…To Peplum or Not to Peplum Is the Question

One would think that it is only living things that would be able to make up their minds.  In the case of this year 1945 dress, I feel the pattern’s design could not make up its mind whether or not it wanted a peplum, and what styling it really wanted.  Being a pattern for teens and juniors, it totally makes sense to be a bit mixed up…since those of the “in between years” are being overwhelmed by everything!  Now, with some dramatic re-sizing and re-drafting, some cheaply priced wool suiting, and an old unwanted skirt from my basement to re-fashion, I think I’ve hit the right balance to rock this War-time design as a grown woman, ready to flaunt the cold of winter in panache.  Of course, a pair of killer 40’s style ankle strap shoes also completes my power 40’s outfit – they are velvet fabric reproductions from Rocket Dog.

This dress was actually my Christmas outfit for this past 2016 holiday, but I think the plaid has enough small amounts of other colors in it that, together with the navy it is paired with, keeps things relevant for most all of fall of winter, as well.  If I want it more holiday-ish, I can pair my dress with more red items or even browns or goldens.  Women of the 40’s loved to use plaids (especially teen girls), so I’m focusing on that rather than my mental query that I might be wearing some sort of Scottish plaid (which is why my bottom half is in a solid).  Reds and blues were popular colors for teens wear in the 40’s after all, too, so although this is my “adult” dress I am sticking to colors and fabric types “traditional” for the pattern’s intended audience – juniors, that is, those of the 14 to 18 crowd just as they were officially being known as teenagers (see info source here).

This dress is also my first time making a vintage garment where the print (or at least the contrast fabric) is just in the bodice and nothing else.  I’ve always admired those kinds of two-fabric clothes, always wondering if they would work for me…now I know they do!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The solid navy skirt and sleeves are in a 95% wool/5% polyester blend suiting from Fashion Fabrics Club in town.  It has a textured finish much like a gabardine.  The plaid, re-fashioned from an old skirt no longer worn, is a half and half rayon/poly blend with twill finish.  It’s label inside read as “Robyne’s Dream“, “Made in the USA”, and I believe this is from the 90’s.  I have seen this style of red, forest green, yellow, white, royal and black plaid labeled as a “Prince of Wales” design. The waistline and the peplum are lined in a basic, navy blue, all-cotton broadcloth, merely scraps on hand.

PATTERN:  McCall’s #6297, year 1945

NOTIONS:  I had everything on hand in my stash that I needed here – thread, a zipper, bias tapes, interfacing, shoulder pads.  The three buttons down the front are vintage pieces from hubby’s Grandmother’s stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was a last minute decision and was started the week before Christmas and took about 20 hours’ worth of time.  It was finished just before leaving for Midnight church service, December 24, 2016.  Whew!  I was ‘cutting’ it close, ha ha!

THE INSIDES:  All cleanly bias bound.  Strips of 100% cotton batiste are used as facing for the inner waistband for a lovely smooth feeling against my skin.

TOTAL COST:  I am counting the plaid fabric from the re-fashioned skirt and my cotton lining scarps as being free, as well as the notions from on hand, with the wool only costing $2 a yard.  My total for this dress is about $3 for only a yard and a half of the wool I used…how awesome is that!?

This project is one big hooray for re-using and re-fashioning!  As I’ve discussed past posts, my wardrobe is something I consider long term, and if I do not wear or am not happy with an item, it is re-done and cut into so it can used differently ‘til it is 100% what I will use or wear.  Why can’t unwanted clothes be treated as a commodity (defined as in “useful or valuable item”) for creativity just the same as a newly cut piece of fabric, the way I see it?  Anyways, this skirt had been an occasional favorite when I was between 10 and 15 years of age, but for the last 10 plus years it has been in my fabric stash waiting for a new incarnation.  Something from when I was a teen, becomes a new garment for grown-up me, sewn from a pattern catered for teens.  Oh, the irony…

My original skirt before re-fashioning was a simple long bias skirt with a gathered elastic waist.  Thus, I had a good amount of fabric to work with, but the skinny width was restrictive.  This is part of the reason why the plaid is not as perfectly matched as I would have liked and also the fact it is on the bias…although I do like the look of the plaid cross-grain!  Cutting off the two side seams and folding the length over on itself, I had just enough as you can see.  The front half of the skirt became my bodice fronts, while the back half was enough for the bodice back, peplums, and a neckline tie that ended up making piping for instead. So close!

For some reason, the envelope and instructions to this dress are one of the most fragile in my pattern collection, but the tissue pattern pieces are seemingly fine.  Just in case of a damaging accident, but also since I knew I needed to both add in several inches for size (29 inch bust, yikes! so small…) and bring the dress to some adult proportions, I traced all but the skirt and sleeve pieces onto new, semi-sheer medical paper.  In case you didn’t know, any pattern from about the early mid-1930’s up to about 1946 that are marked “Junior Misses” will be every short in proportions and used “as-is” are only sized for an under 5 foot tall person or an under sized teen.  Most of the time I have to add in a good 2 or 3 inches horizontally to bring ‘sleeves-bust-waist-hips’ all down.  It’s kind of what is done to make a pattern appropriate for someone tall, and opposite of what needs to be done to fit someone petite.  Yet, as I demonstrate, these juniors’ patterns are very usable for those are willing to do the ‘work’ of dramatically grading and re-sizing.  However, doing such an effort (in my mind) can only be a good thing – it brings new styles to suddenly be available to use besides teaching bunches about working with patterns.

The original cover drawing is quite cute – and I do not do outright “cute” if I can help it.  Both neckline options are the nails in the “cute factor” coffin (I generally find it hard to like a Peter Pan collar on myself), so they were the first to go and be re-drafted while I was tracing out a copy of the tissue pieces.  I originally figured on making an open V-neckline, and adding in straps that would twist and criss-cross across the chest opening and come back around to button back down on the same side – very military-like and strong, similar to Simplicity #1539, also from 1945.  Well, I guess you can tell I didn’t end up sticking with that idea – not here at least, but hopefully in the future on another project.  My neckline was the very last thing that I figured out before the dress was fully finished.  In the end, I merely took the lapels I drafted as self-facing and made them into a small, slightly pointed, turned back collar instead.  I like the simple subtlety of it, even though it was not at all what I had planned for at all.  There’s enough going on with the rest of the dress, so I felt it needed something non-distracting but still dramatically plunging for a not-as-conservative, grown-up touch.

What is not so obvious but remarkably lovely to the bodice is the way the bust is shaped by a vertical shoulder pleat.  This so completely exaggerates the shoulders as only the 40’s can do – I love it!  It really does wonders to complement the waist, especially since there is a set-in waistband to define the middle of this dress.  The fold of the shoulder pleat on my dress ends so precisely at the seam of the shoulder/sleeve, it was bit tricky to sew around without catching it…a bit of unpleasant unpicking made things alright.  It’s rather a shame that this detail is only in the front (much like the peplum, I guess).  Nevertheless, I still wanted a very defined line at the end of those shoulder edge pleats so there are ½ inch shoulder pads inside.  I always find it so curious how well gi-normous 1980s shoulder pads seem to be made to go inside many of my 40’s fashions.  Except on the occasional dress, I think the WWII years’ silhouettes are just lacking some sort of potent, calculated, confident fullness without emphasized shoulders.  I have seen similar vertical running shoulder pleats on many 40’s patterns circa 1945 – a McCall’s #6102, McCall’s #6902, and Simplicity #1891, as well as a modern (retro-inspired) pattern Butterick #6363, to name off a handful.  Also, for some hard-copy examples, here’s a photo of a mid-1950s wool dress, an extant 1940’s rayon crepe gown, my own Chanel-inspired 1967 linen suit set, and an 80’s chiffon dress, (notice the varied fabrics and years).  This ingenious method of bodice shaping is too good a detail to keep to only one decade.

With such prominent shoulders, I softened the sleeves by not sewing them as set-in.  The sleeves were sewn to the bodice much like on a man’s shirt, connected together at the shoulder so then the entire side seam – from sleeve hem the bottom hem – is stitched in one long continuous seam.  The sleeves are quite deeply cut, similar to this 1946 blouse that I’ve already made.  My sleeve ends taper to being fitted at the elbows but nonetheless these are very easy to move around for full movement and reach room – much appreciated.  Reach room is something I generally do not find modern patterns have unless I alter them in some manner.  Reach room is under respected…if something is good enough to make and wear, accepting being restricted with basic arm movements is something no one needs tolerate.

I was originally very hesitant about sewing on the skirt’s peplum flaps, but I’m so glad they turned out to be something new to like!  Apparently the odd, front, half-peplum design was a quietly popular yet not mainstream style for the mid-decade.  Besides seeing front half-peplums on Juniors’ dresses in my 40’s Sears catalog, the character of Rose from Season Two of the Marvel TV show “Agent Carter” is wearing a lovely drapey rayon dress in this same style.  Even Simplicity pattern Company released their own half-peplum the same year (1945) as #1357.  For one more tactile example, here’s an awesome vintage original half-peplum dress, in a wonderful novelty print, which had been for sale on Etsy.  I certainly don’t “get” the “why” of the style, but since before this dress I’d never really tried a peplum before, I figured half of one might be an easy way to acclimate myself to them.  Turns out this is not all that bad because being anchored on all but one edge prevents too much “pouf” of the peplum flaps.  Still, I generally do not like corners being cut, “party in the front, business in back”, or “coffin dresses” (as they are distastefully called when everything is in the front and the back is totally neglected).  However, technically the back of my dress is not neglected at all – it does have the plaid bodice, too, and the lovely classic 1940s tri-panel skirt back.  There is still one extra touch I added that makes sure the details from behind are just as nice as the front.

Self-made, matching plaid fabric piping runs along the bottom seam of the set-in waistband.  This was actually my hubby’s idea…I’ll give him the full credit for this great custom notion for which I was doubtful about at first.  I did not have the right thick cotton cording on hand for the piping so instead I used several strands together of thinner cotton cording on hand that we use to hold plants upright in the garden.  A bias strip of fabric was then wrapped around the piping and stitched down using my invisible zipper foot (just like what I demonstrated in this post).  This piping made installing the side zipper a bit challenging, and it’s not the best closure I’ve done…but it works to close the dress just fine and that’s good enough for me.

I guess it’s not all that surprising that this sweet vintage style for young ladies and teens is so strongly adult in its attribution – in 1945, women on the cusp of growing up were receiving more representation, acknowledgement, and opportunities, all with greater diversity, that year than ever before.  Firstly, 1945 was the year of a historic Miss America Pageant Competition.  That year of 1945 was the first year the winner was offered a school scholarship as her prize, rather than gifts of an item to wear or travel packages.  Year 1945 was also the first year that a young lady won who had been a Collage Graduate, but more significant was the fact that the winner, Bess Myerson by name, was a Jewish American.  She used her fame for so much good – raising awareness to biased prejudice, as well as helping out the last of the war effort, and later as a New York Politician.  Teen-age girls must have been a big enough “thing” in American after all to get a long article in Life magazine for December 11, 1945 (read the whole thing here, pages 91 to 99).

Furthermore, the magazine Seventeen had just begun the October of the year before (1944) and in 1945 were really gaining influence and gumption to speak out for their intended audience, “the age when a girl is no longer a child, yet isn’t quite a woman.”  Periodicals focused only on Hollywood stars and starlets were going out of favor and Helen Valentine, who, after starting out at Vogue, had already begun Mademoiselle: The Magazine for Smart Young Women by 1944. Seventeen was started by her as a magazine meant to be a teenagers’ voice, a benchmark for thought, and a place to bounce off ideas, so much so that they were not scrupulous about mentioning heavy world affairs and controversy.  By the 1950’s, Seventeen quickly moved from Valentine’s original focus on service and citizenship toward themes of fashion, sensuality, and body scruples…more like magazines of today.  See this amazing web page for more early history of Seventeen magazine.

Young ladies of 1945 and after were influencing history like never before.  I hope a lovely dress style like the one I made for this post might be just a small example of that fact.  Teenagers’ clothes of today generally strike me as disrespectful to their potential and distasteful to their capabilities.  Sloppy clothes, ones trying to be overly “on trend”, or the large majority of clothes which have writing or characters in the most surprising places all seem to put them in a box of what society expects them to feel and react – and many end up never growing out of those attitudes and habits.  This is in no small part (in my opinion) to the incidental that what one wears can impact how we think of ourselves.  Not every teen or 20 something is an electronic addicted being with an I-don’t-give-a-blank level of respect.  They need a constructive way to build their own entity.  Let me share a Helen Valentine quote from the book Fashioning Teenagers: A Cultural History of Seventeen Magazine.  After seeing the 90% of teens at the 1945 opening of New York’s U.N. building, she said, “People have an idea that the only thing they’re interested in is their next date, but it isn’t so. They (young people) are really thinking about very important things and we ought to be thinking about them in those terms.”

Vintage clothes for the middle years strike me as giving them a taste of their future in their own special way, with some small detail of the features of the clothes styles they grew out of so as to not forget where they are and where they have been in life.  It’s like their fashion and not just their education was attempting to transition them into the confidence of independent and capable decisions while allowing them the fun and freedom that still part of their life.  Their ideas and habits are the future we all have to deal with.  May teens of today wear clothing that is respectful of their place in the world every bit as much as fashion of the past has done.

Advertisements

Ms. Kelly’s Dress

Copying the fashion of famous people becomes interesting when you do it for one of the most iconic beauties – Grace Kelly.  To top it off, I’ve chosen to try and recreate one of her iconic dresses, as well.  Both she and I are called “Kelly”, after all – her maiden last name is my first.

I’ve copied a dress that was worn for the occasion that changed her life – the first meeting of Prince Rainier of Monaco in spring of 1955 (full story here).  Just a few months before, she modeled this same dress on the cover of the pattern book for McCall’s – it was pattern number 3100 from 1954.  She kept that dress from the McCall’s cover, and when there was no electricity in her hotel the day she was to meet Prince Rainier, this flowered silk taffeta dress was the only thing she had which didn’t need ironing.  She couldn’t fix her hair without power either, so she put it in a basic bun and added an ivy covered fascinator.  I’ve read reports that she hated the McCall’s dress, really, but she thought no one would ever remember her in this frock.  She never though so much would come from her visit with the prince!  I have a whole Pinterest board here full of more pictures of her and the prince from that occasion, if you’re interested.

Ever since I first saw an Instagram post on this, I realized I had in my stash a McCall’s pattern that’s 32 numbers more than Grace Kelly’s dress, yet (except for the neckline) it’s more or less the exact same dress design.  Now this was a temptation that I couldn’t resist!  Yet I knew I had to make my version of Grace Kelly’s dress quite nice in quality or not at all.  My cousin’s fall wedding gave me the reason and opportunity to make and wear something so fancy!  So several yards of the finest mulberry silk were bought on a fabric splurge, together with everything needed for fully finished insides, and I’ve now made what I think is one of my fanciest dresses yet!

I brought a little bit of my dear departed Grandmother to attend the wedding – the pink pearl leaf earrings are from her as well as the gloves.  My bracelet is made by me of Swarovski crystals and sterling spacers.  My shoes are the divinely comfy and yet fancy “Lola” heels from Chelsea Crew.  I was adding in muted pink pastels to soften up the otherwise dark greys and black in my dress’ print, and bring out its magnolia tree petals!  A real life English ivy vine is my headband, ‘cause why settle for fake when you can have the real thing?!

I feel so flawlessly chic and powerfully feminine in this outfit.  Even though I do not think this is the best design for my body type, the way the full skirt swishes around as I move (due to my added self-attached slip) and the softness and shine of the silk is unparalleled.  This is comfortable finery, the likes of which cannot be found to buy RTW without a hefty price tag.  I bought this dress pattern because it was different, cheaply priced, and appealing, but somehow I’ve always been mystified at how to make it work for myself.  If ever I’m gonna like this pattern, my Grace Kelly look-alike version of the dress is the best shot at that.  Even though I sense that my waist gets lost, and my hips feel as big as a house, once I think past my self-conscious insecurities while wearing this dress, it’s then that I love it.  Who couldn’t love being able to slip into a small taste of the charisma of Grace Kelly?!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% mulberry silk printed floral called “Spring Garden at Night”, lined in all cotton broadcloth, with a pleated polyester satin for the attached petticoat, and netted tulle for the crinoline

PATTERN:  McCall’s #3123, year 1954

NOTIONS:  I bought the invisible zipper for the back, but besides thread that was all the notions I needed!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My dress was made in about 18 to 20 hours hours and finished on August 29, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  Covered up by all the lining/petticoat, raw edges are not to be seen inside!

TOTAL COST:  The silk cost about $60 for 3 ½ yards, ordered from “The Hue Kiosk” on Etsy, with the lining cotton, petticoat skirt materials and zipper costing an extra $20 bought from Jo Ann’s Fabrics.  A total of about $80 makes this just about if not the most expensive dress I’ve made, but that still isn’t a bad price for a dress like this…it was totally worth it!

This dress pattern is labelled as “Easy-to-Sew” and it truly was incredibly easy.  Sure, I made the dress a bit harder to make by fully lining the body, and drafting my own petticoat, but even with all this, it was still way too easy for how it looks.  This McCall’s dress pattern also had remarkable fit that was spot on.  I was worried about fitting the hips correctly, so that they were almost snug but still loose.  The hips are pretty much the important part of this dress design because fitted wrongly they won’t hold the bodice and the skirt in place on the body correctly.  The area from the waist, through the hips down, to the skirt seam is really the only part of this dress that is fitted to the body anyway.  Grading up to my size according to the chart on the pattern back was right on, needing no extra adjustments.  My main caveat to this pattern is it had a very long torso.  I do not call myself petite, although I am on the shorter side, about 5 feet 3 inches high, yet I had to take out 2 inches horizontally from above the waist to bring the proportions up higher.  I also cut the top of the back neckline 1 ½ inches lower to also raise up the still long back bodice.  I never make toiles, or muslins, but I do frequently check pattern pieces by fitting them on myself first before cutting out.  I’m more glad than usual that I did discover the adjustments needed here before cutting on my good silk.

I made two small changes to the actual design.  Firstly, the most obvious one is that I made the short arm-baring sleeves on the pattern into deep kimono ¾ length.  I used another 50’s pattern from my stash as my guide for cutting because as simple as extending the sleeves might seem, I wanted to leave nothing to chance, no opportunities for mistakes if I could help it.  The elbows have small darts for shaping and are not cumbersome.  The bottom of the sleeves arch gently from my elbows down to my high waist on the dress, something you can see when my arms are out.  I realize that the longer sleeves add so much more volume to the overall appearance of the dress, yet I think the super short sleeves on the pattern strike me as jarring with the dressy air of the rest of the design.  I think my having a bit more modest sleeves not only makes my dress closer to the original Grace Kelly dress, but I think it brings out the dramatic plunge of the V-neckline.  Overall, as this is somewhat of a cooler weather dress, made especially for a fall wedding, I did not want to have to wear a sweater (with this? Yuk.), so the longer sleeves keep me more comfortable.  When trying to imitate other people’s style, I never like to compromise my own taste and personality either…after all, knock-off or not, I’m still the one wearing it!

The second change was to take out about 12 inches out of the amount of gathers to the skirt – and it’s still so full!  Many times a vintage 1950’s full skirt is really full, I mean so full your machine might not even want to sew through it, and I almost always take out 8 to 12 inches out of them and they are still quite poufy.  Also the length to the skirt of my dress would have come down to the floor had I not taken out more than 5 inches.  Even still, my skirt has a very wide hem, which actually kind of weighs it down and help the bottom round out nicely.  In all there was probably enough for a whole nuther dress in the skirt alone.  Once the skirt was sewn on to the bodice, working on finishing the dress felt overwhelming.  Have you ever felt like a garment project that has a lot of fabric “fights” with you to get under the sewing machine needle?  This was like that.  Thank goodness it was relatively easy to make.

As I was spending enough time and money to make this a very nice dress, I chose to have a modern invisible zipper down the back.  As much as I do like my vintage dresses to be vintage, there is nothing that beats a perfectly installed invisible zipper in a spot where a regular zip would be so very obvious.  The pattern called for the back zipper to extend all the way past the drop skirt seam, into the skirt itself.  I considered it, but ultimately didn’t want to try to take an invisible zip through that much fabric, so my zipper only goes down to just above the skirt seam.

The zipper was just one of several things I had to decide on for my finished dress.  Grace Kelly’s original dress has a belt at the drop skirt seam, and the pattern has a true waist belt, so I made an ultra-long belt that could’ve worked for either my hips or waist, but didn’t like how it distracted from the rest of the dress and brought the eyes to the wrong spots.  I was briefly even considering adding in light boning in the side seams to keep the bodice in shape over my hips, but I waited until my dress was finished to decide (thank goodness) and the heavy petticoat weighs down the skirt just enough to keep the dress from creeping up on me.  It is one thing to figure out how to properly shape and make a garment…it’s another to overthink problems (real or imagined) and over-engineer details.  I’m guilty of doing both.  So often the difference between those two situations is a very fine line that I struggle to find in many projects.

The extra finishing I did add to the insides really made a difference to this dress.  I tried it on at each step, without the bodice lining, and without the petticoat.  I did not like it until I had fully lined the bodice – it had more “body” and shape with it in, besides making it easy to finish the neckline, and a single layer of silk felt too sheer and delicate anyway.  The neckline pleats to the cotton bodice lining were stitched down – other than that it was cut and sewn the same as the silk bodice.  The skirt was too droopy without the petticoat I drafted – a nicely full skirt that holds its own really defines the rest of this dress design, besides preventing static cling.  I really thought about making the new Simplicity #8456 to go underneath, but having the petticoat attached with the bodice lined made wearing and getting dressed in this so effortless.  With just over 3 yards of fabric in this dress I needed to be able to wear the dress…not the dress wearing me.

My dresses petticoat was made from a mechanically pleated/crinkled satin that had a relatively heavy drape to hold its own against the light-as-air silk.  Long, 10 inch wide strips was tulle netting were cut and gathered above the hem of the crinkled petticoat satin.  Then the skirt was gathered and sewn on the other side of the waist seam, so that when the dress hangs or gets worn the petticoat falls down over the raw edge, covering it and in a sense pulling the seam allowance down for me at the same time.  I love engineering my dresses so I can be just as proud of the inside as I am of the out.  I am important enough to warrant seeing a finely finished inside.

I cannot say enough good words about the mulberry silk I ordered as well as the shop I ordered from – “The Hue Kiosk”.  They have my full recommendation!  First of all, I love what they have to offer, with reasonable prices, and great customer interaction.  A sheet of touch-and-feel samples they sent along with my order was really enjoyable, and helps me know what I want to order next from them once I catch up on my sewing allowance!  Mostly though, this mulberry silk is the best silk I have sewn, felt, and worked with.  Out of all the kinds of silks I’ve worked with so far (over half a dozen now) this is so impeccably wrinkle free –even straight out of the wash – it’s a miracle.  The best part is the lack of smell!  I know I have a sensitive nose, and as much as I love silk, both silk and wool have this smell, especially when wet, that is sort of repugnant to me.  Mulberry silk is the first that is smell-free!  I have read that it is considered hypo-allergenic because the worms have one sole diet of mulberry leaves.  Never mind the insect details, I am so sold on mulberry silk.  My only caveat is that a new, sharp needle is a must when sewing on mulberry silk.  A semi-new “sharps” needle was enough to create a few catches or runs in the silk as I was working – it has very fine threads and has a semi-tight texture.

When I thought about the history behind my dress after my cousin’s wedding, I realized an irony I hadn’t thought of before.  A dress that Grace Kelly wore to an occasion which led to a wedding, had be copied by me to wear to a wedding.  Maybe this dress when made of silk inherently wants to be a wedding dress?  Silly me!  Seriously though, I’ve noticed many drop-waisted dresses in the few years after 1954 (check out the McCall’s #7625 1955 Archive pattern or Vintage Vogue #1094 of year 1955 for two readily available examples, and see my Pinterest board “Drop That 50’s Waist”) so I realize this dress of mine as well as Grace Kelly’s dress were part of a mid-50’s trend for juniors and women alike.  It is not the most likeable style but it is memorable – especially when it has the name of Grace Kelly behind it!  I hope the modern Ms. Kelly – me! – has also been able to put a new and lovely twist on an old style.  Deep down I must be a princess at heart.

Please visit this Instagram post on my account to see my attempt at reproducing the old original McCall’s pattern book cover for the “Vintage Cover Challenge”!  Close enough to be convincing?

Save

Save

Save

Save

The “Ivory Explorer” Dress

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

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

THE FACTS:

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

PATTERN:  McCall’s #9585, year 1968

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Save

Save

Save

…Sewing for My Little Motor Boy

My son sees what I do when it comes to creating and sewing.  Happily for me, he seems to pretty well understand and appreciate it…especially when he becomes the recipient!  He is enthralled and absolutely fascinated by anything that “goes” – planes, trains, and automobiles – so that it gets naturally chosen for him, as if on default.  But not any old print will do.  He likes emergency vehicles especially well and fast sports cars…this second one makes him more like a mini me!  Thus, every so often we come across a printed fabric that makes him particularly happy.  Sometimes he finds the fabrics and sometimes I find them…he does enjoy fabric stores!  Then, it is fun to pair me and my 5 year old up to find what to make with it!  Here’s some of what I have made from the most recent fabric finds which have tickled my son’s fancy.

Now that he is a bit older and no longer a baby, life with him includes more customizing to his age and paying attention to his individuality.  This includes updating his room, too!  So I’ve made him some novelty print ‘race car pets’ curtains that make him giggle and a Disney “Cars” movie flannel pillow cover which he uses every night.  Lastly, I’ve sewed a “Things that go” print shirt which he just loves wearing.  I am mostly proud of the shirt, for several reasons I’ll expound on later, although I did find the curtains to be an interesting learning experience, as I have not made any real home decorating items before.  The best part?  I think I get ‘awesome mama points’ from him for making this stuff – score!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  all are 100% cotton – the curtains and his shirt are quilting prints and the pillow cover is a brushed flannel.

PATTERNS:  The pillow cover and the curtains were self-drafted, but the shirt comes from a year 1975 McCall’s #4741

NOTIONS:  I needed lots of thread for all of this (of course), but I also used scraps of interfacing from on hand and some specialty buttons.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The curtains and the pillow cover was made in several hours’ time awhile back for my son’s previous birthday.  The shirt was made in 4 hours and finished on July 27, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  The little guy’s shirt has fun, random colors of bias tape finishing the inside.  A few seams are merely edge stitched, but the grown-up style facing makes this a very nice shirt.

TOTAL COST:  The curtain Fabric is a M’Liss brand “Traveling with Pets” series, bought from the now defunct Hancock Fabrics back in 2015.  I think I paid no more than $25 for the curtain fabrics, including the contrast remnant.  The pillow cover fabric was bought at Jo Ann’s fabric for a few dollars.  The shirt fabric was a recent ¾ of a yard remnant bought from Jo Ann’s, too, for about $5 and the buttons were on clearance for only 94 cents.

The mathematics I used to draft the curtains became a bit more challenging than drafting garments or purses and belts because it was on such a big scale, but also because I barely had enough fabric to make work.  The same “close call” happened for my son’s shirt – I was literally cutting the front, back, and sleeve with the pieces butting up against one another.  I don’t know why that always seems to happen – every time hubby or our son find a fabric that they really like, there is such a discrepancy of amount left for me to work with it makes my efforts at making something of it a bit more challenging.  The way this happens almost every time I’ve made a project for a family member is so odd!  Anyway, at least I’m putting to good use the last of what is left of these fabrics.

I have no idea if there is a “proper” way to make curtains, but the wide tabs to hang from the rod were relatively easy to make and have a bold yet relaxed, fun look to us.  The tabs and the curtain pulls might look like they are a basic yellow but they have a sneaky fun star print on them!  Nothing, however, can beat the hilarious cuteness of the print to the curtains themselves.  The “newness” of the curtains have worn off on our son by now, but for the first several weeks they were up he could be “caught” staring at them with a look that belies the proof of an inspired imagination and a smile which is between laughing and just plain happy.  After all, we are a family that loves animals, especially dachshunds (look at the giant stuffed “Gertie the dachsie” on the sill), as well as fast cars, so even if I didn’t want to sew this fabric into curtains, I pretty much had to because these are perfectly catered to us!

For my son’s pillow cover, I made it very basic, practically because it was whipped overnight for my son’s birthday.  I probably should have, or at least could have put a zipper into one end, but the pillow cover ended up fitting so snugly over the pillow itself that I didn’t want to take it off so I just hand stitched the opening closed.  I figured correctly that the cover wouldn’t need to come off for it to survive a trip through the washer and dryer.  He sleeps either with this pillow or on it every night (so excuse the worn appearance), and even likes it enough to want to bring it sometimes for sleepovers at the grandparents. Many people asked him what Mommy gave him for his birthday, and many of those who do not sew had a weirdly disappointed reaction when he would excitedly tell them I made something, as if I didn’t give him anything at all.  It’s a shame to see this misunderstanding.  A handmade personally-catered gift can mean so much between the recipient and the maker!

Now to get on to the best part – the shirt!  This is very special for me to sew for him mostly because of the family connections which bring things full circle.  The pattern I used is one that I had given to me by my mother-in law when we were first married.  It is one that she had from her stash.  She herself used this very pattern to make my husband a shirt when he was 5 years old, just like our son is now.  She even had the body measurements written on the pattern for when my hubby was our son’s age, and amazingly the body measurements are all too similar.  Thus, I happily knew it was finally high time to whip up a second generation version of this family pattern.  We explained the connection to our son, but he seems to rather focus on the fun print and details.  Like father, like son…they are both very engineering, detailed oriented persons – our little tyke now has his own version of his dad’s McCall #4741 shirt.

I know the pattern is for nightwear.  However, this pattern deserved to be used (because of the family ties), it was going to fit him without any alterations, and it was dated to a year I’ve never sewn anything from before.  Besides all this, a shirt is relatively classic for a boy of any age.  Even a nightshirt, in vintage terms, can pass as street wear easily and a novelty print can make it too fun to just restrain it to indoor-only wear.

One of the most entertaining aspects to a fabric store is definitely the button section.  My son certainly agrees!  He frequently wants to pick out buttons, and although I have such a generous stash of vintage notions, every so often the need for a store bought item arises and our son happily rises to the occasion.  I will say he does do very, very well for a 5 year old when it comes to finding the perfect button for both some of my own projects as well as his own.  In other words, yes…he picked out his own buttons for this shirt.  They are large planes in his favorite color red.  They don’t exactly match with the ‘theme’ of the shirt, but those buttons give him a special sense of personal pride in the making of this shirt.  He himself had a part in it, and he hovered over my shoulder watching me sew the shirt, so yes he did have a big part in making this.  He likes to brag about this fact, too.  No store bought shirt could have such a bonding, empowering influence!

My title is partly borrowed from a series of 1910 to 1920’s era books which were popular with the youth back when motor vehicles were the newest and most exciting ‘thing’.  There was the earliest and most popular “Motor Boy” series, as well as the “Motor Rangers” and (for the young ladies) the “Motor Maids” which came a bit later.  These are two books currently in our collection and date to 1911.  I cannot think of a better attribute for my son at this point in his life than calling him a “motor boy”, too.  Even in our modern age, the fascination with things that carry us, transport us, and help us travel faster than our basic human capabilities still never fails to captivate.

I do have plans for some fabric on hand to make our son the matching robe, as well as those amazingly dated bell bottom pants which are also part of the pattern for his shirt.  Between his growing so fast, the amount of clothing for him we receive from the grandparents, and the low cost of many kids’ clothes, the greater percentage of his closet is store bought, unlike my own wardrobe I must admit.  I can only sew so much!!! However, the handful of items I do sew for our little man gives me a reason to make sure and keep up sewing items for him and getting him involved with what I do in a large part of my life.  Sewing for the younger crowd is its own wonderful inspiration.  We need the next generation to continue stitching, creating, and imaging in terms of fabric!

Save

Lines of Wheat on the Bias

Early fall or late summer is a lovely season to me where I live.  It has warm days, which I like, in between cold snaps that preview the next season to come.  Together with the richness of colors building in the trees, interesting smells in the air, and enjoyable holidays on their way (familial birthdays, Thanksgiving, and Halloween), I really do wish I could hold on to this season for longer than it lasts, and not just because I despise winter.

My newest vintage 1930s sewing project, featured here, is I feel a perfect transition garment which takes into account all that I love about late summer and early fall.  Stripes the golden color of wheat as well as fluffy clouds in the sky are on an earthy, textured linen dress, which has a fascinating use of the bias grain line.  Vintage accessories from my Grandmother – gloves, earrings, necklace, and a brooch of double wheat sheaves – together with my Jeffrey Campbell leather lace-up shoes, a silk scarf, and a hat I refashioned to be an accurate 30’s shape all are meant to play with the richer colors of the fall season and thus bring out the muted stripes which highlight the amazing design of this dress pattern.

This was actually my outfit for our recent trip to Chicago, Illinois.  Yes, I traveled and explored the busy city downtown in fully accessorized vintage style and loved it!  And just think…this dress is linen too!  What I discovered from the compliments I received from passer-bys is that apparently this dress is a transition piece in another way.  It is not glaringly vintage, yet still completely true to year 1933.  That is a trademark of a truly classic, lovely design!  It is interesting enough in design that (especially made in striped fabric) it doesn’t scream for attention yet certainly can turn interested heads…almost like a toned down Wallis Simpson fashion for the modern vintage aesthetic.  It is also simple enough in silhouette and sewing difficulty that it can be whipped up easily to suit many differing occasions depending on how one finishes or accessorizes.  Case in point – this dress (before hemming) turned out very long on me and it looked very good with fancy jewelry and evening shoes…I can see a solid color satin or crepe ankle-length version of this dress making a wonderful elegant style!  Oh no, another project idea in my future!

Sorry, I know you can’t see all of my dress’ neck and shoulder details with my scarf, but the dress really looks better for it…and Chicago is a city with a cool wind, indeed!  Scarves were popularly worn like this in the 1930’s (see this article for more info and tips on using scarves) but they make such a great multi use fashion accessory in any era.  I cannot do without a scarf more often than not.  As for further clarification about my refashioned hat, it is modern, in straw, and something which I’ve had for years.  It started out with the popular modern “bucket” style crown and I merely pinched it in from the inside at the center top so it would have a proper vintage shallow crown with a very 1930s style ridge down the center.  The excess crown inside is folded flat and was hand stitched down in place.  Easy-peasy and oh-so-handy, this hat is a great way to protect my face while complimenting my wardrobe using both something on hand and my penny-pinching capabilities!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  slubbed, thick 100% linen

PATTERN:  McCall’s #7153, a 2015 issue of a year 1933 design

NOTIONS:  Nothing but thread and some interfacing was pretty much needed.  A true vintage buckle was used to finish the belt as well as some stitch witchery bonding web. 

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This came together rather quickly – it was made in about 10 to 12 hours and finished on August 6, 2017

THE INSIDES:  Mostly French with the some seams in bias binding.  So clean!

TOTAL COST:  This fabric was bought when the now defunct Hancock Fabric’s was closing.  This lovely linen was about $2 a yard…so I suppose this dress cost me about $6. How awesome is that!?

As someone who very frequently works with true vintage original sewing patterns of all decades in the 20th century, I can say I can recognize features of a vintage design and sort of estimate when something has been changed.  As much as I do love my new dress and am generally impressed with this pattern, there are a few things I am not happy with and strike me as ‘off’.

First of all, there are small separate triangular panels which are sewn on at the true waist at the top of the side front skirt panels.  This could have been on the original but I highly doubt it – there is no waistline seam to the similar side skirt panels in the back!  For a long and lean bias 1933 dress like this one, why would this small panel be separate without an obvious purpose?  A depression era pattern knew how to combine ingenuity and elegance in dressing with a complicated appearing simplicity and this small odd feature doesn’t strike me as ringing true to that habit.  Either way I do not like it one bit.  I should have just matched it to the top of the skirt side panels, taped it on there and cut the piece as one long part extending up to the bodice with no side seam.

The presence of the jarring, random horizontal waist seam remnant presents several ‘problems’ in my experience.  It places too much importance on precise matching of the grain line and fabric print – if this small section is off it will be noticed.  It mars the elegant and beautiful stripe work to the dress if the belt is not “just-so” over the seam…and with normal living’s body movements, a garment will not stay “picture perfect” anyway!  Besides, my true waist seems to be slightly higher naturally and a belt carrier wouldn’t help by keeping it down where it doesn’t want to stay.  After all, year 1933 was still coming off of the 20’s ideology and that year’s dresses were rarely defining the waist with a modern, boring horizontal seam, instead frequently opting for a wide panel, side gathering, interesting paneling, or similar gently hinting methods.  This ugly, tiny waist seam remnant needs to meld into the rest of the dress.  I made the pattern ‘as-is’ so I could learn from it – did I ever!  Please do my recommended change for your version…one little extra step will make your version of this dress so much better!

My beef about the waist seam aside, look at the lovely details to the rest of the front!  The tiny stripes matched up pretty well, and all the seams matched up impeccably.  This dress’ stripe paneling reminds me of something along the lines of two of my favorite American designers/dressmakers Elizabeth Hawes and Muriel King, both of whom I admire for their stunning mitering methods (among other things).  Mitering, often understood as a woodworking term for right angled joints, was appropriated by dressmakers in circa 1934.  Its earliest proponents outside of America were the French couturier Marcel Rochas and a young Balenciaga. (Info from the book Elegance in an Age of Crisis from FIT.)  However, Elizabeth Hawes used a bulls-eye pattern on the bias in the middle of the torso for a 1936 dress, a method very similar to the styling of this McCall pattern.  Not meaning to brag, but the tiny, muted color stripes of the linen I used for my dress also reminds me also of the subtlety of Balenciaga’s cotton 1938 dress.  If I can sew for myself anything that I feel can “knock-off” the designers that both I and history admires, that’s a big win!

Not to divert from my glowing praise, but my second complaint with this vintage reprint pattern was actually the same fitting problem as their other year 1933 re-issue (McCall #7053).  They both turn out to have a very droopy shoulder seam in their kimono sleeves, which makes me think it is something that McCall’s does to the patterns and not the patterns themselves.  After all, their Archive patterns are not really re-prints…from my understanding they are new drafts off of images and/or line drawings of old patterns they had issued in the past.  I have sewn using vintage original patterns from both 1931 and 1934, both of which have kimono-style sleeves, and neither of them have given me the same problems I have with the 1933 McCall’s Archive issues.  However, it is an easy fix.  I sewed the long kimono shoulder/sleeve seam about 2 inches further in from the original 5/8 seam allowance.  That’s a lot, isn’t it!  This dress was severely droopy.  The sleeves are very open anyway so taking out some doesn’t make much of a difference.  When I sewed the sleeve/shoulder seam in smaller I also straightened it out – originally it has a dramatic curve that I think does not work out at all.  The weird puckering curve in the shoulder seam is a big, obvious turn-off on the model version of the envelope cover.  Other than the drooping shoulders, I did find the body of the dress to fit pretty much true to the size chart for the bottom half, and slightly a size big for the top half.

Many 1930’s dresses have a very figure hugging bias which I’ve heard many women say won’t work for everybody.  This one seems to have a bias grain just gentle enough for shaping yet not enough to be overly clingy.  The best part about the bias in both the skirt and the bodice is there is no closure needed!  That’s right – no zipper, buttons, hooks, or snaps.  It’s just plain easy.  I know the instructions show a center back zipper, but those can be hard to do on oneself and sometimes also hard to keep the top pull from sagging down.  I believe McCall’s threw the back zipper in to ‘modernize’ the design.  The dress stretches wider easily from the smart grain line layout so why a zipper?!  I see how the zipper weirdly bubbles out and warps the loveliness of the bias on the back of the model’s dress on the pattern cover.  “Keep things simple, silly” (to put it mildly) is an engineering principle that is worthwhile to remember when engineering clothing, too.

This McCall’s pattern is not the best re-issue of a vintage style, but it does make for a very nice dress, with designer touches that is highly underrated once you get past its “meh” cover and fitting issues.  This is a good pattern I would recommend everyone to have on hand to try.  Once you make one successful version, I believe you will use it again, as I plan on doing.  Don’t let the sole sleeve version deter you – there are many types of sleeves that could be added to a short kimono style like this one.  There are no closures needed and deceptively easy to sew.  Do you need any more reason to try this one?  Come on…I want to see many more inspiring versions from all of you talented and lovely bloggers out there!

Save