“Milk and Sugar”

It was just Father’s Day weekend here in America…so it’s time for another one my infrequent but recurring posts on vintage menswear!  My husband’s birthday and Father’s Day are practically a month apart and so I annually take some time between the two dates to sew him a shirt.  This years’ gift was something completely new and different – both for me to work with and for him to wear.  It’s a 1960s era shirt made out of that easily recognizable, and cool-as-a-cucumber cotton we call seersucker.  I equate it to my giving him his own personal air-conditioning.

“Seersucker is the quintessential warm-weather fabric known for its crinkled texture and breezy quality. Seersucker’s texture creates a space between the skin and the fabric that helps improve heat dissipation and promotes air circulation” says Fabric.com.  Yet, “It is a low-profit, high-cost item because of its slow weaving speed” says Wikipedia, and so it is produced in much smaller quantities than other textiles.  Seersucker is woven in such a way that some threads bunch together – “slack-tension weave” – giving the fabric a wrinkled appearance in places…which also means ironing is not necessary (yay).  Many seersucker fabrics are striped (much like butchers’ or railroad workers’ “hickory stripes”), but I have had this shirt’s plaid seersucker in my fabric stash for well over a decade, so no wonder it is on the more unusual side!

Now to explain my post’s title.  “Milk and sugar” is the translation of “shīroshakar”, a combo of Persian and Sanskrit, and the derivative to the word seersucker, which came into English from Hindi.  It calls to mind the smooth rippling of milk poured around lumpy sugar.  I love the picturesque richness of some words such as this!  This reminds me of the beauty of baking and how the ingredients take such differing appearances at every step.

Our picture of a WAVES summer uniform, United States Naval Reserve, circa 1942, from the exhibit “Making Mainbocher” exhibit in Chicago back in 2017.

Unfortunately, both the 19th century old Southern America and the British colonial period of India popularized the wearing of seersucker as a means to stay tolerably cool in the hot, humid climate of those regions.  Yet, post Victorian times, seersucker’s use had expanded to become the preferred material for cooling bed linens or preppy student-inspired fashion.  Captain Anne A. Lentz, one of the first female officers selected to run the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve during the Second World War chose seersucker for the summer service uniforms of the first female United States Marines.  The designer Mainbocher produced the WAVES summer WWII uniform for the government using blue and white striped seersucker.  As currently as the 2016 Olympics hosted by Brazil, the Australian Olympic team received green and white seersucker blazers as their ‘dress’ outfit.  As currently as the 2016 Olympics hosted by Brazil, the Australian Olympic team received green and white seersucker blazers as their ‘dress’ uniform.  This unusual material seems to have a quiet staying power.  It can be a fabric you sleep upon, or one that a suit is made from, but either way it’s an easy-care, attractively distinctive material for warm weather comfort!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  pure cotton puckered plaid seersucker, with the inner shoulder panel lining being an all-cotton broadcloth remnant

PATTERN:  a vintage year 1964 original Butterick #2124 (in my personal pattern collection)

NOTIONS:  Lots of thread, a bit of interfacing, and a few buttons

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Sewing this shirt took me about 10 to 12 hours, and it was made this spring of 2020

THE INSIDES:  The armscyes are French seamed but all else is cleanly bias bound.

TOTAL COST:  As this shirt project makes use of a fabric cut which I have been holding onto for at least a decade, I’m counting this as a free and worthwhile stash-busting project! 

This shirt – as is often the case for the majority of vintage menswear from the 1950s and on – is not easily recognizable as originating from an older design.  Most of the time, I do believe that one would not guess the shirts I make and sew for him are vintage.  Mid-Century menswear often lacks standout features to date it to specific eras and generally stays pretty classic, so I feel it is the choice of fabric, the style of the pants to match, and the slight details which give such garments’ true age away.  This shirt (as is the case for many 50s and 60s men’s styles) has a boxy body and a very skinny shoulder panel which does not extend much into the main body.  I can tell this was a pattern meant to help make a dress shirt with the separate collar stand and separate button placket (which I did not include) but I rather brought it down to a fairly casual level by choosing seersucker.  At this point in my husband’s professional life, casual yet dressy shirts are what he will be the most likely to wear on a regular basis, and so I wanted him to get the most use out of what I had sewn for him with my special fabric!

I know I tend to say this every time I post a shirt I’ve made for him, but it is the literal truth – I was so short on needed material for this project.  I had to cut some small ‘corners’ to make this work out successfully.  Yet, I was still somehow able to match the plaid…luckily so, because the analytical and perfectionist side of me would never tolerate anything else, otherwise!  I did not have any extra room for a separate button placket and the layout of the pattern pieces on my under 2 yard cut of fabric was conducive to only the shirt’s bare bones – slightly adapted – and one chest pocket (a must-have because we all love pockets, right?!).  The pattern design already had small turn-under edge down the front closure edges, so I doubled that to be a cut-on, self-fabric facing.  The separate button placket was an extra piece which was easy to sacrifice.  Granted, I did fully interface the newly drafted facing in lieu of stabilizing the add-on button placket, which I was not using.  The switch I made actually avoids breaking up the plaid and gives me less to stress over and match up.  He can’t miss what he should have had on his shirt when it is just as good without it!  Besides, a happy sewing wife is a happy life – don’t I have the phrase correct?

Making this shirt was a nice change of pace in my sewing and totally unique gift, besides.  I just don’t find seersucker in person anywhere anymore – RTW shopping or fabric stores – and I say it should be brought back.  I remember, as a young teen, my mom had bought me a plaid seersucker skirt I liked out of a catalog.  It was in a straight A-line shape, in a middy length, and printed with a plaid which had more blue and brown tones in place of the green and yellow as seen in his shirt (but otherwise a similar sized plaid).  I enjoyed how that skirt always looked good no matter what.  The print and the rough, puffy texture hides stains, and I could stuff it in a backpack to bring it with me as a change of clothes but still not look I was impromptu.  It was so lightweight to wear, it was almost imperceptible to feel it was on (weird to explain, but kind of like the weightlessness of bias cut silk without the cling).  If I did get sweaty, the cotton wicked it away without itself becoming damp.  If I could find that skirt again (I think it might be packed away somewhere downstairs) I would totally wear it or at least re-fashion it so I could!  So I can totally understand why this 60’s shirt is his newest favorite.

I still have not even posted the vintage shirt I made for his birthday-Father’s Day gift from last year!  My blogging proficiency doesn’t always keep up with the speed with which I crank out my sewing projects.  However, I can assure you, it’s another really good shirt which is yet another different and unique make.  So far, though, this post’s shirt is a definite high contender to the previous popularity of that one!  In a world when menswear is generally so very blah, I enjoy seeing him happy and bold enough to wear the singular things I make.  Sewing gifts for others is so amazing – to see someone else get to enjoy my handmade clothes just the same as I makes my gift not just about sharing a present.  It shares a special feeling.

Bouclé Mid-Century Shift

Achieving the ideal fit for a garment is by far the most difficult process of sewing, but also the technique that completes it.  Every article of clothing, on every human body, has a unique fit, as individual as people themselves, which will make it best serve its purpose and look its best.  Funny thing is, I have found that styles which ride the boundary between loose and baggy or body skimming (such as many 1920s or even 1960s fashions) are actually the trickiest to find such a “sweet spot” of ideal fit.  Take into account that thick but warm fabrics (like my favorite textured bouclé) can become bulky when you sew something with them, making it challenging to achieve a close fit.  There is such a thing as a chic fit that doesn’t fit the body the way we’re used to, though!  Just look to the best designers and the most famous actresses of the 1950s and 60’s to see inspiration for what I am talking about!  This 1964 semi-fitted shift dress that I’ve sewn is a perfect example.

Certain well-known designers were changing the idea of a stylish silhouette for women earlier on, making oversized and non-body fitting garments attractive and fashionable.  Most of what we think of as the 60’s “look” had its beginnings in the decade before.  By the 50’s, Claire McCardell had already crafted her “monastic dress” and Yves Saint Laurent is credited with beginning the classic “trapeze dress” (in Spring/Summer 1958), both of which are generously unfitted than the ‘normal’ garment at the time.  Jacques Fath began the ever popular swing coat fashion in outwear circa 1950 (here’s one pink example) to accommodate both the post-WWII baby boom and full skirted or structured garments which were being released.  Balenciaga was the heavyweight!  He was using sculptural garments that had a shape of their own apart from a perfect body symmetry.  Their beauty is focused on the shape of the garment itself, only hinting at the body of the wearer underneath.  In 1953 he introduced the “balloon jacket”, while in 1957 came the “babydoll dress”, the gracefully draped “cocoon coat”, and the “sack dress”.  He even worked with fabric houses to develop innovative material, like silk gazar, which would be heavy and stiff to lend itself to such stand-away-from-the-body designs.   Pierre Cardin had his fair share of influence in this matter, too – he introduced the “bubble dress” in 1954, and was known for his preference of geometric shaping and ignoring the female form (see this coat of his for one example).

These types of fashions were an alternative to the immaculate, overly shaped (wasp waited) feminine form which was popularized by Dior.  It was seen as the newest chic of the time, and a very modern approach to styling, besides the fact that they were more often couture because of the high talent it took to uniquely shape such designs.  They might seem simple at first glance but these revolutionary creations emerging in the early mid-50’s were paving the way for the next decade.

The model woman drawn on the front cover of my Butterick #3296 pattern bears a striking resemblance to Audrey Hepburn, I think!  Hepburn was one of the model women for the youthful, fashion forward aura which was frequently associated with 50’sand 60’s loosely structured garments.  The coat especially reminds me of her clothes from the movie “Charades”, released the year before in 1963, but I think it’s the hat, too.  I stayed close to this with my interpretation.  This was my chance to accessorize with the only 60’s hat in my collection (and a good one, too – just look at its details), vintage wooden bead necklace, old earrings from my Grandmother, and vintage leather driving gloves.  I do want to make the coat half of my pattern at some point, but for now, a vintage 60’s hot pink pea coat matches quite well with the color, styling, and era of my dress!

After all, hot pink coats seemed to be the ‘thing’ for women’s outerwear in the 10 years between 1956 and 1966 if one looks at advertisements, movies, and designer creations for some examples.  Firstly, there is the March 15, 1956 “International Fashions” edition of Vogue magazine, with Evelyn Tripp on the front cover wearing a rose tweed cocoon coat by Zelinka-Matlick (A).  Then there is a year 1960 pink Balenciaga cocoon jacket suit (B) to be found as well as a Burda Style’s March of 1964 tweed bouclé A-line coat (C).  Ah, let’s not forget that swoon-worthy oversized hot pink coat worn by Audrey Hepburn and made by Givenchy from the 1966 movie “How to Steal a Million” (D).  So – among the many colors that are mixed in to make my dress’ bouclé (grey blue, maroon, black, pink, and a touch of orange), having a dress match with my period 60’s coat is partly why I stayed close to the pink undertones with the color of my lining.  It was also because a soft pink sweetens the dress, keeping it being too glaringly modern.  I love how the pink can be seen peeking out if you look closely inside my wide sleeves or just under the hem of my knee length dress.  Dior himself has said (in his “Little Dictionary of Fashion”) “Every woman should have something pink in her wardrobe.  It is the color of happiness and of femininity.”  I’m covered because I do have plenty of pink in my closet for every season now!

After all, the pink influence of my dress pays homage to yet another designer which had her own part to play in this kind of fashion, too – Coco Chanel, not mentioned in the above list of influencers.  Pink is one of her signature colors, and is often used with black (both colors are in my bouclé).  Chanel often used bouclé, tweed, and other textured, nubby materials for her suits and shift dresses in the 50’s and 60’s, as well.  However, to be braggingly specific, there is an uncanny resemblance that my own fabric bears to a suit set of hers from the same year of 1964 (see it listed here at the MET museum).  It is claimed that Chanel criticized the boned and uber-cinched waists that Dior was producing, in favor of a looser fitting, but still tailored look that both she and her forward-thinking contemporaries were producing.  Her collection of 1954 (when she re-opened her fashion house) is easily recognizable today – a boxy jacket with an A-line skirt – and still being worn.  Those like her who used more wearing ease with greater structure in their garments of the 50’s had more of an influence on the success of the fashion of the 60’s and beyond.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The visible outside of my dress is a loosely woven, but thick and textural bouclé, in a fiber content of wool, mohair, and acrylic.  The inside is a super soft all cotton in a soft pink color with a pink satin facing.

PATTERN:  Butterick #3296, from the Fall/Winter season of year 1964 (see cover picture above)

NOTIONS:  I had all the thread and interfacing I needed already, as well as extra bias tape, hem tape, and a large button.  The neckline placket is actually a faux closure permanently sewn into place by this large, vintage, dusty blue, carved shell button, salvaged off of this vintage suit when I refashioned its skirt’s waistband.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was made in about 8 hours and finished on December 14, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  Since bouclé is a fraying terror of a mess along its raw edges, and I am allergic to mohair, all seams are either covered by the cotton lining or encased in bias tape.

TOTAL COST:  The fabric was stuff I had bought from Hancock Fabrics when they were going out of business, so it was only about $2 a yard.  With one yard needed of both the bouclé and the cotton (as they were 60” wide), this is a $4 dress, believe it or not!

Making the dress itself was ridiculously simple, and just a tad difficult due to the challenges of working with such a thick and full-bodied material.  I made sure to trim most of my seams allowances and even pulled a secret sewing trick I rarely use – I hammered the seams once they were stitched to make them flat, especially the front fake neck placket.  The tricky part about trimming seam allowances with bouclé is that the fabric unravels easily.  Thus, I kept the small seams together and finished them cleanly by using the bias tape over the edges.  The bias tape finish was especially tricky on the inside curve of the kimono sleeves, but I stretched It has I stitched it down as I kept the seam curved.

The back has the basic “fish-eye” darts to shape the waist, but the front holds the creative options.  There are lovely sun-ray darts coming out of the neckline to shape the chest and upper bust.  These were quite tricky to sew across the grain!  In conjunction with the long French darts to shape the dress below the bust, this dress has elegance down to an understated art.  It’s too bad the few details are not that noticeable with the blended business of my bouclé!  This was (amazingly) a 65 cent pattern.  For having both a coat and dress in one envelope, this still sounds kind of cheaply priced, even for 1964, when Simplicity patterns for one dress design were the same price and Vogue pattern were about $1.00.  Was this an unmarked designer knock-off, I wonder, because it sure does look like something out of the movie “Charades” anyway?

The pattern I had was a size too big for me – but no problem.  To have an easy fix to that, I merely left off the given seam allowance at the sides and shoulders when I cut out the dress.  Kimono sleeves can sometimes hang far too low on my almost petite frame, anyway.  Then I sewed in slightly wider seam allowances in this because it still seemed to fit too generously.  I ended up with a wonderfully loose, comfy, and ‘slightly fitted’ dress (as the envelope says) that is a perfect fit for this design.  I feel this unorthodox but simple way at approaching a pattern merely a few inches too big for me worked very well for this dress, but it probably would not be the best for a body-conscious tailored garment.  Nevertheless, I do love finding shortcuts that don’t compromise quality or fit.  Anything that puts my sewing projects from out of my fabric pile onto my back is most welcome!

My Australian and other southern hemisphere readers should appreciate the fact that this is a cold weather outfit!  (Bouclé lined in cotton is just as warm as wearing a blanket, for your information!) Even though it is finally spring here for where I live, only recently was the anniversary of Audrey Hepburn’s birthday (well it was May 4), and so I felt that this was appropriate to share.

Besides, I like to make sure I don’t get stuck in a rut of only one decade.  Not that there’s anything wrong with staying in one era for what vintage one recreates.  It’s just that I know I do enjoy all of them.  Sewing from all the decades of the 21st century also helps give me a good overview of the big picture.  Everything is connected in history – it’s not just static dates and names to remember – and this carries over into the accounting of what people have worn through those same times.  As I presented in this post, the 1950’s set things up for what defined the 60’s.  The minds of today inspire those of tomorrow.

“Bright Confetti” Burda’s 1960 Suit Dress

Re-prints of vintage patterns are happily available everywhere nowadays.  Vintage re-released offerings from Burda are fewer than other pattern companies, and they are frequently quite challenging but awesome styles!

My Easter dress this year was one of Burda Style’s re-prints that have been out for a while now.  Ever since I dove into Burda patterns in 2013, this pattern has been one I’ve been wanting to sew – now I finally have made it, and I love it.  It has Paris-influenced details and a style that is put together yet deceptively easy to wear.  This is a year 1960 design of a suit jacket and pencil skirt in the form of a one piece dress…made boldly bright and cheery by using a fun bouclé that happens to remind me of confetti.  Confetti for Easter?  Why not celebrate!

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This makes project number two for the Easter Spring Dress Sewalong 2017.  However, for EasterSpringDress Sew Along Badge 2017those of you that follow my blog, you might have seen I have a ‘tradition’ for the Easter outfit I sew for myself each year.  I think it is an interesting challenge, but I know it probably just sounds weird and even quite quirky.  Starting with my 1929 Vionnet-style dress in 2013, I have been going up in decades (closer to modern times) for each successive year’s Easter dress.  For 2014, I made a silk 1935 dress with a matching slip, for 2015 I sewed a 1944 rayon dress, and then in 2016 I made a 1954 shantung dress and reversible jacket.  Whew!  This ‘tradition’ did make it a bit easier for me to choose what 2017’s outfit would be – a definite 60’s garment.  I blew away a whole lot of things I’ve been waiting to ‘check off’ on my sewing ‘bucket list’ by making this particular Burda Style 1960 garment, though.  It’s from a year which I have not yet sewn from, it is made of a pattern (and fabric) I have long been wanting to use, and it’s a one piece dress to make things relatively easy on myself this year.  Our church’s 1960 era Mid-Century Modern architecture matched perfectly with my outfit anyways!  Here’s to a doubtful but hopeful plan that I might actually find a dressy outfit from the 1970s which strikes my fancy so I can keep my Easter sewing ‘tradition’ going.

THE FACTS:Vintage Bouclé Dress 12-2012 #141

FABRIC:  an acrylic, polyester, ribbon blend novelty boucle lined on a sheer, lime green chiffon with bright pink cotton broadcloth for the facings

PATTERN:  Burda Style #141, released 12/2012, “Vintage Bouclé Dress”

NOTIONS:  Thread, bias tape, interfacing, a zipper, a button, and shoulder pads was what I needed – all of this was on hand already.  The single fake closure button on the dress front is from the stash I inherited from hubby’s Grandmother.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was finished on April 12, 2017, after about 20 (maybe more) hours to complete.

THE INSIDES:  This fabric shredded and un-raveled like a sewist’s nightmare!  Thus, all the seams are bias bound.

TOTAL COST:  Ah, here’s the sweet part!  The bouclé was bought when a Hancock Fabrics store was closing in 2015, and so I bought several yards of this for just under $2 a yard.  The lining was recently bought at my local Jo Ann’s Fabric Store on clearance for about $5 a yard.  Put all of that together and this dress cost about $15.  Awesome!  I do have one yard of the confetti bouclé leftover, so unless I share it or ‘donate’ it towards one of the projects of others I know who sew, you’ll probably see this again. 

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So much about this outfit screams Coco Chanel to me.  I mean, my ensemble is primarily pink (even my shoes), the fabric is a tweed-like bouclé, it’s a suit with fringed hems, and the Burda magazine summary says this dress has a French couture influence.  How much more Chanel can one get!  (If you’d like more Chanel pink inspiration through the decades, please visit my dedicated Pinterest page.)  In my own country, the famous first lady Jackie Kennedy wore a Chanel pink suit for one of the most iconic moments in Presidential history, 1963.  I did find that this particular waist tab styling isn’t really new, though, it can be seen in earlier decades looking at both the cover of Butterick #4022, year 1947, and a 1956 photo of Ghislaine Arsac.

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Now, as for any Burda Style pattern, printing and/or tracing is necessary to have a usable pattern to lay on your desired fabric.  My pattern was traced off of the downloaded and assembled PDF bought at the online store but if you have a magazine issue, use a roll of medical paper to trace your pieces from the insert sheet.  It’s at this preliminary step that you pick out your proper size and add in your choice of seam allowance width.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a finished pattern prepped.  Sorry to repeat something you might already know, but this is just an “FYI” for those that don’t know.

I found this pattern’s sizing to run on the large size, but perhaps this is because of the weight of material I used.  This confetti color bouclé does not hold its own shape or keep its own body.  A fabric that does both of those things would be the best way to really achieve the right fit and fake bolero appearance.  I know the pattern’s fabric recommendations say the same thing.  I’ll admit I often disregard such guidelines only to end up with a great finished garment, but they are really is important here.  Otherwise this dress is a more of a trick to make than it has to be.  Perhaps a boiled wool (lined, of course) or a suiting blend, might be ideal…however, the fabric recommendations also ask for a fabric which can fray easily.  As of yet, I don’t understand what would be a fabric that is the best of both worlds.  As long as I made it work to sew this pattern out of my lovely novelty suiting, all is well.  You see, I had been saving this up specifically to make a suit dress from the minute I laid eyes on this in the fabric store.  Some pattern and fabric pairings are just meant to be, like a match made in heaven.

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Of all the features, the front fake bolero ‘closure’ at the waist takes the cake to this design.  It is neat, but was so tricky to figure out and actually get it to appear as a bolero.  I whizzed through the rest of the dress, otherwise, but the front probably took up half or 1/3 of the total time spent.  What was really hanging me up was where to snip and what to do with the ends of the pleats which come into the dress from the front waist tabs.  As I figured out, they get tucked into the facings of the tabs, pulled down (more or less) on each side of the tabs.  I would have taken a picture of what I was doing at this step, but unless you make this dress, it’d look like mumbo-jumbo to show you.  Nevertheless, once I had the front mock closure reasonably correct, I further figured out that the real trick is to pull up the 2 inch wide seam allowance to the front waist and connect it to the top of the tab facings.  This way the bodice sort of overhangs onto the skirt, creating the appearance that there is a jacket over a skirt.  Only when I turn to the side or the back then someone might go, “…wait, what?”  What a tricky deceiver!

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The back part to this dress is very basic to vintage 50’s and 60’s patterns, and even modern ones for that matter, but I find it to be shaped very well.  It is common for me to adjust the darts to these type of dress backs.  I almost always need to fix the bootie and/or the shoulder points of the darts…but not this time.  This was quite a relieving change.  As I said above, the pattern runs a bit generous so perhaps this was the reason for my vacation from fitting adjustments.

There were a handful of relatively small changes I made to the design and/or layout.  I straightened out the skirt side seams – originally they tapered into the knee for something like a wiggle silhouette.  No, thanks!  Rather than a slit in the back of the skirt I made the classic kick pleat vent.  I raised the shoulder seam on the bodice (making DSC_0132a-comp,wroom for shoulder pads) and added in 5/8 inch to the sleeve/dress armsyce at the armpit point so I would have “reach room”.  I also cut the sleeves on the bias for more interest in the directional bouclé and for more “reach room”.  The sleeve length turned out quite long (as in bracelet length) so I shortened them by one inch.  Just to be on the safe side, I added in an extra inch to the length of the hem of the skirt bottom.  I did not do a separate lining for the entire inside, but cut out full pieces (except for the skirt front, which is its own piece) to back the bouclé and be sewn into the dress as a whole.  Finally, rather than cutting strips of fabric, shredding them, and finishing off the edges for the sleeve hem and neck, I merely used the fancy selvedge to the fabric.  It worked perfectly to use to selvedge, and I think it looks better and is more stable than using frayed fabric strips.  I only put the frilly edging on the sleeve and neck (not on the skirt) because (again) I was trying to keep up the whole mock jacket appearance.DSC_0110-comp,w

Oddly, what most impresses me is something you’d never see unless you make this dress or wear it for yourself – the inner lining.  The lining skirt has four darts and is significantly smaller than the fashion fabric skirt with its two box pleats.  This design ingeniously keeps the box pleats loose enough to keep a lovely loose shape.  It’s just like the 1950s and 60’s to have this ingenious fitting technique that’s so understated and disguised.  There is so much more than meets the eye to vintage patterns, and as long as a re-issue is decently ‘true’ to its original design, then more amazing techniques can be done by others to sew one’s very own special design, too.

DSC_0120a-comp,wThe difficult but successful process of making yet another Burda vintage re-print has given me a very comfy and cheery dress that I am just plain happy wearing.  With my adjustments, I am not confined at all in this dress so I can walk and bend fully (to find those hidden Easter eggs).  The design makes me put together with one pull of the back zip (so simple).  Finally, the fabric is a lovely standout mix of colors (just like how spring is to the floral world).  So many times, being in a suit dress doesn’t mean all of those things.  Until I started sewing my own garments did I realize you can have the best of both worlds, if you plan a sewing project just right.  In Vogue magazine for February 15, 1954, page 84, Chanel was quoted as saying, “A dress isn’t right if it is uncomfortable…A sleeve isn’t right unless the arm moves easily. Elegance in clothes means freedom to move freely.”  I like that.  Easter is a time to celebrate and appreciate family, nature, and blessings, among so many other things, and I didn’t want what I was wearing to get in way of doing all the ‘good stuff’ to do.  Another Easter might have come and gone, but now I’ve got memories leftover as well as a great dress to wear again and again.  I hope you, too, had a wonderful holiday!

A Shapely 1962 Sundress

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

100_5595ab-compTHE FACTS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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