Assembling a 1920’s Tux Ensemble: Part 1 – Buttoned Spats

Having more 20s themed parties and events to attend, together with a great vintage find of an old tuxedo jacket and pants, has entailed my working towards putting together everything necessary to historically suit up my hubby like a “white tie” gentleman from the Jazz Age.

This post is “part 1” of what will more than likely be a total of three, maybe four, total increments to reach a complete 1920’s Tuxedo ensemble.  The other parts will be the shirt (and collar), vest, and a cummerbund or even a bow tie.  For now, I’m starting from the bottom up, with turn-of-the-century gentleman’s shoe spats.  The spats I made for him turned out wonderful, look great, a fit very well.  They were also fun and unusual to make.  I love trying new things!

100_3681a     It is a bit unfortunate that vintage menswear is so scarce.  Thus, I’ve been turning to old and reproduction patterns as of late to clothe my hubby in something to match my own eras of vintage and historic clothing.  However, even vintage and reproduction men’s patterns are not as plentiful as the choices for women, so I was extremely happy to find such a wide selection of historically authentic patterns for men through the company Reconstructing History.  This company is a great resource, not just for patterns, but also for ideas and through historical information.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  white cotton mid-weight twill (one yard was more than enough)RC 1900s gentleman's spats

NOTIONS:  two packs of big ball “La Mode” buttons were the only notion bought; the elastics and thread and bias tape were already on hand.

PATTERN:  Reconstructing History 1007, the downloadable version

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The spats were very easy and quick coming together, they just took me a bit longer to sew because of the machine I was working on.  I wanted to enjoy myself, get to know the sewing machine…more about this later.  The spats were made by me in a total of 5 or 6 hours ( a few evenings worth of a little time), and finished on August 7, 2014.

THE INSIDES:  All seams are clean, mostly hidden, and oh-so-professional looking!

TOTAL COST:  around $5.00

I picked out the Reconstructing History downloadable 1900s gentleman’s spats pattern to make for my hubby.  The downloadable option is great because not only do you save money, but most of all, you get your pattern almost immediately…no wait!  The downloadable option was perfect because I needed the spats done for a party in less than two weeks.  You simply print out the pages, then connect and tape the pages together for the full pattern, similar to Burda Style patterns (see my post here).  Their pattern pieces included the seam allowance, and thus can either be traced out onto something else, or cut straight out of the paper.  Being a relatively small pattern I just used the paper version.  Any changes will just go on a paper note with the spats pattern so I can remember what I did for the next time these are made for hubby. This way if I need to make the spats for anyone else I haven’t changed the pattern itself.

100_3673     The spats pattern is only three simple pieces, with each getting cut out a total of four times if you are lining the spats, and twice each if your spats are not lined.  Personally I would completely recommend lining the spats for a very nicely finished item that is sturdy and not droopy.  A heavier duty fabric also seems to work well for spats as well.

All three of the fabric pieces get sewn together in one, two-seamed, continuous semi-rectangle.  Thus, if you are lining the spats, you end up having four fabric pieces.  As my hubby’s ankles are a bit skinny, I had to do a small adjustment on all four fabric pieces before connecting the front and lining together.  I sewed in a tapering seam of about 1/4 to 1/2 inch from the center front corner seam over the calf to the top of the spats.  Then, with wrong sides out, two of the spats semi-rectangles get sewn together at a time.  I stitched all along three of the spats sides (right side, left side, and the top) and next turned right sides out.  The raw edged bottom got white single fold bias tape sewn on and turned under.  The entire sides and the two seams where the three pieces connected were top-stitched down through all layers.

100_3656     Everything up until now, had been sewn on my “new” birthday present – a late 1930’s Sears Kenmore Rotary sewing machine in impeccable condition, and in a beautiful table/cabinet as well!  It was really fun to get a closer feel for how they did things back in the past, even though there is a decade of difference between the spats and the Kenmore.  I can’t wait to sew more on this gem.  My parents sure know in a good way what will make my special day…I was very surprised and tickled (especially with the giant bag of attachments and thread, some of them silk)!

I went back to my heavy-duty, early 80s standby Singer sewing machine to make my own elastic loop closure strips for the edges of hubby’s spats.  I didn’t want to do that many tiny button holes on the spats and make it hard for hubby to get them on himself.   The pattern itself suggests elastic, and, besides, elastic was starting to become more prevalent in the 20s.  Cutting small sections of cord elastic of about 1 1/2 inches, and marking equalized spaces out on a strip on double fold bias tape, I hand sewed my own “loop tape” to go along the sides of the spats.  Hand sewing the “loop tape” was hard on my hands, but, with a thimble and some good music on for help, it actually went faster than I expected and the finished result was well worth the effort.  I used my heavy duty Singer machine to sew on the “loop tape” along the very edge of the two spats’ left sides.  Then I matched up the spots where the loops are on the spats’ right sides and sewed on buttons in their corresponding places.

100_3449     Last but not least came the strap that goes under the foot in front of the heel.  The Reconstructing History pattern called for elastic and I used some small 1/4 in non-roll white elastic from my stash for the underfoot strap.  After paging through my old reprints catalogs from the 1920’s and 1910’s, I suppose a true historical feature for these spats would have been to have the underfoot strap be more like a belt, with a tiny buckle to loosen and tighten the fit.  However, I knew the strap would more than likely get quite dirty and take much more time that I didn’t have (not to mention where to find such a tiny buckle), so I opted for the easy “elastic” way.  Hubby put the spats on so I could mark (while they were on him) where to sew the elastic underfoot straps on and how long to make them for a perfect fit.

I am excited to see how the rest of the accessories for hubby’s tux look with these spats.  The cotton twill of the spats are a wonderful match with the mid-weight grooved gabardine he picked out for the main body of his vest.  Think of the actor Jean Dujardin in the movie “The Artist”; that will be my idea of hubby in his finished tux ensemble.  He’ll be a “Dapper Dan” man!

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Decked Out In Red, 1946 Style

This Christmas, I celebrated the season in style – handmade vintage style to be exact.  My finished dress in one of my #1 best made project so far, taking into account the high quality fabric and details which are involved.

My best 1940’s hat, complete with pristine condition feathers, rhinestones, and netting, was worn to suit posing in my new fancy dress.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The dress is made using a 100% wool medium weight gabardine, with an excellent soft drape.  It is in a deep, royal red color.  I believe I bought it at a JoAnn’s store, back in 2011.  Wool gabardine is a very rare find in the stores of this town, so when I saw this fabric (the only bolt of its kind, all sad and lonely) I picked up over 3 yards of such a prized find.  After my dress, I still had a nice 3/4 yard chunk of this fabric leftover to go towards cutting some better fitting sleeves.  The lining for my dress is a basic red cling-free poly lining, bought just before making the dress.

NOTIONS:  I had to buy most all of the notions for this dress because I wanted to be very specific with the finished look.  I bought matching thread (Mettler Metrosheen and a Dual duty), a side zipper, and buttons for the wrist closures which matched the big buttons I already had for the bodice closure.B5281

PATTERN:  “Retro” Butterick #5281, a reprint of an original year 1946 no. 3935 pattern.  Even though Butterick released this pattern back in 2008, I believe it’s still in circulation. 

 TIME TO COMPLETE:  Oh my!  Too long for my taste.  I probably spent more than 30 hours to make this dress over the course of 2 weeks.  It was finally finished on December 19, 2013.  Later, In December of 2017 I came back and gave this dress the better fitting and detailing it deserved.

 FIRST WORN:  to my maternal side of the family get-together, the Sunday before Christmas.  It is held at a historic German building, now a restaurant, and I think my bright red dress matched the festive, old-world style decorations inside.  Boo hoo, it was too dark inside for any pictures of the place.

TOTAL COST:  I’m not that sure, but it probably is a bit over $30.  That is more than my normal cost, but worth it in the end.  Don’t forget, the total cost was mostly spent 3 years ago anyway.

B5281-drawing      As I usually do, I checked plenty of reviews from other seamstresses who have made this same reprint, and I ended up just getting all around confused.  So many others have made this dress and none of them were really consistent with any one B5281 modelproblem, but more than one mention of tight sleeves, generous bust ease, and difficult neckline pleats perked my attention.  Looking ahead for these traits, I covered my behind (ahem…) by adapting some of the construction while slightly changing just a few of this dress’ details.  I wanted my dress to be quite close to the original, and similar to the model on the Butterick web page (at left).  I’m hoping my small variations to B5281 make it so much more elegant and practical.

I tried to fit this dress better when it was still at the cutting stage by doing my now normal wild grading technique. My front bodice is an 8 graded at waist to a 10, my back bodice is a 10 graded to a 12 at waist, the skirt half is a solid 12, while the sleeves are a 10.  Crazy isn’t it…but, hey, it has always worked great so far.  However this dress still doesn’t fit quite right, even after coming back and re-adjusting it, so I’m chalking my problems to a very poor reprint of a vintage original.

The first big change to the construction process was to sew the lining and the dress together as one.  This way if any fitting adjustments are needed, such as to the shoulders or sleeves or darts, I can fix issues without a headache of unpicking.  The bodice front, with its lining having a separate fit with darts, and the skirt portion, which is hanging free from the waist down, are the only exceptions.  To have the lining fit over the inside of this dress like a separate 2nd glove sounds nice, but I’ve done dresses like that before, and had my share of grief from that design, so I wasn’t ready for that with this dress.  Besides, I have my own favorite way of making my handmade clothes look professional – French seams!  Every seam is French seams, except for the bottom hem and flat felled seams inside the sleeves.  See ‘inside out’ picture at right.

I didn’t have any problems with the side neckline pleats, but I completely understand how easy it could be to totally mess up. Those three little neckline details are awfully close to some seams and are a bit slanted, too.  The neckline shape of my dress happily turned into an inverted rectangular shape according to the pattern – a few bloggers complained their versions of B5281 became an exact square neckline, for some reason.  Just make sure not to let the gathers at the end of the pleats get bunched into or pull at the neckline seam.  I even added seam tape into the whole neckline and shoulders to make sure everything keeps a perfect shape.  My very best, red letter recommendation is to PLEASE do all the markings, transfer them precisely, and sew directly on them without any cutting of ANY corners until you’ve made sure it’s alright.  Taking your time and being as precise as you can be will basically assure those details turn out the same as the pattern.  Be warned, though, the bodice alone did take up about half of my whole working time on this dress.  Also, the fullness to side shoulder pleats really don’t blend in that well with the rest of the dress as the cover drawing led me to believe.

Now, not that I am against pure decorative purposed items, but why add buttons across the side bodice closure and have them do nothing?!  I couldn’t do that.  So I cut some bias strips to sew my own tiny tubing to use as loop closure, and added them into the front seam at exactly 1 1/2 inches away from the side seams.  Voila!  Only one heavy duty snap was needed to be hand sewn to the inside near the neckline to help hold up its shape.  Utility and decoration are now married with this configuration, showcasing my prized “La Mode” Vintage line of buttons.  I had been keeping these two buttons with my B5281 pattern, since the button card says they’re circa 1920 to 1940.  They’re quite the statement pieces which were needed here, I think.

On that “purely decorative” vein, I took the next step and made loop plackets at the wrist of my sleeves to match the neckline.  The pattern called for two small zippers and I want to do this feature to a dress or top at some point, but not on this project.  Matching my neckline buttons made finding some smaller wrist closure buttons a slight challenge which hubby and I conquered together.  My wrist closure was sewn in a manner I learned from doing the sleeves of this project, and its something I’m quite proud of how it looks and turned out.  You simply do a small hem along the sleeve end and turn the hem up, right sides together, so it’s aligned with the opening.  Then, I slipped my loops in the seam of one side and sewed both corners together.  Trim seams and turn them right sides out and just like magic I had a perfectly finished hem cuff.  I hope my picture reveals some light on my technique.

The sleeves had been on the edge of needing some extra ease to allow for some “reach room”.  After a few wearings, I was tired of being restricted to merely sitting pretty and having trouble even so much as adjusting my hair, so I gained the gumption to add a professional sleeve gusset and adapt the fit.  First, I slashed and spread open the sleeve caps, doing the traditional large arm adjustment.  Then I cut the sleeves out on the bias of the fabric, as this gives them much more ‘give’ merely from the shifting adjustability of cross-grain cuts.  I also made a simple extended triangular gusset to give me some extra added room to move.  These changes made my sleeve look like a 1940s era sleeve I am used to rather than the skinny sleeves on the reprint.  Finally, I made a very simple hem to the wrists of the sleeves. I know, I know…I spent all that time to make the button wrist closures on the original sleeves.  However, I just wanted a sleeve that fit well more than I wanted a fancy sleeve for the second time around.

The zipper here is probably one of my best installations, even with the tricky gathers along the side.  This is probably because I came back to unpick the machine stitching and sew a hand stitched zipper installation.  Hand sewing this tricky area is really the best way for a tight and precise zipper.  Those side gathers are such a small detail to add in there, but they perfectly compliment the rest of the dress.

To be honest, at first I really didn’t like the dress on myself that much.  I thought it looks more obviously vintage than many of my other past era patterns and the bright red is like a punch in the eyes.  However, in this deep red color and expensive fabric, it does have a very classic, professional, suit-type of aura unlike anything in my closet.  Once I wore my new dress, I absolutely loved it.  The skirt portion hangs beautifully and the L-panel which goes across the tummy and hangs down is the best compliment ever for a woman’s waistline.  I am going to enjoy wearing my 3rd dress from 1946 ( #1 dress here, and #2 dress here).  Hmmm…maybe 1946 is a good year to pick patterns from for more upcoming vintage projects.

When I tell people about this 1946 dress, everyone replies that they can’t wear wool because its too itchy of a fabric.  Goodness!  It’s a shame the general populace has NO idea what quality wool, or wool blends really feel like – otherwise I suppose I would not get those sort of replies.  I do have sensitive skin and this fine wool gabardine used for my dress is not obviously itchy, just soft and smooth.  A recent purchase of a wool/silk blend fabric from Mood N.Y. has further impressed me with the softness that quality wool fabrics can present.  My hope is to convince people, when I wear my 1946 red wool dress, to see what they are missing as a consumer by realizing the nice quality fabrics that RTW store clothes are cheating them from enjoying.

By the way (because I can), here’s a parting gratuitous snowball…