‘Lady in Lace’ – an Early 1920’s Tea Dress

Flapper lace 20s dress at designerwallace     Amongst all the products in the world of fabric and textiles, there is nothing quite like lace which has stood through every century as an icon for everything about being feminine.  Lace especially meant more in the 20’s, as a sort of compliment by contrast, when the silhouette of the era was straight and boyish but the fabric and trim used was supremely beautiful.  This combination of the female “garconne” is most appealing to me in the flowing all lace “afternoon tea” dresses which were popular in the early 1920’s, such as the old original pictured at left.  Such early 20’s dresses hint at so much, they are irresistible – hinting at color by the under-dress while still staying muted, hinting at skin by being all lace but not really showing much, and hinting at freedom by wearing an unconfined and free form but still looking womanly.

Every year I make a special dress as a birthday “present” to myself, and year 2013 birthday dress was my special version of those early 1920’s all lace “afternoon tea” dress combinations.  My lace 20’s dress with contrast under dress was ridiculously easy to make and is incredible to wear.  Worn with my large summer woven linen hat, my dress sets the tone for the few years in the early 20’s when the fashions from the previous decade (Titanic-era) were clinging on before giving way to the full-fledged flapper of Prohibition times (circa 1922).  This has been my go-to dress for fancy summertime occasions – garden parties and tea rooms…here I come!

100_1780THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The lace is a stretch polyester fabric, so inauthentic, I know, but it was on sale on top of being on clearance.  I bought what was left on the bolt, which was just enough to make into a tablecloth, with 2 yards to spare to make my lace 20’s dress.  As for my under dress, I used a 100% polyester interlock in a mint green color.  The interlock knit was a small 1 1/2 yard cut that had been floating around in my stash for what seems like forever.

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed for this project, basically only thread.  I had a small 7 inch piece of cotton lace leftover from this Thanksgiving project, and that lace went across the front of my under dress so I could be able to tell it from the back 🙂  See picture below.
100_1295B5522

PATTERNS:  The dress was made using a modern pattern Butterick #5522, year 2010.  The under dress is more authentic, as I used a Past Pattern No. 501, “Ladies and Misses 1920’s Combination Undergarment”.  I used this Past Pattern No. 501 once before to make these tap pants.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  For both the lace dress and the dress underneath, it took me about 5 hours or less to complete.  Both were finished by August 13, 2013.

THE INSIDES:  The side seams of the lace dress are in French seams, and the neckline is bound in a bias faced lace band.  The under dress is also entirely in French seams (excepting hems, of course).

TOTAL COST:  My interlock knit for the under dress was in my stash for so long, let’s consider it free – and a relief at that to find a use for it, finally!  The lace was bought from Hancock Fabrics for about 80 cents a yard. (Yes, you read that price right…cheap, huh?)  So my total was $4.00.

At first, I had a very hard time deciding what color and length the under dress shouldFrench-chiffon&lace-dress-c_1923-from-the-Vintage-Textile-archives become to make the certain ‘look’ I wanted.  Originally, I was inspired to make this lace 20’s project because of ‘The Historical Fortnightly 2013’ challenge sponsored by Leimomi “The Dreamstress”.  She had a “White” challenge (#15) in the summer, and then she was having a “Green” challenge (#21) later on in October.  I did try out a long white under dress, which I made using the same pattern as for the lace dress, but it made me seem like I was in a bridal outfit.  For some reason, Leimomi’s two challenges appealed to me together, especially when she posted an inspiration “Green” garment like this one at right, dating to 1923.  The final inspiration which helped me decide on going with my mint green color was, ironically, an outfit from a Rose's lace and green day dress combodecade older – a costume dress worn by the character Rose in the 1997 movie “Titanic”.  Thus, my dress is long and skinny, sort of like the “hobble skirt” fashion of the 1910 era, while still having the straight, no-waist, sleeveless style of the early 20’s.  I get the best of both decades with my short 1920’s combination under dress and my coral colored accessories (vintage scarf as a belt and my over-sized hat), just like Rose from “Titanic”.

Just to clarify my use of the term tea gown, I would like to reference to two blog posts from Leimomi “The Dreamstress”.  According to her terminology post (link here) my gown should technically not be called a tea gown.  However, reading the characteristics of tea gowns makes it more of a perfect sense thing to apply that title to this lace creation of mine.  Except for the “wrapper-style” category, my dress outfit certainly has ‘gorgeous materials’, a ‘dress that gets worn over an under-dress’, and an ‘ease of entry’ dressing method.  The ‘slip-on’ feature, to be worn without a constricting corset, of a tea gown is what designates it for the afternoons.  Leimomi’s “Rate the Dress” post from here also mentions the extra fact of the pastel colors of many tea gowns.  If I can check off most all the boxes in the tea gown category, when it comes to my lace dress ensemble, I am confident in using it in my title.  I’ve made another new type of historical garment!

100_1789     I really loved making the under dress.  The first time I made this pattern #501 from Past 100_1794Patterns (when I made tap pants from it), I had the feeling I was going to love this pattern in general, and, boy was I right.  The sizing is perfect – what size seems to be your size will be your right size when it is made.  All the pieces that I have made from the pattern sew together quickly and easily.  It is much appreciated how my under dress turned out so decent, covering up my lingerie straps.  The only tiny alteration to the slip dress was to make two small tucks under the armpits at the top of the bodice.  Those tucks bring in the bodice to fit the bust just a bit better, only remember this would not be possible in a woven material.

Using up my small remnant of lace to mark the front really made my day, as well.  I love to be able to find a way to find a useful purpose for every small bit of what I have on hand!  The little bit of lace also seems to connect the under dress with the over dress, in a ‘themed’ sort-of-way.

For my lace over dress, I was actually experimenting with the fit of Butterick 5522.  Finding the perfect basic shift dress is a little challenging to find, and I wanted B5522 to be one of those “basics”.  Reading the finished garment measurements tipped me off to a perfect fit – this pattern runs very small.  I had to go up a size for everything.  I’ve only had to do this once before, for this dress, and then that was only because I was converting a stretch pattern to be made into a woven fabric.  Generally, I tend to make pattern sizes 8/10, but for B5522 I had to use a 12/14, otherwise it would have been a snug fit which is not the way the dress looks like on the envelope cover’s model.  Now that I know how the dress fits, I can’t wait to make the cover dress with those amazing sleeves.

100_1784     To make the most of my fabric, I folded the lace selvedges into the center of my 60″ lace fabric, so I could cut out the front and back out of only two yards.  The sleeve edges of the B5522 pattern were extended just a few inches so my dress would extend over my shoulders while still being sleeveless.  B5522 doesn’t call for a bias faced neckline – I added this feature because it is always such a clean and professional method of edge finishing.  Two long strips were cut out of my lace, so I could double up the neckline facing.  Lace is so thin and I needed a stable neckline to support the rest of my dress and create a shapely frame for my face.  However, I really didn’t like the open, oval neckline that I ended up with – it is a nice neckline but it did not look at all good on my lace dress.  I was tempted to create a square neckline, but, in the end, I stitched two rows of loose stitches down the center so as to pull the neck into a gathered V-neck (see picture).

In the close-up picture above, you can see in detail how my lace is a really interesting mix of shapes and designs, all put together in a sort of geometric crazy quilt method.  I know my lace isn’t authentic, but all those geometric shapes (mostly hexagons and parallelograms) are the base ideas behind the Art Deco movement of the 20’s and 30’s.  As if I didn’t have enough lace, I also wore my vintage crocheted lace gloves with my outfit…they have geometric shapes on them, too!

100_1785100_1788     I could see having my dress a long, ankle length, being a bit too much, so I wanted to find some way of adding interest and shortening the hem, if only temporarily.  My Hubby came up with the idea of a kind of tie that could pull up/gather the bottom of the dress hem.  I took his great idea just a bit further by making the hem ties out of small 12 inch cuts of random leftover lace trim pieces from my stash.  There are two hem ties: one at 15 inches above the hem, and another at 29 inches above the hem.  Both ties are on the left side.  In the pictures at left and above, you can see my dress gathered up from the lowest level lace tie.  You can almost see the center back seam in the left picture.  My preference would have been to eliminate that center back seam, but it is needed because the two back pieces are shaped nicely and cannot be put on the fold.

I truly feel very cool and comfy buy oh-so-pretty in this early 1920’s inspired ensemble.  It has a different style that is a slight departure from the classic “flapper” ideal, but still apparently vintage, while also being fresh and modern.  That’s a lot for a dress!  Whenever I wear this outfit, it always seems to garner compliments, then astonishment, when I briefly explain how it was easy, simple, and cheap.  More women need to make a dress like this for themselves…it is perfect for all skill levels and is absolutely wonderful to wear.  What could be more fail proof than that?!

100_1775     The luxurious public garden where we took these pictures couldn’t help but remind me of the backdrop of a work of art.  I felt like I was in a perfect dream world, or maybe just coming to life out of a painting by James Tissot, where there are plenty of details and interesting settings.  Please visit my Flickr page, at Seam Racer, for more close-ups and great pictures loaded soon of my lace 20’s outfit at the garden.

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Prohibition? Bah! Time for a Mid-20’s Speakeasy Party Dress

In the history of America, the thirteen years (1920 to 1933) during which citizens were meant to go dry from alcoholic liquids unintentionally became a time for much of the opposite to sobriety.  The era of the “flapper-and-gangster” cocktail drinking crowd was born, and flagrant law-breaking lived alongside the sober and those that loved fun times.

I’ve always loved the history of the 1920’s and 30’s, but recently learned a whole lot more about what was going on in those eras thanks to the exhibit “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition”, from the National Constitution Center.  The engrossing exhibit came to our town’s History museum for a number of months, and I visited several times, wanting to go more just to soak in all the info.  To close the last week of the “American Spirits” exhibit, our History museum put on a “Speakeasy” party, which happened to fall on a special day for me -my birthday.  I had to attend, and go all out I did!  Behold my official, mid-1920’s satin evening party dress!

100_3453aTHE FACTS:

FABRIC:  My fabric is a semi-dull satin, with a pearlized swirl-type of buff finish across the fabric in random places.  The hammered finish on the satin gives it a sort of “ice cold” beauty.  It is in a deep turquoise color, and unfortunately, the fiber content is 100% polyester.  The lace neck shawl is made from a deep forest green stretch lace.  This lace has 1/3 of the flowers as shiny and satiny, but all the flowers are raised in an embossed-style.  Both fabrics are from Hancock Fabrics. 

NOTIONS:  Everything needed was on hand already.  I had the right color thread (I seem to do so much sewing in turquoise) and lightweight interfacing.  The gold buttons to bring in the dress at the hips were bought on a deep sale a few months before my Prohibition dress was made. The deep green and gold back neck closure button came from my hubby’s Grandmother’s stash. (See left picture, to see my detailed photo of the back button and my little spit curls which I stuck down to my skin with hair goop!

100_3465a

Simplicity 4138 back line and front drawingPATTERNS:  My good old standby pattern for making a basic 20’s shift was used again here – Butterick 6140, year 2004 (at left).  This pattern was previously used to make my “Geometric Lines” 20’s tunic.  For my Prohibition dress, I made view G, with the V-neck and the mid-length, except the sleeves were omitted.  Simplicity 4138 pattern (at right), skirt bottom piece of view D, was used to make the two bias flounces for the side of my dress.

B6140TIME TO COMPLETE:  In total, my dress took only 6 to 8 hours to make, and it was finished on August 8, 2014.

THE INSIDES:  Couture touches are everywhere on this dress’ inside.  The entire neckline, shoulder, and armhole openings are covered by a giant one pieced facing which was tricky to sew in, but very nice once finished.  My dress’ side seams are French seams, the bottom hem of both the flounces are done in tiny, time-consuming 1/8 inch hems.  100_3459a

TOTAL COST:  This was an unexpected project, and the materials were a bit more pricy because I wanted something with fine quality and historical accuracy to match with the idea in mind of how I wanted my final creation to turn out.  Everything was on sale, but, even still, I believe the total cost to be no more than $27.00.  This is pretty reasonable, I think, especially since it’s nice as an all-year-round fancy party dress – not just for drinking liquor on the sly “a la 1920’s”!

This dress was the product of much research and inspiration.  My dress’ style of satin has the look and feel of what was popular as a dressy fabric for the 20’s, excepting the fact that it is not a silk like what would have been used back then.  I have always loved the popular asymmetric styled dresses of the 20’s and 30’s, so making something with that design was definitely in mind for my speakeasy dress. In the end, I took a little bit of everything that I liked, and everything which seemed to fit in for the dress, both appearance wise and from the standpoint of a fashion historian.  Here at right is a collage of all my inspiration pictures which explain and justify the authenticity of my Prohibition dress.  Starting from the top left and going clockwise:  a 1922 silk crepe dress by Madeleine Vionnet (Arizona Costume Institute);   the cover envelope of a late 20’s printed McCall pattern #5628;  a bias seamed (Vionnet-style) dress from a French fashion catalog;  a “mid-20’s slip on dress” #925 reprinted and sold by Past Patterns;  and finally, another inspiration collagefashion image from the late 20’s (’27 or ’28).  As you can see, my five different inspiration sources are dating between 1922 to 1928.  However, the main features of my dress, especially the way it poufs out above where it hugs my hips, is a tell-tale shape which would constitute calling my dress a mid- to late-20’s creation.  Thus, I can confidently say that my dress is historically accurate, with the exception of the fabric content, while staying true to my own personal style and taste.  To me, finding such a perfect combination is a match made in heaven.  It’s like finding a little bit of yourself in a historical time past…the true greatness of sewing your own vintage wear.

The basic dress was easily and rather quickly made according Butterick 6140.  Just like when I made it the first time, going down a size from what the chart (on the pattern envelope) shows gave me a perfect fit.  In other words, Butterick 6140 runs generously.  Once compensating for the sizing, it has wonderful proportions for smaller women who don’t have too drastic bust-waist-hip measurements.  Also, when doing the upper inside facings, it is important to follow the directions on the instruction sheet – they might seem a bit strange and complicated, at first.  However, as long as I followed through, Butterick 6140’s facings turned out great, despite being a bit time consuming.  The method for putting in the facing is really pretty smart, too.  It not only makes for a beautifully smooth feel on your skin inside the dress, but it also teaches a good lesson on how to do such a facing method.  Another project I will post about soon ended up needing the knowledge I learned from doing Butterick 6140’s style of facing.  It does come in handy to know.

100_3456a     I intended on having the bias flounces begin to fall from about mid to high thigh, and take up a little less than half of one side of my dress.  Using the bottom bias flounce piece of view D from Simplicity 4138 was an easy solution that gave me everything I had hoped to achieve.  I changed up (just a bit) the cutting of the flounce piece.  The one edge directed to be placed on the fold to end up with a flounce twice as big.  However, the pattern piece was the width and length I needed as it was, so I did not cut it on the fold, but cut two single pieces, still keeping to the grain line as directed.  Both flounces were first hemmed in a time-consuming 1/8 hem (like what I did for the sleeves of my 30’s evening gown), then turn under the seam allowance on the other three sides.  I did a good deal of measuring to make sure the flounces would be evenly placed before sewing them down to the dress’ left side using a double-stitched lapped seam.100_3406

Hopefully, you can see how the flounce piece looked and how I cut it out in the picture at right.

100_3935     For the hip cinching, I made two small pinches in the satin of my dress on each hip side 1 1/2 inches away from the side seam.  A small one inch piece of turquoise bias tape was sewn to the inside of all four of those pinches.  On each side, the forward pinch had the two buttons sewn on, and the back pinch got two self-fabric satin loops slipped under the bias 100_3934tape piece.  I don’t know if this method is historical but it seems practical, simple, and, best of all, it works!  I just slip on my dress, then button it in to fit my hips. You can see in the big picture above the hip buttons and the perfect 20’s “bloused” effect they cause.

As much as I like the beauty of simplicity, the dress needed the lace neck/shoulder drape to give it that sudden “wow” effect, making it go from nice to elegant.  Credit for the drape idea entirely goes to my hubby.  He draped it as you see it on my dress, draped/gathered starting from one side of the V-neck.  Although I was skeptical at first, I soon had to admit it looked pretty darn good.  To shape the scarf, I took a rectangle of lace fabric, 15 inches by 60 inches, sewed the long raw edges in so it turns into a long ‘tube’.  Next, I folded my lace ‘tube’ scarf in half, and half again.  Both shoulders needed self-fabric satin piping tubes to be sewn on them to keep the lace scarf in place around my neck and shoulders (you can see the piping loops in my close-up pictures).  The lace scarf (folded in fourths) was pulled through the shoulder tubing and down the front of my dress, and over horizontally to be tucked under the neck.  Then the scarf ends were hand-tacked down along the neckline edge from the shoulder to the middle of the V-neck.  This process is hard to explain – it just kind of happened and worked out easily without too much fussing.  I love how the lace scarf can be worn around my neck or just over the shoulder, for two options on one dress.  My dress has already been through a trip through the wash machine, and the good report is the lace scarf held up and is still in place just fine, with the satin being almost wrinkle free.  Easy care requirements make this dress even more wonderful.

100_3462a     The night of the Prohibition “Speakeasy” party, the “American Spirits” exhibit was also open later than normal.  I took this opportunity to pose at the exhibit’s “police line-up” wall.  Yes, you read that right!  You can line up with the likes of Al Capone and Lucky Luciano, Prohibition era gangsters, and get your mug shot taken.  I wanted to show a bit of attitude in my picture.  I’ll title it, “Hey, boys, you have any room for me?”

Kelly'sPoliceLineupPhoto     I splurged for the “Speakeasy” party and used my prized Art Deco 1920’s purse for the 100_3650anight.  This purse is an amazing work of art – heavily beaded (in both pearls and glass micro-beads), lined in gold silk, with a “Made in Belgium, Saks Fifth Avenue” label.  It needs some tender loving care, but I’d rather not ruin its historical authenticity by adding something modern that probably wouldn’t match anyway.  To think, I only paid $5.00 for this purse!

100_3923   My other personal accessories – my bracelet and my hair comb – were made by me for my outfit.  I chose to buy 1/4 of a yard of gold, jeweled, square chain dress trim, cut the length in half, hand-stitched the two pieces side by side, then added on a ribbon piece (from my stash) to each end. Voila! I now have a Deco bracelet that cost me only $1.00.  My hair ornament is merely a basic hair comb onto which I whip-stitched a gold filigree metal piece that had been in my stash of beading supplies.  The comb gave my hair an authentic and beautiful option to the over-used “head band” look so popular for an easy 20’s up-do.  My hair…oh!  I was so proud of the tight Marcel waves and spit curls I achieved by only using a small curling iron and some moderate hold hairspray.  My earrings (see a close-up in this post) are actually 1930’s vintage, but they have a classic Art Deco styling which matched well with the rest of my outfit.100_3729

Speaking of matching with my outfit, I’d like to make a point of briefly highlighting how the wall sconce light (in the top left corner of my full shot pictures) is a cool era 100_3728appropriate touch.  Our house (and neighborhood) was built around 1930 in a style unique to our town, a 20th century Gingerbread version of Tudor revival, with plenty of vitrolite glass and special touches, such as these “bat wing” wall sconces.  I love how these wall sconces have a slight tinge of pastel colors, with beautiful mix of the  swirling, floral theme of Art Nouveau, and a hint of Art Deco .

Please check my Flickr page, Seam Racer, for more pictures.  Thanks for joining me in this Prohibition party post!

From “Plain” to “Pretty”: My Grey T-Shirt Re-fashion

“Plain Jane” is just fine and has its place, but why accept just that when it means having a clothing item sit unworn in my closet?!?  Using a new Simplicity pattern release #1463, I have re-worked a plain, ill-fitting, RTW T-shirt into a top with the year’s latest design using a new Simplicity pattern release, #1463.  A few variances to the pattern were necessary on account of fit and my personal taste, but I love the finished result.  I think it’s better than the original design.

The last time I re-fashioned a T-shirt was a while ago, and it turned into a jazzy, sequined, casual/fancy top (see the blog here).  That sequin top is fun yet not something to be worn for romping around in nor for any season.  This summer, I have found myself making more casual, everyday clothes (mostly vintage) so I am ecstatic to have added to my small wardrobe of me-made play clothes with this grey T-shirt re-fashion.  Besides all of my just mentioned reasons, it really feels good to make something on trend for a change of pace, in between sewing up vintage pieces from every decade of the 20th century.  Sewing a modern project keeps me in line with reality.

What better place to wear my T-shirt re-fashion than to the lake for some fun in the sun!

100_3296a     Here I am at a family outing to Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park.  This park definitely has it all: the largest natural lake in Missouri, an archery range, an 18 hole golf course, several playgrounds, a natural waterfall down the bluffs, conservation areas, a path connecting to the Katy Trail, and tennis courts, just to name a few highlights.  Usually there are a good number of very cheery and colorful boats on the water, and it gives a mid-western living gal like me a chance to feel the sand between my toes and see more water than normal.  There even was a photography team on the beach, taking pictures of a young lady modeling a sundress, and that got me in the mood to do some posing, as well 🙂

THE FACTS: 

FABRIC:  The T-shirt that was the basis for my re-fashion came from Target, and was bought on clearance for $3 or less about 10 to 12 years ago.  It is a grey heather-ed, mostly cotton stretch knit tee.  The stretch polyester lace for my re-fashion comes from Hancock Fabrics

NOTIONS:  The only notion I needed was matching grey thread, which I had on hand already…yay!Simplicity 1463 cover

PATTERN:  Simplicity 1463, year 2014

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This top seemingly went together relatively fast.  It took me about 5 hours, from start to finish, but it would have taken less time without adding in the lace into the sides (which I’ll address later on).  It was finished on July 5, 2014. 

THE INSIDES:  I kept as much of the original seams as I could, since the top had neatly serged edges, many with thin strips of clear elastic sewn into them.  As I don’t have a serger, and prefer time-honored and couture seam finishes myself, keeping the serged edges is something different.  Any edges that were raw are merely double zig-zagged over.  The knit tee fabric and the stretch lace don’t fray, so the edges needed only to be kept from rolling.    

TOTAL COST:  Since, as I mentioned above, the T-shirt was bought so long ago, I’m considering it free.  The lace was my only expense, and, as I bought less than a yard at discount, I believe the total cost to be $4.00 or less.

100_3225a    The only reason I made this project was mainly because I wanted to make the pattern, but was determined to use what was on hand.  I also needed one of those quickly satisfying impulse projects to help me through a spell of harder, more complicated sewing endeavors.  The opportunity to do another re-fashion got my creative blood running quicker – I love re-fashions and hadn’t done one in quite some time.  See the “before re-fashion” picture at left of the original tee.

What better place to search for RTW item to re-purpose than the dark, quiet, and unworn clothes corner of my closet racks downstairs.  If my grey T-shirt could talk, I can bet it is glad to find a new life as long it meant it gets loved and worn, rather than going to a thrift store.  I’m happy to get something new to wear without going shopping or really buying fabric (except for a small cut of lace).  I remember my mom, at the time I bought my T-shirt, commenting how it would make a good “around the house” top.  However, it was uncomfortably too tight fitting, but, at the same time, the paid price was too cheap to sensibly return.  Thus, it never got worn…just stashed away for a future re-purposing.  I’ll bet if many people did this same thing of repairing/tailoring/re-fashioning to the part of their closet that never gets worn, we wouldn’t get a “fast fashion” culture which is overwhelmed by too many unwanted cheap clothes.  Ladies from war times, especially WWII era, learned the hard way how to “make do and mend”.  It’s a pity that the beautiful, quality clothes, like vintage items, are the ones that are scarce and falling apart from age, thus oftentimes relegated to museums.

100_3282a     Not meaning to digress here, but now that I’ve explained the ‘why’ of my project, I’ll get to the ‘how’ of my project.  My T-shirt had to get dismembered first off, before anything else could be done.  (Cutting into a RTW item to re-fashion it always makes me nervous because, unlike fabric, there a very limited supply on hand.)  After much forethought, I only cut the tee apart at the two side seams and at the shoulders, so as to plan out the front and back, then work from there.  The front of my tee had barely enough space to re-cut out the bodice pattern piece of Simplicity 1463 in an XXSmall, which was a size tinier than I wanted – oh, well.  As the Simplicity pattern is designed with a generous back bodice which gets gathered, I had to cut out the new back piece with my tee back turned sideways (the side seams horizontal to my shoulders and waist).  I was left with a seriously short back, but I was able to reach the same length as the new front piece by making a three part panel extension, made from cuffs of the two sleeves and a scrap from the front.  My lower back piecing isn’t that noticeable on the top, and even if it is, I think it looks pretty cool and interesting.  Whatever works!

Sewing with the stretch lace was a bit challenging.  The hardest part was matching the striped design in the lace.  The seams are a bit loose bit they seem to be sturdy enough because my top has had several trips through the wash machine already.

100_3298a     The leftovers of the finished hem were used to make a beautifully easy neckline (see above picture).  I love it when some of my work can be done for me!Advance 2872 V-poncho hem tops for girls mid-60s

The pattern impressed me with the way the final top fits.  Other raglan sleeves that I have made certainly do not fit as well as these do, nor do others look as pretty as these.  The pattern was easy and fun.  There is a corner at the front that I expected to be hard, but is was much easier than I expected and turned out great.  I almost would have liked to keep the hi-low V pointed hem, as I have seen this exact same feature, called a “poncho hem”, on tops in a 1962 Sears catalog I own, only my re-fashion did not allow for it. (See the Advance 2872 pattern at right for a “poncho hem” example.)  In all, Simplicity 1463 is a pattern that is certainly on my “make again” list.

After my top was done, I tried it on and…oh, no!  It was too small!  I should have figured on it being too small with the original top fitting too small, too.  So, my only solution was to rip out the side seams, add in a panel of the lace, then re-sew everything back together.  Personally, I am ecstatic at how the lace in the side seams gave me just enough room to be comfy, while incorporating the lace into the overall design of the top to create and more equalization overall, better than the pattern intended.  I don’t mean to pat myself on the back here or beat my own drum, but when you’re happy and proud about something, it just kinda comes out.100_3281

100_3300      Did you notice the awesome sandcastle in the right background of the picture above and at left?  I built the castle (after a few crumbled walls), hubby decorated it, and our little guy was the officially destroyer of it.

A refashion is kind of like building a sandcastle.  You never know how it will turn out until you just do it.  Sure it might not work out, things might fail to come together well, but just have fun and the end result should be great!  My top is a bit pieced together, and not perfect, but it’s practical, comfy, and all my own creation.  The satisfaction of making something is indeed wonderful!

Time for the Tango! My 1920’s Combination “Step-In” Knickers

The new boyish silhouette that became fashionable for women in the 1920’s demanded a whole new styling of undergarments. The desired shape of the day featured a flat chest, narrow hips, broad shoulders, and an obliteration of highlighting feminine curves.  Advancements in home comforts, such as heating, as well as an active lifestyle, heralded lighter underclothes with an enticing beauty and a practical down-to-earth purpose.

I have made a piece of historical lingerie which was born of these wildly transitional time, an undergarment that has a niche in the 20’s that is all it’s own – Tango Knickers.  This is the most unusual, interesting, different, and challenging project I have done in some time.

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THE FACTS:

THE HISTORICAL FORTNIGHTLY CHALLENGE:  #4 “Under It All”.  It was intended for challenge #3 “Pink”, as well, but I couldn’t finish this post in time for the deadline.

FABRIC:  Everything I used came from what was on hand.  I didn’t want to use an expensive fabric on an experimental project. I was planning on using this as a sort of workable muslin.  Thus, the pink fabric is a 100% polyester I have had on hand for maybe 10 years (it’s been too long to remember when it was bought).  It has a embossed type of scroll design on it and it is medium weight, rather sheer, with a soft feel – a beauty of a fabric.  All the lace came from my Grandmother’s collection of lace, which I am now privileged to have for my use.Jill Salen book cover 

PATTERN:  The pattern came from author Jill Salen’s book, Vintage Lingerie, pages 26 through 29, the Tango Knickers

YEAR:  In terms of color, nude tones and white were preferable until 1927, when peaches and pinks became more popular and available (info from here).  Thus, on account of the pastel pink color, these Tango Knickers are more like a late 20’s undergarment.

NOTIONS:  I didn’t need to buy a thing – rummaging through what I had on hand provided everything.  I am glad for this because all the lace I used might have pinched my sewing expenses.  I luckily had 3 spools of Metrosheen pink thread, and even the shoulder straps are two white grosgrain ribbons I used to use for my hair as ties. 

TIME TO COMPLETE:  In total, this vintage undergarment took about 12 hours (more or less) and was finished on February 13, 2014 (just in time for Valentines Day!)

100_2605TOTAL COST:  Nothing! 

HOW HISTORICALLY ACCURATE IS IT?  The color, the construction methods, the design, and (especially) the pattern are all historically accurate.  However, the fabric sadly misses the mark, and the laces, although vintage, also are not wholly accurate, either. 

THE INSIDES:  Both the side seams and the crouch seams are finished in French seams.  All the edges of the pink fabric that join with the lace are done in tiny 1/8 inch seams, using my new hemmer foot.  See picture at left.  The hip seams with the gathers are covered inside with pink bias tape.  The center front and center back seam, which I added to make these knickers fit, is the best I could make of it, folded open and sewed down on each side to stabilize the fabric.

Symington ad for The Armmori Belt   There is quite a history behind tango knickers which needs a bit of an explanation.  Jill Fields’ book, An Intimate Affair, page 37, on Google Books, and Jill Salen’s book Vintage Lingerie both mention that tango knickers first appeared in 1914, with leg holes extending up the sides allowing maximum movement for dancing.  Later on they were also called “athletic combinations”,  but these tango knickers had several designations during their popularity which specified their construction.  In England, in 1917, the term “cami-knickers” was used for this style of undergarment, referring to the fact that they are a one-piece “combination” of both a top and bottom covering.  However,  in the 20’s, calling tango knickers “step-ins” was popular – after all one does have to step into them, wiggle it up on yourself, then slide the shoulder straps on.  “Step-Ins” was the label which associated lingerie-12tango knickers with them with modernity and comfort(clarified in the next paragraph).  The term “Knickers” was designated to closed-crouch underwear, such as tango knickers or tap pants, versus open “drawers” of previous eras, which had two separate “legs” with an seamless crouch.  At left, is a colored early 20’s Symington ad where three ladies are wearing reducing corsets over their “step-ins”, and my second picture (at right) is a 1920 advertisement drawing.

Looking deeper, apparently the undergarment tango knickers had a significant aura all their own to the culture of the 19-teens and 20’s.  With morals looser and women going of unescorted, tango knickers stood for a new empowerment – they were supposed to create a certain attitude and make a powerful statement by any women who wore them.  The closed crouch of tango knickers, and the fact they are difficult to get out of, conveyed a new sense of modesty for the 20’s.  Tango knickers were especially aligned with the ideals of the Suffragette movement, where women have a hand in controlling their own family, their own bodies, their own mind, and their own country.  To a Suffragette, trousers (separate leg, closed crouch) meant power and a big step towards moving past the cami-knickers all-in-one step insVictorianism of the previous century, with all its corsets and restrictions.  See page 39 of An Intimate Affair, Jill Fields’ book.  The public perception of any one piece “step-in” undergarment, in fact, was much like it was when women started donning one piece overalls and assembling planes during World War II (except “step-ins” were also seen as a youthful trend for all ages).  Public displays of underclothes was introduced, giving all the lace and decorations applied a dual intention to entice and sensualize, such as in the old photo at left.

100_2603a    The thigh slits alone were very important to tango knickers.  They are part of what makes a regular step-in a tango knicker.  Having thigh slits allows for full freedom of movement when dancing, and also saves a combination undergarment from being dowdy.  After all, the Latin American dances that were so popular to the 20’s had a much more steamy style than what is normally danced nowadays.  Just watch this dancing scene from the Carole Lombard 1934 movie Bolero, and you might be shocked, but, it is a good example of the hot style of Latin dancing 80 or so years ago.  Carole Lombard is wearing a see through dress, not cami-knickers, but it shows why those thigh slits in tango knickers were needed…for some wild dancing moves!

History aside, the construction of my tango knickers were slow in reaching the ‘finished’ stage, mainly on account of having to get around to enlarging and adapting a roughly drawn, mystery size pattern.  Jill Salen’s book offers 30 patterns of all the vintage/historical garments shown in the book but they are almost all practically Barbie doll size.  Either you need a knowledge of how to transfer sizing using graph paper (which is what her patterns are on) or go to a copy place that will figure out the percent and do large size prints.  I opted for the copy place option, and ended up enlarging the 1:1 scale patterns 400%, then adding either 3/8 inch or 1/2 inch seam allowances.  The tango knickers were the only pattern so far I didn’t add seam allowances to, as it looked like it had a quite generous fit already, and I sewed in tiny 1/8 seams anyway.

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The tango knickers pattern was actually a large rectangle, about 50 inches long in fact.  Two layers of lace, and a panel of fabric in between, are added to the top portion of the tango knickers across the length of the rectangle.  Then the one side seam is sewn together only halfway down the short side of the rectangle.  I said “only halfway” because the large thigh slits are cut into the bottom half of my tango knickers, cut in the shape of a large capitol ‘T’.  There are two smaller rectangles, approximately 16 by 5 inches (without lace), that get lace added to the sides before they get sewn onto (both sides of) the vertical bar part of the ‘T’ thigh slits.  There is a slit cut into the bottom 2/3  of the smaller rectangle and more lace sewn along in an extended ‘U’ shape.  Now the entire thigh section, with the smaller thigh slit rectangle and all the lace, gets a gathering stitch and is gathered into the original horizontal ‘T’ bar cut in the main body of the tango knickers.  Like I said in ‘THE FACTS’ up above, the hip seam is nicely covered and stabilized by light pink, single fold bias tape.100_2602

I was so blessed to be able to have just the right amount of lace in the right design and width (according to the pattern) to go into making my tango knickers so special.  My Grandmother’s stash of lace provided just enough, plus only 5 more inches, of  zig zag grid, Deco-styled lace for all entire tango knickers, except for the very top band.  I meant for the top band of lace to be a matching, but especially pretty, different lace, anyway, and what I ended up using had only about 8 inches over what I needed.  All the lace sewn on my tango knickers is old, as evidenced by the occasional brown or yellow stain, but probably not quite vintage.  My guess is the majority of the lace used is a poly type, with the top band of lace being a Battenberg cotton style.  Both types of lace are extremely soft and a dream to work with.  Whether the lace is vintage or not, just using my Grandmother’s lace makes this project so much more meaningful.  I am sure there’s probably a story behind these laces, since some of it had been hand gathered (I took out this stitching to use for my purpose).  There is a lot more (a large tub’s worth) to work with yet, and I am thankful to have a beautiful supply to fuel my creativity.

The finished look of the ‘according to pattern’ tango knickers afforded the biggest laugh I have ever had over anything I have sewn.  They literally could have fit two of me, and looked like an oversized burlap sack hanging on me.  I knew I could not fuss with the side seams at all, and the crouch seam was way too wide to be sensible, so I brought in my tango knickers along the center front/center back, in one continuous line from the front down through the crouch and up to the back.  After opening up the seam, sewing it down, and ironing it, my fix really doesn’t look that bad in my opinion…just a bit odd.  However, like I said above, regarding this as a trial muslin, if I ever want to make another set of tango knickers, I now know exactly where and how much to adapt the pattern to fit myself.  In total, I think I ended up taking in 4 inches on each seam(8 inches total).  These tango knickers are a very nice a wearable muslin, indeed, which brings me to answer the last ‘THE FACTS’ question: WHEN DID YOU FIRST WEAR THIS?  Well, not yet, but I fully intend to wear my tango knickers with the right era appropriate garment.  So far I’ve only put them on to fit them for myself and I really wonder what I will have to go through if I have to visit the bathroom while I’m wearing these.  Talk about a learning experience! 

100_2604a     I would like to give a big shout out of thanks to the wonderful employees of my favorite fabric store, for letting me use a store dress form to model my tango knickers.  There is no way my tango knickers would look this nice laid out on the floor in our house, and they probably fit much more nicely on the fake body form than on myself, especially, in my mind, the rear view.  I couldn’t have done this post without everyone’s help.

As a parting conversation, I would like to point out that there is a strong and humorous reference to tango knickers that can be found in a classic movie, Topper, year 1937.  In Jill Fields book, An Intimate Affair, page 43, she talks about how “step-ins” underclothes are key to the film’s (and the novel’s) narrative resolution.  At the film’s end (not to ruin the film for you, if you haven’t seen it yet) Mrs. Topper dons something she formerly despised, combination “step-ins”, for her husband Cosmo, symbolizing her “necessary” transition from their old-fashioned sensibilities over to the modern “live fast/die young” ideals of the ghosts the Kirby couple.  I am not saying it’s the best movie morally, but it is a fun classic, and I recommend just clicking on this link to Turner Classic Movies where you can go ahead and watch the whole movie for yourself.  Here’s a teaser for the ladies – it’s a Cary Grant movie!  

     I can’t help but make mention of one last historical association to closed crouch c1920s-france-la-vie-parisienne-magazine-the-advertising-archivesombo underclothes which is very appropriate with the 2014 Winter Olympics going on at the moment.  Page 42 of Jill Fields’ book has a paragraph that talks about how combo “step-ins” were adapted to use as short bloomers worn under women’s 1920’s skating outfits, so they could do all the amazing moves they do nowadays (i.e. leg up, knee to nose, etc.). Yes, public ice skating competitions for women were so popular early in history.  There is a 1924 Women’s Wear Daily ad for the Fitz-U stretchable seamed bloomer, showing a flapper, in a fur-trimmed blouse, striking a beautiful pose on ice.  At right is a French 20’s ad which I find quite humorous – this poor flapper is not so elegant and ready to crash.  1924 was the first year that Olympic figure skating became an official and permanent sport.  Go check out the life of Sonja Henie, a skating medalist and record breaker who began at age 14 in 1927, and as well as this “Bustle” page for more history of women’s Olympic awesomeness.

The picture below is from 1928, showing the Olympic competitors in St. Moritz, Switzerland, performing the “French Can-Can”.

Competitors in the Figure Skating event performing the

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Reuse and Refashion: Silk and Lace Takes a Second Life

Not that long ago at a resale store, I happened across a small stash of 100% silk, over sized, and slightly outdated “Victoria’s Secret” lingerie.  At the cheap prices they were sold at per piece I bought all of what I found, with the specific intention of refashioning, or at least reusing, the high quality silk and lace.

One item in particular has been refashioned first.  I transformed a black silk camisole into a pair of 1920’s style tap pants.  Even before I checked out I already knew, foresaw practically, what a certain item was going to become.  That foresight was one of those amazing “Eureka!” moments…I love it when they come because I know something great is in the making.

100_2161aTHE FACTS:

HISTORICAL FORTNIGHTLY CHALLENGE:  Make Do and Mend

FABRIC:  one size extra-large “Victoria’s Secret” camisole, in black satin finish 100% silk (original as I bought it in pic at right)100_2008a

NOTIONS:  I only needed to buy a few inches of black snap tape; nothing else but black thread and bias tape was needed, and I always have plenty of those on hand

PATTERN:  I didn’t use one!  I did have plenty of 20’s inspiration, though, which I’ll talk about below.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  the total time to refashion was not long at all – only 2 hours.  I finished them in one evening, September 23, 2013.  The final touch – my hand stitched Art Deco monogram – was done in an hour or two on January 15, 2014 

THE INSIDES:  The camisole had very nice seams, with French seams at the sides, so I made sure to keep all that by only adding on seam of my own – the waistband.  My new waist band seam is neatly covered in bias tape that also serves a channel for the draw cord.

FIRST WORN:  I don’t remember; but I do remember wearing my tap pants very soon after they were done.  I have been wearing them quite often!

TOTAL COST:  the camisole was only $3.00, and the snap tape was under $1, which makes my total for fine silk, vintage style tap pants less than $4.00!  What a deal.

McCall 7832 old tap pants patternHISTORICAL ACCURACY:  I cannot claim anything directly to definitively give a pinpoint answer.  However, I believe my refashioned tap pants are quite accurate for the 20’s, based on my research of period patterns, movies, and sewing techniques.  This 90 year old pattern envelope picture (at left), which I found during an online image search, was a big verification of the accuracy of how I wanted my tap pants to be refashioned.

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      My main idea came from watching the movie “Broadway Melody of 1929”.  There is one scene where the two sisters, placed by Bessie Love and Anita Page,  quickly (and shockingly) undress in public hall down to tap pants and tank top so they can try out for a part in a dance scene.  I find it amazing – how skimpy for early talkies, but so modern for us!  

I tried to emulate the “Broadway Melody of 1929” movie look in my pictures.  Believe me, I am not so keen on the idea of posing in something that gets worn under clothes.  In the spirit of being historical and thinking of this as a sort of “dance” outfit, my new silk tap pants do feel quite fun.  100_2162

Unlike the 30’s style tap pants I made Spring of last year (click here for link), these refashioned tap pants have the gathered waist and tighter fit like the black ones worn in the movie picture above right.  Getting this snug is all that my bum could manage…if the camisole was any smaller my re-invention would not have worked.  Talk about a close call!

To get a waistline, I cut across the top of the camisole, above the bust line, leaving the sides under the armpit intact.  I basically only took off 4 small triangles under the spots where the shoulder straps join at the front and at the back.  Then I also cut off the two straps hanging from the center bust closure and sewed up the entire front of the lace where the front was open.  Now there was one solid front and back.

100_2163     My biggest problem was how to get rid of (decrease) the excess bust gathers from the camisole front. Darts? Small tucks?  The right idea came to me when thinking, “what vintage sewing ways were used to gather in excess fabric above/below where it poufs out?”  I looked at my old early 30’s patterns in my file cabinets, and thought of shirring. See my back picture below right.  Doing the shirring was very fun, different, and not as hard as I expected, just a bit challenging.  Besides, doing this shirring gives me practice before I intend to do it on some really good fabric or on a bigger project.  I didn’t even have any glitches doing the shirring, but I did realize the importance of doing the rows of stitching and gathering straight and even.   I didn’t bother to pre-mark or measure my shirring rows, as I considered these tap pants an experiment to be worn under clothes.

The waistline edge had been folded under inside and covered by sewing down a skinn100_2164y strip of bias tape.  Since the area below the rows of shirring gave the perfect spot of generous room for my behind, I chose that for the back of my tap pants and made an opening in the side front of the waist casing for the tie.  The tie running through the waist casing also re-used, made from the two ties that had been hanging at the front of the camisole, tacked together, and made into one long waist cincher. 100_2028

Just to make bathroom trips not as much of a hassle, I opted to install a few inches of snap tape horizontally along the center hem to form the crouch of my tap pants.  Yes, kind of like an infant onesie (I guess as a parent of a little one, the idea for this closure is second nature).  I can’t find out how authentic to the 20’s this crouch closure may be, but, hey, they had snaps then, so let’s say I’m an innovative woman.  The snap closure gives me a tad bit more room than if I were to have sewn together the two bottom seams.

With such a snug fit and the shirring and snaps and everything you might think these aren’t that comfy and why wear them?  Well, actually you would not believe how comfy a well washed silk can be on a bottom, and they do make the perfect solution to any of my dark, shorter skirts and dresses.

Wearing tap pants does give a girl a sort of freedom.  A gal can still wear her feminine skirts and swishy dresses, but with tap pants underneath you can still be active and have all the fun possible while feeling incredibly fancy.  When it comes down to it, though, I find it hard to wear something meant to do dance routines in and not feel like kicking up my feet and dancing.

broadway-melody-1929_bessie-love-and-anita-page_5     How about the Charleston, anyone?!  I’m ready!  But I will leave my skirt on, unlike this funny “Broadway Melody of 1929” shot at right.

One last word…only recently did I get around to completely making these tap pants my very own with some hand stitched monogramming.  I drew out three different letter styles that suited the era and my taste, too.  As you can see, I picked the Art Deco letters ‘K’ and ‘B’, sewing to the left front side.  I think I’ll save the Art Nouveau and Moderne letters for another monogram, perhaps.

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