“Just Whistle While You Work”

I know this year’s official Oktoberfest in Munich is over for this year.  Actually, though, the 12 to 17 of this month marks the very first occasion of this celebration, something which evolved from repeating the festivities surrounding the 1810 wedding of the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen.  Interestingly enough, the Brothers Grimm published their first edition of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, which included “Snow White” (“Schneewittchen“ in German) as story #53, around the same time in 1812.  What better excuse to post my outfit inspired by the legendary apple-biting princess with the most traditionally German background?  Let’s dive into my Snow White “rags” work dress, made of a 1937 design, the same year as the release of the first Disney animated film by the same name.  This post’s outfit is yet another installment in my ongoing “Pandemic Princess” blog series.

I am proud of how I incorporated the heritage of the Snow White story together with the year of its Disney film, especially when it comes to the fact that this entire dress was cobbled together from my scrap bin.  What we first see Snow wearing at the beginning of the Disney film (when she meets her prince while singing into the wishing well) has the title “rags” dress after all.  I both interpreted that dress literally and opened up room for storing more scraps – ha!  Snow was yet another princess who’s an unloved daughter working as the domestic servant in the house of her stepmother, much like “Cinderella”, and so it makes sense that her garb seemed cobbled together in tattered condition.  For my dress, my “rags” are all very nice material to begin with, so it might be scrapped together too, but it is still a very nice and comfy dress!  It also happens to happily be one I don’t have to keep perfectly clean and proper in while wearing (I don’t have many of these kind), or clean and proper in my grade of construction, as well, for a strange change of circumstances.

The location for these photos is a testament to the enduring, strong presence of German immigrants in the history of my Mid-Western American hometown.  It is a landmark for our city and called the “Bevo Mill”.  The Dutch-style mill was built by August Busch Sr. (of Anheuser-Busch fame) in 1917.  The story goes that August wanted a halfway point between his brewery near down town and his home in the county. It was later opened to the public as a restaurant.  “Bevo” is supposed to be derived from the Bohemian word “pivo,” which means “beer”.  During Prohibition (1920-1933), Anheuser-Busch brewed a non-alcoholic beer named that he also named “Bevo.  The place has a very Bavarian lodge kind of feel to it which was perfect for pictures!  I have many, many great memories of coming to this place since I was old enough to remember for good food and music with special friends and family. 

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% linen – all leftover from my past projects. The skirt was a hacked up one-ish yard remnant from this 30’s skirt, the collar and sleeves came from this 1910’s era suit, and a rich brown soft vintage linen napkin set became the bodice and pocket for the dress.  Scraps of silk leftover from this blouse became the second contrast pocket and headband

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8248, a 2016 reprint of a March 1938 pattern, originally Simplicity #2432

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread and one zipper

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress came together in about 6 hours and was finished on July 21, 2020.

THIS INSIDES:  This is a “rags” dress made from scraps…it would be weird to be cleanly finished inside, right?!  The seam allowance edges are left raw.

TOTAL COST:  This dress cost me nothing!  I normally do not count the cost of material when I am using seemingly insignificant scraps, so this covers most of the dress.  The vintage table linen set was picked up for 25¢ and the zipper was on hand in my stash already, so I’m counting my dress as an ‘as-good-as-free’ project!

Women’s fashion for the year 1938 marked a widespread Germanic and Bavarian cultural influence that was unmistakable, frequent, and easily recognizable in late 30’s fashion for women.  A Germanic folk style had been creeping into women’s stylish street fashions before then because of nationalistic, racialist, and expansionist ideas stemming from both the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy during the First World War and Hitler becoming Chancellor.  “The traditional dirndl (a tracht) was also promoted through the Trapp Family Singers, who wore folk fashion during their performance at the Salzburg Festival (1936), and later on their worldwide tours.  In addition, the film “Heidi”, with Shirley Temple in the lead role, became a hit in 1937. By that year, the dirndl – and Germanic influenced fashion – was considered a ‘must’ in the wardrobe of every fashionable American woman.” (Quoted info from Wikipedia here.)  No doubt the influx of immigrants fleeing pre-WWII invasions and takeovers helped bring a new cultural influence into American style as well.  Folk fashion of central Europe had spread way beyond Germany but the fascination in the United States had dissipated by 1942 to be replaced by a craze for all things Polynesian and South American.    

There is a darker side to the German influence on late 30’s fashion, often called “Tyrolean”, which needs to be addressed.  The women’s League of the Nazi party promoted a “renewal” of the traditional Germanic designs, reworking them into a more attractive version of their folk costume which might easily entice women to adopt the styles outside of festivals.  The Nazi women’s League added short puff sleeves, a more form revealing bodice, and shorter skirt length…all scarily close to how we know the dirndl of today.  To me, Snow White’s “rags” dress seems like a hybrid, bared down version with no lacing or apron.  The way its bodice is a different color from the rest of the dress is reminiscent of an old-style tracht over-bodice with a conservative coverage over the chest, high rounded neck, and little collar.  Yet, there are the puffed sleeves and the shorter skirt.  However, this is enough of my rambling – I will dive into this topic deeper in my next post on the other Germanic fairytale princess…the one with magical hair who was imprisoned in a tower.  So stay tuned! Until then, visit my Pinterest page here on dirndls (modern and traditional) for some eye candy.

I suppose the most obvious choice of pattern to make a vintage Snow White outfit would have been Simplicity #8486, a vintage re-issue for the 80th anniversary of the Disney film in 1937, but as I keep saying for my princess series projects, I do not want a costume.  Simplicity #8486 is indeed a ‘37 design in its lines when you just look at the technical drawing, but it just seems a bit forced to make it in such a way that is a Snow White outfit.  Sure it works, but for my purposes it is too obvious of a character reference sewn like that.  I couldn’t see myself wearing these pieces otherwise, so I will come back to that pattern when I have a non-Disney inspired idea for it.  (I have made the pattern’s hat, posted here, and highly recommend it!)  Now I will explain at the end of this post why I gravitated to Snow’s “rags” dress rather than her princess one, but it was also an easy choice when another 1937 reprint – Simplicity #8248 – was an almost line for line ‘copy’.  This shows just how much Disney’s styling of Snow White makes her very much a product of the times.  I have been aching to sew Simplicity #8248 ever since it came out, anyway, and I was so happy to finally have a reason to do so!

My little bluebird pin on my collar is a gift to me from my Aunt!

Before diving into my Snow White dress, I checked out a few reviews on the pattern and immediately saw one constant warning – this pattern runs small and short-waisted.  I can now attest that this is 100% true.  Heeding the warnings (‘cause it’s better to be safe than sorry), I cut out one whole size bigger than what I needed (according to the given chart) and gave myself an extra inch in the bodice length.  It was a good thing I took these precautions – the dress just fits, and couldn’t be any smaller.  Any tighter in the bodice and I would have been restricted in reach room or my bust would’ve been smashed.  I do wish I had widened the shoulders more because they are too far in towards my neck.  However, the puff sleeve tops fill in for this fitting mishap.  I did have to take out the seam allowance from the waist down because the hips in the dress were snug enough to wrinkle and ride up on me.  I wholeheartedly recommend this dress, though – it is a cute design that lends itself to many differing interpretations.  The details are top notch (omg…the angular darted sleeve caps I chose from view B = love).  It was easy to sew.   It is a classic example of late 30’s fashion.  I will be coming back to this and making another dress from this pattern, maybe even color blocking the bodice panels.  It’s a winner – I hope you try this dress out for yourself.

Pockets just big enough for a to-do list, small handkerchief, or my lipstick – in this case Besame Cosmetics’ “Fairest Red”, a faithful recreation of Snow White’s lip color in the 1937 Disney film.

That being said, I did slightly change up the pattern, not by altering anything in the design, just by adding in extra seam lines to accommodate the small fabric pieces I was using.  The four napkin squares that I had were just barely enough to work – only wide enough to fit half of my body at a time.  Luckily the bodice was in two pieces as well because This linen was dense, super soft, and luxurious – understandable as it was intended to be napkins – and in the perfect color for Snow’s bodice.  I was determined to make my idea work.  The entire front and center bodice is supposed to be cut on the fold, but I had to add a center seam to all the pieces because of linen napkins I was using.  Even the collar pieces had to be seamed together as well because the two biggest scraps went towards the sleeves.  Since there was a seam down the front anyway, and since a collar that is tight around my neck can feel stifling for me, I added a long 22 inch zipper to make my dress fuss-free and adjustable for my comfort. Of course, the double, overlapping, two-tone pockets are my idea as well, and the cutest way to flaunt something so utilitarian!

There was a chunk cut out of the almost perfect one yard left that I needed for the dress’ skirt.  No problem – I was being forced to do the natural thing to make an accurate rendition of the “rags” dress…patches!  It’s not just decorative for looks alone…I really used up the few pieces I had left to barely cover the hole in my skirt material.  It couldn’t have been any more perfect, it was laughable – I would never do this to a project otherwise!!  This was a fantastic case of serendipity.  I left the dress bottom raw, fraying and unhemmed to complement the “rags” look.  Even still, I did use decorative, basic embroidery (a chain-stitch and feather stitch) to sew the patch panels down so at least they would look well-done.  The patch work goes against my ingrained sewing style but the embroidery made it palatable. 

I realized something important here – just because clothing becomes mended doesn’t mean it is ruined or on it’s last life.  My husband, my son, and I have been wearing out our clothes, socks, etc. at a far quicker pace than ever before since the start of the pandemic in 2020 and the rate of repairs I have been doing is quite constant.  I suppose it’s all the extra time and work we are getting done at home – I don’t really know.  Anyway, this Snow White dress is a good example of the visible mending trend I am trying to lean into anyway.  I have always been about reusing, refashioning, and recycling what we have on hand for a new purpose here at home.  Sure, it would be easier to just pitch or recycle such items and buy new, and in some cases we need to do just that, yet change in the fashion industry has to come from somewhere…so it might as well start with me.  I’ve just never tried to incorporate mending so intentionally into something vintage, much less newly made.  As I said, it’s weird for me…in a good way.

As much as I love this dress, and as happy as I am wearing it, Snow White’s story is troublesome to me, mostly on account of the many questionable and problematic elements to her tale.  One young woman to keep house for seven men she just met?  At least the Grimm Brothers’ version makes the Disney interpretation seem so much better than it is on its own.  Don’t get me wrong, though.  The Disney movie version is fantastic in its own right, particularly as a landmark achievement in animation history, and charming in its presentation.  I love how Snow was animated, I enjoy her songs, and relish the humor intertwined in her movie.  Even still, as a person, I find Snow White to be one of the hardest Disney princesses to associate myself with or understand…she is too naive and gullible, for my taste.  Even the messages of both the Grimm tale and the Disney story is sort of confusing…physical beauty will save you and find you love?  Be kind to the point of overly trusting of strangers?  I know it was the older “scare” style of teaching lessons. Yet, seriously, folks…how the antiquated fairytales were for children, I’ll never fully understand.   

I like to ‘see’ a better message from Snow White’s tale, which is why I gravitated towards the “rags” dress in the first place.  Beauty is not dependent on the clothing you wear or the manner of styling oneself.  Marilyn Monroe put a spin on this belief in the most fantastic, hilarious manner in recent memory by wearing a potato sack for a photo shoot.  Beauty is what’s on the inside.  I know this may be a cliché phrase by now, but it’s worth repeating so we can remember what’s important in a world that’s driven by image-centric social media ‘perfection’.

Furthermore, on a practical level, I can completely relate to Snow White’s working song, “Just Whistle While You Work”, which I why it’s my post’s title.  I do like a bit of merry, energizing background music while I do chores or sewing (but not fabric cutting…too much to focus on).  Believe it or not, I sometimes even like my favorite tunes playing on the side when I do my blog post writing.  However, such a setting only applies when my “comfort” music is played, the kind that I know by heart and places me in a great mood!  Now if only I can get all the squirrels, rabbits, and birds that we have around our yard to actually help me get things done, as well, I suppose I would be ecstatic enough to whistle about it, too!  

Checkmate!

There is safety in numbers…mathematical equations, that is.  The consistency and assurance of having a logical way to figure out a problem is helpful in other spheres of life because, as we are taught in school, math is not just pointless numbers on paper.  Mathematics can be found in science, space, biologics, industry, fashion, and more.  Games especially call for math skills.  Out of all the games to be played, there is perhaps nothing else that calls upon the exacting perfectionist in me, awakens my inner competitiveness, and leaves no room for my sense of graciousness to my opponent quite like a game of chess.  (Those are also all the reasons for me avoiding playing it.) 

However, that doesn’t mean I and others like me don’t have a great respect and fascination for those you enjoy and excel at the game.  Thus, it comes as no big surprise that such a powerful, mind provoking game loved worldwide could make related statement in fashion, yet the influence of “The Queen’s Gambit” came just over a month ago like an unexpected global storm.  It has become Netflix’s most watched scripted series to date.  Granted, “The Queen’s Gambit” is fiction loosely based on history, and sadly doesn’t really teach novices a whole lot about the game.  Nevertheless, the fashion for the time period it was supposed be set in (50’s to late 60’s) is spot on, visually stunning, and (most importantly) still very wearable for today.  So those of us who will not be playing the game more because of the show (raise your hand with me) can certainly copy the mid-century fashion. 

Say ‘hello’ to crisp angles and opposing colors, chic short dresses and straight lined silhouettes.  My mom says I look like Emma Peel (as fashionable as she was a smart espionage agent) from the 1960s British television show “The Avengers” in this dress!  I do so love the bold, mod fashion 60’s and forget that fact after so many other projects for other decades in between.  I am all here for a reason to jump back into the era headfirst through “The Queen’s Gambit” outfits!!  There will be more in the works very soon…this bow neck, babydoll dress will be next up for my early 2021 sewing.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  heavyweight 100% linens for both the exterior black and white fabric, yet the black is a smoother finish while the white is a textured (slubbed) hopsack; lined in a lightweight 100% cotton muslin

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8588, year 1969

NOTIONS NEEDED:  All I needed was one 22” long zipper for the back, lots or thread, and bias tape to finish off the inner edges and hem.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was whipped up in 4 hours and was finished in the afternoon of November 26, 2020.

TOTAL COST:  in the remnant clearance bin at JoAnn Fabrics, I only spent about $6 on this dress!!!

Both linens on this dress were something I had bought about 3 years back now.  Yes, as on point as sewing this dress may seem in the light of “The Queen’s Gambit”, I had the idea for making this much earlier.  Pierre Cardin is a long-standing fashion icon for me and his creations are the epitome of the power of the avant-garde (next to Elsa Schiaparelli).  Only now, it took an entertainment fad of today to give me a very good reason to pull my needed supplies from my storage tubs and finally make room in my sewing queue to transform them into something wearable.  Amazingly, I only needed one sole yard of each color linen for this project…60’s era mini dresses aren’t much to wear so they don’t need much material, ha!  This is yet another one of my many “remnant” projects.  They never cease to amaze me – how good you can look on scraps!

In the final episode of the series, Beth proves her dominance in a chess tournament in Russia.  The nail-biting competition sees Beth don an array of elegant and high-fashion outfits to communicate she is a woman in control.  Among them is the black and white “I’m Chess Dress”, made in viscose material inspired by mid-1960’s London design.  Like many of Beth’s other outfits, the two-tone coloring, and strong lines subtly reflects the pattern on a chess board (from here).  I immediately recognized the series’ dress mimicked the idea that I had a few years back!  Beth’s dress in viscose has more drape than many such 60’s era dresses, which tend to have a soft structure like stable knit.  Linen is similar in quality but a bit more of a call back to timeless quality I adore.  So I suppose this is all me working at redeeming a slight ‘fault’ I saw I the series’ fashion.  I like my version better – it’s more wearable!

I felt a pattern from the year 1969 was a perfect place to start.  On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human to step on the moon.  It was the dawn of true “Space Age” and the imaginations of designers were wandering very futuristic.  Pierre Cardin took his space travel seriously: In 1969, he went to Houston and quizzed officials at NASA headquarters about how to stay stylish on the moon.  Like his colleagues André Courrèges and Mary Quant, Mr. Cardin proposed a sleek, forward-dawning fashion.  This was the height of the “mod” fad.  As I thought about it afterwards, my mom’s reaction to refer to Dame Diana Rigg from “The Avengers” (which series ended in 1969) for my dress ticks all the right boxes. Rigg (as Emma Peel) wore the most avant-guade and Op-art fashions of any Steed sidekick, frequently toned in black and white.  Costume designer John Bates outfitted her in clothes influenced by the 60’s trio – Cardin, Courrèges, and Quant.  Ironically, series 4 of “The Avengers” had a chessboard opening intro, too (for American broadcasts)!  This “Avengers” dress for Dame Rigg is strikingly similar to this “On the Cross” on Beth wears in “The Queen’s Gambit”.

Besides the serendipitous dating, the clean, angular lines and chic thoughtfulness in the design lines drew me into this particular pattern.  Don’t judge a pattern by its cover.  Just because a pattern seems simple at first glance doesn’t mean there isn’t a happy little complex variation waiting for you once you pull out those tissue pieces or study the line drawings.  The detail of note here is the lack of true side seams.  The side front panel technically ends a few inches over into the back half of the dress.  It is so subtle!  Also, there are no bust darts.  The dress is strongly A-line yet some slight bust shaping is cut directly into the shaping of the side panels.  Most 60’s era patterns have sleeves which fit my larger upper arms terribly but these are so comfortable and generous in ‘reach room’ right out of the envelope.  I am very impressed with this pattern, unlike any other 60’s pattern I’ve used so far.  I appreciate a design which seems suited to my body type but more importantly I enjoy finding a pattern seems to have a touch of higher quality.  Everyday wear in the era of the 60’s is not particularly known for it’s complex, meticulous tailoring in the anxiousness of the younger set to depart from the classiness of the decade before.     

The common pairing for the popular black-and-white color combo of 60’s dresses seems to be having the dark color on the sides and the light color in the middle.  Check out my Pinterest page here on this topic for more inspiration and to see what I’m saying.  I realize the color layout I used on my particular dress is the opposite.  However, I just have to prefer what will suit me accordingly.  Black down the center is more slimming for my body type (believe me, I experimented with draping it differently on myself before cutting out).  The black emphasizes the angular qualities to this design.  It also makes this more of an all season dress in my opinion.  I am wearing thick ribbed tights with this – just as any 1960s gal would do – but bare legs and metallic sandals or even tall go-go boots would be just as perfect of a pairing in other seasons.  White on a dress may not be a popular color for winter but when color blocked intentionally yet minimally, it works. 

However aesthetic my choice of color layout was, my heavy use of black over white visually voices my lack of dominance in the game of chess.  If Beth Harmon in “The Queen’s Gambit” wears all white as the reigning victor, well I am more of the ‘dark horse’ kind of player.  It is said that the person who plays the white pieces (and therefore starts the game) has the advantage.  I am certainly not the champion type because if I was, I wouldn’t be enjoying the game anymore…no one wants to see me that serious and obsessive, not even me.

I couldn’t ask for a better backdrop for our pictures than the local World Chess Hall of Fame.  In front (and behind me in many pictures) is the world’s largest chess piece.  Just a year ago (October 2019) we attended the opening night for two very relevant chess inspired fashion exhibits, which were apparently ahead of their time. 

Firstly, Michael Drummond, a multi-talented artist and veteran of “Project Runway” Season 8, put on the exhibit “Being Played”, described as “thematically marrying the issues of climate change and the stress the fashion industry places on the environment”.  See the online version of the exhibit here!  Drummond was inspired by the noted chess fan Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 sci-fi film “2001: Space Odyssey”.  There was an amazing dress completely made of chess pieces as well as reclaimed remnants of sewing and art supplies reinvented into wearable art with a deeper message.  No wonder Drummond was interviewed by the New York Times regarding where to find clothes inspired by “The Queen’ Gambit” (see article here).

The second exhibit from back then was “A Beautiful Game”, showcasing the World Chess Hall of Fame’s artifacts of “chess-inspired beauty products, photographs, posters, and advertisements while illustrating how the sophistication and brilliance of the game have been celebrated and revered in chess and popular culture. Also highlighted was new, interactive artwork by chess champion and author Jennifer Shahade as well as Pinned! fashion designer Audra Noyes.” The online exhibit can be seen here.  It had the most appealing posters and glamorous chess sets from the last 100 years that made me want a perfume bottle or lipstick tube player set for myself (yes, for no real reason)!  The exhibit also taught me that the power of the queen piece was elevated to the status of “chief executioner” circa 1500 after a string of powerful female monarchs.

My husband and our son both enjoy the game of chess at least, with the occasional addition of my dad as another opponent.  One our son’s Christmas gifts from last year was the coolest ever variety of chess that has mirrors and lasers!  Nevertheless, I’ll just stick to chess inspired fashion for myself, thank you.  Sewing has the math and the strategy that I enjoy.

Remnants, Scraps, and Leftovers, Oh My!

With the refashions and sewing projects which need small cuts that I’ve been doing lately, some deep questions have arisen in head.  Primarily, what constitutes a fabric remnant?  When is a scrap piece of material considered rubbish?  When it is no longer useable?  Who is the judge of that?  How has our estimation of when the leftovers from creating a garment are considered unusable changed over the years and why?  Is figuring out such questions another key to truly sustainable fashion and new creative possibilities?  I have a feeling these questions are not easily answered nor can they be figured out in one blog post, but perhaps this outfit project is a small example to part of the solution.  It is made from two less than one-yard linen remnants and a handful of notion scraps, for an on-point 1960s era set which defies the modern disregard for its ‘waste’.

Only half a yard of 45” width novelty linen fabric was turned into this interesting pop-over crop top.  Just under one yard of linen became the slip dress to complete it.  If a remnant can make a full garment, should we still consider it scrap fabric?  My last post featured yet another half a yard top.  I suppose remnants used to be considered as those tiny pieces that became 1930s era crazy quilts, the stuff that is thrown away at all the sewing rooms, fabric stores, and homes of other seamstresses I know.  I love how the end of the bolt is a gold mine waiting to be dug because they are almost always deeply discounted and do work with more sewing designs than realized.  The 1940s, 50’s, and 60’s were really good at having sewing patterns that boldly advertised they would work for one yard or less.

Having more than a yard to work with is needed for many sewing projects, but it is not automatically a necessary luxury.  Refashioning my unwanted clothes, or taking the time to mend and alter, is on equal par with the indulgence of making just what I want to wear when I make it work with unwanted scraps.  In my mind, it’s because I like to be responsible and caring and appreciative of what I have.  I can turn this outlook into something fun and creative, catering to my individuality, by being the maker of my own fashion.

To continue this handmade, sustainable, and thrifty outfit theme, I would like to also point out that I also made my necklace out of a cheap, assorted bead pack I found on sale recently.  I am freaking infatuated with purple and pink, and lately orange as well, so this whole outfit is like my dream colors…but purple is my hands-down favorite.  Thus this necklace set is my new favorite accessory!  Each of the two necklaces are separate so I can wear the assorted seed bead one with or without the fancier, Czech glass, detailed one for a flexible look.  I brushed up on some beading skills learned back as a teen and had a blast making these necklaces.  I get to wear just what I imagined for a fraction of the cost and much better quality than I could possibly find to buy.  My bracelets and earrings are true vintage.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% Linen all around, so pardon the wrinkles!  The top is from a novelty, multi-color, open weave linen and the solid under dress/slip is a cross-dyed semi-sheer linen is a reddish pink color.

PATTERN:  a true vintage McCall’s #8786, year 1967, for the under dress/slip and a Simplicity #1364 “Jiffy” blouses from the year 1964 (originally Simplicity #5262)

NOTIONS:  Everything for this outfit was scraps from on hand – the thread, bias tape, interfacing, and ribbons!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Both were made in only about 2 ½ hours each, and were finished on August 15, 2019.  These were definitely easy and quick projects!

THE INSIDES:  As linen frays something awful and that fraying gets scratchy, my top is bias bound while the dress is French seamed.

TOTAL COST:  The linen for the top had come from JoAnn, and was only $2.50.  The cross dyed linen slip dress had been purchased for a few dollars as well when Hancock Fabrics had went out of business.  All together, the whole outfit cost me $6 at the most!

This is an awfully good classic, proper set for coming directly from the late 1960s!  The only slight giveaway to its era origins that I can see is in columnar, straight-line silhouette of the slip dress and the boxy shape of the top.  I love how cool and comfortable the set is and how versatile each item is on its own.  The underdress goes well with my modern bias flounced wrap dress, yet I do have some sheer pink floral chiffon in my stash to come back to this pattern and make the matching given overdress.  It is humorous how confused the 1967 pattern seems to be at what exactly to call what it has to offer – is it a camisole top dress, a slip, or just a dress?  The top goes with all sorts of bottoms, but especially my 1980s pink shorts!  These particular linens are such soft, sweat-wicking champions that layering them up like in this outfit is not a problem but rather feels quite good.  You just have to roll with the wrinkles, though!

I did just a few adaptations to the pieces’ to both make them fit and be as easy to go on as they are to wear.  First of all, the slip dress was in junior petite proportions and a too-small-for-me size.  Thus, I had to readjust the bust-waist-hips spacing and grade up at the same time.  Luckily this was a really simple design – one front, one back, a few fish-eye darts for shaping, tiny spaghetti straps, and a wide neckline facing.  I went a bit over and above what I needed in extra inches because I wanted the slip dress to be a closure-free, pop-over-the-head type of thing.  If I was planning on wearing this as both a dress on its own and as a slip, I didn’t want a stinkin’ zipper in the side.  I already have a 1940s and a 1950s slip that both have zippers, so I’ve been there and done that.  This linen was too soft and wonderful to confine into a zipper anyway.

Going along with that aesthetic, I went up a size larger when cutting out the top (and was forced to make it shorter based on the half yard I was working with).  I wanted it to be closure-free and easy, breezy, too.  It’s such a refresher to do without a zipper.  I really don’t mind sewing them in at all and they are a must in the structured garments I love to wear, but it is nice to do without both from a maker’s standpoint and as someone who likes simplistic fashion sometimes.

A few little details were all my two pieces needed to elevate this basic set to a chic, coordinated set.  To tie the slip dress in with the top and also make it look a little less plain, I used two random pieces of leftover ribbon from my stash for decorating along the hem.  They secretly cover up my hem stitching!  The lavender velvet ribbon is true vintage and all cotton, still on its original card, and out of the notions stash I inherited from my Grandmother.  The cranberry sheer ribbon is modern, leftover from this dress project made many years back now.

My top needed something to pull the boxy shape in just a tad, so I stitched a button down at the bottom point of each side seam then made a thread loop three stripes away to pull the hem in.  I love how this ‘fix’ compliments the striped linen by making a lovely V at the side seam point (where the bust’s French dart and my back pleat is pulled in).  This ‘fix’ is nicely non-committal, too.  I can also wear it either way – full boxy or slightly tailored when buttoned in.  The notions I used were two leftover buttons I had cut off my son’s worn-through school pants before they were thrown away.  I’m proud of how I let very little go to waste around here!

“The Frade”, a stash swapping website where you can buy/sell/trade fabric, yarn, sewing projects and all sorts of maker supplies, states the statistic that approximately 15% of fabric is wasted when a garment is cut and made.  I do not know if they were referring to the industry or homemade clothing, but from the layout suggestions I see on modern patterns, for one example, I would personally think that percent would be much higher.  As long as grainlines are followed I see no reason for following a computer program’s suggestion for laying out pattern pieces on fabric compared to ‘playing Tetris’ to find an economical fit for minimal waste.  On average, I find I can make most patterns work with at least a half to ¾ yard less than the suggested amount needed on the envelope chart and end up with about 5% or less leftover.  Of course, all this does not apply to many vintage patterns, especially from the 1940s when they knew how to make the most of what they had on hand.

Sustainable fashion practices when sewing new from scratch might be more of a challenge or test of both patience and skill, but the results are worth it in the end.  Voracious fast fashion is ruining the world we live in and destroying appreciation for quality.  According to this article at the Fast Company, “the average number of times a garment is worn before it stops being used has gone down by 36% over the last 15 years (yay!), and yet many consumers wear their items for less than 10 times.”  This is bad news for efforts to limit waste in the fashion industry (info also quoted here @RightfullySewn)”  because over the last 15 years, clothing production has doubled.  There is a problem.

Whether or not we go through sewing projects just as fast as we might with store bought fast fashion, we sewists have the perfect opportunity to be smart about what we make, just as open to the kind of accountability we want – or should expect – from big business.  We can create with supplies that are either vintage, secondhand, or in our stash, and make items with a quality that we will enjoy for years to come.  We can mend when it is needed, tailor as our body demands, and finally recycle in one of the many modern means when all of those options are not viable.  Please, I beg you, choose natural fibers, anything other than a plastic or chemical based material.  We who sew have the answer to sustainable fashion just by our creative capability, and sustainable fashion absolutely needs to happen.  Might I suggest there is a duty attached to sewing, because ‘with knowledge comes responsibility’ as the saying goes.  Maybe we can kick start that with a change of mentality towards the good old-fashioned regard of remnants.  A good creative challenge never hurt anyone, either.

The “Ivory Explorer” Dress

A trip to ancient Egypt with or without James Bond calls for the right dress, wouldn’t you say?  Even if I’m only dreaming, and even if I never really leave town, my newly made “Bond Girl” dress is still a wonderfully chic way to channel the “safari” fashion of the late 60’s and early 70’s.  Following the lines of my inspiration – Barbara Bach from the 1977 film “The Spy Who Loved Me” – my dress pattern was adapted to be more ‘explorer’ oriented while still keeping a pocket-free, clean silhouette to be suited for a warm weather environments other than the land of the Sahara.

The perfect vintage accessories were on hand to make my outfit so very “Bond Girl” matching.  The imitation alligator leather briefcase is vintage from my mom, circa late 60’s early to mid-70’s when she was beginning her professional career.  I love how it compliments my outfit in so many ways, especially in era appropriateness, besides being similar to what was used in the movie.  It really was my purse for the evening, not just a prop, and the nicely divided pockets inside made it very handy!  The earrings and necklace are also 60s or 70s era, from my Grandmother.  My shoes are my longtime standby comfortable wedge heels, Sam & Libby brand, although much more restrained than Barbara Bach’s high heeled Mary Janes.  Not everything is carbon copy to the movie – my buttons are a bit darker and I did wear my hair in an ultra-high, fluffy ponytail just like it was drawn on the pattern envelope cover!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% linen – soft, slubbed, off-white, and near handkerchief weight – for the main body of the dress and 100% cotton sateen in a rich ivory color for the belt, collar, and front buttoning placket.

PATTERN:  McCall’s #9585, year 1968

NOTIONS:  Nothing but thread, some interfacing remnants, and a card of vintage wooden buttons from my Grandmother’s stash were all that I needed, and were all on hand.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was a two evening dress project – very fast and easy, even with my changes!  I spent maybe 5 or 6 hours in total, divided between two evenings.  It was finished literally as I was getting ready to go out wearing it – October 6, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  So nice!  French seams with the rest covered by the collar and button placket.

TOTAL COST:  My dress’ two fabrics were bought at JoAnn’s a few months back for under $30 (as best I remember).  However, I did not use all of each, I have 2/3 yard of linen left and 1/3 of sateen, both of which will go to other projects.  Thus my total price for this dress should be about $20 or less.  Since when can a woman have a linen dress of this quality and design for such a price?!  Awesome stuff happens when you can sew…

Afar from the dusty regions of the world, the safari style mostly finds its place in the grimy urban jungle.  Hollywood’s choice of subject matter of the times helped popularize this style idealism – Born Free of 1966, The Extraordinary Seaman of 1969, Mississippi Mermaid of 1969, and Hatari of 1962 to name a few examples.  Catherine Deneuve and Faye Dunaway became the poster girls for the style.  The real credit, however, to the fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent for his expedition line of clothing.  It was supposed to bring a powerful sort casual class, that’s comfortable with an air of Amazonian confidence and capability to women.  1967 and ‘68, the year of the McCall’s pattern I used, were when his safari designs were in the limelight, with several famous pictures of both him and two models wearing his creations at the doors to his groundbreaking Rive Gauche prêt-à-porter (ready-to-wear) boutiques (one picture here).  It was his “Saharienne,” or Safari jacket, that was part of his first wave of RTW in September 1967.  However, this branch of culturally influenced clothes branched out into laced up dresses, pocket-laden suits, one-piece rompers, and now this Safari look has many forms and is in perennial popularity.  Visit my “Safari” Pinterest board for more inspiration!

My expedition dress has a gentle nod to the Saint Laurent style with its simpler style.  It seems most safari styles are in hue of tan or khaki, and have a plethora of patch, pleated pockets and fine details.  My own Bond girl dress has details but with more of a flawless sophistication I appreciate, no doubt because I associate myself from the woman who wore it in the movie.  Barbara Bach and I both have brown hair and a darker skin tone, and this is not my first dress from this movie, so forgive me!  Egypt does have sand and heat like Africa, but a slight twist on the style – bringing it to a glowing ivory – seems to put her above the elements (as if Bond girls are angels!), in a deceptive play with perception, rather than an earthy tan like true safari styles.  Ancient Egyptians would have frequently worn clothes in undyed linen, anyway, especially for sacred functions.  For me, the ivory brings it out of the casual side more easily, depending on how I style it.  Not that this dress isn’t comfy as if it were a casual dress, because the relatively wrinkle-free linen and the fit makes this effortless to wear.  I guess you can tell I just really think the costumes are first rate in “The Spy Who Loved Me”.  As this project is my second time around, I also think I definitely have another style icon in Barbara Bach.

For being labeled as a “Quickie” pattern, this dress pattern is top-notch!  Most other “Jiffy” and “Simple” and “Quickie” pattern I have tried have all been alright, but either they were so simple they did not need fitting or were just a plain mess to get tailored to myself…until now!  It totally reminds me of what I normally find with the vintage Vogue patterns and 1940s era McCall’s.  There is nice curving along the side seams and perfectly proportioned darts.  This pattern is another one of those that pretty much fit me directly out of the envelope, too.  I have a handful of these patterns that seem meant for my body, and it is like a seamstress’ security blanket to know you can rely on them to be easy to make and like on yourself.  Once you find a pattern like this, it’s a form of gold!

It really took some math to draft my own placket here because this is the widest one I’ve sewn yet.  It wasn’t really hard through, but I did have to remember to cut the dress front on the fold to eliminate the center seam.  Once the placket was in, then I figured out how much longer to draft the collar so I would reach parallel with the edges of the button placket.  I had the temptation to go all out and attempt to make an all-in-one collar and placket piece, but no…a “Quickie” pattern doesn’t deserve to have something added to it which would blow my brain up trying to figure it.

Both collar and placket strips were stabilized with sturdy interfacing so that they would standout somewhat from the rest of the dress and give it something to body, dimension, and interest.  (Something closer to this Yves Saint Laurent dress from Winter 1967.)  Granted the fact that the collar and placket was in a richly creamy colored sateen with a subtle shine already provided some contrast without clashing with the rest of the linen dress.  With the stiffness of the placket, I was luckily able to get by with only 5 buttons leaving some major spacing in between.  The way the collar opens up and stands on its own away from my face…I’m so in love.  I do also adore the way the changes I added bring out the basic but well-tailored fit of the pattern without any add-on details to detract from it.  As much as I cannot do without pockets, this dress needed to go without.

Small details unnoticed at first glance really do make all the difference here.  Lovely French darts were used for the bust and waist shaping while shoulder darts (which actually end at the top of the shoulder blade) offer superior freedom of movement.  For some reason I even found the sleeves and armholes to be much more generous and comfortable than most other 60’s and 70’s patterns I’ve used.  I even cut to the pattern’s original hem length too, and it ends at a nicely demure mid-knee length which comes up to a more risqué mid-thigh when I sit – yay for a sneaky hot little number!  The skirt rides up only because of the slight pencil skirt shaping from the hips down.  This is not an A-line dress but more of a straight cut with subtle curving.  My 1967 plastron jumper had the same kind of skirt, too.  I often assume that most 60’s dresses are A-line so I wanted to point out that this one is a good kind of different from the era’s ‘norm’.  I cannot wait to make another version of this dress for the winter in a long sleeve, perhaps slightly shorter version.

Going back to my title, it is regrettable that the thing which my Egyptian explorer dress shares in common with any kind of Yves Saint Laurent African safari dress is ivory.  This time I’m not just talking about the color of my dress.  Sadly, modern Egypt harbors one of Africa’s largest domestic animal ivory markets.  Hippos are (surprising to many) very lethal and kill about 3,000 every year and elephants can be equally dangerous – quite a different story from the cute nursery drawings of them we grow up seeing.  Many do get killed because of the encroaching of civilization upon the animals’ territory. With bone and man-made imitation being attractive and suitable substitutes, using animal ivory for inlays and carved accessories and artwork at the cost of endangering nature’s most fascinating creatures is even more irresponsible.  Yet, this practice is still going on.  In Africa and elsewhere, it is the elephant and the boar that are targeted.  In Egypt, it is the hippopotamus’ ivory, together with imported elephant tusks which are popular.  The Egyptian government has apparently been working to reduce the trade, but the illegal black market still works to both supply and demand.  Sorry to include a small soap box preaching here, but facts are facts and sadly this doesn’t seem to be recognized as a world problem.

“Bond girl” or ivory trade subjects aside, I now have a great new dress to explore my own urban jungle and take on the errands and duties of my city living in a new vintage style.  Maybe that’s the deeply set attraction of Safari styles – we all have some degree of desire for an expeditionary adventure of some sort which teaches us new things and enlivens the spirit.  Even if it’s just an article of clothing or a book or a piece of art, a tactile thing can still give a small taste of that.  Are you an “explorer” soul – in your own city or abroad?

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