A Sybil Connolly Skirt Suit

Of all the items I have made in my life, it is hard to believe that only now is my very first sewing using a designer Vogue pattern! Even though this might not be the most spectacular or glamorous project to start with, the beauty is in the details and the rich, significant background of the designer.  This is also a very comfortable and useful dressy set, to boot!  I present my year 1976 suit set of Sybil Connolly, the leader and founder of Irish Couture.

First of all, I want to say that I am counting this as part of my 21st century progressive Easter day creations I have been making since 2013, starting with a dress in the year 1929 style.  Since that Easter day outfit, I make something from the following decade for the next year’s holiday.  (See my 1930s Easter dress here, and my 1940s one here.)  Only since I made this set from the year 1954 did I begin keeping with suiting. This year 2018 was naturally supposed to be something from the 1970’s (after this one last year from 1960), but as our Easter day turned out to be incredibly cold and snowy, this suit set had to be put off being showcased until the next spring holiday – Mother’s day!  Happily, the grass and trees were overly lush and green by the time I wore my new vintage suit set!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a cotton-rayon blend “linen-look” material, in a solid orchid color for the contrast and a floral for the rest of the set.  Leftover polyester lining (in a matching orchid pinkish purple) from my stash was used to line the jacket inside.

PATTERN:  Vogue #1503, year 1977

NOTIONS:  I pretty much had everything I needed – thread, zipper, interfacing, and bias tape.  The only thing I needed to buy for this specifically was a button making kit for matching fabric buttons!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was a relatively easy pattern for being a detailed designer project – but of course leaving out the skirt lining step helped, too.  I made my suit set in about 25 hours’ worth of time and it was finished on April 8, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  I’ll admit I took the easy road here for the internal finishing.  My seams are covered by the lining for the jacket body, left raw for the sleeve seams inside the arm, and bias bound for the skirt.  Bias seams are not my preference for making my own copy of a designer garment, neither are raw edges, but this fabric doesn’t really fray and I wanted my set done for Easter-time…only I didn’t wear it for Easter anyway!  Oh well.

TOTAL COST:  This fabric was bought on deep discount when the now defunct Hancock Fabrics had been closing several years back.  I believe I bought the fabric for about $2 a yard. With about 3 yards used, and the notions I bought, this suit set cost me just over $10…how awesome is that?!

For some reason, I found it incredibly difficult to find a dressy suit set from the decade of the 1970s.  I have a sneaky suspicion that this is due to the casualness that the youthful-oriented and stretchy knit fashions introduced, as well as the greater political and social liberties of women.  Enough said.  Whatever the reason, suits of the 1970’s seem to be quite relaxed, mostly with pants for the bottom half, and frequently with a tunic-style jacket or a safari-style over shirt.  Leave it to a designer to offer my taste just what I was hoping for but having trouble finding!  This suit feels unpretentious, but still polished, as well as being timeless with a 70’s flair.  It was just enough of a challenge to make, yet still easy enough to enjoy the sewing.  It has unexpected details to make my creative heart flutter yet these are subtle enough to go unnoticed to the casual observation.  Besides, now I have the opportunity to both appreciate and share the story of a designer that deserves to be better known.

Ireland had long been considered a country without its own fashion.  Sybil Connolly changed that.  She had been brought up in Waterford County, and trained as an apprentice dressmaker in London starting in the late 1930’s at seventeen and by the time she was twenty-two (WWII times) she was a workroom manager and company director for Jack Clarke, a fashion retailer in Dublin.  In 1954, Carmel Snow, then the editor of Harper’s Bazaar, discovered Sybil Connolly who had just come out with her first collection, featuring the use of her native Irish fabrics and embellishments, most notably Irish linen, only the year before.  With the combined help of the Irish exports board, Connolly launched Irish Couture into an international spotlight with her introduction to New York’s fashion scene.  What she made often showed a woman’s natural body form (in contrast to the likes of Balenciaga) with such dresses as her white crocheted evening dress that was featured on the cover of LIFE magazine in August 1953.  Her inspiration the sentiment A woman’s body is inside. It breathes. It moves. So I must see movement in a dress.”  By being true to herself, her tastes, her roots, and her determination, she stood out in the fashion world, gave women attractive options to wear, and gained a new respect from the world for her culture.  By March of 1955, Vogue magazine was mentioning Dublin in the same sentence as Paris, London, and Milan!

Connolly was adamant about using her fashion line to support business and export trade in Ireland, by not only using Irish textile manufacturers, but even employing over 50 local women to hand make some of her laces. At the Glencolumbkill Agricultural show in 1956, she had said, “I feel that as long as we can show such beauty in design and texture as we do in our Irish cottage industries, we cannot ever be called a vanishing race.”  Click here for a “Glamourdaze” article to watch (in color!) Sybil Connolly’s 1957 fashion show at a lovely Irish castle.  Most of her designs at this time were inspired by rural, traditional garments and materials.  This is cultural approbation at its finest.

For me, I have strong Irish roots on both sides of my family, Sybil Connolly’s work is a personal thing that touches a tender spot.  I too love and appreciate the fine laces that my Irish (paternal) Grandmother hoarded (which I now have) as well as the Irish simple beauty of life that my Irish (maternal) Grandfather enjoyed.  If you follow my blog you have already seen and read my great appreciation for linen, in all its forms.  Now, I know – my suit is not real linen.  It’s made from modern linen-look fabric.  It’s also not in a solid color, as was her wont in her creations.  However, I feel that this is me personalizing my own Sybil Connolly fashion, and I can see this step as something she would approve.  I love a linen-look fabric, and I LOVE a purple print…so, this is a set that is all me, for me, designed by a woman that I respect who has my same cultural ties.

This pattern is from 1976, though, decades after the height of her career (the 1950s).  She had dressed all the most well-known social and political names such as Jackie Kennedy, the Rockefellers, and Liz Taylor through the 60’s and began designing for Tiffany & Co. (glassware) as well as releasing luxury home goods (such as fine table linens) by the 1980s.  So this, pattern was at the far end of her fashion career, when she was trading talents.  I have seen that her mid-to late 1970s patterns have very similar, repetitive qualities to my own pattern’s set.  Many of her skirts (excepting her trademark hand-pleated, taffeta-backed linen skirts) have the same paneling with pockets (see Vogue #2998).  Many of her garments had a recognizable continuity even in 1992 as they did 40 years earlier.

Often, designers who began in the pre-WWII times (such as Mainbocher) had difficulty dealing with the harshly contrasting ‘hip’ and youthful trends of the 60’s-70’s-80’s.  However, she was a multi-faceted woman (she even wrote books!) and found a way to keep her head up apparently to still have wonderful, lovely designs like this pattern for many decades.  That is pure ingenuity and a stamp of a classic style.  Connolly maintained that she knew, as all women designers should, that “good fashion does not need to change”.

One of the major details which slightly dates this suit is the enormous collar.  This is so 1970s and a natural style for Connolly to adopt here to be on point for 1976.  An oversized collar is the most common, recognizable feature to shirts and jacket necklines that I see and make from the 1970s.  Other than that, the rest of the details are pretty timeless, and finely crafted.  The sleeves are the classic two panel style seen on most suits.  The body of the jacket has a princess seam running vertical down through the bust, starting from sleeve and running to the hem, separating the front from the side panel.  The side bodice panel has a sneaky extra shaping dart close to where the side seam is while the back is pretty bare bones, yet still shaped nicely.  As this is supposed to be a warm weather jacket, I didn’t line the sleeves and I left out the shoulder pads to keep this lightweight.

As I left off the bias tube belt the pattern called for to wear over the jacket, I instead made sure to keep another accessory detail that can be spotted on the example garment shown on the pattern envelope cover.  Can you find it?  I made my own clip on fabric flower to match for the collar!  I used the 1950’s Dior-style bias method (which you can see here or here) to start with and slightly adapted it so the flower is more compact like a double rose.  Making fabric flowers is my new favorite thing to do with my scraps.  Not only does it use leftover fabric, but I end up with a wonderful matching accessory.  Plus it’s fun (very important) and is an excellent way to practice precise hand sewing.  Small-scale, often time-consuming details like this fabric rose remind me of the labor of love which went into Connolly’s creations.

My favorite feature to this set is possibly the smart button placket to the jacket.  It is only on the exterior front, made a bit more obvious by my solid contrast color.  There is only a wide facing on the inside.  This is unusual but lovely.  I couldn’t find it in my heart to break up the color and texture of the front placket by using anything other than matching fabric buttons, so I bought a kit to make them myself.   I feel like this brings the jacket’s detailing to a whole new level equal to a designer pattern.

My next favorite feature is the smart pockets in the unexpected gore design of the skirt.  It is a four panel (or gore) skirt with no side seams.  There are center panels in the front and the back, with one wrap-around panel to either side.  The waistline has small darts coming out of it, ending at the high hip, adding shaping there in the absence of a side seam.  I think I have only seen no side seams with a side seam darts with my 50’s pencil skirts (here and here), so it is another uncommon feature for the 70’s.  With such seaming, do you know where the zipper closing went?  In the left back side seam.  This makes it kind of tricky to close unless I twist it around to the front of me while dressing.  The pattern called for a flap closing back much like the front buttoning fly to men’s trousers and historical breeches.  I simplified that by sewing one side closed then adding a zip in the other.  Then I continued with the contrasting color I had been using on the jacket to make the skirt waistband out of the solid orchid color linen-look, as well.

I suppose you have noticed my hands slipped into some well hidden front skirt pockets.  What you may not have detected was how the skirt is a straight A-line shape from the front, while the back is gently fuller.  Anyway – back to the pockets!  They are so handy in the way that they are deep and generous to hold many things, and they are at the perfect height for my arm length.  The pockets inside swoop in towards one another, and to keep them that way there is a small length of bias tape to connect the two.  Whenever there are pockets like this I always think of them in connection to a kangaroo, because they give me room to hold things over my tummy!

The pattern I had was a slightly bigger size than what I needed, so I used the same method I used for this 60’s dress.  I cut off the seam allowance on the side and shoulder seams, and made slightly wider seam allowances.  Read more about it in this post.  I’m really liking the perfect fit I end up with this method.

I am now quite eager to dive into my next vintage Vogue designer pattern.  I have already bought a few more while I was in the post-project happiness – among them ones from the 80’s and 90’s for my Easter suits of the next two years!  I love how designer patterns give me a reason and opportunity to learn more about the talents, individuality, and biography of garment creators that made it big.  Unfortunately some of them have been better remembered in history than others!  In fact I prefer the forgotten or little known designers because it helps me associate myself better with them.  I might be sewing using a designer pattern, but most importantly anything I make means I become my own designer.  Home sewing is so underestimated.  One person does all the jobs of a whole fashion house.

Sybil Connolly had bystanders remark of her (at a party she attended in 1946, before she had her own line of clothing) that “Wearing her own designed dress, she was her own best model.”  That is my ideal, to have me – the creator of what I make – be the foremost representation for what can be accomplished at the hands of a dedicated seamstress.  It’s like wearing your art on your back and being your own silent spokesperson for what you do.  Whether it gets seen or appreciated, that fact should alone make one who sews happy.  You don’t need what you make be strutted down the runway to be proved it’s worthwhile…nowadays, half of what is seen on the runways is trash in my opinion anyway.  Just make sure what you make for yourself is 100% you for you to show the beauty, individuality, and artistry to the powerful talent of sewing!

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Hollywood 1944 Scalloped Front Blouse

This blouse may be a basic white, but it is anything but plain. It has a character that reminds me of how vintage patterns conveniently brought movie star glamour to the populace for a decent price. Who doesn’t have a film fashion crush in some way or another? So…bring on the Hollywood patterns!

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Hubby said, “Strike a ‘Peggy Carter’ action pose.”  This is my interpretation.

100_4940-compMy Hollywood blouse was directly inspired by a newly modern “icon” of the vintage world – Agent Peggy Carter. She wears the most simple but beautifully classy blouses, many with amazing collars and appealing details such as contrast top-stitching, pretty buttons, or special sleeves. There isn’t a blouse in Peggy’s wardrobe which I’ve seen yet that looks like mine, but it has the same feel to me of special touches and unique design. This is why I chose to make a basic white blouse superbly snazzy with a scalloped front collar pattern. Here’s to both the red, white, and blue and the power of a strong woman clad in 1940’s fashion!

THE FACTS:

100_4818-compFABRIC:  It is a rayon, cotton, polyester blend “linen-look” line of fabric from Hancock Fabrics store.

NOTIONS:  I had all of what I needed on hand – the bias tape, buttons, and thread.

PATTERN:  Hollywood #1318, year 1944

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse took me about 4 or 5 hours to make and was finished on March 17, 2015.

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THE INSIDES:  All edges are bias bound.

TOTAL COST:  Under $10

Being detail-oriented, this pattern was great for fulfilling my enjoyment of tricky time-consuming tasks which tests my skill (like all the scallops). Beyond any pleasing features, this was also compelling as it is the first Hollywood pattern which I’ve sewn. Hollywood patterns are often considered rarer (compared to Simplicity or McCall) and are slightly harder to find due to the fact that they were only made between 1932 to about 1947. Those patterns with a famous radio or movie name and face in the star on the envelope front are more special than those without. I must admit I have mixed feelings but am overall pleased using a Hollywood pattern. Its instructions were laid out differently, in a way I found a tad confusing and not as clear as they could have been. The finished blouse did seem to turn out on the generous side, too – not something I find in vintage patterns too often. I’m wondering if this tendency to run a bit large is connected to Hollywood patterns, because it certainly doesn’t have to do with the fact the pattern is unprinted (as surmised after making many other unprinted patterns). I do find their designs lovely, so I shall see what happens when I sew up the other handful of Hollywood patterns which are in my collection.

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Being an unprinted pattern using the “punched out holes” method, the scalloped front edge took a ton of marking. I just kept filling in hole after hole after hole! Then I ended up with what looked like a big connect-the-dots puzzle. The pattern piece layout guide on the instruction sheet clarified any confusion I had, but I just needed to think of how the finished product needed to look to figure it out anyway. It might sound hard but it was really fun! The only not-fun part was snipping the curves and turning them right side out into perfect half circles. Every time I do this much snipping, I always save the zillion of tiny triangles leftover…someday I hope to do something wildly creative with all these little pieces of fabric confetti.

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The instructions did not call for interfacing or any kind of stabilization, and although I know old vintage patterns leave out many basic elements of sewing because women “knew” what to do already, I left it out. I wanted my blouse to be easy care with a soft appearance, and interfacing would go against that aim. The neck and collar edges are faced, but not interfaced. I merely used a tight stitch length to keep the fabric from stretching and make my time to sew those amazing scallops not spent in vain.

100_4915-compI am impressed with the ingenuity of the sewing method to the collar. I believe it is a sort of a simple “waterfall collar” and is cut as one with the blouse front. The self-collar is cleverly manipulated so that it turns, gets slashed and darted so that it goes towards the center back neck, making the collar naturally lay open the way you see it. This part was tricky, and I got it wrong at first (due in part to the slightly unclear instructions), but with some unpicking and a little re-stitching, it came out right. Vintage patterns are so smart, they never cease to amaze me.

Down the front, the buttons are antique real mother-of-pearl, carved into a nice smooth knot with a deep inner cut out where they get sewn down. Sure the buttons are ivory on a white blouse…but I don’t care. I love how the buttons feel so cool – sometimes even cold – to the touch, much like how marble stone or metal keeps a differing temperature than the air around it. When I feel this it makes me aware of how special this blouse is to me. It has something about it you just can’t find anymore and knowing sewing can bring vintage back. However it does make me a bit apprehensive to clean this blouse in the washing machine on account of the buttons. They are extraordinarily thick nodules, otherwise I’d never have put them on in the first place. So far so good, but now that I’m talking about the buttons I don’t feel like pushing my luck and it might resort to hand washing from now on.

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My blouse goes with many different bottoms, but I like it best with a basic color skirt, such as navy blue so I can wear red accessories and feel like Agent Carter. However, for Easter 2015’s daytime ‘visiting with family’ I changed into my white blouse with a bright plaid skirt (modern thrift shop find with 40’s details) and an authentic vintage 40’s hat.

Do you have a favorite blouse which has some detailing which makes you feel special just to put it on – is it simple or snazzy? Do you also have a garment that you made in imitation of someone in Hollywood? Does imitating that Silver Screen starlet inspire you to attempt sewing a challenging garment? (This has happened to me on a few occasions already!) It’s amazing what we who sew (or knit) will do in order to make real our dream garment, isn’t it!

P.S. This blouse was part of an “Agent Peggy Carter” ensemble which I put together for being featured on “PopWrapped – Fan Tribute” (see the post for this here).

“Retro Forward” Burda Style: Scrap-Busting Bustier Dress

Ah, yes – fabric scraps. I don’t know what they mean to you or if you even keep any, but my fabric scrap bins are a seamstress’ version of a gold mine. They silently scream out to me a siren’s call of the allure of an interesting project. Being able to use up every last inch of my fabric as well as re-incarnate something from past projects with a new makeover is a very fun and enticing duo which leaves me with a very happily successful feeling if my ideas turn out alright. This post’s dress is the product of one such idea born from the “call of the scrap bin”.

100_5751a-compOur photo were taken at the local park’s handball court. Handball isn’t something I do. My hands take a beating enough from sewing and typing so much, but, when the courts are not in use, they did make for a clean and sporty backdrop as well as a nicely contained area out of the weather for our 3-year old to run back and forth to burn off extra energy!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The fabric is a trio of fabrics with similar contents. The floral skirt portion is a linen-look polyester cotton blend, the middle is the same fabric just in a plain white color, and the top bra-like part is a 100% cotton denim. The floral skirt was made from one yard leftover from my 1961 Party Dress, the white linen-look is leftover from a 1940’s blouse (not posted yet), and the denim is from my 40’s arch waisted jeans.  My lining fabric is a 100% cotton bleached muslin from on hand.

Burda Style Color Blocked Sheath Dress 6-2015 #114NOTIONS:  I only needed thread and a zipper, and I had these on hand already.

PATTERN:  Burda Style Color Blocked Sheath Dress #114, from June 2015

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Altogether, the dress probably took me a total 8 to 10 hours of time. It was finished on July 23, 2015.

THE INSIDES:  Most all of the inner seams are covered by the lining, except for the skirt seams which are bias bound.

100_5798-compTOTAL COST:  Just about nothing is the monetary total when using scraps like I did here. Buying from scratch wouldn’t cost that much anyway because of the small amounts needed.

Similar to my Burda Double Layered Tops, this dress is another change of fabric types: its pattern called for material with stretch and I made it work for the opposite…a woven. Actually I made the mistake of not noticing the pattern was for knits until my fabrics were cut out and ready to be sewn together. To compensate for this I sewed all the vertical seams in small ¼ inch seams and doing so actually gave me just enough extra room for my dress to fit perfectly. My pattern, as I traced it, originally gave 5/8 inch seam allowances, which I kept on all the other horizontal seams. Besides the change of fabric from a knit to a woven, my only other change was to raise the neckline about an inch higher and spread this up halfway in the straps – it’s so much better for me this way!

Burda Style Bustier Dress 6-2015 #112Now, my dress is part of what Burda Style labels as a “master piece” to the June of 2015 release of patterns. Using the main design of this dress, there are a very close variations, with a few features added or subtracted to the pattern to make several differing styles, such as the “Bustier dress #112” and the “Corset dress #113”. My dress follows the pattern for the “Color Blocked Sheath Dress #114”, but as my project highlights the bust panel more than in the model picture, I still think of it as a “Bustier dress”, like #112.

My pattern had come from the European magazine issue, but a downloadable version is also available on the Burda Style website. Either way, the Burda patterns (for those readers who don’t know) need some assembly and tracing before being ready for layout on your chosen fabric. A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a finished pattern prepped. This is the stage where I pick out my size, tracing out only the size I need to use, including any grading and adding seam allowances.

100_5759-compThe pattern itself was actually pretty easy, just a tad tricky and time consuming. The tricky part comes from two parts: when you have to turn the shoulder ties right sides out and then when you have figure out which bodice middle pieces go which direction and where. The ties are small work and the middle sections require a close visual inspection, so neither part is impossible to accomplish. I myself had to unpick a few times to get the middle sections seamed up correctly together. The dress’ darts and many seams make for the time-consuming part, as well as the fact there is a full bodice lining going inside to face all the raw edges. I don’t recommend leaving out the inner lining because it does provide a more stable garment, a better shape and hang, no see through when your middle panels are light colored like mine, and also very nice finish. Believe me here – after all I did try on the dress (just to see what the difference would be) with just the top lining and didn’t like that at all until fully lined. As tricky as the middle lower bodice panels made the construction, I admire shaping of this section – it has a curving which I normally see on many patterns from the 1950’s. Real shaping means a piece of clothing made for the curves of a real woman, unlike many patterns from “The Big Four” which are more straight lines than anything else.

100_5753a-compNotice the darts which tailor the back of the dress skirt section just above the booty. They slant at an angle between horizontal and vertical coming out from the center back where the zipper is installed. I love this part of the dress! My lower back just above my booty is a spot with a lotta’ curve which I always have to watch out for in making my own clothes. Oftentimes I get wrinkles at that spot in my clothes from the wrong fit before I tailor them and this Burda dress with its special darts is the answer to my ‘problem’. I’ll have to remember this new kind of dart and add/adapt it into other patterns, too.

The skirt’s shape is slightly tapered in much like a pencil skirt, but the back vent helps keep it from being confining. Happily the back vent is a fold-over kick-pleat style so it is generously cut yet still decent.

100_5755-compThe shoulder ties are the unique feature that really makes an already cool dress go up a notch in style. Truth be told, I did have a hard time tying the two knots in such a way so that they were not uncomfortable. I had to tie knots that were relatively flat like a box and find the right length for the straps at the same time. Some trial attempts and frustration was involved here…

Shoulder ties are nothing new as a style feature but still special, popping up in fashion though the past decades. In light of my “Retro Forward with Burda Style” series, see my collage with patterns from the 1930’s and up. I love the way the 30’s did tie shoulders such as New York #238 and McCall #7746, from 1939. The 1940’s don’t seem to have as many tie shoulders, but look at Simplicity #3833, year 1941, and a Mail Order pattern for two examples.New York #238 30s sundresses-McCall 7746 yr1939 button front sundress with tie shoulders-40s Mail order playsuit-Simplicity 3833 yr1941McCalls 3514 50's Bateau Neckline Tie Shoulders, Wrap Around Dress&McCall's 7148 from 1960sThe 1950’s have a plethora of examples of tie shoulders (McCall’s #3514, for one), as do the 1960’s (see the McCall’s #7148). Basically the only decade tie shoulders don’t seem to me to be prevalent are the 1990’s.  Out of all the decades, I see the heaviest influence of the era of the 50’s, though, in this Burda dress.100_5750a-comp

I don’t know how much shoulder-ties on garments are utilitarian, versatile, or pure gratuitous, but it certainly makes things interesting and fun, adding a bit of interest in a place not as commonly expected. “Fashion” might come and go, but “style” persists through the test of time. If the shoulder tie feature has lasted most of the 1900’s, than there must be something worthwhile. Once you make one, you might be unsure (as I was), but I hope you’ll tend to agree with me that shoulder tie garments are worthwhile and a very good different. Different is good for me in my sewing…I think it keeps skills sharp and piques interest.

I don’t mean to dish out a selling line to you good readers, but – really- there a lot to offer here with this dress. Anyone who has a stash of relatively small portions that could use a makeover and thus see the light of day (this is many of us, I’ll bet) should definitely consider this Burda Style pattern. This in itself will make any “stash-saver” happy and think of it as a big “mix-and-match” game. Also, any woman who has curves, too (and isn’t that every) will benefit from the illusion of the panels and their shaping. Besides all this, it’s not all that hard to make. You’re using a style history-tested and proven worthy. I’ve told you enough about my own take on this pattern, so here’s you turn. Try it for yourself and let me know so I can read what you think of your own version. I love seeing other people’s creativity.burda butier dress gif 10times 25%

Speaking of creativity, I’ll end my post with my first attempt at a gif file. It’s kind of like a happy head shake.

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This post is part of my “Retro Forward Burda Style” series.

A ‘Double-Duty’ 1931 Day Dress

This “new” vintage dress which I have recently made is an all-around transitional piece, in more ways than one.  It offers a print and fabric and colors all perfect for the varying temperatures of both fall and spring.  At the same time, as a vintage/historical garment, my dress is a mix of styles and fashion ideals which were used through three decades: the 20’s, the 30’s, and the 40’s.  Wow…that’s a lot to go into something to wear!  It might be unusual, and certainly different – but a neat different.

100_3967a     Two different fabric types and the ability to snap on (or off) matching long sleeves make this 1931 dress a versatile winner in my wardrobe.  My dress has the appearance of a separate blouse and a skirt in one neat vintage project. I really love the way I can dress for cooler weather without wearing the “traditional” dark colors associated with it (see this post for another floral fall/winter dress of mine).  This is an all-around comfy, easy-care, nice but casual dress.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The olive green bottom half is in a rayon poly blend linen-look fabric, while the top bodice and sleeves are in a peach floral Swiss dot cotton.  The lining for the bodice Swiss dot fabric is a orange-peach cotton broadcloth.  All of these fabrics were bought at Hancock Fabrics store.  My 1 1/2 yards of peach Swiss dot fabric was bought 7 to 10 years ago.  It’s been in my stash for a while, and I am very glad to find such a wonderful use for it – finally!  The linen-look fabric was bought spring of 2013 (last year) when I had originally hoped to get around to making the dress.  This year (2014), I bought the broadcloth for the bodice lining.

NOTIONS:  I had on hand an old 30’s buckle, the thread, interfacing, bias tapes, and snap tape that I needed.  Buttons for the long sleeve cuffs, extra snap tape, and a side zipper were the only notions I had to buy.

PATTERN:  a year 1931 McCall reprint from Past Patterns #6611, a “dress with waist yoke” in several sleeve and fabric combination options

100_3995TIME TO COMPLETE:  Well, 8 to 10 hours were all it took to finish the dress, and it was done on August 23, 2014.  The matching long sleeves took at least 10, maybe 12, hours to be finished on October 3, 2014. 

THE INSIDES:  All seams except the side seams and neckline are covered with bias tape.  The neckline is self-enclosed by the lining (I’ll explain later how this worked) and the side seams are left raw to eliminate extra bulk and to make it easy to do fitting adjustments.

TOTAL COST:   As the Swiss dot fabric was bought so long ago, I’ll count it as free.  As for the only expenses, the linen-look for bottom and the other notions I bought, the grand total probably comes to $12.00 or less.

The main body of the dress, without the sleeves, was very easy and quick in coming together.  As you can see in the pattern picture above at left, the assembly instructions were themselves very simplistic – just one page of layout breakdown with about 8 sentences of directions.  However, looking at the dress pattern pieces together with the ‘cover envelope’ picture rather makes construction self-explanatory.  The only construction detail that is entirely up in the air for you, the seamstress, to decide is how to put the dress together.  A basic, but semi-thorough, knowledge of different seams is needed to know (for instance) that the middle front and back panels of the dress are best when added to the skirt in a lapped method.  Bias tape was also wonderful to cover the curvy seams of both the inner edges of the middle section and the bottom hem to what is a half-circle skirt.

100_3972a     I love how these old patterns allow you to learn, expand, and use your sewing skills by providing such simple instructions.  I feel it gives seamstresses more respect than laying out some detailed, dreary, and possibly confusing directions.  Granted, I know complicated instructions are needed and quite useful sometimes.  It’s just that sewing in an advanced form used to be common knowledge years ago, thus old patterns were created for such a person.  Those of you that feel comfortable with your skills, will also enjoy making these old patterns with simple instructions.

There are only just a few points in constructing my 1931 dress where I deviated (just a bit) from the assembly diagram to personalize and accommodate my taste.  To start with, I sewed the front and back neckline first – yeah, first.  I wanted the neckline to be nicely self-enclosed in between the Swiss dot and lining cotton by sewing the seams right sides together, clipping the curves, turning out, then top stitching in place.  As I had raised up the scoop neck by about 1/2 inch, I had trouble fitting my head through, so I had to unpick several inches in from the neck to add a snap placket to the left shoulder seam (see picture below).  I hate sewing in snaps…this part of the job was tough.  The length of the skirt was also extremely long which necessitated a chop off of about 3 1/2 inches to reach the proper mid-calf length.

100_3993     Fitting is very important when it comes to making this pattern reprint.  The dress needs to be slightly roomy everywhere else except the hips. I saw on the front of the ‘cover envelope’ drawing that the pattern specifically pointed out that “this garment fits closely at hips”.  O.k., I thought to myself, I need to grade the pattern down to my size, so I’ll make sure to get close but maybe just a little big when it comes to the fit.  You can always take something in, but when something too small…well that’s a problem.  Just so as to make fitting this dress to my body easy, I did something different from the construction instructions – the entire front pieces and then the entire back pieces are sewn up in two separate, full dress length panels.  This method left the two side seams (with a zipper in the left hip/waist) the very last thing done to complete the dress.  With three sections composing the length of the dress, there would be no way to adjust the sides if done otherwise.  In the finished dress, my down grading sizing turned out fitting perfectly, but I finally realized (once it was on me) how important it is to fit snug on the hips.  The bottom skirt is rather heavy, and, without the tight hip fit, the whole dress gets weighed down, thus losing the proper “blousing out” of the upper bodice.  There is a delicate balance trying to find a good hip fit for this dress – tight enough to hold the dress where it should be but not too tight to rip seams or make the dress wrinkle up uncomfortably.  After a handful of trial and error attempts, I feel I have found the perfect hip fit (for now at least).

100_3986a     Having a belt, especially when you can use an old 30’s buckle like I did, also helps to hold the dress up in place and balance out the harmony between the two fabrics.  I finally did an experiment with the belt I made to match my dress, one which has been in the creative “back-burner” of my mind.  Before I sealed off one end, I slipped in a venetian plastic window blind slat in to the long belt tube.  Of course the blind slat is stitched in place at the ends, but at least this way I have a bendable but sturdy belt on which there is no top stitching or interfacing.  It sounds strange, I know, but it works, and I like my idea…although I probably will not do it again.

I really find the silhouette of this dress even more dramatically interesting with long sleeves.    This dress does nothing for the bust or the shoulders (a very 1920s characteristic) while the long vertical emphasis of both the fit and the design of the main dress body stresses the hips (also of the 20’s) and lengthens the body (late 20’s).  With the long sleeves on the dress, they further the vertical emphasis, but widen it slightly, by beautifully drawing attention to the hips in a very unique manner.  I can’t figure out the reason for the three horizontal pin tucks – I can only think that they balance out the vertical lines of the dress.  The little bias flare of the bottom gives it a slight 30’s touch and the blouse top with its kimono sleeve style and U-neckline is definitely very 40’s (see my version of this blouse).  Besides all the styling, the use of Swiss dot fabric is very authentic for the era.  See this post by Marianne at Fintage for a classic example of the 30’s beautiful use of Swiss dot fabric.

100_3757     When it came to making the sleeves, there are absolutely no instructions whatsoever.  As long as you know how to make sleeve cuffs, this is not a problem – how to achieve the look of the cover drawing was the cause of consternation.  The pattern pieces do not clarify how many pieces to cut out of the cuff and the sleeve band.  Thus I ended up cutting out four of each cuff and sleeve band (two for each sleeve) and one each of interfacing.  According to the cover drawing, the cuffs looked like they are supposed to be in a turned back style, so I was going to face the cuff and sleeve band pieces with interfacing inside to achieve that look (see the left picture).  I believe my method to be the correct way to have done the sleeve cuffs, and, although I can’t guarantee this, the way they turned out is truly lovely with the way they curve.  The stable sleeve cuffs make for a nice finish for the poufy “bat wing” style sleeves above them.  At first I was concerned that the sleeves hang too low on my arms by the way the seam ends an inch or so below my elbow.  Looking at the cover envelope drawing again confirmed for me that they are supposed to fit that way.  The sleeves take a bit to get used to once they are on just because I’ve never had anything like them, but it doesn’t take long to love wearing them!

Tiny 1/4 inch coral pink buttons close up the inner cuff of my sleeve band.  Since I didn’t included a closure method when the cuffs were made, I got inventive to make something work.  Braided thread loops are great but are time-consuming.  Time was something I wanted to cut down on at this point.  So, I threaded a tapestry needle with 1/8 inch light pink satin ribbon and wound it through the cuff seams making three loops.  It looks dressy and it was easy at the same time.

100_3991     My idea for snap on and snap off long sleeves came from seeing this feature on an old 1920’s pattern.  How ingenious and versatile, I thought!  Nothing extraordinary was needed to do – the short sleeves were hemmed like a normal sleeve, and the long sleeves had a small band sewn on to both finish the edge and give room for the snap tape.  Sewing on the snap tape to the sleeves and getting both sides to match snaps was a long, time consuming, hand sewing torture that was made better by getting it done in the car.  Nothing like getting the most out of my passenger time to get my hand sewing done!  It really made all that hand sewing fun to do it in the car.  I want to do more sewing during car trips!  I’m wondering if a 1931 lady would have been able do sew as a passenger in their cars.

This project was unknown territory for me. It certainly brought me out of my comfort zone which is a good thing.  I thrive on a challenge and it helps me hone in on my skills.  My 1931 dress is one that is a surprise to me.  Every time I wear it out and about, I get a bit unsure and self-conscious thinking that it is too-vintage or unusual, but then I always seem to receive a positive compliment.  All I know is I think I’ve re-discovered a piece of history long over looked and forgotten.  I’m a lucky girl to get to make and wear such a piece.  Anyone care to join me and sew up their own version?

100_3978     Our photo shoot’s backdrop is a neighborhood apartment complex, which has the name “Crystal Tower” due to a superb use of decorative glass in the vitrolite tiles and blocks.  It is wonderful example of how everyday living had a touch of Art Deco glamour in the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s – the three decades included in my dress.  Perhaps, if you search in detail behind me in our pictures, you should see the “Crystal Tower” logo with its nautical cursive theme.  Even though the building was actually built in 1940, towards the end of the Deco style period, the building materials and design had been used similarly for a decade or two before, so our backdrop is authentic to my 1931 dress (historically speaking).  There is an excellent blog page at B.E.L.T. Stl which shows more details of the “Crystal Tower” apartments, if you’re interested.  For using such a homey, down-to-earth place for a photo shoot, I certainly think it neat to see such forethought and attention to detail in vintage construction.  Look forward to more of these Art Deco era living places in some upcoming blog posts.

As always, please check my Flickr site, Seam Racer, for more pictures.

A 1961 “Party Dress” – It’s “Sheer” Fun!

Who doesn’t love a party, especially when it involves making and wearing a fabulous frock?!  Our son’s birthday celebration afforded me a very good reason to whip up a fun, fresh, and unique 1961 pattern labeled as a “party dress”.  I used an old original pattern which provided me good practice at re-sizing (as it was for juniors) and an opportunity to work with new techniques by using different material.  The finished product is wonderfully feminine and my unique personal interpretation of a popular retro/vintage fashion.  I certainly love to be able to find reasons for wearing a dress like this!

100_1498     New fabrics revolutionized clothing and fashion styles between the 50’s and 60’s.  Petrochemicals provided easy wash, easy care Nylon,(Polyamide), Crimplene (Polyester), and Orlon (Acrylic mix) fabrics in a variety of pastels and fun colors.  It is definitely not the world’s most comfortable line of fabric.  However, there is almost nothing more symbolic of the retro era than a sheer dress with a contrast underneath and an uber-gathered skirt.  I am so happy to have re-created another small piece of fashion history!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Overdress: a sheer 100% polyester organza-type fabric in a cranberry color;  Underdress: a linen-look rayon/cotton blend fabric in an pastel floral print; Lining for the bodice: white matte finish polyester scraps coming from off of a rummage sale bed skirt – leftover from lining my 1940 Vintage Vogue #8811 (link here).

S3769NOTIONS:  I bought about 10 yards of cranberry satin ribbon, matching thread, and a zip for the back.  I already had a bit of pink bias tape, off-white thread and  plenty of clear “plastic” monofilament thread, as well.

PATTERN:  Simplicity #3769, year 1961, teen and junior “Party Dress” (the large picture at right).  I found it at a rummage sale for pittance – only a quarter!  For the sleeveless floral under bodice to the dress, I used the top half of a modern pattern, Simplicity #1876 (picture below left).  I was going bold here…a strapless under bodice was entirely my idea, and not in the old pattern.Simplicity1876

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My dress was finished on May 17, 2013.  My nearest guess as to the time spent on my dress from beginning to end is 20 hours, maybe more.

THE INSIDES:  My sheer retro dress has nicely finished insides, and that was difficult to do considering all the waist gathers.  The side bodice seams are the only ‘unfinished’ seams, but they are double zig zag stitched along the raw edge.  Otherwise, the skirt seams (for the under and over dress) are in French seams, all the nylon edges have a satin ribbon edging, and the linen underskirt has a wide 3 inch hem (see left picture).  The inner waistband is covered in pink bias tape to ensure a comfortable feel despite all the bulk.  My sewing machine impressed me…if it can sew bias tape onto the already super thick, double fabric, tight gathered waist section, well my Singer is a true trooper and can indeed sew through anything I put under it!  100_1504

FIRST WORN:  to a vintage/retro car show displaying old classic models, held at a local antique shop’s parking lot.  In the main picture above, by the way, the car behind me happens to be an uncommon beauty: a Nash Metropolitan car, year 1960.  

TOTAL COST:  I don’t exactly remember anymore, but I think the total was close to $25/$30.  All my fabrics and supplies were on clearance but, since I needed a lot of yardage, the prices added up.  My finished dress was well worth it!

Mad Men 60's variety dresses_Trudy in poufy dress combo      I had some strong inspiration shooting off fireworks of ideas in my head, allowing me to see ahead of time exactly how I wanted my finished “party dress” to look.  My first inspiration was when I saw a beautiful 1957 dress on display (see right side of picture duo) at an exhibit in our town’s History Museum.  The exhibit was called “Underneath It All”, and it showed the history of the items women wore beneath, how they created a certain image, and were tied to both fashion and historical events.  When the timeline came to the 50’s, it addressed the Famous Dior “New Look”, and the example on display was a summer batiste dress, by Josephine Scullin, with a bluish/aqua/purple floral under a solid sheer aqua.  I had to make a dress like this for myself – crinoline slip and all!  My second major inspiration is none other than the T.V. show Mad Men, much loved by many seamstresses for inspiring drool-worthy 50’s to 70’s fashions.  The character of Betty especially loves to wear the classic style similar to my “party dress”, but other actresses also wore similar sheer floral frocks (see Trudy in the ivory floral dress at left picture).

100_1503     Just look at that beautiful dip of the back neckline!  Personally, I love this feature along with the classic almost way off the shoulder fit of the kimono sleeves.

I really thought ahead before and while making this dress.  At the pattern stage, I had to add inches at the waist, adjust the position of the bust (as the pattern was for juniors), and take out a whopping 10 inches from the huge skirt panels to reduce the overabundance of gathers.  I tried to use a spray adhesive to tack the sheer panels to the matching under pieces, but I think taking the time to do basting worked out better here anyway.  The floral under bodice’s boning was eliminated since I planned on having it supported up by being invisibly hand tacked to the organza bodice.

100_1506     I was very conscious of the weight that would be put on the delicate bodice and shoulder seams, seeing that they are only the sheer organza.  A delicate satin ribbon facing goes under the sleeve, neckline, and shoulder edges for a smooth, non-itchy feel which would fashionably support the barely there seams.  The entire hem of the organza over skirt was also hemmed with the ribbon…I love the resulting look but, believe me, the work was long, frustrating torture.100_1505

The only fitting that was needed on my “party dress” after it was done was to fix some slight gaping along the sides of the bust and under my arms.  I came up with my own out-of the-box idea.  Sewing in bias tape “channels” along the top inside edge of floral sleeveless under bodice, I started from the side of the center bust to under the armpits and fed through elastic.  The elastic channels gently gather in the excess fullness without confining the bodice at all.   Gathers surprisingly also gave the dress’ top half some added complimentary shaping.

A simple sash tie belt was made to wear at the waist of my dress.  The pattern called for these two giant sashes to be made and sewn into the side seams, so one could wrap them around the dress and tie into great big bow.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to want this feature on this dress, much less be committed to it by having them in the side seams, so I left them out.  However, I do still have enough sheer fabric to make the cummerbund sashes.  One day I would like to sew them up, tack them to the sides, and see what that would look like.  The giant sashes might give the “party dress” a completely different appearance I might love…an update will be posted here if that happens.

My crinoline petticoat under slip helps create the proper shape to my “party dress”.  I bought it here at Unique Vintage and I really how soft it is with the layers of ruffles.  It features a draw cord waist that tends to loosen a bit as I wear it, no matter how I double tie the bow.  So I added little loop at the inside waistband of my dress so I can connect the petticoat and the dress together.

100_1502     I did cover all the sheer seams in fray check just to make sure they don’t end up with a big run or rip too easily.  So far so good!
Someone gave me a wonderful compliment one day when wearing my “party grace-kelly-rear-window combo picdress”.  She told me my dress reminded her of something Grace Kelly wore in the Hitchcock movie “Rear Window”.  I went home and did an internet search on the subject and did find a dress quite similar in my respects (deep V-back, sheer poufy overskirt) to my own “party dress”.  See the picture below.  Grace Kelly also wears another dress in “Rear Window” with a similar sheer bodice which is strapless underneath.

      I hope you have enjoyed my post and get inspired to make your own wonderfully fun party attire.  Now all that is needed is a party!

I will post more photos soon on my Flickr page, Seam Racer.