Sunshine Linen and Silken Flowers

Excuse the lack of new posts recently but an extended weekend trip to Chicago has eaten away at my free time for blogging.  However, you know what a trip away for home means for me?  New outfits were sewn!  This equates to fresh new material to share on my blog for you to enjoy!  Here is the most recent outfit project hot off my sewing machine – a summer silk hooded blouse from the 1990s and a linen early 1940s Clotilde brand jumper dress.  I couldn’t have wanted a better set to wear for enjoying my day in cheery, luxurious comfort and style.

I have learned from many visits to Chicago’s surrounding Lake Michigan beaches that not all beaches are equally temperate.  I find Chicago’s beaches to be pleasant and enjoyable to be sure, but quite windy with a cool breeze and not as warm as a Florida beach.  Lake Michigan has water that can feel like it’s refrigerated, even in the summer!  From previous visits to Chicago, I knew what to expect and mentally pictured exactly what was needed out of my outfit for our day at the beach.  I’m happy to report, my set was every bit as wonderful as I had anticipated! 

When 1940s meets the 1990s things are bound to get interesting!  All my garments are in lightweight, soft and breathable fabrics which kept the wind and the sun from turning me into a crisp.  The color scheme is richly saturated and elegantly cheerful.  The fiber content is natural and sustainable in linen blended with rayon, and silk with coconut buttons, all finished using vintage notions.  The styling is versatile and unexpected, which I love, with a fluid vintage vibe which is also timeless.  Having a hood handy kept my hair tamed for beach time or when we drove our convertible car through downtown Chicago with the top down.  I love an outfit that has some good eye-catching features with lovely tactile qualities.

I paired my me-made items with a 20-something old RTW cotton stretch tee as my base layer under the jumper dress this time.  However, the billowy blouse included in with my jumper dress’ Clotilde pattern strongly reminds me of the 40’s chiffon blouse I made to wear with these 1991 NY NY “The Collection” McCall’s trousers.  If you visit that post, you’ll see that this is not the first time I’ve combined the WWII era with the age of the Internet. 

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a linen and rayon blend for the jumper dress and an all silk satin for the blouse

PATTERNS:  Clotilde sewing pattern #3559, estimated to be from the spring season of 1942, and McCall’s NYNY “The Collection” #5640 from January 1991

NOTIONS NEEDED:  thread and a bit of interfacing (I used the cotton iron-on), bias tape as well as one vintage 1950s era metal zipper for the jumper dress, some vintage rayon hem tape for the blouse, and finally a pack of coconut buttons from my local JoAnn fabric store

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse and the jumper together were a combined time of 16 hours and were finished at the end of this month of May (just before our trip) 2022

THE INSIDES:  All French seams for the hooded blouse and bias bound edges in the jumper

TOTAL COST:  Both fabrics are from my local JoAnn Fabric store, but only the linen blend is still currently in stock.  The silk was something I found many years back now when they sold limited amount of fine fabrics in the physical stores and not just online.  It was on deep discount being as it was a one yard remnant of something the store no longer wanted to carry.  My entire outfit all together cost me under $40.

Clotilde patterns, such as this one, were often for what was considered the average woman (not talking about body size average) or for the on-the-go teenage girl.  I have noticed that Clotilde patterns through the 30’s and 40’s were often knock-offs of small designers or downgraded versions of Paris fashions for the woman who wanted a practical taste of the current styles.  They were pitched in ad write-ups as easy-to-make (especially when they offered a line of notions and haberdashery to match) with design details to make them appealing enough to have an edge on the market.  The company began offering patterns circa 1925, continuing to do so through the 1960s, and expanded to become a giant in the sewing catalog industry for many years.  Ms. Clotilde passed away in November of 2011 and the Company was sold to become “Annie’s Quilt and Sew Catalog”. 

Seeing as my Clotilde pattern was ordered through The Chicago Tribune newspaper, I researched through an archival site for that publication and was able to pin this design down to somewhere between the fall of 1941 and the spring season of 1942.  As this pattern’s blouse is so similar to the sheer bishop sleeved one I already made (posted here, also intended to be paired under a jumper dress), I am leaning towards thinking both share a date of early 1942.  Jumper dresses – intended to be worn over a blouse or top of some sort – were incredibly popular offerings through the mail order sewing pattern companies of 1941 to 1942, mostly tailoring their appeal for teenagers but also for young adult women.  Jumpers are so good for beach time because it is easy to hide some shorts underneath, he he.  This jumper has a very pre-WWII influence with the full skirt with a longer mid-calf length.  Even still, it required just over a full two yards of material.

This jumper was simple and quick to make – except for the double sets of ties I had to make (I hate sewing them).  Yet, as is the normal “quirk” I find for vintage unprinted mail order patterns, I had just a bit of trouble getting this finished.  I correctly predicted it ran a tad roomy, as many old unprinted mail order patterns do.  This sizing generally worked in my favor because I took advantage of it to do a modern 5/8” seam allowance.  Even still, some of the quality to the pattern drafting was lacking, as is another normal “quirk” for many old mail order patterns.  I had to taper in the side seams smaller up to almost 2 inches on each side, only from the top edge down to the hips.  Luckily, I had greatly simplified the design so that the fitting efforts I had to do didn’t really set me back.  The biggest change to the original design was that I eliminated the back button placket closure and opted to lay that pattern piece out on the fold for a smooth, seamless look.  A vintage metal zipper was installed in the left side seam instead. 

The pattern gave little to no direction as to where to place and button the shoulder straps.  Mysteriously missing markings are another frequent occurrence to old unprinted mail order patterns.  I guess it is obvious from looking at the original design that I simplified the shoulder straps by leaving out the ruffles to them.  I pared things down to the basics even more by merely stitching the straps down to the jumper dress edge.  Why bother to make them adjustable when the pattern didn’t help me out and I’d have to figure all the buttonhole settings out myself?  The waist ties already add a level of fussiness to the style so stitching down the straps helped keep my travel wardrobe simple.  However, the pattern did call for ridiculously simple bias strip edge finishing.  I knew this design needed something more stable along the top edge, so I drafted together my own interfaced facing for the bodice.  It was two steps forward and one back during the construction process, but this was not intended to be a perfectly fitted garment…so all is well that ended well! 

The loose fit is sort of a design element based on the fact that there are waist ties to pull in the fit on this jumper dress.  I love how they are like little pointed arrows that sit at the waistline where they are top stitched down.  They help to visually slim the silhouette.  To gather in and control some of the center back waistline fullness, I stitched in a strip of ¼ inch wide elastic to the inside.  I picked a 3 inch horizontal segment at the waistline and sewed it into a 1 inch length of elastic, shirring the difference into gathers.  This was not part of the pattern but my own addition.  I also finished off the tie edges with a hand sewn buttonhole stitch for a little bit of a fine touch. 

My hooded summer blouse pattern is by far the standout piece to this outfit.  It is from my favorite NY NY “The Collection” line of McCall’s designer patterns which stretched between the late 1980s and the early 2000’s.  This will have been the seventh NY NY “The Collection” McCall’s item I have sewn.  There is a lot going for #5640 with lots of options to each and every item it offers so that an entire wardrobe of separates could be sewn of this one pattern.  The hooded blouse has the option of instead being sewn up as a wing collar and was originally supposed to be long sleeved.  How could I pass up something as uniquely amazing as a hood blouse, though!?  My amazing silk satin was just begging to me to be used to full dramatic effect and this design hit my creative happy place. 

Such items as hooded dresses or blouses were popular in the 1930s and 40’s for evening wear or resort occasions and now are rarities that sell for big money in the current vintage market.  Fashion designer houses of Valentino, Givenchy, Max & Moi, as well as Aurora De Matteis all offer their own silk satin hooded blouses today.   If I ever start my own business of offering couture finish custom-made ready-to-wear (not promising it will ever happen, though), a summer hooded silk blouse like the one in this post would be included in my collection.  It is amazing to wear and truly a useful statement piece.

As I only had one yard of silk to work with for the hooded blouse, I overhauled the design to accommodate both my shortage of material and desire to personalize this amazing design for myself.  The oversized print needed minimal seams so as to not disturb it.  This was perfect for that because there are no darts or tucks, and the entire shirt is made of only three pattern pieces.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The hood was configured to be cut on with the blouse fronts – a one piece design!  So cool, right?

The original pattern called for the front center but, as you can see, I altered this idea.  It was intended to be a pullover top with a generous box pleat giving room across the one-piece front between the buttons and buttonholes which were to be worked onto the folded edges.  I was not doing this plan with my reiteration, which has an open front like any other blouse.  It is more versatile to me this way.  I can tie the waistline together to cinch the boxy, oversized silhouette in and keep it from flying around in the breeze like a flag.  I can still let my outfit underneath be visible, too, if I keep the blouse unbuttoned.  I don’t have to risk messing up my hair or smudging the blouse with makeup by having it be a pullover.  A hoodie is one piece, and that to me becomes more like a jacket.  I wanted a hooded blouse and adapted the pattern to be such.  However, it is loose fitting and rather makes a better overblouse anyways than being worn on its own.

My silk satin was so luxurious like insubstantial butter and a cooling delight to touch…I wish you could reach through the screen and feel it with me.  Such amazing fabric deserved my bringing out the high-end finishes along with such a good design.  There are solely French seams inside, which sort of makes it hard for me to tell the right side from the wrong side out for this blouse! 

Then, I used special rayon binding to hem the bottom edge for a clean yet decorative inside.  Such a notion is not manufactured anymore (to my knowledge) and it is a joy to use.  It is like a piece of tangible happiness to see when getting dressed so I see it as worth it to use rather than hoard.  I luckily have a few whole rolls of such notions so this was not the last to be had in my stash.  Even still, you can tell which projects are more prized by me when there is rayon tape as part of the inside detailing.  I hand stitched down the front and hood cut-on self-facings as well as the hem because I couldn’t stand to see obvious thread lines anywhere else but along the shoulder line.

Why highlight the shoulder line?  I absolutely love the way the hood is one piece with the bodice front.  I am proud of how well I achieved a perfect corner down and around where the hood angles into the back bodice.  This way the dropped shoulder line can be noticeable, too.  Might as well bring attention to how creative is the one major design line to the blouse!  I chose to use an all-cotton thread to compliment the silk material, but it is a fluffier, chunkier, duller thread when compared to the satin finish.  As I said at the beginning of this post, I was going for sustainable and natural fibers here. 

Trips away from home especially give challenging incentives to my sewing plans.  Now that we have traveled again after a long span of staying at home, I am remembering anew how trips inspire me to treat myself to exceptional hand sewn pieces (those over and above my everyday wardrobe) so I can rock my self-expression while creating wonderful vacation memories.  Do you bring your own handmade wardrobe on trips with you?  Please let me know I am not alone in this.  My most comfortable, favorite pieces are necessarily also the ones I have made for myself so there is one basic reason to bring me-made items on a trip away.  Seriously, though – can’t you tell by my glow that the beach is a special place for me?  Just think of what an amazing new outfit added to that!!  There will soon be more to come of our Chicago trip – hang on to this thread.

So – next time I have a break in my regular postings, just know that it means I am either taking personal time for recharging myself or at least working on some great new content.  I truly have the best readers and you all are the best audience!  For your information, if you only knew the amazing projects already sewn that are in my backlog of things yet to share, you’d flip.  This post’s particular outfit had a special day out so recently, I had to share it right away.  It was just too good, and I hope you are glad I didn’t let this outfit wait in queue to be posted later than sooner!

My First Vintage Original 1920s McCall Pattern

I have had the pattern I used here in my stash for the past 10 years and only just recently made time to sew together something wearable with it.  It’s not that I’ve been procrastinating.  I’ve had this all planned out, even down to being paired with fabrics to match the cover styling, but it always was delayed in lieu of more pressing ideas or plans.  The 1920s is not a vintage look I generally reach for in my wardrobe.  No more is this the case – yay!  With such a comfortable, enjoyable, and well-designed dress, I am in love with the 1920s like never before. 

This particular pattern design is special because it was my first acquisition of one of those fabulous, collectable McCall releases between the mid 1920s and early 1930s.  Patterns in that time frame have colorful, engaging cover envelope illustrations, instructions in three languages, and easy-to-follow instructions printed in blue-line directly on the tissue paper pieces.  Most of these features are what we are used to today, but were exceptional and uncommon for that time, unlike anything else out there back then.  No reproduction pattern can offer the same thrill.  The old originals are a joy to use, delightful to work with, and an investment…I am a big fan, needless to say. 

Even though old patterns of that kind have climbed significantly in price over the last decade, I have been lucky to find some great deals over the years to build upon this first acquisition.  Now, I have a handful of these amazing McCall patterns.  Yet, for me the first one of its kind for my stash had to also be first one to sew from.  It was the easiest to envision from the beginning, too, channeling the cover in strikingly similar manner.  My dress pops over the head with no closures for an instant boost of fun!  The quadruple pleats, the short skirt, and lack of sleeves conveys a small taste of the thrill that the free-spirited ‘flapper’ women must have felt.

With this first 20s era McCall project being such an enjoyable success, I am so excited to plan out fabric and buttons from my stash to pair with the rest of my old printed McCall patterns…which will be made in good time.  No need to rush, but I also don’t intend to procrastinate!  I love being able to add to my ‘everyday’ 1920s wardrobe with items like this dress that are a wonderful combo of being historical with a modern appeal. 

I am wearing a true 1920s original woolen felt cloche hat with my dress, for an extra bit of the real deal!  Just like the condition of the pattern itself (more on this below), my hat is amazing to be in such a great state for almost 100 years in age.  Why, there is even the original feather cockade and decorative felt buttons – and no moth chews!  Most vintage original 20s era cloche hats are much too small for my combo of thick hair and wider crown.  This one was not only in my size but only $5 – amazing, right?!?  I had planned on a modern pulled back hairdo with a low, tight bun.  Yet my 1928 McCall sewing project suddenly had pizazz when worn with this special hat to end up with a full outfit that I adore.  I find myself wanting to wear this outfit more than any other 1920s garment I have made.  I’m so happy my hubby caught such great pictures.  Can’t you just hear some hot jazz music in the background looking at them…because I can!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton, both for the print and the solid contrast as well as partial lining

A close-up of the fabric’s print

PATTERN:  McCall #5624, stamped with a date of December 18, 1928 under the envelope flap

NOTIONS NEEDED:  just lots of thread – no closures or interfacing needed…pretty simple

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress came together in about 12 hours, with 2 extra hours to reproduce the pattern.  The dress was finished in April, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  raw but clean are the interior edges, merely stitched over a few times to reduce fraying

TOTAL COST:  I no longer remember where it was bought or how much I spent for any of my fabric for this project because it was purchased soon after I acquired the pattern 10 years ago.  But I needed just over 3 yards of printed cotton (at 45” width) as well as 2 ½ yards of cotton for the contrast and lining.

My very first step, as I considered using this pattern, was to make a copy of it.  The original tissue paper was in remarkable condition and much stronger, thicker, and overall higher in quality than any other patterns I have dealt with.  This is remarkable (and impressive) when you consider that it is over 90 years old!  Even still, as there were many markings to trace out and since I want to preserve this pattern, I went to a copy shop and printed out a paper copy for myself.  The grief I felt just making one or two small tears in the tissue by copying it justified my decision to not use the original pattern tissue.  Normally I hand trace most of my patterns onto sheer, lightweight medical paper, but I wanted all the text, instructions, and the general feel of the original on my duplicate McCall, as well as a more durable paper  Thus, a photocopy was my preferred option here. 

envelope back

1920s patterns are always such a unique combo of simple yet complicated, and this style seemed even more so than normal.  Printed McCall patterns of the late 1920s are indeed more exceptional in detail than the ever popular beginner’s “One hour project” shift dress.  Even still, the pattern pieces are very straight cut and angular – no side seam curves, minimal darts, and very little body fit is required for a true-to-the-era silhouette.  Sounds simple right?  Let me explain.

For every other decade that followed the 1920s, the bust fit has been the primary aim.  However, for the 1920s, what will fit over your hips is the guide for the size you choose, as evident on the size chart of this old McCall pattern.  My hips are about 38” around so this patterns was perfect because it was for a 40” finished hip.  The entire rest of the garment is more-or-less follows suit to be about a 40 inch circumference column, from the shoulders to the hipline.   That sounds weird, right?!  It might make the garment easy to sew in theory but it takes attention to the fine details to make wearing a sack look this good.  Also, it is contrary to most conventional ideas of how a dress should lay.  To a 1920s dress, a snug wearing ease (2 inches) is needed for the hips and a looser ease (4 inches) for everything else above that. 

Crafting 1920s clothes with an authentic silhouette becomes all about making the clothes wear you in the best way possible (without looking forced or overly baggy) to create the slender, boyish, ‘gamine’ image preferred.  Luckily, my strong shoulders are just about the same width as my hips, so I feel like I can make it work with my hourglass figure by hiding my waist under the straight lines of true 1920s designs.  This true-to-the-era ideal that I aim for is harder to achieve on some bodies more than others, and many people who sew the 20s merely choose to sew their flapper era projects with a modern fit.  That’s perfectly fine, too – to each their own!  I find there is a very teachable lesson in aiming for authenticity of fit for sewing the clothes of the 1920s. 

The rest of the pattern pieces here – the angled neckline jabot but especially the pleated skirt – followed suit by being very basic in shape but miraculously turning into something so beautifully dimensional and tailored.  It is such mathematical beauty and the precise use of simple engineering that makes me adore the Art Deco era, yet also makes its garments challenging to make.  They are confusing in their utter simplicity.  They require precision in marking folds, pleats, and more on the fabric at the cutting stage.  Exact piece matching is necessary, as well as accurate stitching, at the sewing stage.  All of this, combined with the era’s juxtaposition of our set ideas of bodily appearance, has sewing a 1920s pattern feel like a special conquest to me.  I like the kind of challenge they present, though.  It is a welcome change of mindset which keeps my sewing skills fresh and non-habitual.  It makes me ‘switch gears’ as the phrase goes.  Understanding different means of how to flatteringly tailor and create garments for myself assists me later on when I am paid for making clothes to fit the bodies of my customers, who are varied and dissimilar than my own.

For all my talk of how 1920s designs are generally straight lined, the little details are geometric and add subtle shaping and dimension to this dress.  For example, there are knife pleats in the front shoulder line for gentle bust room.  There is also the tiniest bust dart coming horizontally out from the side seams.  Together these add room for the bosom, but only just enough – the 1920s brassieres were about minimizing (or flattening) what nature has bestowed!  Additionally there is the tiniest amount of gathers eased in just at the high hipline to create a comfortably boxy shape to the torso.   

The dropped skirt-to-bodice seamline sits at the low hipline and is not plainly horizontal but has an upside down V in the middle of both the front and back…kind of like a spike on a cardiogram.  Then, there are four clusters of quadruple box pleats in the skirt to add controlled ease of movement in the most appealing way.  The pleats are stitched down in place to the point where my leg bends from my hip.  The skirt is the only portion of the dress that I lined using the rest of the same golden contrast solid cotton as can be seen on the neckline and arm openings.  The printed cotton is rather lightweight and thin, but more importantly the extra weight the lining lends really helps this dress hang nicely.  The slightly heavier skirt portion ever so gently pulls down the dress, keeping it from creeping up on my body and wrinkling as 20s garments tend to do on me.  It is not natural for me to wear a dress so hip-centric.

The entire neckline is the one thing on the dress that is not subtle.  It totally tries to steal the show!  Sneakily, it is also the facing for finishing the neckline, at the same time.  These old patterns are terribly smart and knew how to do sewing at such a higher level than any commercial pattern offered today!  Here the neckline is interesting both coming and going with a jabot hanging in the front and ties hanging in the back.  Firstly, though, how about a brief definition?  “Jabot” is a French word that originally described the crop of a bird, so that is not very complimentary to use for a pretty piece of clothing.  Nevertheless, a jabot, also known by less impressive names such as ‘court bib’ or ‘neck doily’, is a decorative accessory attached at the neckline consisting of lace or other fabric falling from the throat, cascading down the chest.  The kind on my 20s dress is reminiscent of the stiff, crisp variation worn by barristers of old, being one without frills and pleated from a simple square.  It has a properly Art Deco air to it!  Jabots are not a stranger to me, however.  This early 1930s blouse that I made years back had a sort of jabot that is part of the wrap neckline, and my 1880s Victorian ice skating ensemble was accented by a frilly, lacey, 1930s tie-on jabot collar. 

To sew such a detail for this dress, the jabot piece was faced in the same fabric for clean finishing, and then edged in the golden cotton pieces to form the perfectly squared off neckline.  This made for a very odd and confusing piece to work with on its own, especially since the last 14 inches of both opposing ends are turned into tubes for the back ties.  Then, the golden edging alone is sewn onto the inside (wrong side) of the neckline, so it can be turned to the right side of the dress and topstitched down for a clean and decorative finish in one step.  Both the jabot and the back ties hang freely because they are attached to the contrast edging and not directly tacked to the dress.  As much as I adore the skirt’s clustered quadruple pleating, this neckline definitely wins one of my “favorite detail” awards.

Among all the years of fashion I sew, the 1920s has certainly been a decade which has seen the most improvement during my 10 years of blogging.  My higher skill set gives me the confidence to even pick up this old McCall pattern, something which had totally intimidated me back when it was first purchased.  My sense of style in the era has been slowly forming, assisting me to be more comfortable with the era.  This gives me confidence to both wear and make real deal fashion from the era.  It helps that I have been using true vintage patterns for my last several projects rather than winging it from modern based designs.  To have a true 1920s direction that an original pattern can lend that authentic aura to the finished project and the instructions are a learning experience good for one’s sewing skills.  Happily, there are more reprints of the older patterns now more than there were a decade ago when I first started acquiring antique originals.  You don’t have to wait for the happenstance pattern find or pay a pretty penny to work with these fantastic 1920s McCall patterns.  I highly recommend you try them out for yourself, even if only a reprint.  

I hope I have given you a small taste of how amazing and modern an almost 100 year old pattern can be.  The old McCall patterns are not backwards nor old-fashioned in manner of instruction and construction, for as dated as their styles may be.  They are printed, and in three languages – Spanish, French, and English.  How much more contemporary can you get?!  Hopefully, finally owning the 1920s shows in this modern interpretation of an old original pattern.  I feel like this is the first 20s era project (amongst the ones I can authentically date) in which I have the confidence, enjoyment, and wardrobe versatility that I normally have when wearing my go-to decade of the 1940s.  Not that I don’t still love all the 20s projects I made that came before now.  I do!  It’s just that I found ‘the one’ perfect for me to have a renewed sense for the era.  Look for more 1920s sewing projects here on my blog for the rest of the year.  I have too many empty gaps in that decade page on my site…I want to fill them up!

“Dark Academia” of the 1940s

This is just a small sampling of my favorite old books in our home library.

Of all the trends from the last couple years that I have been fully on board with such as Cottage Core (merely a ‘prairie dress’ revival) or the over-the-top decadence of a Princess inspired dress, there has also been Dark Academia.  Granted I am a bit late to have anything to show for this one by now, but the weather is gloomy and I am recovery mode from the last two years – so I am in the mood to share my darker toned, more serious themed sewing projects that have been hiding in the undercurrents. 

I do understand the Dark Academia trend because the aesthetic has been 90% of what I have been since I was a child.  Research always has been my forte, learning is a joy, and studying is the pursuit of my lifetime. More often than not you will often find me thinking inquisitively, reading intensely, writing furiously, or speaking passionately about many varied subjects.  Besides, having a basement that was a literal library of antique books makes Dark Academia not even feel like a trend to me but something natural. 

As it is nevertheless still going strong although no longer ‘new’, I might as well get around to show how I’ve been visibly channeling Dark Academia through my fashion with some of my older makes, such as this 1940s “poet blouse” from the previous post, seen also in my outfit here.  As is the custom for Dark Academia, this set is heavily inspired by the classic menswear of Britain in the 1940s, particularly the plaid suits of the Duke of Windsor (formerly Edward VIII) and the plaid styles seen on elite university campuses – such as Oxford – in the 1930s. 

I was actually inspired to sew my outfit soon after finishing my mid 1940s Glen plaid suit set (blogged here) back in 2016.  This set is actually made out of the exact same kind of luxuriously soft rayon suiting material as was used for my Glen plaid suit just mentioned.  I knew I was bound to love whatever I sewed of the material anyway but an unabashedly masculine interpretation of the rich plaid really made it interesting!  I delight in the juxtaposition created by choosing a skirt over trousers or plus fours (another campus mode and Edward VIII influence here), but it was really just a shortage of yardage which helped that decision be made.  Sometimes it seems as if the fabric truly speaks in regards to how it should be fashioned.

Being a favorite look of mine for winter that has taken too long to finally appear on my blog, you will see more than one way to work it as we have had a few different locations for our photos.  A black toned pairing of my set in a local book shop gives it the Academia Goth vibes, while a white me-made blouse (which I posted here) underneath when outdoors lightens it up to purely menswear inspired.  You should see what my red Agent Carter blouse (posted here) or even a beige blouse does!  It is truly versatile, so soft, quite comfortable, and fetching to wear I am so glad to have this vest and skirt in my wardrobe. 

THE FACTS:

FABRICS:  a plaid lightweight rayon suiting, complimented on the vest with a solid Kona cotton

PATTERNS:  Burda Style “Franzi vest” pattern #9302 and an old original McCall #6338 pattern from the year 1945  

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread and a good amount of interfacing combined with a card of buttons, carved abalone shell buckle, and a metal zipper – the last three items are true vintage from the 1930s or 40s

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The vest came together in about 8 hours on January 16, 2020.  The skirt was sewn much earlier on December 5, 2018, and was also sewn in 8 hours.  Both pieces took longer to make because I did so much hand finishing.

THE INSIDES:  So clean!  The vest is “bag” lined so there are no seams showing but the skirt has bias bound edges

TOTAL COST:  I vaguely remember purchasing this fabric many years ago at my local JoAnn store.  It was almost a remnant at a length which was barely over a yard, so I got it at a discount.  The cotton solid which was used on the vest was remnants on hand from making this vintage 50’s coat, so I’m counting it as free.  The notions were bought at a rummage sale for about $1.  My total was about $12 in total.

The book store’s kitty was such a dear to me!

The 1989 film Dead Poets Society as well as Donna Tartt‘s novel The Secret History, published in 1992, both telling a story that takes place within a group of classics students at an elite New England college, have been credited as being the inspiration for the Dark Academia literary genre.  It emerged as a subculture on Tumblr in the mid-2010s, then – during the past 2 years – exploded as a trend on the visual based TikTok, Instagram and YouTube. 

I never knew until recently that there was a term for old-style enjoyments I grew up with, so much so that if there was a checklist for Dark Academia I could fill in so many boxes.  Why, I have used an initialed wax seal kit for sealing special letters since I was a teen!  I excelled at my Latin studies and happily had read a good number of Classic literature in high school.  My proficiency at fancy lettering like calligraphy even eared me money for a time.  I have always had a weak spot for all plaids, but also always have been adding subtle Goth or punk undertones to my ‘modern’ style (I blame this on my teen music preferences for Evanescence and Avril Lavigne).  At the same time, I have also deeply enjoyed classical music since I was 10 and have worn glasses since about that age, as well.  See?  My list could go on.  Jump years forward to me as an adult, when I fully incorporated vintage style into my everyday wardrobe and begin wearing more historical styles, and I have Dark Academia down to a T…then realize there is a name for this kind of thing.  It feels weird to be called out so distinctly.

Depending on what influencer is channeling it, however, the trend can sometimes seem snobbish and exclusive, in my estimation, and some elements are problematic.  By romanticizing a time (Victorian) when the privileged society put an emphasis on liberal education, it can have classist undertones.  Also, it is important to realize that people can have an academic drive purely so they can better their professional or personal life.  To have one’s education be a mere pleasurable luxury is a Romanization longed for as an ideal for many (“beauty for the sake of beauty” as Nathanial Hawthorne believed) but made difficult to attain in a capitalist society.  Furthermore, the trend revolves around the handful of highest premier institutions – how many of us who actually strive to take advantage of higher education actually will be at Oxford or Harvard?  Not that to attend there isn’t indeed something to aim for or be proud of, but for most that is not an option.  I am just as happy at my local University.

Nevertheless, I live for the literary geek, driven studiousness, and fashion aesthetic parts to it but embrace a very modern, diverse interpretation of the term.  While the advantages of a real life book is never to be underestimated, I will be a ‘heretic’ of old-school learning and admit that a good amount of research can be done through a computer’s resources.  This has been especially necessary for me over the past few years in particular when ‘in real life’ was not possible.  A quest for knowledge and yearning to learn should be nourished in whatever form it takes so as to be accessible for all, regardless of one’s income or neighborhood.  As long as you know how to sort out misinformation or at least find what you are searching for, the internet is a library, too, just without a proper moderator.  Thus, I still have a preference.  To actually have the opportunity to experience what an old book can share is something tactile, memorable, and uniquely worthwhile…something I hope every one of you can find a way to enjoy if you so wish!

This outfit is something I wish others could experience for themselves, too, as it was pretty easy to make and incredibly fun to wear.  Sadly, though the patterns are not easy to find.  The vest pattern is a really oldie at least from 2007.  I believe I acquired it in 2012 when Burda advertised the pattern anew.  The fantastic part about it is not just how wonderfully curvy and fitted it is for the female figure but also the fact that the pattern had been a free PDF download.  That’s right – free!  Sadly that is no longer the case…the pattern is not to be seen on their site anymore, free or not.  My skirt pattern is a vintage original, and those are generally a gamble to try and find but an Internet search occasionally yields a couple copies for sale (I see a 32” waisted one on Etsy at the moment).  I heartily recommend both patterns, regardless.  They are came together without a hiccup with a true-to-size fit. 

Surprisingly, both patterns were so very economical, as well.  The skirt – true to 40’s era rationing – only needed just under one yard, which left the vest to be made with a third of a yard plus scraps.  It was perfectly doable, but still a bit of a squeeze.  I had to get inventive to fit in all the pattern pieces while also trying to match the plaid.  This was a very stressful step.  I laid down all the pieces for both patterns on my fabric and thought the layout over for a day, rearranging and adjusting each piece a little here and there during that time, before I felt confident enough to cut. 

Please notice that the skirt’s back kick pleat and the vest’s side panels had to be cut on the bias.  At first this was done out of necessity but I like it so much better than if I had followed proper directions.  So often the little make-do tweaks I throw into my projects become the best part.  Every little challenge that arises in my sewing projects forces my inventiveness, and I love that.  The bias kick pleat insert panel makes the feature more interesting than basic and helps it hang softer.  The bias to the vest breaks up the monotony of the plaid and gave me leeway to not match seams precisely (although I tried to anyway).  All is well that ends well, as the saying goes.

I did have to interface the every individual piece of the vest as well as every dart and seam to the skirt.  This suiting was a bit lighter in weight than its Glen plaid relative and would pull apart too easily.  Luckily the fit was not snug.  I used a medium weight cotton interfacing for both vest and skirt, and it kept the slippery, shifting fabric in its correct shape for the vest construction in particular.  After one wearing of the skirt I soon found out that just ironing down the interfacing over the darts was not enough, so I stitched them down, hiding the stitching within lines of the plaid. 

To continue stabilizing the fabric at all points of stress, I made a decorative choice for the center point of the skirt’s back kick pleat and chose to embroider an arrowhead as a bar tack anchor.  It is a subtle touch that keeps the fabric together in the loveliest way possible.  I chose to use a satin finish embroidery floss in a deep red for the arrowhead to bring out the color undertones of the plaid.

Nuances to the skirt include a deep 5 inch hem to help weigh down the lightweight material, a center front decorative vertical pleat, and a pointed waistline button placket.  I hand stitched the entire hem, zipper, and waistband because (at first) I couldn’t find a thread color which would blend in.  Then it was because I am a stickler for how going the extra mile elevates a handmade garment from merely made to finely crafted. 

This idealology extended to the vest…completely hand stitched except for the lapel flaps and inner seams.  Nuances to the vest are otherwise much more simplified than the skirt.  There is no real (meaning properly faced and pad stitched) collar lapel – it is merely an extension of the inner full body lining.  The waistline lapels are also for faux pockets, just for decoration purposes, sewn down with a button.  I seriously debated about making welts so I could have real pockets, but my dislike of sewing welts won over the decision.  At least the back waist strap is real and working, with an old buckle cinching in the fit of this curvy vest.  The fitted cut is so impressive on its own, and needs just a bit of help from the back buckled belt.  Such a tailored fit drawn for feminine curves helps this set be so sharp, stronger in impression than just a “wearing my man’s clothes” kind of look.  The practical straight cut of the skirt with its fine detailing is something strongly reminiscent of great vintage suit.  Altogether, it comes together for a tight outfit, no matter how I style it.     

It is said that the general shutdown of in-person learning at schools prompted the resurgence of Dark Academia.  It was supposed to be a push pack from the challenges presented by virtual learning and a nostalgia for how classical schooling used to be, even if that look back extends to the not-so-distant time before the use of the home internet.  Just think back to the effort and restrictions of finding information when books – or people with the knowledge in books – where only available during business hours, by phone, or in-person visits.  It is not that school from home is without great challenges – believe me, it was tougher than I ever imagined it would be for our son – but many complaints of virtual learning seem negligible in hindsight.  Channeling vintage fashion as one of the many ways to connect to that old style of learning is great for me because that completes what I grew up with.  It helps me feel more connected with Generation Z, for sure!  I find it incredibly interesting – and flattering – that the younger generation wants to connect to that.  I’ll join in anew with them on it!

The “Dark Poet” Blouse

Now that the holiday season is done, I am feeling just how severely 2021 has wiped me out in more ways than one.  It was not the sewing – what I blogged about and what I made was one of the best parts to 2021.  Nevertheless, it was hard to find my mojo again after a 3 month spell of no sewing over last year’s summer.  My Charles James recreation helped me feel back on track as well as some secret really good projects I will share soon enough.  Our drab, cold, and inclement weather is not helping out my energy levels, however, so I might as well roll with it.  ‘Easy’ sewing patterns are indeed a fun treat for me at certain times, but detailed patterns always deeply satisfy creative needs…and I need to focus on something rewarding that gives me a boost right now.  I’m up for blogging the comfort of my go-to decade (the 1940s) with its effortless elegance and class.  How about something which mimics the darkness of a winter night, with twinkles in the details bright and clear as January’s stars?  

This blouse has been enjoyed in my wardrobe for years since it was made back in 2015, but it never found its way onto my blog until now.  Sadly, I had worn this blouse to a few funerals for close family members who died in Januaries past, so for some time it has been something I wanted to forget.  Finally, I am in a place to be delighted to expound on this shadowy dream of a blouse.  I am now ready to let it have its time in the limelight to let you know about one of my (now many) sewing projects which have too long gone unshared.  

I see this as a blouse loaded with a low-key creative flourish I enjoy so much.  I play with the ties, change them up as I wear the blouse, and throw my arms around in a more dramatic manner.  It makes me think of the stereotypical idea of the artistic type (primarily poets, but also painters and sculptors), living in blouses and shirts with large drapey sleeves and a frilly bow, ruffle, or obnoxious collar at the neck.  I’m not saying the stereotype is at all correct…typecasting is often wrong.  Then again, however, the artists, writers, and sculptors of societies such as Lord Byron of Romanticism, Oscar Wilde in the Victorian Aesthetic Movement, Dante Gabriel Rossetti of the Pre-Raphaelites, or William Morris of the Arts & Crafts movement did wear eccentric, romantic garments which reflected their idealism.  This is not too far off from the ruffled antique blouses which the Beatnik crowd of the 1960s preferred, a topic I blogged about here.  

I’ve always thought, “Don’t those sleeves only get in the way?!” or “Isn’t the decorative neck fussy?” but also, “Yes, I would love to live in fancy fabrics!”  Even though my version of the “Poet shirt” is black (they’re traditionally white) with fashionable touches, this 1946 blouse somehow reminds me of that “artistic” image.  It has helped me to know the answer to my queries.  Sure, the voluminous sleeves do lend an air of elegance and character, and the neck ties offer customization as well as a bit of something extra.  A garment this luxurious in lovely rayon crepe makes it supremely comfortable and a joy to wear – and a good state of mind and body is optimal for creativity, right?!  Something romantic, something overly impractical, gives one a sense of freedom, both to think outside that which is basic and expected.  After all, dressing purely for your own aesthetic tastes is the ultimate living expression of wearable art, in my opinion.  This January, my art will be a dark poet aesthetic…but I am starting to veer towards pink looking ahead to Valentine ’s Day!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  2 yards of 100% rayon crepe

NOTIONS:  Except for the black fabric covered shoulder pads which I bought, I had everything else on hand that I needed – thread, interfacing, the hem tape, snaps, and even the buttons (which were from the stash of Hubby’s Grandmother).

PATTERN:  McCall #6716, year 1946, vintage original pattern in my stash

TIME TO COMPLETE:  I spent 10 to 12 hours on this in total, and it was finished on February 3, 2015

THE INSIDES:  Oh so lovely!  Every seam is French finished, with vintage 100% rayon hem tape on the bottom and facing edges.

TOTAL COST:  I no longer remember…

As I do every so often, I channeled the cover envelope’s inspiration exactly and made my blouse out of a flowing, solid black, luxurious rayon crepe.  I went even more de-luxe with my choice of doing clean French seams inside (mentioned in “The Facts”), shiny dual-toned both silver and gold buttons outside, and adapting to have a cufflink closure on the sleeves.  This blouse is totally “in-your-face” post-WWII extravagance!  I adore it!  At first I wasn’t sure that the top-heavy details that widen the shoulders and add volume to one’s top half could work on me, one who is on the margin of being petite.  But here again, the decade of the 1940’s really does work well for me.  Designers of those times knew how to engineer some pretty awesome clothes, with special features that do complement the figure beautifully. 

Luckily, the blouse is designed to be generally loose and flowing, so I didn’t have to fuss over the perfect fit.  The only part which is fitted is the neck and wrist cuffs.  The rest is somewhat tapered in at the waist and hips, and the shoulders are loose (meant to be filled in with thick padding) so I needed it in the ballpark of general overall fit.  This isn’t a style that is supposed to be fitted close the body anyways.  I had to grade up dramatically in the sizing, as my original was a 30” bust.  This was a bit tricky to up-size, and in the end I estimate I fell on the slightly generous side of the intended proportions. 

The comfy fit is reined in by the most fantastic, unusual shoulder line.  It prevents this blouse from being a tent on the body in the most stylish manner.  It’s like some sort of mitered set-in sleeve with a hint of the raglan style from behind.  This was quite tricky to finish with French seams.  The wide shoulder-chest panel to the blouse really hides the big shoulder pads I added inside – and I needed properly 40’s era wide, sharp shoulders to be the anchor the whole look of the piece! 

There is something to be said for the benefits of perfecting a loose fit.  Nowadays everything seems to be worn tightly, but then again modern society of the last few decades has become so used to every garment having stretch.  Just because something can be squeezed into doesn’t mean it truly fits in the professional understanding of the term.  On the opposite spectrum, if a ready-to-wear garment isn’t skin tight it is too often baggy, especially when it comes to fashions for women who need a bigger size number on the label.  Loose clothes don’t have to mean the body is something to hide or that someone still wants to be in night clothes…but there are viable times and reasons for that, too, don’t get me wrong.  Frequently such tent-like styles seem to indicate the manufacturer was out of design ideas.  There is a good in-between state that I think this blouse hits.  I say bring back the 4 or 5 inch wearing ease for certain designs.  I am over the modern 2 inch (or less) wearing ease which causes “drag lines”, something many have been accustomed to being standard when they are only an indication of ill fit.  Make comfy dressing fashionable.  Let us sewists help bring back in popularity better fitting garments with our bespoke creations.  If anything, at least just give your local tailor some business – let them show you how comfy a proper fitting garment can be.  We survived the last two years…we all deserve it.

It’s funny to realize today that this blouse was made before I created my 1951 giant-sleeved Schiaparelli inspired blouse, so since then I have learned a lot about how to sew, wear, and do activities in clothes which have a voluminous amount of fabric.  Compared to that designer inspired blouse I just mentioned (which did take over 3 yards), this one seems so much tamer.  A lot of people seem to be very turned off by the idea of generous sleeves, but in reality a neckline with an attached scarf, tie, bow, or fluff of some sort is much more bothersome in my experience.  Once I made this 1933 kerchief tie neck blouse back in 2016 I learned about fussy necked tops pretty quickly.  Here I prefer the more casual air of an untied bow neck, but doing it so causes my ties to dip into a wet sink or a plate of food before I can stop them.  Nevertheless, I wouldn’t change a thing about my make, and love to reach for it from my closet no less for its bother. 

The purse you see me with is a special accessory in my wardrobe – an authentic 40’s Corde bag.  It is one in an often hard-to-find excellent condition, so I have hand sewed a little hand strap into the inner corner to keep my hands off of the Corde detailing.  Luckily, it is both wide-bottomed and deep enough to hold much more modern necessities than conventional vintage purses.  Look at that lovely Lucite charm at the zipper and the shell pattern of the cording!

The grey skirt that I’m wearing with my blouse in these pictures is actually a RTW item bought from a name brand department store about 15 years back.  I see it as having a classic shape that pairs quite appropriately for my 1940s look, as well as items from many other decades.  It is in a rayon blend suiting, and has a slimming cut down to mid-thigh (contrasting well with the loose blouse above) with a bias flare below due to the many panels that make up the design.  The high waist and the skinny fit is why I think this skirt pairs best with my loose blouse, but other skirts in my wardrobe match, as well.  I love it when I can work existing pieces from my wardrobe to end up with a ‘new’ and very fluid vintage-style outfit which comes across as also being contemporary. 

A decade ago now, I locally found the pattern I used for this blouse for a deal, and had to l laugh to see it dated to one of my favorite years from that era (1946)…I’m so predictable.  Making anything from the decade of the 1940’s is irresistible to me, but this particular one had my name written all over it with the shirring, interesting seaming, and drama galore.  Usually black is not a comfort color for me but despite it being my funeral attendance blouse for a few times, this is as smooth and mellow of a treat to me as a shot of good bourbon.  Now if I start waxing poetic while wearing it you’ll know I’m really letting the aesthetic of this blouse get to me.  That’s okay…it is 2022 now.   We all probably could write a story or some prose on what we have been through in the last few years.  I’ll keep blogging and writing here about the things I make that get me through both the tough and the good times.  So, thanks for following, I appreciate your reading what I have to share, and cheers to a new year ahead!