Having a Monochromatic Summer

My go-to sundress of 2019 actually is a carryover of a favorite make from the end of last year’s summer. I had been putting my idea off for a few years because I was not sure it would work. It is so different from the rest of my summer wardrobe! It is not bright and bold, flowery or frilly, like most of my other sundresses but the color scheme and the effortless wearing ease of the style and its material cools me down in thought and body. I’m having a monochromatic summer moment in my favorite vintage 1940s style!

This is such a sneaky vintage dress – it certainly doesn’t strike me as coming from 1949! Although dating from the fabulous post-WWII era, the pattern is one of the more popular modern Vintage Vogue line of reprints. It has such simple lines, and such a body complimentary design that this is a great example of the classic timelessness for which I love to make and wear vintage fashion. Whatever the era the dress shows, it proves I am still not over my recent fascination with the late 40’s, apparently!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC: a cotton denim with a touch of spandex, lined in an interlock knit

PATTERN: Vintage Vogue #8974, year 1949

NOTIONS: I only needed basic, simple stuff – some interfacing, lots of thread, and a zipper. After it was finished, I also used an old bra…but more on that later!

TIME TO COMPLETE: This was finished on September 21, 2018, and took me about 10 hours to make.

THE INSIDES: All cleanly bias bound while the bodice is fully lined.

TOTAL COST: I vaguely remember picking this fabric out at the now defunct Hancock Fabrics years and years back. So, as it has been in my stash this long and well deserved to ‘break free’ of the fabric stash, I’m counting it as free!

It’s funny how things come full circle. It’s always so poignant when you realize that after the fact! You see, a year 1949 dress was actually the very first piece of vintage reproduction me-made (see it here from an old 2012 post). It was also in brown! Apparently, my go-to color is a pretty variation of dirt. The classic “little black dress” doesn’t get as far as a brown one. I personally love how brown tones work for so many seasons and are a good base for brighter colors and pastels without being as heavy as a navy or black, for example. To me, a good brown color is cool tone, very calming. Monochrome palettes (referring to a color scheme comprised of variations of one color) are themselves supposed to be soothing and create a good mood. Maybe the khaki, dark brown, rust, cream, and ivory tones in the subtle striping to my dress’ fabric was an instinctual choice for me to choose for yet another project on the verge of the 1950s.

Of course, the pattern showcases stripes to show off the grain line ingenuity and I followed along happily. I’m just trailing on the heels of my last striped sundress by posting this, anyway. My fabric’s striping is so small I did a general matching effort – nothing too meticulous because I was really pushing the limit anyway to make this work out of only 2 yards of material – and it turned out great. After all, this was a simple project to sew and I wanted it to stay as effortless to make as it is to wear. I think the mitered stripes do a lot for the slimming and trim appearance of this but it is so cute and attractive in any print, from what I’ve seen of all the awesome versions other seamstresses have made. It’s weird but this dress reminds me very much of my plaid 1940 sundress (posted a while back here) even though I know it is different and the styles are 9 years apart.

I have learned from years of summer sundress sewing that wearing them is so much more fun and easy if the lingerie situation doesn’t call for any extra thought. Thus I am a big fan of adding decent lining or even lingerie directly into the sundress to make it an-all-in-one garment that supports my “girls” in one easy step as I dress. I used a no-longer-worn bra from on hand – there are some whose clasps and straps bother me so I only keep them because the cups are still in good condition and fit. This was sewn directly into the dress at the proper place making this so comfy to wear, with all the good shaping I want yet not compromising on the breezy skin-baring qualities of my favorite sundresses.

I know the support should have been sewn in between the lining and the dress fabric to be ‘properly’ done, but I like the easy access of it if I ever want to adjust or change. Besides, my favorite part of having the bra visible to the interior of the dress is the linear symmetry it adds when it is laid out. Anyone who has followed me for a length of time should realize I am big into the mathematical perfection of sewing, and love to visibly play upon that with what I make. Besides, creative design lines, stripes (and plaids) offer great opportunities for such calculating. This dress gave me another taste that!

The sizing was pretty much spot on for this pattern, maybe even a tad on the roomy side along the top bodice edge, but I don’t mind. The dress also ran really long, and would have been to my ankles if I had cut according to the pattern. I left it a mid-calf (midi) length because I think it makes the dress look more elegant as well as hang well. A longer length is very circa 1949-ish, anyway! Finally, I raised the dip of the front neckline V so it wouldn’t be so revealing but that is the last of the tweaks I made. This was a pretty quick and satisfying make! I do want to come back to this pattern and make the killer cute cropped swing jacket that comes with the dress. It will definitely have to be a different fabric, though, as I have nothing but a few measly scraps leftover. So many projects on my mind and so many sewing decisions to make!

The earth monotones matched perfectly with my favorite comfort sandals from Hotter brand shoes as well as my “Cinnamon Spice” brownish undertone lipstick from the brand “Wet n’ Wild”. Too bad I don’t have more of a bronze glow on my skin to match, as well. A simple walk through our neighborhood was the casual backdrop to our pictures.

This is my 1940s installment in my “Indian Summer of the Sundress” post series which began with the making of this sundress when we had an extended time of unusual warmth. This just about wraps it up, unless I happen to crank out a 1970s sundress! I had to basically end it with my first sundress, the one that started it all anyway! Kind of like that other 1949 brown dress that started all my vintage sewing…

Lines of Wheat on the Bias

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

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

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

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

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  slubbed, thick 100% linen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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