1938’s Fashionable Floral Stripes

The decade of the 1930s probably has the most joyful, extravagant, and inventive use of stripes to be seen in the last 100 years of fashion.  Garments back then – for both men and women – had striped material used in a dizzying array of differing methods to either complement the figure underneath or showcase the talent behind the design.  Visit this “Witness2Fashion” blog post for some visual proof of this fact.  Sometimes stripe directions were used straightforwardly, but more often mixed up to compliment paneled designs (such as I did for this 30s blouse) or used diagonally on the bias grain (see this dress of mine).  Back then, stripes were even used for evening wear, on winter coats, as well as shoes, hats, and everything in between. 

Year 1938 fashion inspiration.

Yet, 1938 is special in the way it stands out as the niche year for a specifically kind of striped print.  When I happened to run across a fabric that closely imitated the style of a 1938 striped floral, I was thrilled to have a chance to channel this short-lived vintage “fad” in my own sewing by combining it a 1938 dress pattern from my stash.  I love being able to recreate a killer vintage look, of course, but it is fun to do so as a modern comfort piece by working with a forgiving stretch satin-finish poly.  You’d never guess, right?  For me, this project is the epitome of learning from society’s fashionable past while also building upon and personalizing it for today. 

It is important to note that later on, this post will also be highlighting my fabulous vintage style hat, which I also made.  It is a refashion of a modern wool felt fedora.  Real vintage hats (in good wearable condition) are often beyond my preferred price range, and I really wanted a specific ‘look’ to match with my ensemble ideal.  It is much more satisfying for me to have made something with my own hands, using what was immediately available, and at a ridiculously reasonable price than high priced instant gratification.  I also made the grey belt (posted here) which can be seen in some of my pictures, but that already has had its own feature so I will not talk about it here.  I’ll do whatever it takes to assemble together everything I need to imitate those late 1930s fashion illustrations that so enthrall me where all the trimmings – jewelry, scarf, belt, gloves, etc. – are piled on in excess but somehow perfectly coordinate while also contrasting. 

All the rest of my accessories that you see are true vintage pieces, most of which have come to me from my paternal Grandmother.  I couldn’t decide if I preferred a grey belt or a rust colored belt – the latter of which is more true to the Tyrolean and peasant influence of the late 1930s.  With its laced front, the rust colored suede belt is just like what can be seen in fashions which span 1937 to 1940, even though the piece itself is from the 1970s.  We took pictures with both belt and color themed options.  As you go through my post, let me know at the end which prevailing color in accessories you prefer to pair with my dress!  Do you see how much accessories alone can change the feeling of or add appeal to a dress?

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:   The dress was made of a stretch polyester satin, the same material as what I used to make this vintage 1946 dress.  The hat is a 100% wool felt, originally an American Eagle brand modern fedora.

PATTERN:  McCall #3102, circa March or April of year 1938, an original pattern from my personal collection, while the hat I made with no pattern

NOTIONS NEEDED:  For the dress, I used lots of thread (of course), one zipper for the side seam closure, a few buttons for the front bodice (I used true vintage buttons from the stash of my husband’s Grandmother), and some cotton broadcloth scraps which I used as interfacing.  Everything I needed for the hat was repurposed from off of the hat, so I needed no extra supplies.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was sewn in about 20 hours while the hat was made in two hours and both were finished at the end of August 2018

THE INSIDES:  as the dress is a knit and the hat is felt, neither piece has edges that ravel and thus the edges have been left unfinished

TOTAL COST:  This fabric had been bought too many years back for me to remember how much I spent to buy it, but I bought it on clearance from the now defunct Hancock Fabrics store.  I believe I had about 2 ½ yards of material in total.  Everything else I needed was as good as free, coming from my notions stash on hand.  The hat I refashioned only cost me $10 to purchase second-hand.  My total cost for this outfit was probably $30.

The striped fabric I was working with soon became more than solely an aesthetic or historically based choice but ended making the pattern I was working with easier to construct than it would have been otherwise.  As the entire main body gets pleated down (only down to mid-thigh for ease of movement) I merely followed the lines of the stripes on the fabric to aid me in making the pleats.  It helped that this was a 30’s pattern and therefore generally straight-lined and not very curvy.  The width of one row of striping was the depth of the pleats, and figuring that much out saved me from having to chalk mark a plethora of fold lines.  The vintage pattern – which was printed much like a modern one because it was a McCall’s brand – suddenly was much less intimidating despite being covered in pleat lines and balance marks! 

This gets me wondering if perhaps stripes were popular for reasons such as this, to aid in the sewing of a very geometric leaning design.  Stripes get the bad rap for being more challenging to work with since they present a challenge to match up along seam lines.  However, this dress proves that is not always the case.  For pleated patterns, using fabric that is striped can definitely aid in the construction of your garment.  Sewing is very much tied to math, so use that fact to your advantage and make sewing easier.

Sears ad from August of 1938 that shows fabric and fashion in floral striping prints

I wanted to level up the slimming powers of the color black and have the direction of my print run vertical, even though floral stripes (as the blog “Witness2Fashion” states here) are often associated with flannel nightgowns when used lengthwise.  The popularity of the “Lantz of Salzburg” line of clothing helped commercialize the Tyrolean and “peasant” look for American women’s mainstream fashion in the late 1930’s.  I have found such floral stripes labelled “Romany striping” in late 1930s original Sears brand ad paraphernalia for either fabric or the dresses that are in such a print.  These have a clear Polish, Hungarian, Bavarian, Czech, and Balkan influence to their quaint, colorful, geometrically laid out designs as seen in the old advertising illustrations.  Perhaps the term “Romany” referred to the Roma people so often stereotyped as the classic “peasant” influence for 1920s to 1970s vintage fashion? 

Floral stripes may have been fashionable street wear in the late 30’s, but they became mostly relegated to nightwear in the WWII era.  With the onset of war, the ethnic fashion of Europe was confined to bed chamber clothing or at least watered down in obvious cultural influence for American women.  In the 1950s, a brand new batch of floral striped cottons became popular for full-skirted, cute summer sundresses of the era, but emerged looking closer to vintage bed sheet or wallpaper prints then what was what seen in the 1930s.  My own dress’ floral stripes are rather subtle and not very obvious.  The ‘stripes’ are more like trailing vines, but definitely botanical upon close inspection.  At some point, I would love to find a true “Romany striping” from the 30s and use it for another of my ’38 patterns because this first attempt is a big win for my wardrobe!     

As I mentioned above, as 30’s patterns are generally straight-lined and do not account for full hips, I added necessary shaping into the side seams.  This way I did not mess up the layout of the pleats down the front of the dress body.  I didn’t try too hard to do any matching in the layout of the pattern pieces, but the stripes seem to match in most places anyway.  Overall the closely spaced stripes make for a busy print that hides any flaws in my half-hearted effort at matching.  The print sure does visually elongate my body, giving the illusion that I am taller and slimmer than my petite frame size says I am.  It thereby conveys the ideal 1930s body type image on my definitely not 30’s era appropriate hip size.  I made sure to have the stripes run horizontal in the shoulder panels, though.  This gives my dress strongly framed, squared up shoulders that hint forward to the 1940s era, with a nod towards a menswear influence.  Laying out the stripes horizontally in the shoulder panels balances out all the other vertical lines, thereby further elongating my torso.  Sometimes fashion can be merely about creating a certain visual imagery for the body through perfect placement or mere exaggeration of details.

Along such a topic, I would be remiss if I did not further address this dress’ fabulous sleeves.  Amongst all the straight lines and stripes going on, eve the sleeves are uniquely geometric with the sleeve cap head being nothing box right angles to form a box shape.  When I said above that the shoulders are squared off, I meant that…literally!  I’ve never seen this kind of sleeve before and I love it because it is really comfy to wear as well as interesting.  The pattern recommended some sort of stabilization over the sleeve cap area, such as canvas or stiff crinoline, to be sewn in with the seams but as this is a modern interpretation of a vintage style, I merely used cotton iron-on interfacing.  The sleeves have a life all their own and smashing them down under a blazer, sweater, or coat does not crush them – they pop back to their intended shape!  The things to see and learn from using vintage patterns never fail to amaze me.

The neckline is unexpectedly versatile.  I am glad of this since I was not a fan of the high tied neck in the illustration, as necklines too confining around my throat freak me out.  However, I also felt such a neckline suited the design so I left it as-is and made it a part of the dress anyways.  As it turned out, the tie – being a stretchy knit – is not as restricting as I thought it would be (and I can tie it loosely, after all).  Even still, if I merely tuck the tie end into my dress I have the appearance of a plain neckline.  Taking that a step further, if I also undo the top button and flap the facing open then the plain neckline looks like it has lapels.  I mixed up the necklines in my photos, since (like my accessories) I don’t know which way I liked best.  I love clothes that have options.

For my hat, I started off by buying a basic wool felt fedora so I had a “blank canvas” with which to re-block, cut, or otherwise refashion as I so desired.  As I was going to do a hot steam treatment to the crown to turn it into a new shape at some point, anyways, I had no qualms about finding this secondhand.  It was very clean and at a steal of a price for such a good quality, good condition, and good brand name felt hat!  My main inspiration was a 1930s original item I found through a vintage seller’s online site.  No matter how much I wanted it, I just couldn’t deal with the sticker shock.  The crown shape was pretty basic, in a tricky specific shape, yet with minimal stitching.  I felt from the outset that this was something I was capable of reproducing, and there is nothing like having that preliminary confidence to give you a vision to go on. 

As my hat turned out, it is slightly different than the original inspiration yet still the same in the general shape and idea.  Nevertheless, having put the effort into this piece, I personally prefer my own version!  It matches perfectly with my dress (and other items in my wardrobe, as well) and is a 1930’s shape that still carries a sort of modern air.  It sits on my head effortlessly while also not messing up my hair, since it kind of perches more than hugs my crown.  Even still, I added an attached headband of elastic thread – so thin it gets disguised in my hair so easily- that goes around the back of my head. 

My hat was happily a zero-waste project, too!  Everything that was there on the hat as I bought it is on it now as a vintage-style refashion – the felt has just been cut and steamed into a new shape and the leather decorative ties went towards becoming the “string” that brought the crown together.  I really love the vintage style hats that I make for so many reasons, but the last reason may just be the way I don’t have to be as delicate or careful as I would be with an old original piece.  I know fashionable hats may be out of style the way they were in the 1930s, but with a hat like this one I will not care.  I will wear my me-made hat as much as I desire so as to bring more than just stocking caps back in style (hopefully) for fall and winter!

The proof of how much I enjoy wearing the hat and dress is in the fact each has become my frequent go-to item, either separate or together, for an easy vintage look.  Worn together, though, the dress and hat pairs with all my favorite shoes, jewelry, and blazer colors.  I like how I can brighten the dress up with yellow for summer, keep it all black for a funeral, or go with burgundy, beige, or pastel tones. 

Me and my son “cuttin’ a rug” out in the street’s stage at the Jazz Crawl!

My best pairing outfit pairing for this dress may just be from exactly one year ago, when my husband, son, and some acquaintances all went to an outdoor live Jazz music festival which travels down several blocks of a city street and goes on for the course of a whole day.  We showed up in head-to-toe vintage and caught the attention of photographers.  Thus, we ended up getting some good pictures after all, since we were too busy enjoying ourselves dancing the day away to the lively tunes!  I wore a true vintage peach rayon gabardine blazer, with my rust orange belt and me-made hat, and black and white spectator heels from Chelsea Crew.  Visit my Instagram post (here) on the Jazz Crawl to see some extra pictures.  We had a grand day out and my outfit was just what I needed for the occasion.  The stretch fabric and the little knee pleats of my dress were perfect for swing dancing…I would have never guessed this benefit when I made it!

Floral stripes are a fun spin off of the traditional plain lines.  Such a fabric pattern is a wonderful way to incorporate botanical prints into your colder weather wardrobe without looking like you are sporting a spring print out-of-place.  Finding that there is a certain year of fashion history that excelled at this specialty floral stripe helped me discover a medium through which to enjoy something new for my vintage wardrobe…something I love to wear!  Also, my hat was so much easier (and cheaper) than would be guessed by appearances so I definitely suggest giving refashioning of secondhand headgear a try.  This is such a great way to get yourself that dream millinery piece and customize your accessories at a more achievable level while also having fun learning a new skill.  All around, creating this outfit was a great experience for me, and you will not be disappointed if you try out a 1938 look for yourself.  Everyone loves flowers, right?  So – stripes that are floral cannot be anything but fabulous, right?!

Indian Angrakha-Style Robed Dress

For anyone who follows the traditions of India, October often ends up being a celebratory month in which the festival of Navratri ends and Diwali begins.  Navratri, meaning ‘nine nights’, is one of the most popular and widely celebrated Hindu festivals in many parts of India and lasted September 26 to October 5 this year.  Diwali, the “Festival of Lights” associated with both the principal Goddess Lakshmi as well as the end of the Indian fiscal year, begins October 24 in 2022 and is 5 days of family, food, fireworks, colored sand art, special candles and lamps. 

I always celebrate these occasions in spirit where I am, far away from India.  Nevertheless, I’ve been having a hard time getting back into anything after having a bad time of catching Covid at the end of August.  However, choosing a traditional “buti” flower block print cotton, I found a project both easy to make and wear which is just the pick me up I needed to reignite my spirit, get back into sewing again, and launch me into the mood for this month’s Indian festivities.  As I am slow to think and accomplish much currently, I was so happy earlier this month to finish sewing an “Angrakha” in time to honor the theme colors of the last two days for Navratri.  The peacock green on my dress commemorates day 8 and the bright pink of day 9 is from my dupatta shawl, which was bought from the Devon Ave. Indian district in Chicago!  This garment is supremely comfortable, colorful, and fun, but also is the perfect ethnic item to wear for these celebrations!   

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  an all-cotton hand-stamped block print direct from India through “Fibers to Fabric” shop on Etsy

PATTERN:  McCall’s #6428, year 1978, from my personal pattern stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread, some ethnic Indian loop trimming from a New Delhi artisan sourcing shop “Cat Fluff” on Etsy, and some random items on hand to make the Angrakha’s tasseled tie ends

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was sewn in about 10 hours and finished on September 27, 2022

THE INSIDES:  cleanly zig-zag stitched over the edge in several layers to imitate serging (overlocking)

TOTAL COST:  I bought 4 yards of this material on a seasonal clearance sale and together with the trimming my total cost comes to just over $20.

a traditional silk brocade Angrakha

In brief, an angrakha is a double-breasted, wrapped, long sleeve outer robe that is asymmetrically tied closed at the left side of the high waistline and traditionally paired with loose Indian trousers.  The earliest mention of this word specifically can be traced back to the 16th century!  An angrakha was historically worn by men of Rajasthan (state in northern India) either as a soldier’s robe, when there was a quilted inner panel under the double-breasted chest, or as a court robe for royalty when made of the best silk brocade with rich trimmings.  By the 19th century, it had evolved to be a garment made of sensible cottons, but now today it is also worn in public by men and women alike of varying ethnographic backgrounds and locations.  It even has progressed into varying lengths – long as a special occasion dress, short as a daily wear tunic, or mid-length as a multi-purpose robe or fancy suit (when there are matching trousers and dupatta shawl). 

The angrakha is supposedly derived from traditional outfits of Rajasthan’s neighboring state of Gujarat and can be seen in some of their Garba or Dandiya performances for Navratri. Gujarat is, after all, the only state that erupts into a nine-night dance festival, one of the longest in the world! Each night of Navratri, all over the state, in villages and cities alike, people gather in open spaces to celebrate their feminine divinity. Oh, how I wish I was there to experience that for myself…just picture the blaze of color, energy, and excitement such an event must be!

The literal meaning of the word “Angrakha” is ‘something that protects your body’, and thus I searched (and obviously found) a robe pattern from which to base my make off of.  A modern robe still embodies the very definition of this Indian ethnic garment and – just like an angrakha – is a layer that is not worn alone but over a full set of clothes underneath.  I serendipitously found the perfect source in a vintage pattern from on hand!  It is a nighttime set pattern, but robes made of the right fabric can be definitely appropriate for wearing outside the confines of the home.  I remembered how the fashion of the 1970s had revisited many different historical influences and the empire waist, full skirt, minimal seams, and wrapped closure was everything I needed for a modern yet traditional interpretation of an angrakha. 

I adapted just a few things to the pattern to both make it fit me better and be more ethnically an angrakha.  The pattern I had was a medium (the sizing was in general increments and not precise numbers) so it was much bigger than my measurements.  The sleeve length was originally very long and I had to fold up the pattern tissue to the exact length needed because I was including the full selvedge edge along the cuffs.  The main body was very wide and I folded out an inch out of each bodice piece, taking out a total of 4 inches.  Even still the main body turned out too generous, and not the proper angrakha silhouette.  Just reshaping the underarm seam into a right angle, rather than a soft curve, worked wonders to bring in some shapeliness to the bodice and provide all the reach room I needed.  To continue the reshaping, I also straightened out the sleeves into stovepipe style rather than the pattern’s given bell sleeves.  The most traditional garments of any culture are often composed of very basic, simple shapes and so it seemed proper to turn the design lines for this angrakha into something very angular and geometric.

An integral part to the angrakha is the tasseled tie closure for the asymmetric wrapping.  As I said above, I meant to channel modern India’s take on a historically ethnic style so I deviated from the traditional double tied closure.  Things were kept simple for my angrakha with one sole tie.  I went really inventive by coming up with something suitable and used a turquoise green colored shoelace that I happened to find in my notions stash.  Then I sewed down two matching colored cotton tassels (leftover from this tunic project, posted here) over the ends.  A shoelace string is much sturdier than any ribbon or cording I had been considering anyway!  I stitched thread chain loops over the shoelace tie at both ends of the waistline where it needed to be connected.  Yet, my thread loops do not catch the ties, which run under the loops so the waistline can adjust to whatever feels comfortable for the day.  With the tassels at each end, the tie however cannot come out of the thread loops, providing assurance that it will not get lost but is staying put.  

See the two thread loops holding the tie in place?

I was not doing an overall elasticized waist like the pattern called for, but I was making the bodice smoothly tailored with only the skirt portion gathered.  Thus, I had to add a few darts in the bodice – under the bust for the front panels and under the shoulders for the back panels.  The waistline shape was trimmed to be more like a historical men’s angrakha, where the front waistline lands at a higher true empire height while the back waistline dips lower to hit just above the true waistline.  I did not line this robe, or used any facings, but I just used the selvedge border for all hems and simply turned in the neckline edge under the loopy Indian trimming.  The bodice panels with the long cut-on sleeves took just over a yard, which left me with the 3 yards of fabric for the skirt portion.  Four whole yards of fabric was just enough to work for this project! 

As I expounded upon in this post of mine about the making of a Rajput Sherwani coat, dyeing and block printing traditions have always been rich throughout the Indian states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Sindh.  Their textiles had been exported to places as far away as Egypt and Africa centuries before the British control there popularized the exporting of their chintz, block prints, paisley shawls, and silks to England, America, and the Dutch colonies. The fabric I chose is a classic, buttery, whispery soft Indian cotton.  The predominant dye color to my chosen print is also in the background.  In modern times, I tend to see this color called turquoise.  This color can be seen as a blue or a green depending on the person, so I find this label for such a shade as too generalized and confusing.  To India, the natural (often botanical dyes) dyes that are often used turn this shade greener toned than anything else, and this way blues are easier to clearly identify.  This block print matches with the Pantone shade of “Blue Grass”, but I see it in person, in indoor light, as the traditional “peacock green”.  It is complimented with shades of true Indigo (Pantone “Sapphire”) for the print, as well as “Dusty Lavender” in the border – all my favorite colors!  

Milk Thistle

The overall print, called the ‘field’ area, is filled up of ‘buti’, tiny stylized almond shaped floral motifs carved in wood for stamping purposes.  ‘Buti’ is an Indian Marathi word that means ‘something hidden or kept hidden’ and the best part of these stylized florals is reading secrets within the creatively rendered botanical representation.  Here, the fabric looks to me to show a milk thistle plant, known in Hindi as “doodh patra”.  It has long been popular in India as a flowering herb that provides therapeutic properties as well as a multi-purpose oil (extracted from the seeds).  The portrayal of this plant is for me a subtle nod to the angrakha’s late medieval origins – the thistle was a favorite decorative and symbolical element of manuscript illuminations, tapestries, and brocades of the olden times. 

However, on a practical level, such a print shows the Gujarat influence to my interpretation of an angrakha, as that is the Indian tradition that I most closely associate with through our Indian friends.  I know I am biased, but I will insist that Gujarat has the superiority when it comes to cotton production, embroidery, and tie dyeing.  Yet, I know Rajasthan (particularly the capitol city of Jaipur) is tied to the history of the floral motif block print.  I love the way that my angrakha combines both state’s textile histories into one fantastic garment that has a richly interesting history all on its own. 

I am thrilled to have a new type of Indian clothing to wear as part of my ongoing efforts to participate in the culture of India through their wonderful festivities.  This angrakha is my new favorite wardrobe item so I have not been shy from wearing it out to eat, to do errands, and more!  I think it is so important for respectful cultural representation to be something seen outside of limited ethnic circles so that the public can that have a chance to see, respect, and learn.  India has such an enthralling history with a depth which can be intimidating to a newcomer, but I hope coming across someone like me can become a moment of enlightenment for others.  I love sharing all things related to my sewing, especially history and culture!  For this angrakha, its bold but attractive combo of colors in a relatable wrap-on style seemed to really bring out the questions and comments from people I came in contact with. 

Most people never understand what is the clothing of the people of India beyond a stereotypical tunic, trousers, or sari…but there is so much more variety than that!  It would be a great honor if my blog could be the source for opening any reader’s mind to just some of the interesting nuances to what the residents of India actually do wear and how it is beautifully tied to their culture, their heritage, their self-expression, and their talents.  I adamantly believe the world would indeed be a dull place if it wasn’t for the flourish of color and wondrous handiwork that the fashions of India bring to the globe. 

Here’s a wish for a peaceful, renewing, and happy Navratri festival!

Botanical Garden Block Printed Dress

It’s comforting to know that some of the best things in our world have not changed and only stayed the same as they have been for centuries.  As India just celebrated their Independence Day August 15th, I’m specifically thinking of how so many of the heritage fiber arts in that country are practiced the way they were so long ago.  Why mess with a good thing when it is perfect as-is, right? 

What comes from the earth is kept a part of the earth the way the fabric of India is produced.  Indian cotton is grown and harvested naturally, first of all.  Then, plants, spices, and vegetables are used for dye, the earth is utilized for resist stamping or setting, and artisans turn everything together into an organic whole.  All this adds up to a very eco-conscious manner of creating some of the most beautiful and wonderfully comfortable fabric this world has to offer.  It is an honor and a special experience to make and wear something that involved so much love and attention just for these few yards!  There’s no better way I can think of to celebrate India’s long fought freedom than to enjoy a respectful all-in dive into appreciating the beauty to one of the many fascinating facets of their culture.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton content for the print, fully lined in a tan beige tone Bemberg rayon satin

PATTERN:  McCall’s #7894, year 2019

NOTIONS NEEDED:  I just needed lots of thread and one zipper

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finished on June 9, 2022 in about 20 hours

THE INSIDES:  loosely zig-zag stitched along the raw edges to reduce fraying

TOTAL COST:  The Indian cotton fabric from “Fibers to Fabric” on Etsy cost me $15 (I got this on a half-price sale) for 3 yards, while the rayon lining was another $15 for 3 yards from Fashion Fabrics Club.

There are many sites that dive into the nuances of block printing so I will not overly dive into the process here but this link through Saffron Marigold and this page through Vogue of India can be a good start to inform yourself.   I merely want to stress that it is of utmost importance to make sure you are buying from a source which employs fairly paid workers and does the craft the traditional way…no mere printed fake outsourced versions, please.  There are many knock-offs to be found, especially in ready-to-wear (which is in it for the visual aesthetic and nothing more), but this does the opposite of esteeming a craft that deserves only awe-inspiring admiration.  Historically, the textile history of India is not about being carelessly machine made but being the work of caring human hands.  Support the heritage craft of India by doing some conscious purchasing if you want some block prints for yourself!

This being said, there are some pro and cons to keep in mind.  Be aware that most block prints are in a width no wider than 45” so take that into account when planning out a project.  This is why I was squeezing this dress in on 3 yards when 4 yards probably would have been better.  Rich toned block prints can bleed out their dye in the first one or two washings so be careful to wash them with similar colors.  The cotton of India, though, is buttery soft, whisper thin, and among the easiest to sew material you could ever imagine.  It is a dream to wear, sew, and work with!  Besides, this material is the best way possible to effortlessly stay cool in the heat of summer. 

The positive qualities of Indian cotton also means that it is often less than opaque.  Busy prints hide any see-through issues more than not.  For this dress, however, I did not feel like a sheer look nor did I want to feel obliged to wear an underslip, so I fully lined the cotton.  Bemberg rayon is magnificently breathable, moisture wicking, and a very good imitation of silk, so it is the perfect pick for keeping this dress lightweight, comfortable, and an effortless summer staple.  Knowing how to work with fabric and how to use it to its best advantage is a large portion of the planning and figuring that goes into any sewing project.

With all of this positivity I am expressing towards this dress, it was really difficult for me to successfully sew.  I may sound crazy, but I loved doing the yards and yards of ruffles which go in between the seams.  Doing the ruffles in this buttery soft fabric was easy after all but the process really centered me, calmed me down, and helped me enjoy the extra effort.  I just think I relaxed a bit too much and didn’t think to look ahead at the pattern for issues.  Then, I had to be creative and fix the dress’ fitting issues after it was fully finished.  Also, there was a total oops moment where I sewed in the most perfect invisible zipper – even matching it through the intersecting points where the ruffles meet – only to realize after the fact that it is on the right side and not the left.  Considering the effort it would take to switch sides, I am leaving the zipper well enough alone. 

The wrong-sided zipper just added to the many little ways this dress was such a frustrating bother to sew, even though I love everything about it…the details, the fit, the style, and how perfectly it matched with my fabric.  I’m actually happily accepting of all the dress’ ‘faults’ which happened because I’m working on being gentler on myself with my self-imposed expectations of perfection.  I actually love my dress all the more for reminding me what it feels like to embrace the fact I am only trying my best and cannot always be up to par.  The beauty of a handmade block print are the little irregularities in the coloring or stamping.  Why shouldn’t my sewing be all the more beautiful for showing the way I persevered and made the most of my ‘mistakes’?!

I rounded up to a size bigger because I wanted a looser fit, and this worked out great.  Having a looser fit keeps the overall garment easy and comfy to wear.  Tight clothes are uncomfortable in the summer for me.  Nevertheless, having a loose fit is especially important here since I wanted the option of wearing silk Indian trousers underneath for a more ethnic look, as you see it in my pictures.  With a looser fit, the bodice front wrap stays closed without gaping open.  Most importantly, though, I discovered the hips in this pattern run really small, even with going up a size!  By letting out the seam allowance to 3/8” on each side seam I had just enough to recover the fit and keep this wearable.

Another point to mention is how this pattern seems to have been drafted for very tall girls.  The torso is very long and not average proportions.  Comparing the line drawings to my finished dress, everything seemed to droop lower on my body.  The bodice-to-skirt seam needs to be slightly above the waist and the left point where the two ruffles meet at the side seams needs to land at the high hip.  The finished dress wasn’t doing this on me.  I needed to pick up the upper bodice to raise up all the rest of the dress without ruining the design lines. 

Disguising while correcting this faulty fit after the fact was all done before I had set the sleeves in, so I luckily had I bit more freedom to alter the bodice.  First, I made a 2 inch horizontal tuck across the back bodice right across the shoulder line, making my dress appear as if it had a shoulder panel much like a man’s dress shirt has.  This picked up the dress, for sure, but the front became wonky.  To evenly pick up the front half of the dress, I took 2 inches of the front bodice under the shoulder line and tucked that under the shoulder seam.  Then I top stitched down along the shoulder seam.  The excess fabric was not taken in evenly in the front as on the back I realize, but the dress doesn’t give any funky fit for this fact, and I am thrilled to have found a way to fix the fitting issues with no marring of the original design or unpicking of stitches.  The sleeves merely have a bit more gathers to them for my alterations to the bodice, but I love puffed sleeves already from sewing designs of the 1930s era.  All is well that ends well, here. 

A handful of further personal variations to the design deserve a mention, as well.  The asymmetric look of the skirt’s ruffles struck me as a tad odd in the way they abruptly end at the bodice.  I realized that the front ruffle joins the bodice seam at just shy of the same point where the underwrap to the bodice ends.  So I ran with this detail and added extra ruffles to just that half of the neckline, thereby continuing the asymmetric line and adding some unity between the bodice and skirt.  I had the neckline ruffles go across the back of the neckline and end at the shoulder on the opposite side so they can be visibly a part of the bodice from behind, as well.  I also lowered the slit opening so it didn’t open up so high up on my thigh.  Finally, I also disregarded the elastic guide for the sleeve hems and cut whatever length felt comfortable around my arms.  Sewing for yourself is all about customizing to your personal taste and desires, so don’t forget to throw those instructions out the window every so often and make what you want, how you want!

Even though I make what I want how I want it, for Indian and other ethnic material I always do my research and let a respectful interpretation of that culture influence my sewing in such cases.  I want to give cultural fabrics their proper place so I can learn from and honor those cultures yet still also invest my own personal story into what I sew.  In the case of this project, I first bounced some design ideas off of our Gujarati Indian friends to see if I was on the right track.  Then, I got in touch with the seller of my fabric and found from her the details to the print that I chose for this dress.  Apparently, these types of multi floral designs on a single print are called “bagh” – which means “garden”.  Lotus, marigolds, hibiscus, rose, Chameli (Jasmine) are common depictions.  Gardens are often shown as the setting for many joyful and sacred artistic depictions in Indian art of both Hindu and Muslim manuscripts.  Thus, I found a beautiful blooming wall of flowers at a local Garden shop to pose in front of to emphasize the glorious theme printed on my dress’ fabric.  I was bringing my own garden to a flower garden…oh, the lovely irony!

The overall creative stylization of Indian block prints are such a heritage craft that my dress’ fabric can be recognizably similar to an 18th century skirt or a textile dating from the Renaissance.  The floral imagery to Indian block prints has not changed all that much and my historian heart rejoices at such a continuity.  My original plan for this fabric was to make The Dreamstress’ “Amalia” jacket (ca. 1780) from Scroop patterns, after all.  However, Indian block prints have a history of being very desirable and sought after in olden times when imports had long lead times and exporting was a dangerous job.  Thus, many countries sought to “knock-off” the visual look of such fabrics with their own colonial practices.  I do not want to be the source of continuing a painful narrative history and wanted this garden fabric to be turned into something practical, wearable, and a source of joy.  I believe I succeeded. 

Happy 75th anniversary of being an independent country, India!

“A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes”

Something that is in high demand in the world today can be in high supply since it stems from an infinitely renewable source.  I am speaking of kindness – a gift that can be so hard to share but costs nothing to give.  It is a universal language of communal understanding.  A plentitude of kindness is sorely indispensable.  Even if I fail all too often, I do try my best to fill the need, even though the effort is often disheartening.  “Be the change you wish to see in the world” is a cliché phrase but kindness is infectious and the key to someone’s good day can really begin with just one person.  Being kind in heart is a very beautiful, strong, and attractive personal quality to find in people, too.  This is why I would like to pick up (a year later) where I left off posting my “Pandemic Princess” blog series by featuring the most famous fairytale princess – Cinderella.  

Cinderella is the fictional rags-to-riches princess who practices indiscriminate benevolence, patience, perseverance, and understanding.  Her story is ancient enough to span many centuries, ethnicities, and interpretations but in all of them her honest beauty, radiating from the heart within, saves the day so goodness can prevail.  I love with a passion the Disney interpretation of 1950 (the animated film) as well as the live action retelling from 2015.  However, I am a sucker for a creative spoof on the story – my especial favorites are Ella Enchanted from 2004 and Ever After from 1998.  The catchy songs and the strong sewing references to the original 1950 animated film have me hopelessly hooked, nevertheless, and the live action interpretation from 2015 is a glorious treat for me.  “Have courage and be kind. For where there is kindness there is goodness and where there is goodness there is magic.” These are the best words ever to summarize Cinderella’s story and can be found in the 2015 live action film. 

1950 cover for a child’s book

I never fully finished sharing all of my Princess inspired vintage creations after launching my “Pandemic Princess” blog series at the beginning of 2021.  I would like to revisit it to wrap up the last remaining themed projects within the next few months.  As I said in that post which launched the series, I mostly interpreted my Disney princess inspired sewing in relation to the year that their original animated movies were released, and my Cinderella dress follows suit as the early 1950s fashion works perfectly for a full, swishy skirted dress, headbanded updo for my hair, and a pretty pastel blue tone.  Yes, I was inspired by the fairy godmothers magic dress for Cinderella since my Snow White interpretation was a similar looking work dress

Promotional image of actress Lily James for the live action 2015 Cinderella

I wanted something wearable and not a costume though, so this merely carries the spirit of and references to the associated heroine. I did not make these princess dresses because I had someplace to wear them – each was truly a splurge project in the truest sense.  Disney bounding, as is the frequent term for an adult whose assembles an outfit loosely inspired by a fictional character, doesn’t have to revolve around whether or not one is capable of actually showing up at a theme park.  It relies on the ability to dream, have a bit of fun, and appreciate a bit of fantasy…all from right where you are.  Cinderella says that “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” in her first song for the 1950 animated film.  This post’s sweet and calming floral blue dress reminds me that it is important to keep one’s dreams alive, hold onto hope, and stay kind like Cinderella.  Sewing helps me make some of my dreams a reality, and keeps me creative enough to continue making magic with fabric and thread.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% cotton for both the solid blue, the print, as well as the lining layer underneath

PATTERN:  McCall’s 8898, year 1952, original pattern from my personal stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  This was a fussy project that needed lots of thread, one zipper, 10 covered button blank sets, yards of binding, and a good amount of interfacing.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress took 15 to 20 hours to finish in July 2019

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound

TOTAL COST:  The printed fabric was $12 for two yards ordered through “Simply Fabric” of Oakland, California on Etsy.  The solid blue cotton was from my local JoAnn Fabric shop, again two yards for about $12.  Then I had to buy a solid white cotton muslin for lining the whole dress – 6 yards for about $18.  All the notions added up, especially the buttons.  The total for this dress is about $50.

This was my first princess inspired dress even before I thought of making a slew of them and turning it into a theme.  Less than month later, I whipped up my 1992 Beauty and the Beast animated film inspired dress (posted here) as a treat to myself for my birthday.  It was then I realized I wanted to keep going with this good thing I had started.  The blue is for Cinderella’s ball dress, while the climbing floral print is for both her sweetness to nature and the garden plants that were magically turned into everything needed to take her to the ball.  My embroidered headband further calls to mind Cinderella’s ball outfit, but mine has sparkly crystals to add just a touch of finery.  A jeweled butterfly brooch from my Grandmother refers to all the butterflies which rested on Cinderella’s gown in the 2015 live action movie.

Beyond any princess reference to my outfit, I had been aching to try out a dress that contrasts its print with large panels of matching solid color, anyways.  It is almost like color-blocking, but with half of the contrast being a complimentary toned fabric print.  Add in the fact that the front closure is asymmetric, which I am a complete sucker for, and this dress becomes the best way for me to dive into this style.  For a few years beforehand, I had kept a whole folder of similar 1950s dresses to encourage what I felt may have been a crazy idea.  It is interesting how mixing up prints with solids in paneled dresses has become a popular trend in both the sewing realm and also the sphere of true vintage sellers since last year.  I was ahead of things in 2019, apparently! 

Besides the interesting way I took advantage of the paneling in the dress, there is another neat detail that was added to this pattern.  There are V-notches cut into the sides of the neckline, the hem to both sleeves, and the center back neck.  These spots were tricky but fun to sew and require nothing more than firm interfacing, precise stitching, and the clipping of the seam allowances.  This small V notching along hem edges of a bodice is a feature I love to see because it is unmistakably tied to early 1950s designs.  See Butterick 5739 from 1951, Butterick 6091 from ‘52, Butterick 6960 from ‘54, and McCall’s 3235 from 1955 for some examples from sewing patterns.  Now you can understand why I attributed this vintage Martha Manning suit in my wardrobe, with its notched neckline, (see it here on my Instagram) to be from the exact same time frame, as well.  Asymmetry was likewise a popular element on dresses and bodices of the early 1950s, as well, so this dress pattern combines both into one fantastic design, similar to what both Vintage Vogue 1043 from 1953 (see my version here) as well as Vogue 9105 from 1954 have going for them.  This post’s dress pattern is from 1952, and has more little V notches along the edges than any pattern I have seen elsewhere…I love it!

Was this ever a complex project and a fabric hog, though!  The asymmetry meant I needed to pay attention to the right side of the front pattern pieces and cut them single layer.  The cottons – both printed and solid – being slightly sheer meant I needed to cut every pattern piece twice to interline individually.  There is 10 yards in total fabric here!  So much fabric means it is a heavy dress for summer, even though that is the season it is for being in a bright white print.  Making 10 fabric covered buttons became overwhelming pretty quickly, too. 

The fit was really funky making it as-is and turned out to be an ill-fitting dress that needed all sorts of adjustments.  Even the length before hemming was down to the ankles on me!  To counter all this bother, I cheated with the asymmetric front and installed a side seam zipper.  The entire button front is for looks only at this point and not a working closure.  After everything the dress put me through to reach a point where it was wearable, there was no way I had enough energy to sew in and cut open 10 buttonholes.  Even with sewing down the asymmetric front, the neckline is rather fussy to keep closed.  I am so glad I opted for ‘cheating’ on the front closing.  Even still, I had to add some tiny hook and eyes to keep the perfect V of the neckline over my chest. 

I am not as naturally gifted as Cinderella, and so the birds you see in some of my pictures are actually vintage plastic bird models that I and my dad built when I was kid.  Search up Bachmann’s “Birds of the World” and you’ll see what they are.  The scarlet tanager was a model my dad did as a kid himself (in the early 1960s) but the barn swallow in my hands for the first picture was one I made as a teen.  The birds were packaged in pieces like a plane or a car model and needed to be painted and glued together.  When they were finished, the scale was the same as the real life birds they were portraying.  I came face to face with a hummingbird once when she thought I was a flower, and I did some bird banding with the local Conservation Department as a teen, but otherwise these models are as close as I will get to my favorite songbirds.  I just had to include the models in my pictures because Disney-bounding Cinderella is about having a sense of fantasy…so why not pretend I do have feathered friend?!  After all, “be kind to every kind, not just mankind” as the phrase goes.

The print struck me as perfect for channeling her in a Disney-bounding dress for a very good reason.  It was similar to a cotton floral I picked out as a young teen to make myself a wearable Cinderella skirt for my birthday.  Looking back, I am proud at how I made exactly what I had hoped for but repulsed by the fact I actually wore that.  It was a long full skirt in a sheer floral cotton, lined in blue for a soft tint, and draped with swagged bows just like Cinderella’s first ball dress (the one the sewing mice made and her stepsisters destroyed).  A two yard cut on its own is not enough for a full skirted 1950s dress but I really had to make this fabric work for my idea.  Besides, I felt that the floral was too quaint and overall busy looking on its own without a solid tone to calm it down.  Cinderella only wore solid colors, so incorporating a large swath of blue to the print was merely properly following the call of crazy creativity.   I have properly reinvented something I wanted to do as a teen, and done it in a much better manner. 

I suppose I need to learn how to practice kindness towards myself, particularly when looking back on some dubious fashion choices of my past!  Being easy on yourself is especially hard to do, from a maker’s standpoint, and takes real effort and courage.  “I could have done this better” or “this is far from flawless” is frequent to think or say for sewists.  I know my perfectionism is too strong more often than not.  While it is admirable to set such high standards, such an attitude merely ends up with you being harsh on yourself and often setting unrealistic goals.  Cinderella’s kindness is often misunderstood as a doormat for others but if you look closer – as this article does – you can see how she was so busy being kind towards others she ‘forgets’ to be kind to herself.  Try to take one special step today to be understanding and gentle on yourself in the spirit of Cinderella, but especially in regards to whatever aspirations or dreams you cherish!