Red Roses for a Vintage Style Lady

Admittedly, for someone that briefly worked as a florist, I’m not much of a real roses fan.  Don’t misunderstand, I regard them as simply beautiful, and when in quantity add up to a good day’s total at the cash register.  As a customer, though, they just wilt too quickly for their cost.  Even the outdoor bush and plant variety always seem to soon enough become sick or mutated and die in our yard, sadly.  Now I have the kind of roses whose beauty will last and make for a great deal!  Heck with the old song, “Red Roses for a Blue Lady”.  These are roses for a lady who likes vintage styles!

Here is yet another garment where I’ve repeated what I know I love in a project – channeling a feminine ‘Betty’ outfit from the television show Mad Men again (second season this time; other Betty dresses here and here) and also using a true vintage fabric (my most recent one here).  As good fashion never really goes out of style, I do think this dress has the same qualities as the costumes of Mad Men, period-appropriate but also timeless and fashionable even to modern viewers.  I paid attention to details like I had all the time in the world, and did tons of hand stitching, even adding seed beads, for a dress which is my own perfect Valentine’s Day treat!

My fabric choice is a pristine condition, polished, printed cotton from the 1950s (surmised from many recurrent similar extant garments of that era).  I found it as a lonely piece at a steal of a price thrown in the corner of an antique mall shop.  How could I just leave it with its saturated red goodness at that cost?!  So – a good fabric deserved a really great pattern…one that has intimidated me every bit as much as I adore it.  I came upon a find, I saw a perfect project in mind, and I have conquered it!  However, the finished wiggle shaping ends up making my body look like a very shoulder-and-hip-heavy hourglass ‘Joan’ silhouette that I really am not used to but am completely taken by nonetheless!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a true vintage cotton lined and contrasted in a solid black cotton broadcloth

PATTERN:  Simplicity #2727, a ”Slenderette” pattern, year 1958 (I plan on coming back to this and making the jacket, yet!)

NOTIONS:  The basics I needed were on hand – thread, interfacing scraps, a hook and eye – but the zipper (22”) and the beads I bought recently just for this as I realized exactly how I was going to detail it!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  It took me about 10 hours to finish, but I actually spent a handful of hours just on figuring out the pattern piece layout before cutting out…there was no room for error…or the pattern pieces, really…

THE INSIDES:  A fully lined dress means all inner seams are not to be seen…

TOTAL COST:  This vintage fabric was only 8 freaking dollars, people!!!  The cotton lining I received for free, and the beads were only $2.  So this is an under $10 dress!  Such a deal.

Why, oh why is it that the best fabrics I find seem to frequently come in small cuts?  It’s like some sewing Karma wants to test me at every turn and always make sure my projects are a challenge.  This rose fabric was in a ridiculously small 35 inch width (one of the reasons I can estimate the vintage) and was a hairs breath under 2 yards long.  Under the envelope back listing for 35” width fabric, it says I needed 3 yards for this dress.  Yikes!

The only way I could make things work was to piece together a full one side back bodice panel and to add a horizontal waist seam to what had been intended as a smooth center front.  The print is complex I do not think the extra seams are noticeable but I know they are there, nonetheless (well, so do you now).  The center dress panel change especially makes me a bit sad (seen or not) because I loved the streamlined look of it with one-piece, streamlined, princess-style drafting as on the original design.  Not too shabby of a compromise, though, and at least the lining was cut properly without extra seams!  Granted, every piece was butted up against one another when laid out, so it’s a lucky thing I did not have to grade up in size at all.  The skirt had to be shortened by about 5 inches and the kick pleat eliminated to make things work, so I was literally left with nothing but tiny triangles of scraps leftover.  Although stressful, even mind stretching, it feels so good to be super-efficient and determined with a project idea!  If there’s a will, there’s a way, as the saying goes.

I am glad I had put off tackling this sewing project until now when my sewing skills are where they are at.  The overall dress was not hard to make.  It was the detail points that were the challenge, which was a difficult one that I have not had in a while.  Luckily, I had some practice ahead of time to help me out on the trickier spots of this dress.  A few of the projects I have made already have had some of same the details I encountered in making my red roses dress when all of them were in one project.  The underarm bodice panel/kimono sleeve combined into one element reminds me very much of my 1955 Redingote, as does the belt attached in at a front waist dart.  The side paneled bodice shaping is just like on my recent 70’s style Burda jumper.  The pleats which cover up a seam, like the ones at my waist, are call to mind the pockets on my “Spring Green” Easter suit of 1954.  It is good to challenge oneself, but at the same time I want to stress it is beneficial to work up to that scary hard pattern by finding projects ahead of time which prepare your skills for a successful turnout.  A fruitful finished sewing creation makes all the difference in confidence and estimation of worth in time and effort.

The bodice panels turned out the best I’ve ever done yet, happily, thanks to knowing what to expect.  I do love the way such a design element in the garment provides the best ever shaping for ones bodily curves, besides being the most comfortable form of a kimono sleeve…better than one with underarm gussets.  Look for something similar to try for yourself – you will love the way it wears!  Only, I thought the bust for this pattern ran large until I put on the period-appropriate longline bustier.  Then, suddenly I had that curvaceous 50s figure and a perfect fit that put me in awe.  So, a word of warning – in a 50’s pattern, beware that their curving accounts for more than what modern women are used to with the lingerie of today.  Unless you are willing to try a different style of underwear, or unless you find such a design element in a pattern from another decade closer to now, the wonderful shaping which you will find with a bodice panel/kimono sleeve combo might be more than you expect.

Those front waistline pleats where the belt is attached were the toughest part to tackle.  It took me about 4 attempts to figure them out correctly…but just look at them!  They remind me of the interesting pleats which can be found on some 50’s or maybe 60s couture garments.  Two of the pleats that provide the slight hip poufiness are angled out and folded down.  The pleat that encloses the belt and bodice side panel seam is perfectly vertical and folded towards the other two pleats away from the center front…so confusing on paper but awesome finished properly.  The fabric makes it really hard to photograph these details as clearly as I see them.

I’m not complaining about this wonderful fabric one bit, though!  Modern cottons are sadly missing out on the lovely sheen which vintage polished cotton has, not to mention the saturated dying process that makes it almost reversible.  Yet, vintage polished cotton is a bit sheer and stiff on its own, thus another solid opaque layer was needed under my dress for a non-transparent and natural-bodied hand to the fabric.  Besides, I am silly and would rather make a whole second dress as a lining so as to have an impeccable, second skin finish inside…not just to cover all the seams but mostly to eliminate the fussy neck facings.  Having more than enough cotton lining gave me an opportunity to cut the dress out the way it should have been with no adaptations.

Except for the major seams inside, all else to this dress was hand stitched invisibly.  This has been the first garment where I really sense that my hand sewing skills have grown to be similar to my machine skills – accurate, fast, and efficient.  The lining is hand tacked to the zipper (which was also hand installed to the point it is as good as invisible); the neckline, sleeve hems (after a machine added ¼ inch bias binding), and skirt hems (after lace tape added to the under edge) hand finished.  Not that it matters – who else but me really sees inside or even gets close enough to notice the details?  Whatever.  It’s that choked-up, happy emotion I get inside seeing the unnecessary extra particulars so fine as I’m dressing.  It makes you feel special, and reminds me that the beauty inside a person, like a garment’s inside, although unseen, is the best part.

It’s these same sentiments and the urge to try something new that prompted me to add a bit of beading to the neckline.  Not that the neckline is not a statement in itself!  This is one of the best fitting boatnecks I have come across, and the little notched front heightens the neck and shoulder emphasis by centering under the pit between the collarbones.  I merely added some clusters of 4 to 6 seed beads at a rose center which might be near the neckline center top edge, with a few smaller 2 or 3 bead accents on some petal tips as shading.  I was tempted to go and add the whole package of beads so it would show up better, but there is something I love about the understated elegance to not going overboard.  I do not want gaudy or distracting details to subtract from the dress and its fabric, and the more I bead, the more there is pressure to turn it into some sort of defined design…then my beading skills have to be better.  I did attempt to make a simple 3-D flower out of strings of beads to add on the end of the back waistband.  It’s not perfect, but pretty nonetheless, and just the perfect touch if I do say so myself.

Vintage is admired and long lasting because of its understated quality and beautiful ingenuity…these are the details I miss the most in modern ready-to-wear.  So, if I can bring a small part of that back in my own life and be the example, then I am happy.  If I can remind others they are worth feeling good in their skin by a wonderful dress, and that creating is good for the soul, than my garments are beneficial to more than me alone.  Hopefully with the time, attention, and care I put in towards my dress project, this red roses vintage fabric will have a lovely new life for many more years to come!  I know this dress will be seeing more than just a Valentine’s Day wear!

A Shapely 1962 Sundress

Out of all the fashions, styles, and decades of clothing which I sew, I can only go for so long before the need to make something from the 1960’s makes itself manifest. I do love making and wearing the 1960’s style, and am always so impressed with the patterns and clothes I make with patterns from that decade. Personally, in those patterns I find the styling lines so interesting to the point of impressive and notice the fit from the 60’s to be either difficult or spot on. This unique sundress is one of the best examples of a 60’s – a superbly complimentary fit combined with an unexpectedly rich floral print. This is by far my favorite make for this years’ summer.

100_5595ab-compTHE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton, bought from the quilting section of Hancock Fabrics. The cotton print had the label “Eclectic Elements by Tim Holtz – 2014 Bouquet“ on the selvedge. It is a multi-layered, off-inked mix of flowers – roses, hydrangeas, lilacs, and peonies – in soft but strong colors. The straps are a poly/cotton linen-look fabric, leftover from making my 1931 day dress (see post for that here).100_5653a-comp

NOTIONS:  I only bought a pack of piping. The zipper, thread, bias tape, and a hook-and-eye (for the top zipper closure) were all on hand already.

PATTERN:  McCall’s 6261, year 1962, an “Easy-to-Sew” pattern

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was finished on July 8, 2015, after maybe 15 to 20 hours from start to finish.

THE INSIDES:  Inside, almost every exposed seam is a French seam – just how I like them! Seams that aren’t French are the hems, the neckline (because it’s covered by facing), and the long vertical seam with the piping, which is covered with bias tape.

100_5655-compTOTAL COST:  My total for the fabric on sale and one pack of piping is about $15 to $20.

I love the way the floral print could be uber-feminine to the point of being overwhelming, but this is prevented and softened by being blurred slightly and muted in colors, especially with the contrast dusty olive green of the straps and piping. This is fabric caught my eye as a very close similarity to the dress of the left model on the pattern envelope cover drawing. So, I went along with sewing my look-alike and also picked the same contrast, happy to have an opportunity to use up scraps from my “leftovers” stash. When I use scraps from one project and incorporate them into other projects, I feel like I’m intertwining all my creations, giving them a subtle ‘common ground’. Most of the time, I shy away from copying envelope front model pictures or drawings, after seeing how modern patterns have the worst cover examples of any patterns. However, the vintage pattern’s drawing cover can be so cute and appealing, and I get so tickled when I am able to find a modern look-alike fabric for a vintage one. So, I guess I’m guilty of a lapse in creativity by being a ‘cover copy-cat’, but at least I know then that it’s a true vintage design.

100_5617a-compThere are two bodice options to this pattern – a regular “on the fold” cut bodice, in cut one piece with darts, or an asymmetrical, mock-wrap, princess-seamed bodice, cut in two parts. I chose the two part bodice as it is more unique, offered more interesting creative possibilities, and (as I correctly thought) seemed to have more amazing shaping.

100_5611a-compThe construction steps were adapted and varied a bit from the instruction sheet in order to accommodate adding in the piping trim all the way down the front asymmetric side seam. I did the darts first, of course, but then I sewed the bodice pieces to the skirt pieces and left the top edge facing for last. There was a bit of forethought needed to sew the two different top pieces to the skirt sections and not be totally confused. To understand what I mean here, know that both the front and the back skirt bottom to the dress are made of three sections (six sections in total). Thus, I had to sew both the middle and the left skirt pieces together to attach to the left bodice panel, but the skinny right bodice panel was sewn to a single right panel. The back bodice is one piece, sewn to all three of the back skirt sections joined together. The piping was then sewn in with the asymmetric vertical seam connecting the entire (bodice and skirt) left/center front to the entire right front so the side seams could be stitched for a completed main dress body. Besides the construction order being changed so I could add in piping and a slight downgrade in size, nothing major was altered to the design of the dress according to the pattern.

After sewing my 1944 Easter dress together, I felt very confident and excited about working with piping again, but I did improve on my method of sewing it into a seam. For this project, instead of sandwiching the piping in with the seam and sewing everything all at once (as for the Easter dress), I first sewed down the piping to one side of the fabric at the given seam allowance width. This way the piping was in sturdily place and acting like a “curb” to my final seam with other fabric laid on top.

100_5657-compFor a while, I was on the fence as to whether or not to add piping to the top bodice edge. Hubby helped me reason that it would unify the piping down the front, finish off the edge, and make the green contrast standout more. Since the piping happened to luckily be the exact color match with the fabric for my shoulder straps, I might as well use more of it! With the piping added along the bodice edge, I did not iron or sew on any interfacing to the facing. The only drawback with the piping along the top edge is the fact that the chest size is set for the dress now…it’s not forgiving. My arm and chest muscles can’t get any bigger, but for now, the dress fits, and it’s my summer standby go-to outfit this year!

100_5604a-compIt was a bit a challenge when it came to adding in the side zipper, because all the curving and shaping was in the side seams, instead of in main body dress panels. This is a something I see in 50’s and 60’s patterns, whereas in most 1940’s patterns, which also often have multi-paneled skirts to dresses, the shaping is in the panels that are part of the main body of the garment. (See the patterns for my Mock-wrap ’46 dress and Winter Mint ’42 dress, for two examples for panel shaping, versus my ’50 wrap top or “Whiz-wrap” skirt, for two examples of side seam shaping.) The only main body shaping to my ’62 sundress was at the bust. Speaking of seams, I loved to see how the skirt panels coordinated with the darts for the bodice. Even the straps for the shoulder are sewn on at a vertical match with the bodice darts – what irony…beautiful symmetry paired with asymmetry!

100_5654a-compWould you believe the shoulder straps are actually shaped like a half circle? Check out the pattern back.  This is the ingenious way the pattern resolves design of the straps sewn so far over by the armpits. Usually with straps so far apart, they would slip off the shoulders, and that’s really not a problem on this ’62 dress since these straps deceive the eye and curve in towards the neck to stay put. Smart! I would never have guessed, nor did I think it would work myself, until actually wearing the dress as designed. Vintage patterns always have so much depth and interesting design to offer…more than what meets the eye on the envelope drawing!

Near our house was the perfect setting for an era-appropriate backdrop. There is nothing as appealing to me as an architecturally interesting building, especially one as much loved, well known and local as what people of our town know as the old Buder Branch Library building. (See the B.E.L.T blog page for a handful of links about this building.)  For many years it has been home to The Record Exchange store, which sells used vinyl records, cassettes, movies, and audio/visual equipment, so the whole retro-flashback feel is still alive in this amazing building. It was built in 1961, the year before the date of my dress, and I am always in awe of the graceful, standout Mid-Century Modern style of this building. Just like a well-made garment, the old Buder Branch Building is picturesque and beautiful from any and every angle it’s seen from.

In all, what you see in this post is my perfect warm weather fix…the 60’s era, a sundress, comfy cotton, complimentary shaping, and flowers – everything I love about summer! What can you sew to make your favorite season instantly better than ever?

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Me in front of my favorite summer blossom, the “snowball” bush.

“Sometimes”…You Just Have to Go a Little “Mad”

I’m not really referring to a mental condition or an emotion with my title…it’s more specifically “Mad Men” the T.V.show, that is, or even more precisely “mad” for a crazy “disco era” color scheme!  Yes!  This “Mad Men” inspired late 60s dress of mine is my ultimate summer party dress for this year.  (Click here to see the blog of my ultimate summer party dress for last year!)  Like last year’s party creation, this “Mad Men” 60s inspired maxi dress was different and out of my comfort level, but, as always, stretching my boundaries gives me a new sewing satisfaction, especially when I end up with a new favorite item to wear.

Betty_Pucci maxi-dressSeason3,Nov30_10_Souvenir_cropped     A very lucky find of an old fabric stash at a vintage fair provided me with the opportunity to make my copycat version of this lovely Pucci designed dress worn by the “Mad Men” character Betty (see left picture).  This scene can be found in Season #3, the “Souvenir” episode, released November 30, 2010.

I can’t help but do a funky dance in my wild retro dress!  We even found an era-appropriate “Mid-century modern” building to have as the backdrop for the picture below (more about this location later).

100_3072THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  I believe it’s a cotton/polyester blend fabric, soft and flowing, in a wild “Pucci style” color tone of swirling, bright (almost neon) colors.  The fabric was vintage, but not that old to be a poly blend, and it was a 3 1/2 yard cut in a 45″ width.  I also used an old, small scrap of fabric in a matching blue to use for the dress’ side pockets.

NOTIONS:  On account of all the colors in the fabric, I had multiple choices when it came to deciding what color thread to sew my dress together.  Therefore, I had thread on hand already – I used a deep turquoise thread which was also used to sew up my “Serpentine Style” 1948 dress. The only notion I needed also happened to be hardest to pick out – something to create the contrast trim along the dress’ neck line edge.  I will talk more about this further down, but, in the end, I ended up with 1 pack each of two different colored bias tapes.Simplicity 2363 cover pictureSimplicity 2363 line drawing

PATTERN:  Simplicity 2363, year, view A, without the ties

TIME TO COMPLETE:  From start to finish, my late 60’s maxi dress took close to 10 hours (maybe a bit more, maybe, or a bit less, perhaps) on May 17, 2014.    It was finished just in time for an upcoming outdoor birthday party for our little one.

THE INSIDES:  My dress’ innards are quite nice but not perfectly clean, which I’m o.k. with anyway.  All the long panels (three in front, three in back) took some time to sew together, so I merely double zig zagged the raw edges and trimmed any fray threads.  The ‘bib’ facing sections of the front and back necklines cover up all the bodice seams and most of the armhole seams, so the top half of my dress is smooth and nice inside.  The bottom hem is finished with matching turquoise single fold bias tape.  See the below picture.

100_3099TOTAL COST:  The vintage crazy colored fabric roll was $7.50, and the bias tapes were just under $2.00 each, so my total cost is about $12.00.

         Just in case you don’t know, “Pucci style” prints are as wild and lively as his life story.  Emilio Pucci’s designs are also unmistakably iconic of a past era – the 1960’s.  The designs of “The Prince of Prints” were worn by everyone who was someone in the 60s, from Jackie Kennedy to Sophia Loren to Marilyn Monroe (who was buried in a Pucci dress).  “As the sixties swirled on, Pucci draped his devotees in increasingly vivid prints, using a kaleidoscope as a guide to color his Op-Art arabesque, filigree, and mosaic motifs in stylized Art Nouveau and geometric patterns”, to quote “Vogue.com”. “The psychedelic profusion that defined the era (of the 60s) would fall out of favor, however, elbowed aside by the disco-casual of the seventies and then the man-tailoring of the power suit eighties. The unmistakable Pucci print, all swirls and whorls, did have a brief moment back in the sun around 1990, when the retro impulses of the nightclub scene collided with a passion for all things bright and colorful.” (Another quote from “Vogue.com”)  However, out of all his trendsetting creations, such as his trademark silk scarf, none would give him a name to fame quite like his featherweight silk jersey dresses.  “A Pucci dress is just about worth its weight in gold,” observed The New York Times in 1967.  The “Mad Men” episode in which Betty wore her Pucci dress took place around the time of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination, dating her dress to circa 1968.  My own Pucci knock off creation may not be an authentic print, nor is it a fine silk jersey, but I feel that my “Mad Men” copycat maxi dress captures a definite, exciting moment in the history of the fashion world.

100_3075  early 70s Simplicity 8025 boho maxi dress     For the styling of my retro dress, I chose this modern Simplicity 2363 pattern because (to me) it married the best of everything together.  Simplicity 2363 is quite close to Betty’s original “Mad Men” Pucci dress, having the empire waist and split front neck, with a styling which appeals to my personal taste, while still staying true to authentic styling of the era.  I really couldn’t sacrifice keeping exactly similar to the T.V. show dress, because I really didn’t like the full gathered high waist.  Betty had just had a baby a few episodes before she is seen wearing the dress I used as my inspiration, so I can understand the waist styling somewhat, but Simplicity 2363 cut back on a full waist by having gathers at the center front and center back only.  After my dress was finished, I happened to come across the envelope cover of a vintage 1970 Simplicity 8025 pattern (seen at left) which proves the validity of my idea that the “bib” design of the modern Simplicity 2363 is a retro design element.  With my Pucci knock-off dress being a circa 1968 dress, imitating the 1970 look is not far off…merely fashion forward.  This is my fourth 1968 sewing project (numbers 1, 2, and 3 can be seen by clicking here).

After browsing through plenty of reviews of Simplicity 2363 on the blogging-world, I was thoroughly confused as to whether or not this pattern really normal, small or generously sized.  I ended up cutting out according to what saw on the finished garment measurements, grading just a bit to cut out a size smaller than normal for my bust, while keeping my normal sizing for the waist and hips area.  As my dress turned out, the sizing I chose was a perfect fit.  The only minor change that I made to the fit and sizing of my dress was to bring in the side seam (the one in the center of the side panels) 1/2 an inch on each side for a total of an extra inch smaller.  I graded the 1/2 inch down to the normal seam allowance (5/8 in.) by the time I got close to the pockets, and remembered to take in the side panel’s under arm facing, too.  I could have done without taking the side in an inch, but my dress is not bad with it, because there is not any underarm gaping…I just need to do a bit more of a wiggle and stretch trick to get it on!100_3094

The pockets in the side seams are a wonderful dream come true!  I never realized how handy and fun pockets could be or how easily they are to sew in.  I am impressed at how the pockets are absolutely invisible by having them recessed in by 1/4 inch.  It’s embarrassing to admit, but having my dress’ pockets face in towards the center front makes me kind of think of myself as a kangaroo, with space to store stuff over my belly!

The two-tone color trim around the neck and bodice was the most challenging part to recreate to make my dress similar enough to Betty’s original.  I did a good amount of brain crunching to figure out 1.) how to shape something around the neck and bodice, 2.) what matching colors to choose and 3.) where to put the trim.  Like what I did for choosing the pattern for my dress, I found a compromise between following Betty’s dress and staying true to my personal taste when it came to the trim.  The helpful employees at my local Hancock Fabrics store were again an amazing help…they gave me the idea to use packaged bias tape for the trim.  I had been thinking of using ribbon or making my own “facing”, but bias tape, being on the bias, stretched and curved and was easily ironed into place just like they said.  Using packaged bias tape was a good thing also by the way I was restricted to the colors available, because otherwise I had no idea what colors to hone in on in the fabrics print.  I went for the more muted colors of turquoise and lime green to mellow things out.  I used a double fold for the lime green bias tape (so it wouldn’t show the print underneath), with the inner points mitered in for a neat corner.  The turquoise bias tape is a small single fold which I folded in on itself to make it thicker and smaller.  It took some meticulous machine stitching to hover on the very edges of the bias tapes and sew the bias tape down just how I wanted.  I love how it looks!

100_2977b     While sewing my dress together, I wanted to get “in the mood”, so I put on some disco-era and 60’s style music.  I mostly listened into a favorite CD of mine, “The Way I See It” by Raphael Saadiq.  My favorite songs are Love That GirlKeep Marchin’ , Staying in Love, and Sometimes (the last of which I included in my title).  Saadiq’s soundtrack kept me going through my sewing, and his songs are stuck in my head so I can listen to them again (whether I want to or not) every time I wear my “Mad Men” look-alike dress.  It’s no wonder I was dancing in the picture at the top of this blog.
100_3076     Happily, as I mentioned at the beginning of my blog, the backdrop to my dancing picturetriple-a-on-lindell is also very complimentary time-wise to my dress, as well.   It is the  American Automobile Association (AAA) office building, 3915 Lindell Boulevard, completed in 1977 and designed by W.A. Sarmiento (see right picture).  Wenceslao Sarmiento, a Peruvian-born American modernist architect who was the head designer (1951 to 1961) for the Bank Building Corporation of America, designed many amazing financial buildings across America but especially left a powerful example of “Mid-century modern” style in my town with the AAA office.  My town, St. Louis, is extremely rich with “Mid-century modern” buildings of every purpose, with our town’s very best headliner for the style being Lambert International Airport.  In my opinion, few of the “Mid-century modern” buildings are as perfect an example of the style as the AAA office, with its walls made of glass, ‘post and beam’ design, and suburban modernism.  I know this style isn’t for everyone.  However, it is an architectural and historical style of many famous artists (like Frank Lloyd Wright) whose buildings are in dire need of respect.  Our town even has a handful of groups, such as “B.E.L.T. STL”, “ilovebernoudy.com”, and especially “Modern STL, who are actively involved in the preservation and awareness of the modern styles.  “Mid-century modern” buildings are quickly starting to completely disappear before they even have a chance to be recognized.  I’m sorry for the passion here, but it seems as if it is too easy to demolish something that’s one-of-a-kind, unable to be recreated.  Art is as individual and special as the people that make it.

100_3091    Speaking of art, hubby couldn’t help but notice how my maxi 60s style dress even turns heads, like on this poster in front of a neighborhood art gallery.

After the poster got its initial look to check me out, I was a bit offended, and had to turn around and ask, “What?  Me?  Really!  Why, thank you!”

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Thanks for joining me joining me on this trip through the late 60s fashion and architecture.  I hope this post inspires you to explore outside your sewing comfort zone…and enjoy it!  As an idea, get out into your city and find out if there’s some “Mid-century modern” buildings to see for yourself!

Please check my Flickr page, Seam Racer, for more detail shots and fun outtakes.

Putting a Vintage Wiggle into a “New Look”

New Look 6045 cover photo     I have owned the New Look #6045 pattern since it came out three years ago, and I have always adored it, waiting for the right circumstances and fabric to come along.  This past year’s Fall season provided me with the time and opportunity to finally whip up my fun and versatile version of the pattern.

We chose a modern outdoor sculpture in front of The Marianist Art Gallery as the photo shoot location.  I enjoy seeing how the modern art brings out the fashion forward vintage appeal which I intended to combine in my draped neck dress.

My dress has already seen much wear, and that is always a good sign!  The luxurious feel of the fabrics used, the ease of care, and the perfect weight of my dress make this my go to frock when I want to look nice and get dressed up easily during the transition weather of Spring and Fall.  I’ll add a nice sweater if it’s chilly out and I’m ready to go!  Another big bonus with this dress is all the color matching opportunities…they provide endless possibilities.  Every time I wear my dress, I seem to find some more items (shoes, tights, jewelry, sweaters) to co-ordinate together with my dress.  Please notice the necklace I’m wearing…I made it myself of sterling silver findings and Garnet gemstone chips.

100_2078aTHE FACTS:

FABRIC:  My dress’ fabric is a super-soft brushed 100% polyester, which has the look and feel of being a rayon challis (that tricky imitation poly!).  I or my hubby found it in the “Spot the Dot” super clearance section of Hancock Fabrics store.  It has a beautiful blend of colors: a mustard golden yellow, peacock turquoise, burgundy red, light aqua, dark brown, and a grey taupe.  For the lining, I chose a fine 100% Bemberg rayon, in a dark dusty blue color.  The Bemberg rayon was something I happened to find when searching for a matching lining at Hancock, too.

6045line drawingPATTERN:  New Look #6045, year 2011, View B dress except with the longer elbow length sleeves of View A

NOTIONS:  I needed the normal notion, a long 20-something inch zipper for the center back, but this time I also bought matching thread and a washer from the hardware store (I’ll explain later in my post).  I had just enough bias tape on hand, as well.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finished on October 8, 2013, after 10 to 12 hours of work (enjoyment) time.

THE INSIDES:  Every seam, except the armhole/shoulder seams, are covered in either matching bias tape or nice seams.  The armhole/shoulder seam was left raw with only zig zag stitching along the edges, to keep this area pliable and willing to give a little…making it more comfy.  I did this same thing to the shoulder /armhole seams of my 1940’s Bow-Neck Satin Dance dress (link here); raw edges, stabilized with some stitching, make for a more comfy seam when I can’t do French seams.

TOTAL COST:  I really don’t remember any more;  I do think the total was under $15.

    For this pattern, aside from adding length to the hem, I actually did everything as is without any personal touches or changes to the design. Quite unusual for me, but I figured, why mess with a good thing?  That was reason number one for making no personal changes.Besides, reason number two was a pretty strong reason as well.  My sewing machine, a wonderful Singer older than me, went into “intensive care surgery” at the repair shop right after I started putting my New Look dress together.  I really wanted to finish my dress project and not be stuck with no sewing to do (a seamstress’ nightmare!) so used my backup sewing machine.  I wasn’t sure of what it was capable of and it seems rather picky, needing a more delicate treatment than what my Singer receives.  Thus, having a nice straightforward pattern was perfect for my needs at that time.  I made lemonade out of lemons, though, by focusing on what things my backup machine could do differently from my normal machine.  I always try to use every sewing project as an opportunity to try and learn something new.

100_2086     The draped neck is no doubt the highlight of this dress – it was my favorite part to sew as well.  The upper front bodice pattern has the drape as being one piece with the neckline, so it made for an interesting shaped piece.  Looking at many dresses from the 1930’s, when the draped neck styles were a big thing, it seems like the drape has always been the same design: an extension of the neckline so it is a sort of self-facing by falling inside.   Some other patterns have a very big drape with an inner cowl facing sewn on as a separate piece.  With further research I discovered that there are several different shapes that can create a draped neckline, and there are even a few Threads magazine articles (such as in the January 2014 issue, page 22) which shows you how to transform any pattern into a draped neck design.  The pattern of this New Look 6045 dress is designed to involve pleats at the sides (where the shoulder seams are – see picture above) to manipulate the fabric at the neck.  This way it does not solely rely on the “true” drape of one solid piece of fabric or a certain bias of the fabric.  No matter how the draped look is achieved, regardless, that name still applies.  I hope to create more draped neck fashions now that I know how much I enjoyed sewing and wearing such a style.

100_2154     There was a trick of the trade, so to speak, which helped immensely to create a wonderfully successful draped neckline – an inner weight!  (See the picture at right of my dress turned inside out.)  I first saw this method used on a 1930’s evening gown which was highlighted on the back cover as the “Up Close” feature of the March 2013, issue #165, Threads magazine.  Page 28 and 29 inside show the details of the dress, highlighting the different bias cuts of the dress and showing pictures of a small weight, covered in matching fabric, to keep to cowl drape hanging well and in place.  Have you seen Vogue 1374?  It is a 1930’s style gown, designed by Badgley Mischka, with a giant draped cowl on the back of the dress.  Anyway, this pattern calls for a nickel (yes, money) to be sewn into a tiny tab at the inner center on the back drape, so it gets gently weighted 100_2156down in place.  For my dress, I went to the hardware store an picked out a washer, cut out a circle of the flowered fabric twice the size of the washer, did a running stitch around it, then pulled it in to gather it around the washer.  I tucked the raw edges in and stitched the center closed through the center of the washer.  However, as the washer would no doubt rust if it went through the wash with my dress, I merely used a safety pin to keep the washer in place at the center inside of my draped neck.  (see the left picture)  I am so very happy with this technique!  Every time I see a draped neck item in a store, I always check and say, “I thought so!  No drape weight.  People don’t know what they’re missing.”

The fit of the sizes given for the dress seem to me to be pretty much right on.  You wouldn’t want this dress to be too baggy or roomy at all, anyway, because then the neckline wouldn’t look like a drape as much and the overall effect of the style would not be achieved.  The model on the cover of the envelope has her dress with a little more ease than the way my version fits, and I intended on making mine with a bit more extra room.  I’m o.k. with how mine fits…it makes it more appealing to my husband…but I can’t eat a very large filling meal when I’m wearing this wiggle-style dress.

100_2087     The sleeves are the one thing that I knew for sure would fit me exactly since I already used them (in a shortened length) on a creation I made a while back, my Green Plaid Cotton Dress.  New Look 6045 is one of the rare patterns which doesn’t have restricted reach room or skimpy sizing when it comes to making a sleeve which is actually easy to move in while wearing.  The sleeve pattern is actually very nicely roomy and well shaped (I think), especially for someone like me that has thicker upper arms.  Has anyone noticed any other additional New Look patterns having roomier sleeves than what “The Big 4” patterns seem to offer? 100_2159

Ah yes, I saved the best for almost last!  This dress has on it my first, and so far my only, blind hem.  Since I was using my backup machine, it only meant reading the manual and adjusting the dials for me to have access to doing a blind hem.  Now that I am sewing on my standby Singer, I get…’lazy’, as I call it…and never feel like dragging out my backup machine and setting it up just for that reason even though I have thought of adding a blind hem to more garments than this one dress.  As beautiful as the blind hem turned out at the bottom of my New Look wiggle dress I should get the gumption to do this sewing method again.  With this dress, I figured it would be easy (and it was) to try out the blind hem mostly because the bottom hem is not full, thus the length of what I sewed was not over-much.  The majority of the work was the measuring and pinning of the hem differently than the normal ways to which I’ve become accustomed.  Whoever thought of this type of stitch and hem was a genius – or maybe just an engineer.  Either way, I found it so cool how the stitches just disappear discreetly into the fabric when the hem gets pulled into place.  I love to add special touches to everything I make.

100_2089a     Just a few more details on the dress deserve mentioning.  The back zip was done in a different, more conventional, industry-type of style.  I usually install my zippers in my very own distinct personal style, which is more tight, sturdy, and invisible.  Again, however, as I am sewing with a different machine, I went ahead and used the zipper foot that was available and made the zipper with a large, more open fold just like you see in store bought clothes.  I like the finished look of the zipper placket, and it certainly is different among my creations, but I don’t expect to do a zipper like this again. (I might, but I’m just sayin’…)  The bottom hem of the sleeves also have some special, but tiny, detail – a tiny notch at the inside seam point.  I don’t see a strong utilitarian need for this tiny vent, and i was slightly miffed at the extra time and trouble it took to finish.  Doing those notches did indeed teach me an excellent method for clean finished cuff ends with a slit; I used my knowledge learned to do the sleeve ends of my 1946 Red Wool Suit Dress in a better way.  Finally, notice the kick pleat slit at the back.  If the pattern hadn’t had this type of slit in the design I probably would’ve added it myself because kick pleat slits are so much more decent while providing no less ease of movement.  This dress is hot enough (he, he), I don’t need it to have a racy view all the way up my thighs.

My strong suspicion that the New Look pattern had a definite vintage flair was finally verified just a week after I completed my dress.  I was so surprised to see an almost exactly designed dress worn on a young girl friend of the handsome Ronnie Burns during a Burns and Allen T.V. show.  It can be seen on “The June Wedding” episode, aired on June 16, 1958.  Again, as always, the Burns and Allen T.V. Show has given me Jane & Roger cropsome inspiring fashion ideas and style validations for the decade of the 50’s.  It says something about the dress design for it to be good enough to be worn on screen to one of the top rated T.V. shows of the 50’s, and worn by a pretty and “modern” University of California young woman.

Interestingly enough, after some further Google image browsing for 50’s/60’s draped neck dresses, I noticed yet another similar outfit worn by the character of Jane in the T.V. series Mad Men.  I love how her dress (see picture below) has a similar groovy, swirling type of modern floral as the fabric’s pattern.  Her dress, though, has a draped cowl neck going on in the front and the back – so cool!

Butterick 8307 50s draped cowl back cocktail dress          Just prior to this post I found a pattern for sale that also reminded me of my dress, as well as the two other dresses referred to in Mad Men and The Burns and Allen T.V. show.  The pattern I saw (the  picture at right) is a vintage 1957 Butterick 8307 with a wiggle cocktail shape and a draped cowl neck along the back.  (See this pattern’s wiki page here)  There are so many more versions of this style of neckline than I had realized before!

I wonder how original the dress can be for 2011, as is supposed to be a “Project Runway” creation.  Hmmm.  Whether or not the design idea was borrowed from sources such as what I’ve pointed out, I love the finished result.  I see it as an overlooked vintage style dress that makes me feel so fashionable and good looking, if I must say so myself!

Find more hidden vintage-inspired details in modern fashion for yourself and help bring back those classic styles with your own sewing!

100_2080a

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.