most quintessential and commonly recognized, however!  We are so used to it, most of us might not even think of it as a jumpsuit.  The 1960’s youth trend and rebellious societal undercurrents picked up the jumpsuit for the liberated woman, the hippie peace movement, or the man who wanted to be the stud on the dance floor alike.  The panache the 1970s continued to have for jumpsuits was somewhat lost with the exaggerated silhouette, futuristic versions in the 80’s, and the naughty, sexy versions of Madonna and Britney Spears of the 90’s.  Today it seems as if a jumpsuit encompasses anything under sun.  For being such an unusual garment, it sure is versatile both in history and design!

Perhaps the oddest use of a jumpsuit that encompasses all of the garment’s uses and purposes is to be found in the old original Star Wars film trilogy.  Their costumes were the main inspiration to my choosing this design jumpsuit (with pockets) from the decade of the 70’s and in a military olive green.  Did you know that jumpsuits were used liberally in all the three original films as the base for many of the costumes, from the Empire’s stormtroopers (who had plastic ‘armor’ attached to bodysuit-style stretch jumpsuits) to the fighter pilots (whose flight suits were jazzed-up copies of those won by the astronaut crew of Mercury 7 mission, from 1961), to the bounty hunter Boba Fett and his father Janga (their outfits are fiberglass and aluminum parts added to military surplus jumpsuits), and finally Chewbacca (whose costume was a knitted wool jumpsuit base with 15 pounds of yak and mohair sewn on).  I learned all this upon visiting the exhibit “Star Wars and the Power of Costume”, and it was a real eye-opener in many ways.  One major surprise was realizing the secret yet smartly handy jumpsuit usage that blends in so well as a starting point for costumes that send a message of a future that is not that far removed from our own times.

Have I helped you see jumpsuits in a whole new light or at least a bigger picture?  Are you a jumpsuit lover already (if so, what is your favorite style?).  Are you in the “I hate them” camp, or are you on the fence?  Did you Simplicity just came out with a new pattern this week for Star Wars/military inspired flight suit (#8722)?  Can a jumpsuit be considered a garment utilitarian enough to actually be anti-fashion, which is why they have lasted so long in so many incarnations (read the full article discussion here)?  Let me know your thoughts, and in the meantime I will rock the 70’s in my new and only jumpsuit!

Courage, Compassion, and a One-Shouldered Jumpsuit

Inspiration for my sewing comes to me from some unexpected places, sometimes.  For this outfit, it’s mostly coming from the new Wonder Woman movie but also (on a practical level) this month’s Wardrobe Builder Challenge of “Vests, Shorts, Playsuits”.  Both inspiration sources have inspired me to get my courage on and try something I’ve formerly avoided – a jumpsuit.  I went all out with my first jumpsuit and chose to make a real statement piece, using a pattern from one of Burda’s designer features, and even sneakily dividing it up so both top and pants can be worn separately to maximize my options.  I am quite taken by this outfit!  I really get the good and interested looks around me when I wear it.

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About my main inspiration, there literally hasn’t been anything since the Marvel television show Agent Carter that has had me so excited, inspired, and willing to become entrenched in the culture like the new Wonder Woman movie.  If you follow me on Instagram, you might have seen how I went all out when I saw the movie on opening night!  What I most admire about Wonder Woman is that her compassion for others only makes her more powerful – and her strength adds to her beauty in a way that has depth and character.  Her courage is innate, as is her compassion, so she breaks boundaries and expectations – it’s part or who she is and what she feels she has to do!  Her care and concern for others is her driving force, sadly at the expense of herself…much like Agent Carter.

Wonder Woman amazon logoThat said, a full-out Wonder Woman outfit will be reserved for this Halloween.  Until then, I wanted sew something “everyday wearable” to channel the Grecian/Ancient Italian-influenced look Diana had on her Amazon island paradise.  What better way to do that than to choose a design from Dimitri Panagiotopoulos, a half Greek and half Italian designer who founded his label in 2007, featured in the Burda Style April 2017 magazine.  He lets the heritage of his culture influence his lovely designs, and his styles are meant to evoke strength and confidence in a feminine way.  I love how this jumpsuit is so glamorous, bold, yet relaxed all at the same time.  This jumpsuit does take a certain courage and self-assurance to wear, I’ll admit, which can be kind of hard but is also empowering.  What a perfect design and designer to sew a modern day ‘Diana’ outfit!

All it needed was my Wonder Woman armband and head crown to complete the Grecian and DC influence!  I will revert to the fact my son wanted me to buckle and buy the armband and headband set because he now sometimes calls me Wonder Woman…what can I say, I’m soft.  Not to brag but I do think I somewhat look like her put together like this!

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I wanted to slightly call to mind the 1970s jumpsuits as well by wearing my Grandmother’s nice Trifari brand vintage jewelry (jet cabochon necklace and palm leaf earrings) with my sling back, peep toe, gold Chelsea Crew heels.  I’d like to think of my vintage gold belt as an adapted Wonder Woman “truth rope”.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a semi-thick and tightly stable poly-cotton-spandex blend Ponte knit.

PATTERN:  Burda Style pattern No. 121, only in the Burda Style April 2017 issueBurda121 line drawing & pic of Dimitri

NOTIONS:  I had to buy the invisible zipper, but everything else (the thread, interfacing, and hook-and-eye) needed was on hand.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was finished on June 12, 2017 after about 10 hours

THE INSIDES:  left raw as the knit is so stable it doesn’t fray in the least

TOTAL COST:  The fabric came from JoAnn’s Sportswear section, and with the zipper this jumpsuit cost about $30 dollars

As to the sewing part, it was really pretty easy to put together, the biggest challenge came from the pattern running so generously large.  I had to take out about 2 inches overall from the side seams of both the top and pants.  I drafted out the size that I always use in Burda Style patterns so it must have been the pattern.  I remember this problem with the other Burda designer patterns, so I’ll make the assumption that these generally run large and go down a size from now on.

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My changes were small.  First off, I added an extra 5/8 inch to the top bottom hem as I was not going to sew it into the pants but keep it as a separate top.  I did also have to add a small ¼ inch bust dart coming off of the neckline on the right side to shape the sleeveless side.  I made my own bias banding to finish off the neckline edge with a small rolled decorative edge, but merely turned under and double stitched the single armscye’s seam allowance to keep that low key.  I also was able to eliminate the need for a zipper in the top since I was using a knit and making a separate top.

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The pants have very full pleats together with handy pockets, making these comfy but something that makes me self-conscious.  Pleated pants are somewhat hard to like looking down at myself, I feel fat even though they are in a slimming black and do look good when I look at them in a mirror or picture.  Oh well!  At least I am proud of another well done, truly-invisible invisible zipper in the side!

Even though a knit-friendly interfacing seems to be recommended for the pants waistband, I went with a thick and stiff interfacing to support the heavy pants and stay the pleats.  I thought a gathered back to the pants like the design calls for was a bad idea, both for my taste and for the rest of the outfit.  So I merely made a duo of pleats to the back fullness, instead.  I figure I can always turn the pleats into darts if I want in the future.

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Please forgive the folds and creases in the fabric of my jumpsuit.  I cannot use a high heat on this fabric and the on-the-bolt fold seems like it is set on permanent press.  The fabric is so supple and flowing, those unwanted fold lines are just something I have to DSC_0768a-comp,wlive with for now, just wanted to let you know it’s not like I didn’t try.

I see a lot of possibilities with this outfit.  After all, a pair of black pants goes with anything!  The one-shouldered top half (whether worn with or without the matching jumpsuit bottoms) pairs well with the other one-shouldered Burda shirts (post here) that I made a few years back now.

Find the courage to try that new kind of garment to wear, as well as finding the Wonder Woman type of courage to do what is right.  Be strong.  Have compassion on yourself and others – we all need to feel awesome and cared for.  Let some of this carry over to your life and even sewing (why not?) for a truly wonder-ful result!

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