Diving into Swimwear!

It’s a good thing I whiz through my sewing projects as quickly as my blog’s name references.  There is so much I want to find time for!  There is still so much to create which I haven’t yet done before!  One of those seemingly “holy grail” items to attempt to sew has long been swimwear.  This year, certain occasions called for me to have a swimsuit that I felt completely comfortable wearing and has all the features I wanted.  Nothing I have found to buy seems to ‘suit’ me 100% – if it does, it is at a price that the cheapskate in me balks over.  As I have sewing patterns for swimwear already on hand in my stash, I realized it was time to pull out my bravery to try out something new.  It was time to check off another box in my list of achievements.  Now I can announce a successful achievement in handmade swimwear that I absolutely enjoy.  You truly never know what you can do until you try!

If you notice, my theme for this month has been both local pride as well as water related, so a swimsuit is the perfect way to end it.  Our pictures for this post were taken along the banks of the Big River in Missouri to visit my sister-in-law and for our son to have his first float trip.  However, my new swimsuit is very on point right now with the Olympics having started a week ago!  Also, the athletic wear of the 80’s is in focus right now and coming back in popularity with the new Apple TV+ drama series “Physical” about the rise of aerobics to counter the body anxiety of the times. 

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  one yard of a high density, lightweight, super stretchy, active knit polyester/spandex/lycra for both the print and the nude ‘bra’ lining with scraps on hand of a black scuba knit for the contrast.  The hibiscus print is called “Aloha Stripe” from Stylish Fabrics in Los Angeles, California.

PATTERN:  McCall’s #4301, year 1988, from my stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  4 yards of elastic, lots of thread, and a pair of molded bra cups

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was finished in 4 or 5 hours on the afternoon of July 2, 2021.

THE INSIDES:  clean! More on this later on in the post

TOTAL COST:  I spent only $15 on all the supplies!

This pattern was labeled as “The Creative Tank” by the prestigious Palmer & Pletsch instructional institute.  True to the 80’s era, this is can be a tank (for exercising and the like) or a swimsuit…it is whatever or however you want to make and wear it!  This may be a one-piece, yet there is complex but smart engineering to its construction.  True to Palmer & Pletsch, thankfully, the thorough and easy-to-understand instructions helped making this suit become palatable.  The stitching and finishing techniques are catered to serging (overlocking) but show three other ways to sew this, which was helpful as I only have vintage machines to use.  Every point to the suit design is adjustable to cater this to your taste and body type, and the instructions tell you just how and where to do those.  There are two options for leg openings (I chose the low cut), there are different strap stitching marks according to your torso height, and many bust and cup size options.  Together with the three different style views, this pattern has everything going for it and I couldn’t have picked a better one to help me make my very first swimsuit.

This pattern’s main selling point for me was the options and helpful assistance, for sure, but I absolutely loved the low dipped, fully open back as well as the bold 80’s color-blocking opportunity of the pattern.  I had some scraps I wanted to use as well, so I went with an adapted means to end up with view C.  First off, at the pattern stage, I raised the front dip of the neckline by 1 ½ inches and widened the back panty lines so as to have more booty cheek coverage.  All else is pretty much unchanged from the pattern lines…almost.  I disliked the idea of the bottom solid panty portion being its own separate piece, stitched to the rest of the suit’s body as a panel.  I do not yet trust my swimwear sewing skills enough to know for sure that such a seam will be strong and hold together for me, especially with that tricky center front angled point to manage.  So I cut out a full one piece suit (view A) and applied the bottom panty portion on top of the suit and top stitched it down.  This way the crouch portion has an extra layer of opacity and support since I was not going to add an inner panty.  Also, I didn’t have to stress out over whether or not my suit would separate on me into a two piece.

As one yard (at 60” width) was double the amount of fabric that I really needed for this suit pattern, I doubled up on the white striped print for the body.  This knit was super sheer, and getting it wet exasperates the issue…duh, it’s white.  The nude colored lining I chose for the bust area was very sheer on its own as well.  I figured stripes under more stripes will add a bit of confusion to the print, enough to cover any remaining sheerness of the fabric.  I put the two layers of striped fabric body cuts wrong sides together, right sides out, after the side and crotch seams were stitched.  I end up with two perfectly clean and mirrored sides to the body of my suit.  This was something not in the instructions, merely something I improvised so that there would be no raw edges to be seen inside.  Anyone who knows me or has followed me through this blog knows I am a stickler for a professional, clean finish.  In my defense, I was merely guessing that raw edges might be a bit uncomfortable to feel against the skin in this project, and so justified going the extra mile.  I’m so happy that I did.  RTW swimsuits that I’ve seen are not this nice.

As I alluded to already, there is an inner shelf bra to help shape and support this swimsuit.  I had to pinch in the bottom hem of the shelf bra because it ended up being too loose to do any supportive action, but that was accomplished with 3 tucks done next to the side seams and at the center front.  I also added molded foam cups.  As the swimsuit has completely different ‘finished’ measurements when it’s off of my body versus when it’s on being worn, I couldn’t justify tacking the sides of the cups down 100% along the edges to the shelf bra.  It was very frustrating and near impossible enough as it was to try and figure out where they needed to be placed evenly as it was.  I mostly did this job when the suit was on me, but ended up poking myself too many times and bleeding onto my new creation.  Luckily, swim knit polyester is hard to stain!  I merely tacked the edges down of each cup in a handful of strategic edge corners.  The shelf bra, once I got it to fit, does the rest of the job that my “almost floating” bra cups do. 

Yes, I am wearing my Captain America themed necklace – it was Independence Day!

Even still, the trickiest part of sewing this whole suit was definitely doing the elastics on the edges.  It wasn’t *hard* to do (yes, really) because I’ve done it before and understood the concept of stretching the elastic out to match with the fabric’s excess, and stitching it down while pulling the fabric taut.  The instructions also showed me how to do it with a zig-zag stitch very effectively, too, because swimwear finishing is NOT the same as sewing lingerie.  The main challenge was matching up to the suit all the separate points along the elastic cuts and dealing with completely differing amounts of ‘gathering’ and stretching.  It was both tiresome and very tricky to accomplish correctly.  For example, the leg opening from the hips down to the back crotch had a tighter “gather” in than the front which was about equal in length with the fabric.  This way the suit stays pulled in over the booty.  I luckily did remember to add or subtract all the inches I added or took out of the suit to the total length measurements of each cut of elastic.  Yay for me!  It was very hard to remember to do one more adjustment along the way.  There was a lot to remember sewing this thing together, and I was scared to whole time it would fail. 

At a family member’s pool here in this picture!

Even still, sure I didn’t get certain portions of the edge finishing just “perfect”.  This is still such a triumph of a sewing project anyways that I am saying “well enough” is good enough.  The seams don’t bubble, the finishing looks as good as RTW suits, and I feel it is sturdier than a bought suit.  It is also very comfortable.  It completely moves with my every move to the point that I forget I have it on.  This baby is solid.  Even with the entirely open back, the suit stays put where it should in all sorts of water fun or exercise…I’ve already tested it!  My swimsuit sewing success is sweeter than a summertime iced tea.

All this being said, I am generally uncomfortable to post this of myself in a swimsuit.  I am unsettled at being so “seen”.  I also am not in optimum shape right now.  So go easy on me, please.  This handmade suit though feels so right for me and I am so proud of this project, nevertheless, so I can’t help but share!  I had to be out where I love being in nature, near the water, in my favorite season of summer for me to be at ease enough to have these pictures taken in the first place.  I find that there is dual physical and physiological well-being in wearing anything I make for myself.  Thus, I hoped by making my own swimsuit that sense would extend into even a garment normally uncomfortable for me to wear.  I was not wrong!

Making your own swimwear is now something I can definitely recommend for anyone to try.  First make sure you are comfortable sewing with knit fabrics, however, but please do give it a go…especially if you can find yourself a copy of the same pattern I used.  You do not need much fabric – about ½ yard – (which means spending is a minimum) to end up with a big reward.  I completely understand why the nicest suits are so expensive though, now after making one.  They are challenging!  However, the risk is worth the possibility of the reward of a custom made swimsuit that can make you feel like a million dollars.  This suit is only the first in a new obsession of things I suddenly love to sew.  I have already made a 1960’s hot two-piece set, and have plans for about three more, including a golden 1950’s suit.  I need a pool membership at this rate, right?!

A Cardin Inspired Coat, a Coral Blouse…and a Crab

The way my 9 year old is so easily savvy with the newest technology and hooked on anything electronic makes me painfully aware that I am part of a generation that grew up without the internet.  However, overdoing nostalgic comparisons makes me feel like I’m overly emphasizing my age.  Thus, I’ll try to narrow the focus of this post on both the amazing details of my outfit and its symbolism to me.  I will never cease to be amazed at how pleasantly avant-garde the fashion of the 80’s and 90’s can (on occasion) be.  I don’t think designer fashion of today can compare to it, for all our technological advancements.   

Notice the toy crab as my companion – here’s my major princess reference, as this is indeed the part two post for my Ariel (of Disney’s 1989 “The Little Mermaid”) inspired clothing.  (The part one post can be found here.)  Yet the fact I could easily start crabbing about surviving a childhood without being hooked to a ‘smart’ accessory places me as the peevish one.   Both Sebastian and my enameled Ariel lapel pin are both items from my childhood, picked up when the animated movie was first released. 

Thus, let me return to ‘89 again with both Cardin and Coveri as my inspiration this time, with a mind to further transform the pants of my first “Little Mermaid” outfit into a chic, sporty yet dressy, full collection suitable for more than just wintertime.  Using the little bits leftover of my lovely “Alta Moda” Coveri designed material, I was able to eke out a matching jacket.  Its fabulous back reminds me of a waterfall!  A scrap of outdoor cotton in a branching coral print becomes a blouse for me to enjoy the weather outdoors. 

Imagine if a track suit went high fashion in the very best 80’s way…and this is what I think you would end up with.  I absolutely, wholeheartedly treasure these pieces in a special way!  It is yet another great example of how certain 80’s styling can be timeless when well crafted, but on a personal level, these quite possibly were done in my best hand stitching work to date.  I am not one to ‘save’ my good items, nevertheless – the only way to enjoy them is to wear them!  I found it appropriate and comfortable for a trek through the woods to visit my favorite creek-side haunt on a chilly, rainy day for some water related pictures.  I would think any mermaid princess would go to a creek if that’s all she could find, or that an Ariel of 1989 would do so wearing something like this!

THE FACTS:

FABRICS:  Jacket – a 100% wool twill, marked on the selvedge “Alta Moda – Enrico Coveri”; Blouse – a Waverly brand printed 100% cotton duck (outdoor fabric)

PATTERN:  McCall’s NY NY “ The Collection” pattern #4181, year 1989, from my stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread, a few hook-n-eyes, and a couple cards of buttons (new)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse took me only 4 hours to make, and was finished on March 6, 2021.  The jacket was finished on March 26, 2021, and took me about 40 hours to make.

THE INSIDES:  Clean as can be! The jacket and blouse – as both are unlined – have vintage rayon seam tape and/or French seams.

TOTAL COST:  As I said in my post about the making of the trousers, the woolen Alta Moda fabric was a rummage sale find and therefore a dollar or two, while the blouse’s cotton print came from Wal-Mart’s scrap clearance section, as it was only one yard, for $2.50.  My buttons were a few dollars more.  Altogether, my total is probably $8.00!

What I specifically love here is that a different pattern was used for these two top pieces than what was selected for the fall-front trousers (McCall’s #4537, posted here).  Even still, the jacket and blouse of this post seem to flawlessly match with the bottoms and become a perfect set.  I attribute it to the fact both patterns are from the same year and same NY NY “The Collection” line.  

According the numbers, this pattern came first before the other I used for the trousers.  I definitely will be revisiting this to sew up the jodhpurs and the paper-bag waisted skirt which are included, too.  The way these NY NY patterns have a complete wardrobe in one envelope is really the best, not to mention the awesome, unusual styling.  This is the third one I’ve posted about (my first here) and you will be seeing plenty more of this line of patterns on my blog in the future because I now have a significant number of them.  They run from the late 80’s through the 90’s and are supposed to be designer, or at least designer inspired.  I definitely recommend you trying one out for yourself!

The style lines to these pieces, expressly the jacket, reminds me two great fashion designers who were were highly successful in the 80’s.  As I mentioned in my post about the trousers, my fabric is an Enrico Coveri brand “Alta Moda” woolen from pre-1990.  Coveri worked at the “Espace Cardin”, the vast design institute set up by Pierre Cardin, when he moved to Paris in the late 70’s, before he started his own label.  (In this previous post I expounded upon more details of his life.)  I think the futuristic thinking of Cardin rubbed off on Coveri – both were men ahead of their time in the 80’s.  Coveri was designing in the late 70’s garments we associate with the “look” of the late 80’s or early 90’s, yet as he died young he does not get the credit I feel he deserves.

The blue jacket is one of several different iterations of this kind of back detail Pierre Cardin produced in 1980.

Then there is Pierre Cardin who released a “Computers” inspired collection at the turn of the new decade in the year 1980. When computer usage for the populace was a very novel and limited item still, his jackets where designed to echo the functional venting of a computer’s body (see picture at right).  The introduction of three preassembled mass-produced personal computers was just launched in 1977. IBM Corporation, the (then) world’s dominant computer maker, did not enter the new market until 1981.  I would like to suppose that, just like as he did in the 60’s with his Space Age looks, Cardin was banking on the expectation of the new frontier ahead that was seen in the new dawn of computers for all to use.

Now to me, Cardin’s short, hip-length, blue “Computers” coat is not that far off from this NY NY McCall’s jacket.  In reality, my jacket is probably closer to an early 90’s Claude Montana creation (seen on the left) at first glance of design lines.  Not knowing the construction details of either designer piece, I could just be completely off here with my references.  Yet, I see what I see and love the irony of perceiving a Cardin and Coveri influence, especially for my Ariel inspired clothing.

Back to what I’ve made.  How was this particular jacket constructed though, you may be wondering by now?  First of all, it is unlined which sounds like it should have made it easier to sew, but no – it did not.  The already confusing and challenging construction was complicated by my need to see this jacket have a pristine finish inside.  Wool is not the best medium to do French seams and a tiny rolled hem.  With some steaming, seam clipping, and careful hand-stitching, I made it work though.  The ‘waterfall’ back (as I call it – don’t know what to term this otherwise) was too flowing and beautiful to receive a ‘normal’ hem, as the instructions directed.  I made a very tiny rolled hem, which I learned by finishing the flounces on this dress, to keep the panel from becoming stiff and restricted.  Even the sleeves were French seamed!  All of the top-stitching to the hems and lapel facings was done by hand so I could keep the thread invisible.  If my fabric is high class, and I see that it has couture inspiration, I felt I should raise the bar of my finishing techniques to match.

This jacket has a lot going on when it comes to details to list, and somehow they all seem to work together.  I don’t know how, but I am in awe.  There is the extreme boatneck which leaves little of a true shoulder seam.  The sleeves are wide cut at the shoulders and taper to a snug fit at the wrist.  The curved, high front lapels can be thrown open or flapped closed for a variety in the look.  There are no bust darts, surprisingly, and I kept the front bodice smooth by substituting buttons for hooks and eyes as the trio of closures.  The waist is high, which worked out fine paired with the above-the-waist trousers.  The shoulder panel and ‘floating’ lower waistband, which sits under the bias cut ‘waterfall’, are the only two anchors keeping together the back of the jacket. 

The weirdest but coolest part to this jacket is that there is no real back.  Yes!  The flounce-like ‘waterfall’ back falls down loose from the shoulder panel, attached only at the sides.  There is a back waistband, heavily interfaced and a just a few inches wide, stretching across to connect the hems of the front bodice.  The ‘waterfall’ flounce meets only at the outer corners of the hem to bring in all the pieces.  Hidden underneath, the back is completely open.  If you lift up my flounce back, you can see my blouse underneath.  

This odd feature makes the jacket appear like a haphazard mess when it is anything other than on my mannequin or my body.  Some of the most interesting things I sew are also the hardest to explain, so I hope my pictures do some justice.  It is simply indescribably curious…and was therefore even more challenging to grade up to my size on paper, believe me.  I went into this sewing project “blind” because the pieces and instructions didn’t makes sense until I had a go constructing the actual garment.  I’m so happy this turned out and that I like it as much as I do…because if ever a sewing idea has been a gamble for me, this one was more so!

The blouse is much more low-key, to be sure.  It’s the fine tuning that makes it fantastic.  It pairs with the jacket by filling in the open neckline and paralleling the boat neckline with high-cut sleeveless shoulders.  The blouse is boxy in fit with a wide and shorter hem length.  It also has lots of small buttons to close the front…so many I had a hard time finding enough.  The buttons I chose to match – frosted aqua ones that reminded me of sea glass – could not be found anymore, so I pared the number down to 8 from the 10 that were called for.  I used the provided customized armhole facings for a change, too, so this would have a finished inside that matches the fabric of the outside.  The pique-style waffle finish to the cotton duck adds an interesting texture as well as keeping this top nicely weightless for cool summer living.

Notice how the bust darts come into the bodice from the front armhole? So different – I love it!!!

I have paired other blouses, mostly collared ones, with my jacket and trousers set, and I must say that they actually look better than the high-necked one worn here.  Sure, it came with the same pattern.  Yet, it is not the best at staying tucked into the pants with its boxy, cropped length.  I still very much like the blouse I made on its own, and I do like the fact that it is something different to wear with the jacket and pants I probably wouldn’t have tried on my own.  It perfectly fills in my “Little Mermaid” reference though its details such as the sea glass inspired buttons, the perfect ocean blue aqua tone, and a print that reminds me to give a care about the alarming damages of bleaching to coral.  Whenever separates match with plenty of other pieces in my wardrobe rather than just the set they were intended for…well, that’s a good thing I won’t complain about!

At this point I have sewn 5 items from 1989, all from McCall’s “The Collection NY NY” patterns mind you, and I think none of them are what normally comes to mind when anyone might think of the last year before the 90’s.  I actually feel quite comfortably myself in these fashions the way that I know it is still my penchant for vintage (borderline, I know) without seeming so.  It is the kind of faux “modern” wear that I can totally be on board for!  This NY NY McCall’s was a nicely impressive surprise I did not expect, yet another one of the (currently many) reasons I am enjoying a new appreciation the 80’s and 90’s. 

Designer Pierre Cardin is shown during a dress fitting for his “Computers” Coat, 1980

Just some parting reflections – seeing a couture designer like Cardin ‘honoring’ computers with a collection is weird to me.  I love irony in fashion, and so I find myself delighted yet confused at the same time.  Anything inspired by a technology 30 years back was not always flowing and elegant but often angled and overtly “sci-fi” (I’m thinking of the costumes to the 80’s movie “Tron”, especially).  This is not so much the case today, I realize, especially at the hands of Iris van Herpen

Also, I’d like to point out that a computer system is not necessarily the best friend of the traditional way of creating couture.  I am a manual, free-hand pattern drafter, so I know I am biased, but did you know that as of 2019 there is such a thing as “Algorithmic Couture”?  A body is 3-D scanned to determine its exact proportions, which are used to create customized clothing for zero waste, perfect fit, and maximum sustainability. “Algorithmic Couture aims to democratize haute couture customization culture prevalent in the 19th-century, by revitalizing how we fashion our own style through personalization in the digital design process,” said the team of “Synflux”.  Kind of like in the story for “Tron”, this “Algorithmic Couture” puts power into the hands of the user by letting the ideas of each customer be the guide for each of their projects.  Technology of today is rewriting the historic rules of couture (see this article).  In my opinion there is nothing quite like what human minds and human hands can create…I wonder if Cardin had any idea back in 1989 that computers and fashion would go this far together.

The CAD system has no doubt its benefits at the consumer level.  It can provide a multi-dimensional ‘finished product’ view at the conception stage of a design; it has helped expand the Indie brand world of patternmaking; it aids the ease of offering wide range of inclusive sizes as well as the commercial availability of various designs…all for a just a start to the list.  So much to consider! 

Making marks on pattern pieces via computer, March 1987

In 1989 Cardin had THE most fascinating interview in which he said what I feel embodies a lot my outlook on the importance of quality fashion being a normal part of how we dress, as well as the importance of it being accessible to many.  This is why I believe so strongly in the importance of great patterns for home sewers…ones that are designer or at least ones that offer unique styles to both challenge and suit every sewist’s unique tastes and body types.  Yet, I’ve learned from experience in being a patternmaker who can create a tailored custom garment, today’s modern means of digitizing patterns falls short from a quality I encounter in the early 80’s and older. (See this picture).  I am very aware of noticing that the curves, the perfect body fit, is subtly diminished the newer (90’s on up) you go in commercial patterns.  This is one of the many compelling reasons I prefer vintage sources for my sewing.  Here I go crabbing about things again.  Move over Sabastian!  You’re not the only crab.  It is clear I am an 80’s era grouch.

So how about ending with a little fun, geeky, 1989 related trivia that I find entertaining and related to computers, Cardin, and ”The Little Mermaid” animated movie?  Did you know that the first feature film to use the CAPS process, the “Computer Animation Production System” developed by both Disney and Pixar which had 2D/3D integration, was in the production of The Little Mermaid in 1989?  It was only used for very few scenes such as at the end where King Triton sends a rainbow into the sky for his daughters’ wedding (see pic below left).  Furthermore, if King Triton’s palace was a place on land I think it would most definitely be The “Bubble Palace” on the French Rivera.  This fantastic and futuristic living space was completed in 1989, and I swear it looks like something I would see on the ocean floor in “The Little Mermaid”.  Everything is round!  Pierre Cardin acquired it for himself in 1992 to live in as well as for presenting his fashion shows. 

Well…I *mostly* focused on my newly sewn princess-inspired outfit in this post!  I hope you enjoyed reading my musings here, as well as what I have made for myself, and chime in with my grousing through the comments!  What do you remember about 1989?  What strikes you about the fashion and the times of that year?  “The Little Mermaid” was my first princess, the one that completely sucked me into the realm of Disney, so Ariel was a pretty big influence for me when I think of that year.  Fashion and technology came into play for me that year also because it was my first big pageant show…bringing back memories of being in the limelight of the local media and modeling some styles that I shake my head over today.  Luckily, I like my 2021 versions of the 80’s decade much better!

“Under the Sea”

Let’s ‘dive’ back into the 1980s decade with yet another installment to my ongoing “Pandemic Princess” series!  My title gives away the royal fairy “tale” subject ahead of time here.  This is inspired by Ariel, from Disney’s original “The Little Mermaid”, with an outfit dated to the year of the animated movie came out – 1989.  My Pandemic Princess series was something I worked on throughout last year (2020) during the pandemic, and this outfit was one planned out at the end of the year for a wintertime visit to the new downtown Aquarium.  Thus, this becomes a conservative, bifurcated version of Ariel’s mermaid look with a purple blouse and greenish trousers made for an 80’s interpretation.  This is my only Disney Princess inspired outfit, too, which will not be a dress.

I wove so much symbolism, high quality, and love into all the details of what I’m wearing…Ariel was my first big deal, mega favorite Disney Princess, after all!  Proof in point – my parents were somehow able to get me (as in bring it home to keep) the oversized window display which was at our local Disney store for the release of the movie.  I remember dressing in a little purple bikini top and a sparkly mermaid tail to stand inside the 3-D display after they had set it up for me in the living room.  I was part of Ariel’s world that day!  So, please don’t mind if a grown up me obsesses over every little aspect to crafting her very ocean princess outfit, he he. 

Be prepared for a “part two” follow-up to this post, also dating to 1989 and with more matching pieces to make this outfit a complete set.  As big a fan as I am, one Disney’s “Little Mermaid” inspired outfit is not enough!  I might also do a third Ariel inspired garment – a dress – in the future, but I know I need to curb myself in at the moment.  For now, I felt it was important to channel the underwater princess as a woman with legs because, after all, her main longing was to walk, run, and dance on land!  I also enjoy the juxtaposition between her wearing only seashells as her top becoming a very fun but conservative long sleeve blouse in my hands.  All the blouse buttons are carved abalone shells instead!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Pants – a 100% wool twill, marked on the selvedge “Alta Moda – Enrico Coveri”; Blouse – a soft but tightly woven cotton blend broadcloth

PATTERN:  McCall’s “NY NY The Collection” #4537 pattern, year 1989, from my personal stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  Lots of thread, interfacing, several hook-n-eyes, vintage rayon tape for hems, and vintage buttons from the collection of my husband’s Grandmother

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Both pieces received much hand stitching, but the pants more than the blouse.  Even still, the blouse took me 30 hours and the pants about 40 hours (not counting the pattern re-tracing I needed to do on paper to re-grade the sizing).  Both pieces were finished by January 15, 2021.

This is a tank with both the “Leafy Sea Dragon” and the “Weedy Sea Dragon”

THE INSIDES:  Most seams are covered by vintage rayon seam tapes, but the long pants seams are zig-zagged over along the raw edges.

TOTAL COST:  This set cost me next to nothing – just a few dollars – as I bought everything except the notions (which were on hand already) at a garage rummage sale. 

This set might have been practically free but don’t be deceived – it is not lacking in quality.  The blouse fabric is very nice cotton, to be sure, but it just so happened to be the same purple as Ariel’s brassiere shells. What seemed like the perfect find was not even 2 yards in length (at 45” width) so I was able to just barely make this blouse work out with its long sleeves and peplum.  Even still, my blouse’s cotton is a pretty basic score compared to the amazing find that was the fine woolen used for my pants.  It is a very greenish turquoise perfect to complement the purple, but also a mermaid appropriate tone. It was a soft, supple, and fabulously textured cozy wool.  Yes, there were 6 yards of the material in total. 

However, those 6 yards were perhaps the most moth chewed piece of fabric I have ever seen…quite a freaky mess!  There was barely a solid swath which didn’t have a hole in it from which to cut my pants.  With that fabulous selvedge marking, though, there was no way I was going to pass up the chance to try and salvage what I could from off of it.  Whenever you see a stitched on ‘label’ on the selvedge of material, that’s a clear giveaway that it’s something high-end, especially when it says “Alta Moda”!

Many people may not recognize designer material, so I’ll decipher why the selvedge marking here is so important.  “Alta Moda” is an Italian noun for the world of Italian high fashion, Italian fashion designers collectively, and Italian couture.  It is their equivalent to “haute couture” in French.  “Traditionally, Alta Moda or Haute Couture is the creation of unique tailor-made garments made mainly by hand using high quality fabrics, decorations, applications and embroideries with extreme attention to details” says The Accedemia Costume & Moda in Rome.  Dolce & Gabbana is most often associated with the term “Alta Moda” nowadays, but as a designation for the industry, the words mark the difference between Milan and Rome – the former is more known for everday wearable clothes (pret-a-porter) where the latter is known for extravagant high fashion (says “Dave’s Travel Corner”).  This is significant because there is the name of Florence based fashion designer Enrico Coveri behind the “Alta Moda” designation.  

Enrico Coveri 1988

Enrico Coveri was born in 1952 and studied at the Accadema delle Belle Arti in Florence.  In 1973, he began working as freelance designer, creating knitwear and sportswear lines, while making his mark by being one of the first designers to use soft pastel shades.  He moved to Paris in 1978 to work at the “Espace Cardin”, the vast design institute set up by Pierre Cardin, and the year after he debuted with his first women’s collection in Paris. Shortly after that, he returned to Italy to establish his own company in 1979.  “You Young” is the name of one of the several seasonal Enrico Coveri collections. It is also perhaps the best description for his bold, unpretentious, and fun-loving fashion: strong, vibrant colors and striking, witty designs that have always been clear and intelligible, with zany prints and knits often incorporating Pop Art designs and cartoon characters. Although he excelled at casual clothing, even his eveningwear exuded a young, sporty, wearable feel. Coveri enjoyed shocking and going out on a limb with design. 

It is noted that in Coveri’s styling, attention was always given to the particularity of the materials and fabrics.  His favorite fabrics included stretch satin, superfine linen, silk, cotton poplin, and sequin-covered knits.  Journalist Hebe Dorsey to dub Coveri the “Italian Kenzo” in the Herald Tribune.  Coveri died in 1990, at the young age of 38.  (This and the above paragraph’s information is from The Fashion Model Directory, Made-In-Italy.com, and Encyclopedia.com.)  Please hop on over to my Pinterest page (here) for his work and check out how full of life Coveri’s designs were in his too-short career.

This line of NY NY “The Collection” McCall’s patterns are supposed to be designer drafted, after all, so using a fabric most probably leftover from Coveri’s work and then channeling his style to interpret my version seems so appropriate.  Now, I’m not intimating this was his pattern, but after reading up on his life, it suits his exuberance and love for details.  It also means this wool is from before 1990…bingo.  I couldn’t have chosen a better designer to incorporate into my Disney “Little Mermaid” outfit!  How this vintage Italian Coveri fabric got here in the Midwest of America and why it became so moth chewed is another mystery I won’t even entertain unravelling.  I feel he would appreciate the animated character influence here, as well as welcome the color tonality, but I would hope Coveri would especially like the unexpected details to the blouse and the pants of my chosen pattern.

The most obvious special detail is the front waist of the pants which have a strong mermaid-reminiscent shaping.  With the dipped center and the flared, pointed sides, it calls to my mind the common way to portray the joining of the human body to the fish tail at the waist of a mermaid or merman.  It’s not just all design lines with no utilitarian purpose, however – these pants are a unique “fall front” opening!  This is scarce on so many counts.  Not only is this style of pants closing something relegated to menswear, but besides maritime military uniforms having a buttoned fall front closing, it is primarily a historical fashion point.  The “fall front” means there is a panel (sort of like a bib) which is flapped up (after stepping into the legs of the pants) and either hooked, tied, or buttoned down to cover both an inner waistband underneath and the exposed lower groin. 

This style of pants is most widely seen today on the handsome gentleman and their roguish compatriots of popular Jane Austen novels and early 1800 era stories in television and screen adaptations.  The end of the Regency and Napoleonic eras were the last of the fall front’s common usage in trousers, excepting certain military uniforms (as I mentioned) or ladies Victorian “split” skirts for riding. Brann mac Finnchad has an excellent terminology post here on his blog “Matsukaze Workshops” as he explores drafting and sewing his own regency fall-front trousers.  Modern pants are a basic form of the “French fly” closure style, also called “split-fall”, and this has been dominant on men’s trousers and denims for about 170 years now.  It wasn’t until the 1930s that the “French fly” was utilizing zippers, as we use today, rather than only buttons.  

I have not yet seen a decorative fall front pants, much less in modern times, and especially for ladies.  These are THE coolest pants I now have.  They are not trying to be historical, yet are a fresh take on a style long dead…not dated at all for coming out of the 1980s!  Most importantly, though – the fall front incorporates deep pockets that reach down to my thighs.  This is modern ingenuity combined with practicality for you.  Even still, style aside, I love the way they are very comfy and easy to move in, besides being quite complimentary to my hourglass figure!  Now I just need to make sure troublesome fabric pests do not find my pants…

My fall front trousers utilizes one snap set and a few hook-n-eyes.  A 1 inch heavy-duty snap closes the inner waistband, as Brann calls the “binder”, and large hook-n-eyes to close the sides of the fall front flap.  The original instructions called for me to use buttons and work buttonholes at all these closure spots, yet I wanted the smooth front appearance of invisible-from-the-outside closures.  The amazing seam lines of these pants needed to take center stage without big buttons to distract!  After all, I did not trust two buttons to alone hold the weight and the pull of the fall front.  I want these amazing pants to last me many years.  Not having set button holes will hopefully aid that by giving the versatility of being able to adjust the spacing of a hook or snap.  Depending on how the fabric loosens or what my body is dealing with at the moment, “fit” is something fluid and not static and I sew all my clothes with some option of tailoring at a future date.

Once I graded up the paper pattern according to the given size chart, these pants turned out close fitting yet exactly my size, luckily, so I could focus on perfecting every feature as it was out of the envelope with no alteration.  The pants’ legs are tapered slimmer at the leg hems, the waist is high above the natural line, and the hips are roomy across…all in a nicely subtle 80’s way.  They are dart fitted across the back, unlike Regency trousers which were laced to fit.  The inner waist facings were in many different pieces across the back to accommodate the curving fit.  I kept the pants unlined so they would be more lightweight and therefore versatile for a mild spring or fall season.  The wool is so fine it is not really itchy.  I did finish the hem in a bright, cheerful lime green vintage rayon hem tape.  Only I really see or know it is there, but sometimes it’s those hidden fine details that make all the difference, right?!

Now compared to the pants, the blouse takes second sitting, yet it is still packed with unusual, special details, too.  It is more of a 1980’s classic, though.  As the envelope summary stated, the blouse was designed to be very over-sized, except for the close-fitting hips and wrists.  Combining these features with the dropped shoulder line and lowered armscye, as well as knowing my tiny wrists, I presumed correctly that the only place where I needed to size up was from the waist down.  The size of my pattern was two sizes too small for me according to the envelope chart and yet the main body finished up fitting well yet with a comfy amount of room to spare – just the way I figured it.  Sizing up was challenging as it is a darted one-piece in the front and a separate peplum with defined waist seam only in the back.  I merely slashed and spread the front blouse panel open to the necessary increment starting from the hem.  Then, I came back to retrace in the original pleats again.  When a pattern says “generous fit”, believe it only so far and measure at the pattern stage (as I did here) to see just what is going on ahead of time for a perfect fit in the end!

The pattern calls the back bottom portion a peplum, but I see it as a clever way to keep a poufy blouse tucked in and looking neat.  This blouse is onto something smart – don’t you hate it when you tuck a blouse into pants or a skirt which fits snug over the hips and the top just gets all bunched up and obvious under your bottoms?!  I am glad for the longer, lower hip length of the hem because it not only stays tucked in nicely but also looks great worn untucked, on its own.  80’s oversized blouses can overwhelm a smaller frame like my own, so the slim fit for the waist and hips makes this style work for me, I think.

An unusual part to the blouse is for sure the sleeves, the way they are so deep set and super gathered at the center top ‘shoulder’ seam.  I have not done a tapered sleeve like this before either, nor does one often encounter a smooth transition (no tucks, pleats or gathers) into the fitted, rounded cuff.  I love it!  Even still, one little detail of two carrier tabs at both the back collar and front button placket makes all the difference here.  It keeps a contrast scarf in place (the way I am wearing it), but the pattern calls for an ascot to be made (included in the envelope, too) and worn in a way similar to a man’s necktie.  No wonder the pants had such a masculine influence!  The whole ensemble owes its design to guy’s clothes, even if the details are inherently feminine.  The collar otherwise is pretty much the same as the cuffs, with curved ends, yet was sewn down with a man’s shirt-style collar stand. 

I felt that true shell buttons were the only thing appropriate here to keep “The Little Mermaid” reference strong but subtle.  Abalone shell buttons, if the underside is unglazed and raw, can fall apart easily.  However, I was able to find ones stable and uncracked for my blouse in the amount I needed (a total of 11) out of a good number more (about 18) in the vintage notions stash of hubby’s Grandmother.  Shells are intertwined with every mermaid legend it seems, but I figured abalone shells would be Ariel’s preference the way they have an iridescent shine in her classic colors of turquoise, purple, and pink.

The way Enrico Coveri was obsessed with matching, curated accessories, I followed suit with this outfit.  Where do I start?  My shoes are perhaps my favorite compliment to my outfit, but then again I do greatly enjoy matchy-matchy footwear!  My facemask reminds me of the interesting and slightly alien texture of coral and was made by me of the lovely shiny turquoise rosette fabric leftover from this vintage inspired Whitney Frost dress copy (posted here).  My purse might be the most obvious accessory – it is a “Unique Vintage” brand cosmetic case that I added pearl straps to so I can use it as a purse.  My bracelet is really a necklace, but it is long enough to wear around my wrist when wrapped three times.  It has a sterling silver mermaid swimming across it!

My earrings are genuine shell carved in the shape of a starfish. I have had these earrings since I first got my ears pierced as a little girl. I know there is a story to where they came from which I cannot remember yet, so but nevertheless I hold them as special for the reasons I already mentioned!  I could have flaunted off so many of my old original charms, pins, or pendants which I have from when I was little and the movie first came out…but it looked too gaudy.  I wanted to go all out with this princess out, just to let you know, but I kept it tame…I really don’t want to cause any more attention (at times) than my vintage way of dressing already does!  

So, regarding our shooting location, if you ever find yourself in St. Louis, Missouri I do recommend a visit to the Union Station Aquarium.  This is something worth seeing (from a land locked Mid-Westerner’s point of view) plus it makes for the best pictures!  I couldn’t have asked for a better outfit to wear, though…the anticipation of the visit helped spur me to finish sewing it.  My Ariel inspired set totally put in the frame of mind to appreciate the underwater realm in an immersive state of mind…which was easy to do as some of the expansive tanks wrapped around and over between rooms!  Although I will not say “it’s better down where it’s wetter” as Sebastian sings, watching the fish and their counterparts do their ‘thing’ (“just keep swimming”, right?) was incredibly relaxing for us, compared to our working hours up on land.  At least it was fun to pretend to be a grounded mermaid princess for a day! 

Cold Shouldered

An ice queen wouldn’t really feel frigid temperatures, I would assume, so she can dress purely for beauty, aesthetics, and the power of her position, right?  Okay, we have that understood.  It wouldn’t be too assumptive either, would it, for the next step to be automatically suppose that character also has certain affectionless traits of a queen who has the capability to freeze water and produce snow?  Perhaps.  However, Disney’s animated “Frozen” movies both 1 and 2 (2013 and 2019, respectively) counter some of such widely set understandings of such a particular fantasy female character.  Ice queens are almost always given a villainess arc in other related stories and films, yet Disney’s version becomes (dare to say) thawed by love and warmed of heart yet still upholds her powers and magical capabilities.  It’s weird and kind of a disappointing change for me, but hey – Elsa does have some awesome cold-shouldered fashion in common with her fellow more malevolent ice queens, so I can definitely roll with that!

Because I am not really a frosty temperament nor am I tolerant of the cold weather, I am happy to have found a way to make an open shouldered gown warm to wear, vintage styled (of course), and practical all at once for a personal interpretation to an ice queen character.  Of course I needed the proper crown and jewelry to match the part, so I also crafted a crystal crown and ring for my set, too.  This is part two of my newest 2021 blog post series called the “Pandemic Princess”.  Part one can be found here – it is my remake of a dress worn by Anna, the sister of Elsa from “Frozen”, so this is kind of like a sequel post to that one. 

Yet, this princess post’s outfit is inherently different since I do not relate to Elsa (as I discussed at the end of my previous post).  Inspired as well by the old Hans Christian Anderson “Snow Queen” tale, I however, mainly incorporated strong references of my preferred ice queen, one who is just as enthralling as she is scary.  She jumps off alive from the pages of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia…the White Witch called Jadis.  She is a not a true queen of course (those who know the books understand) but she still reigns over her spell of an eternal winter with such an iron hand that there is no Christmas.  She is not a character to ‘like’ necessarily but I find her captivating as appalling in her mystery and importance to the story.  The seven Narnia Chronicles are just about my favorite books ever and the strong character of Jadis has formed my idea of a snow queen.  Disney did do a fantastic job at outfitting actress Tilda Swinton to become a great visual interpretation of the White Witch in the 2005 “Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” movie

One of the White Witch’s trademarks is her wearing of fur to symbolize her ruthless brutality to the creatures of Narnia.  A polar bear may be pulling her chariot one day then become a coat the next…ugh.  (See several examples here.)  After all, Jadis did wear as a collar the mane of the great Aslan the day after killing Him.  My outfit gave a further nod to the character of Jadis in a fair and humane way by wearing either my Grandmother’s vintage 50’s era fur coat collar or a cut of white polyester faux fur, leftover from a coat my mom made me as a child.  These added items were my refuge to keep such a dress with an open neckline warm to wear in the cold, anyway.  Such a style is called cold-shouldered for a reason, but it only becomes literal when the wearer is also frigid in personality.  I was doing my best at looking the part of a stern snow queen in many of these pictures, but it is really hard not to smile in an outfit this fantastic.

Both Elsa in “Frozen” as well as Narnia’s Jadis only wear open shoulder dresses.  The White Witch prefers dramatic, heavyweight dresses though while Elsa of “Frozen” sports lightweight, sparkling, elegant finery.  Both queens incorporate elements of the Hans Christian Anderson Snow Queen, who looked “as if (her dress) had been made from millions of star shaped flakes.  She was beautiful as she was graceful.”  (The classic Anderson Snow Queen also has a chariot and is portrayed in images wrapped in furs like the White Witch.)  All of these ladies gravitate to pastel blues, greys, and white tones (with exception of “Frozen Fever”).

Being worn with bare shoulders, I realized early on that my snow queen creation had to be a dress yet still be closer to a coat.  I wanted it out of a warm and sturdy material to channel Jadis, yet something soft and lovely in sheen to incorporate Elsa.  An all-cotton textured chenille which was found in the decorator’s fabric section on clearance at my local JoAnn store was just the ticket.  It has a white, frosty overtone to the dusty blue because of the fluffy nap (similar to a quality velvet).  Yet the substantial ‘hand’ to it, being a decorator material, is perfect to hold up a strapless dress.  You don’t see much of chenille anymore, both in stores and in fashion today, and that’s a shame.  It is lovely fabric that I remember liking a lot back in the 80’s and 90’s as I was growing up.  This flashback gave me an idea of what direction to look for choosing my pattern design.

Off shouldered vintage dresses are almost every time something super fancy, for evening wear, or not remotely utilitarian.  This was not something I wanted for my “Pandemic Princess” collection, as I said in my announcement post.  I need a “pretty princess” dress I can wear anywhere and everywhere, as often as I want!  I remembered how the 80’s and 90’s (cue the tip from the chenille) were so good at attractive avant-garde fashions which took unexpected creative spins on many ‘traditional styles’.  I found a “New York New York, The Collection” Designer pattern, a McCall’s #4442 from 1989, that hit all the right buttons for me.  It is part body fitting coat, part feminine dress, but altogether powerfully asymmetric enough to suit placing myself ‘in the shoes’ of an intense queen character.  Except for my shoulders, I could be covered up in the cold, too, in the ankle length and long sleeves – just like Elsa!

As weird as the pattern pieces for this looked on paper, the making of the dress turned out fantastic!  The fit was spot on, instructions were clear.  My dress is remarkably easy to move in, as well, and comfy.  It has raglan sleeves.  Pleated darts in the front from the neckline down which shape the bust yet open to give ease in the hips.  There are also pleated darts in the back which are sewn in from bottom to waist to give an amazing bloused back but fitted booty.  As proof, just freaking check out that silhouette the dress gives from behind!  There is a tapered skinny skirt and skinny long sleeves.  The front cover did a horrible job at portraying all of these fantastic details, and the back only gives tiny, limited line drawings.  Under the cover of the loosely sketched fashion illustration, it hides a gem inside.

I made a few slight changes to the design.  An asymmetric closure ends in a pleat which opens up into a walking slit (which I moved from being a kick open style in the back).  After all, Elsa’s “Let It Go” song dress has that infamous thigh-high front slit and sensual fit!  As I didn’t want to deal with closing all those buttons nor try to stitch in buttonholes through the thick fabric, I sewed the buttons down permanently to have the front be a mock closing.  They are silver foiled mock crystal squares to nod to the ice queens who inspired me. Then, I added a left side seam closing invisible zipper to compensate for the faux buttons.  Due to a small lack of fabric (buying an end-of-the-bolt on clearance meant I was ½ yard too short for what I needed) the sleeves are indistinguishably two-pieced along the elbow.

As chenille frays like crazy, all seams are finished inside with a double zig-zagged stitch to imitate overlock stitching from a serger, while the bottom hem and sleeves has vintage rayon hem tape in turquoise.  The instructions impressively called for very fine finishing techniques similar to what I see in Vintage Vogue Special Design patterns or modern Vogue designer ones.  I felt the chenille just couldn’t handle French seams or an additional edge binding, though.  I can wear a slip in lieu of lining and the fabric is not scratchy.  It was important to keep such an odd but fantastic dress simple. 

Speaking of simple, when prepping my supplies for the making of this dress I was prepared to tolerate the possibility of adding in an internal structure (boning or horsehair trim) to either the body or neckline of this dress.  I honestly had no idea going into this if it would just end up a nightmare of a project.  Luckily, it was not – only remarkable easy.  This was so different a style, I didn’t know what to anticipate!  I soon found that as long as I properly interfaced the front placket and the wide neckline facing as the pattern recommended, as well as found a snug fit for the waist and below, the dress stays up and in place. 

The pattern called for little shoulder inserts if a full cold-shoulder is not wanted.  I actually cut out these pieces of a skin-toned power mesh and had them ready to sew in, only to try on the dress and love it as-is with a fully bare neck and shoulder line.  The pattern has a wide facing which stabilizes the ‘collar’.  It was a weirdly wonky piece that I cut out of a dark green cotton and ironed heavy interfacing to the wrong side.  As crazy as that piece looked flat on tissue paper, it did the trick.  I adore the way this neckline frames my face and is low-key drama.  Without being snug, the wide neck opening is also not sloppy on my body.  It stay perilously on the curved ends of my shoulders so perfectly.  This is a mysterious wonder of a design. Did I say enough times already that I love this dress?!? 

Unlike the White Witch in the Disney film, my dramatic up-do is ALL my own hair!!!

Mirroring the way ice forms into defined faceted, geometric shapes, I chose natural crystal quartz to make my own crown and ring set to match my outfit.  Sterling silver findings give it that cold shine.  Back when I was at my local craft and hobby store buying the crystals, I was walking around the section for findings when I saw an ad for wire wrapping.  I liked the appearance of that technique and figured it might be a way to attach the quartz stacks to become jewelry.  This was my first try and I know there is vast room for improvement but I am happy my crazy idea was a success. 

I wound the wire in and around one quartz column then wrapped the rest of the frame to become the ring.  The crown’s crystals were wrapped around the center of a necklace wire.  This way I have not only made a crown, but also something I can wear as around the neck to make the most of my time, money, and supplies.  There are screw off nobs at the ends so I can even slide off the crown’s quartz crystals and reuse the necklace if I ever want to.  I’m all about splurging on something as superfluous as crown, but at the same time I’m also incredibly practical, you see.  What carat is the rock I am wearing, I wonder?  To match, my earrings are vintage 1950’s faux diamond pieces from my Grandmother.  My dark beige boots from my White Witch inspired photos are of the 1980’s era from my mom.  

Hey, Olaf! “Do you wanna build a snowman”

All of the ice or snow queen characters are so inherently sad, so I hope my version of such a role is a much happier, brighter spirited one.  A kiss of the Snow Queen blinds the mind’s eye of the little boy Kai – another kiss from her would have killed him.  Jadis only shows a mock kindness to Edmund so that she can later kill him and his siblings.  Elsa finds herself alone internally due to her powers, even after the power of love allows her to physically touch her family and friends.  Most all of us now know the crippling deprivation of seclusion in some manner since the pandemic of 2020 hit. 

As frosty as these queens are, they have now become easier to empathize with through the bitter loss of social contact in today’s society.  This post’s pictures were taken around Christmastime decorations and after a long-awaited snowfall.  Thus, combined with my fantastic new outfit and the company of my immediate family, there was a lot of fun to be had behind the scenes.  This makes for a joyful, novel understanding of the snow queen persona I undertook by creating this outfit.  I hope this shines through to you as you read this post and enjoy the images.  Let’s not turn into snow queens ourselves, but work on finding ways to let love break through the icy solitude and cold seclusion of the world today.

“Even if there is no Narnia, I will continue to live as a Narnian!” -quote from The Silver Chair. We had fun playing out the parts from the stories with our son!