1943 “Polka-Stars” Satin Dress and Netted Tilt Hat

This post has been long in coming but is now ironic because McCall Company just re-issued the pattern I used (as McCall #7433), albeit with dramatic changes.  Hopefully this post will show the beauty of this specific dress design and how the re-issue has been altered from the original.  Now, if you buy the reprint, you know how to make it more authentic.

A yearly World War II re-enactment weekend always gives me an excuse to whip up a new 40’s dance dress.  Therefore, I cranked out this pink and black satin year 1943 dress, together with a self-drafted fancy tilt hat!

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I confess, this was one of those stupid/silly sudden-last-minute decisions where a few days ‘til the re-enactment I decided year before’s outfit would not do.  The tiny stars in the fabric made me feel patriotic at the re-enactment dance, without being too much, while the black tempered the sweetness of the pink and the black made me feel dressed up without being too overwhelming (see this article from “Chronically Vintage”).  The tilt hat was directly inspired by the headgear spotted at the wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton in 2011 as well as coming from my newest interest in millinery.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  A thin 100% polyester, buff-finish satin, in a rich but light pink with tiny black stars like polka-dots.  The contrast black satin is semi-thick, but also polyester, and was used for the hat as well.

PATTERN:  McCall #5295, year 1943 (this was a lucky find at only $3); the hat was self-drafted

McCall 5295, year 1943, combo of front n back-MNOTIONS:  I had on hand what I needed – the thread, bias tape, interfacing, and zipper for the dress; tarlatan, elastic, hair combs, and netting for the hat.  The buttons down the front of my dress came from the stash of Hubby’s Grandmother.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  I raced through sewing the dress in about 8 to 10 hours.  It was finished on April 24, 2015.  The hat was made in two hours on September 25, 2015.

THE INSIDES:  I had only a few days to make this dress so unfortunately the insides are all raw and terribly fraying.  I was also afraid adding on some sort of bias tape would stiffen the flowing fabric too much and didn’t have time for what I wanted…French seams. After the dance, I came back to clean up the insides, trimming the seams and covering them in fray check liquid. 

TOTAL COST:  This was bought on clearance at Hancock Fabrics as a store was closing so I bought this fabric at about $3 a yard, and this dress only used just under two yards.  The solid black satin was only a ½ yard cut, and went towards both hat and dress contrast, so this cost very little.  The black hat netting was originally expensive, but was a lucky find on clearance at 50 cents for each yard.  So, I suppose my outfit is about $8 in total. 

100_6256a-compMcCall #5295 was just challenging enough to be satisfying and ingeniously designed.  This is also the first vintage 40’s McCall pattern that seems to run very small.  The pattern size I had was technically a tad too big for me but it ended up fitting a bit snug (nothing some smaller seam allowances couldn’t fix).  After making my 1943 dress I had enough leftovers to make these double layered tops, thanks in part to Wartime rationing and economical pattern pieces.

The whole dress is lovely and interesting, but the bodice definitely takes center stage with the neckline.  The dress bodice is constructed in an unusual two-part creative manner for a dramatic style.  The lower front bodice comes first by facing the entire edge and making three rows of shirring from the shoulder to the end of the neckline notch.  Then the four back bodice waistline tucks are sewn and the shoulder is attached to the upper bodice front so this entire neckline can be faced and finished off as well.  Finally, the bodice’s upper front gets overlapped with the lower portion and both are top stitched together along a line of shirring next to the neckline notch.  I was tempted to not add the contrast insert underneath at this point, but I’ll save this idea for next version of the pattern (which will be a winter dress in long sleeves).  The new re-issued version of this pattern sadly leaves out the shirring next to the front neck notch as well as weirdly turning the back into a shirt-look, with its shoulder yoke and tucks.  I can’t wait to see if the new version also faces and constructs the neckline in the same manner.

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Now the contrast under the neckline is such a simple little piece to make such a difference…more or less an odd shaped rectangle folded over with interfacing inside.  The contrast piece only extends from the end of the back neckline to flush with the edge of the button front.  The new re-issue seems to have the contrast wrap all around the neckline and plummet to nothing before the edge of the button front.  Adding in the contrast does nicely support and shape the neckline as well as making it pop on account of both the extra top-stitching involved and the contrast color.

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You will never guess what interesting little tidbit is lurking about this dress in regards to the top front buttonhole.  In order to be authentic, I used my late 30’s/early 40’s Kenmore sewing machine for some of the construction of the dress, especially the buttonholes.  I followed the instructions on the pattern where it said to put in the trio of buttonholes in the dress before adding on the contrast.  O.k., did that, but the end of the contrast piece also receives its own single buttonhole before getting sewn under.  You know what?  The double 100_6293-compbuttonholes align up perfectly together and work as good as a single buttonhole.  On a basic level, I’m supposing the instructions said to do it this way because 4 layers of fabric with interfacing is too thick and bulky, but think about it.  Having separate buttonholes for both the contrast piece and the dress a very smart move and so very “1940’s versatile”.  Depending on the color and print of the dress you could make more than one contrast piece or even leave it off to change up the appearance of your dress!  I’m telling you, vintage patterns do things right.  I hope the new re-issue sticks to this same ingenuity with the contrast piece but my hopes are not high.

The short sleeves were a bit of a surprise to me – what…no gathered, puffed top caps!?  No, the sleeve caps are instructed to be smoothly eased in without any gathers, darts, and such normally found on forties women’s fashion.  They are still quite easy to move in due in part (no doubt) to the fact I cut them on the bias grain just to be on the safe side.  The contrast piece for the sleeves is not a cuff, but something which gets placed under an already finished hem and top-stitched down, similar to the neckline.  The sleeve hem contrast is only offered to match with the short view in the old pattern, but if I was going to make the three-fourths version I was planning on adapting a piece for the end as well, and the long sleeve plackets could be in contrast, too (though not removable).  The new reissue seems to offer similar short and long sleeves, only without the ¾ darted sleeve option.  The long sleeve cuffs on the original are not buttoned, only turned back and buttoned on the overlap, which I don’t see on the re-print, though they seem to have added basic notched cuffs, instead.

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My dress’s skirt makes this so perfect for swing dancing.  I’m so glad I made it for the event (it has seen other wearings since then, too)!  In the original pattern, there is the “traditional 40’s” three paneled back to the skirt, but the front has two side panels with four skinny center panels which dramatically flare out. (See also McCall #5302 from ’43.)  This way, with just the fullness controlled in the front center of the skirt (from the hips down, mostly), the skirt still keeps that slender A-line silhouette, but has extra beauty, fun, and ease of movement.  I love it!  I believe the re-issue to have ‘miss-read’ the intent of those four flared front panels on the original and added in an all-around pleated skirt instead for some uber-fullness that is not as 40’s a silhouette.  Swing dancing in a skirt like what the re-print has might call for some tap panties.

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Here is the reason of the distaste (more like a love/hate relationship) that I have for many modern reprints, especially Butterick and Simplicity.  If you please, let me vent.  They are re-issuing past patterns just well enough to make them tantalizing but at same action frustratingly altering them.  It is wonderful to make these old, hard-to-find, and not-easily-available patterns available to everyone again, yet they have to instead “taint” (in my mind) rather than preserve the past.  Modern is not the past, and modern will change as quickly as one can keep up with.  Thus, sticking to the past should be a bit of a better “tried-and-true” benchmark, I would think.  They could make sure patterns don’t disappear forever by faithfully re-printing them.  However, by changing them, these old patterns are partially “lost” to me.  Leave these vintage patterns  complete with all the individuality that makes a 40’s pattern from the forties, and so on for each decade, giving people a chance to learn and discover.  But they don’t, and so many will miss out on the awesome things that sewing true vintage will teach to one who makes it.  Shame on McCall’s Company…don’t mess with what’s already great.  A modern tweaking won’t make it better for me and many others, I am sure.  McCall’s, if you want the original of a pattern reach out better to us bloggers and sewists and collectors.  If you want to offer a modern version of vintage, don’t call it an archive pattern.  Vintage is awesome and authentic…leave it that way, that’s why we want it.  Let those of us that sew put our own tweaks, touches, and changes into our clothes if we so please, thank you…that’s what makes sewing beautifully individual.  Please join with me in the discussion – input and conversation is welcomed on this topic so I’m not just “getting on my high horse”.

In the next few days I will go into a short but further detailed post on the hat I made.  Stay tuned!

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Gold Digging Like It’s 1940…

…in the year 2014, courtesy of a Vintage Vogue pattern and some killer Hollywood style.  Not that I’m really gold digging – I have a hubby already.  My desire to try my hand at a couture classic/vintage suit set and my love for Busby Berkeley‘s movie “The Gold Diggers of 1937” were the dual impetus towards this lengthy project.

This suit dress and jacket set is special to me like no other garment I’ve made.  It sets the record to date among my creations for the most time spent, as well as the longest to get done, but also my first jacket, even if it for a suit.  My suit set is truly worth its weight in gold!

100_2738THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The primary fabric that for my suit dress set is a very thick and stable cotton double knit.  It has a faint print in a textured sort of brush-stroke blend of gold, bronze, and light blue on the right side.  The print is nicely subtle, and looks like it could be part of the fabric, but it does rub off (bummer).  This is especially true in places where I did some heavy duty stitching or handling of the fabric, such as the buttonholes.  For the lining of the dress and jacket, I used a very sheer, lightweight, and silky polyester interlock knit.  It was bought to make a Halloween costume which didn’t happen, so it went to my suit set.  The thin poly interlock makes the perfect lining layer – thin enough not to add much bulk, but silky enough to keep my main fabric flowing and effortless.

NOTIONS:  Most everything I used for my suit dress set had to be bought, such as extra interfacing, extra thread, the buttons, the dress’ zipper, and more machine needles.  One hook and eye set and some bias tape that was needed were the only notions from on hand in my stash. VV#2636

PATTERN:  an out-of-print Vintage Vogue pattern re-issue, #2636, originally a year 1940 design.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  There is no way to even count this part.  All I know is that I spent at least 30 hours on each of these three steps: the dress, the jacket, and lining the jacket.  I’m just figuring this set as my 100 hour “century of time” project which was a sometimes frustrating labor of love.  My dress was finished first, on December 28, 2013.  Next the jacket was done, sans lining, on April 8, 2014.  Finally, the jacket was completely lined and finished on October 18, 2014.

100_4233THE INSIDES:  The dress’ seams are double stitched, with the edges left raw and merely zig-zagged together.  Both the lining and the suiting knit do not fray, so there was no real need for better seam finishes.  Besides, the fabric was too thick for my sewing machine to realistically handle, thus the hard fact was that any seam would only be thicker and unable to be sewn.  For the jacket, every raw seam inside is covered by a full lining, complete with box pleats at the waist, between the shoulders, and on the chest to give ease of movement.  The bodice was sewn to the shoulder seams first, then the sleeves were added in for a complete professional finish (and a bad case of carpel tunnel from so much hand work).

TOTAL COST:  My set’s main fabric, the printed double knit, came from JoAnn’s fabric store.  It was bought September of 2013 (last year).  I needed 3 1/2 yards, and the regular price was a whopping $20 per yard, but, luckily, I got it at half price for $35.  The thin lining material came from Hancock Fabrics, and was bought dirt cheap (5 yards for $10) as part of an after Halloween discount.  The buttons and all other notions also came from Hancock.  So…to make a long explanation short finally, my total cost is just at $50.  I don’t think I’ve spent this much on any project yet, but the total cost is still very reasonable considering the quality, fit, and time put into my set.  RTW prices would be double for an item much less worthwhile.

I loved the pattern details, seaming, everything…except I knew the dress neckline Veronica Lake similar dressneeded some added interest and (like I said) I had some classic Hollywood inspiration to help me out with an idea.  Firstly, there are plenty of pictures of the iconic Veronica Lake in a metallic lamé dress (from the 1942 movie “This Gun for Hire”, see far right) which has a very similar arched torso and V-neckline to the Vintage Vogue dress 2636 pattern.  Secondly, the actress Glenda Farrell wears a beautifully styled basic black dress (above) that I loved the first minute I saw it on the “Gold Diggers of 1937” movie.  Why?  Not only do I greatly enjoy watching the actress Glenda Farrell, but, together with her friend the actress Joan Blondell, someGlenda Farrell bar shot ‘to-die-for’ fashions, catchy Dick Powell sung songs, and a great plot, makes the Busby Berkeley movie “The Gold Digger of 1937” an all-time favorite in my book.  The lame metallic gown of Veronica Lake inspired me to use the bushed gold/bronze black knit fabric I chose for my suit set, and Glenda Farrell’s black keyhole-neckline dress was ultimately what I copied onto my own dress.  Between the two main inspirations, there is a strong theme connecting everything together of the richness of metal, timeless beauty in design, movie inspiration, and a turn of the decade style.

Making the keyhole neckline on my dress was actually really easy.  It just took some forethought.  Basically, I drew my own template to keep things exact and made the front like a regular facing.  The dress’ facing is really deep and wide, so that fact worked to my advantage.

100_2732100_2571a     I made a paper copy of the front facing, then folded it in half at the center bottom of the V-neck so I could trace out the keyhole shape and have it even on both sides.  See my pictures.  Instead of sewing down just the V-neckline (facing down, right side to right side), I went in one continuous line all the way around down and around the keyhole too.  It was quite tricky on the facing to make the neckline/top keyhole point so close, barely touching, but still apart.  I think I held my breath sewing that spot.  Taking my time, I carefully turned everything right sides out and top stitched down.  There is a tiny hook and eye tucked in the spot where the keyhole point and the neckline V meet and hand stitched down.  This way I can undo the hook and eye to make getting the dress on over my head much easier, but also I accomplish a nice, tiny point much more precise than if the corner had been sewn together.  Utility and fashion are happily combined in my neckline refashion.

Glenda Farrell’s “Gold Diggers” dress had open, oval, cut-out shoulders as well as the keyhole front neckline, and was racking my brain whether or not to add the open shoulders, too.  Had the fabric been less thick, and the dress itself not so heavy, I might have had the open shoulders.  However, as you see, it didn’t happen.  It’s best not to mess with good thing sometimes 🙂

100_2753a     Other than grading, the entire suit set was made as is according to the pattern.  The small amount that I did need to add to the hips and the waist (only 1/4 inch) was added at the “on fold” end of all the waist middle pieces and the dress skirt pieces.  This way the curvy side seams retained all of their amazing original shaping possibilities.

I was tempted to bring in the hem of the sleeves into a box pleat to make my dress more of a late 30’s garment.  But the sleeves weren’t meant for that.  Puff sleeves of the 30’s did last in the early 40’s (no later than WWII), but the type of sleeves that are on my dress were “the new thing” for years 1940/1939, as a transition into a new decade with differing styles.

100_2752     The hardest part of the entire suit set was hands down the gathered slashed above-and-below bust gathers on the jacket.  Not only were they hard, but small, tricky work, too.  To top it off, I was obsessing just a bit to make sure that all four of the slashed gathers looked even on both sides of the jacket.  The instructions for the slashed gathers are a bit strange and different, but works in the end.  You cut the slash spot, sew a gathering stitch on the one side, and pin on this ‘sword blade’ shaped facing to help support and match everything.  Somehow you have to sew each side of the slash separately, so you can then cut an opening in the facing to turn the whole thing inside.  Both facings get pulled together (either above or below the gathers), to be sewn together by top stitching down with the edges meeting so as to cover up the facing.  At this seam, there is literally so much fabric, and to add the gathers was more than even my sewing machine could handle (and my Singer is a workhorse).  To top it all off, the ‘below bust’ slashed gathers also have the bodice panel ending there so it had drop down vertically along the button placket.  For the reason of ‘too much fabric’ alone, the jacket bust gathers are (in my opinion) a difficult, almost faulty design, but that’s no one’s fault, especially Vogue’s.  It just makes for more experience…that’s how I explain a frustrating sewing experience to myself.  If you want to make this pattern, too, I hope I haven’t discouraged you – this spot is not impossible (as you can see on my suit).  I just hope to help or prepare others.

As my very first suit coat, this is also the first time I have done bound “window pane” button combobuttonholes.  I am happy at how well everything turned out and I don’t feel that I really could have done better.  I found Gertie’s blog tutorial to be very helpful before I went and did the buttonholes.  Several trial runs were done first to make sure of the correct size for my buttons.  I even made a template rectangle to make sure all of the five buttons down the front had uniformed sized holes.  It was really fun to do (surprisingly).  The buttons are an antiqued gold, open worked filigree design, bought new, so they’re not authentically old looking.  More metal!  There are basic black buttons sewn on the under ‘wrong’ side as a backer support.

I chose the 3/4 length sleeve length for the suit coat to make it more of a transitional weather piece.  The lining inside and the heavy weight of the knit fabric makes the suit coat more of a jacket for me.  If you hadn’t noticed, the collar stays open, flap style, and doesn’t button up any farther than you see.  And just because you haven’t seen it yet, look at how the back of both the dress and the suit coat mimic one another with the drop arch of the middle bodice panels.

100_2759-combo     Sewing this suit set ended up costing even more than first realized because it literally broke my machine.  The fabric was too heavy, the knit was too very tight, and I ran over too many pins, breaking too many needles.  Bad me!  The sequencing was knocked off kilter on my sewing machine, plus a gear was slipped out of place.  The needle bar was off center, too.  At only 8 inches away from the last stitch that would have completely finished my machine stitching for my suit…the machine gave out.  “I can’t, just can’t do this anymore!!!” I could hear my old standby machine screaming.  It was needing a visit to the repair shop anyway, poor thing.  I just didn’t mean to torture it.  I suppose that you can tell one does a lot of sewing, and loves it, too, when one begins to speak of their machine(s) as you would a pet.  So it goes!

This whole suit is a very worthwhile satisfying project that demands some dedicated time and effort to finish.  Don’t expect to whiz through it or get by without a good amount of hand stitching time, as well.  Nevertheless, the final piece is a very classic, figure-flattering garment which has top notch style features that seem current in any decade.  If a garment can possess those qualities, then that is the true proof of quality fashion.  I am very happy with VV2636.100_2749

I accessorized my suit set with the most era-appropriate shoes and hat and purse of any outfit yet.  Everything you see on (well, not my glasses, sorry) and behind me is historically correct, plus, in this case, also has a personal story.

Let’s start with the story related to my shoes, which is about my backdrop: the International Shoe Company building.  It is an absolute, humongous, Art Deco gem (as you can see) built in 1910, remodeled in 1930, and has many references to the cobbler’s trade in some of its hard-edged designs.  In fact, if you look above me in the very first picture of this post, there is a cobbler sewing a shoe in a very dramatic pose.  In 1911, International Shoe Company was created by a merger of the Sam Peters Shoe Company with the Roberts, Johnson, and Rand Company (taken from here).  Washington Avenue, the street these are on, became known as “Shoe Street U.S.A.” because it “claimed more shoe trade than any other street in the world“.  My shoes that are worn with my suit set are old leather originals that have a stamp inside marking them as “Peter’s brand” ‘Smart Maid’ shoes.  With a bit of research, I was 100_2775able to find out that the ‘Smart Maid’ line of shoes were a short-lived line produced by the International Shoe’s Sam Peters through the 30’s and ending about 1940, pre-WWII.  Thus, I can date my shoes to a very specific time.  Cool!  More or less, I’m taking these shoes back to the place that made them over 70 years ago…and they’re still good enough to wear!  Wearing an old shoe made by the International Shoe Company is a small honor in its own way because my maternal Grandmother had a job here helping to make their shoes when she was young.  In fact, she likes to relate the story of how the great Major League baseball player Joe Garagiola happen to fall into a large vat of shoe glue at the factory.  It sounds humorous!

Gene Tierney in a slant top hat100_2767a-b     Now, for my hat’s story.  It came from the collection of an acquaintance of ours who also has an appreciation of all things vintage.  When I brought my hat home, I did some research to find out the era of a hat with such a special and unusual shape.   Looking at my old fashion catalogs (reprinted by Dover publications), it seems that slanted top pillbox hats and other unusual shaped millinery was worn in the late 30’s to early 40’s.  See at far left a 40’s picture with Gene Tierney, or look at the fashion picture from page 101 of this Dover book for two examples.  Though you can’t see it, my hat is a fine beige wool crepe with yellow gold embroidered flowers and intricate gold seed beads over the flowers.  The inside of my hat makes me think it just might have been handmade by a very talented milliner.  I feel as if I have properly matched up this interesting hat with a proper outfit appropriate for its era and formality.

100_2733     Hopefully, this suit set is the first of more to come…which I anticipate will not take as long to finish as this first one.  Oh well, taking the time to make sure to make something with quality is always worthwhile.

More pictures can be found at my Flickr Seam Racer page.

‘Lady in Lace’ – an Early 1920’s Tea Dress

Flapper lace 20s dress at designerwallace     Amongst all the products in the world of fabric and textiles, there is nothing quite like lace which has stood through every century as an icon for everything about being feminine.  Lace especially meant more in the 20’s, as a sort of compliment by contrast, when the silhouette of the era was straight and boyish but the fabric and trim used was supremely beautiful.  This combination of the female “garconne” is most appealing to me in the flowing all lace “afternoon tea” dresses which were popular in the early 1920’s, such as the old original pictured at left.  Such early 20’s dresses hint at so much, they are irresistible – hinting at color by the under-dress while still staying muted, hinting at skin by being all lace but not really showing much, and hinting at freedom by wearing an unconfined and free form but still looking womanly.

Every year I make a special dress as a birthday “present” to myself, and year 2013 birthday dress was my special version of those early 1920’s all lace “afternoon tea” dress combinations.  My lace 20’s dress with contrast under dress was ridiculously easy to make and is incredible to wear.  Worn with my large summer woven linen hat, my dress sets the tone for the few years in the early 20’s when the fashions from the previous decade (Titanic-era) were clinging on before giving way to the full-fledged flapper of Prohibition times (circa 1922).  This has been my go-to dress for fancy summertime occasions – garden parties and tea rooms…here I come!

100_1780THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The lace is a stretch polyester fabric, so inauthentic, I know, but it was on sale on top of being on clearance.  I bought what was left on the bolt, which was just enough to make into a tablecloth, with 2 yards to spare to make my lace 20’s dress.  As for my under dress, I used a 100% polyester interlock in a mint green color.  The interlock knit was a small 1 1/2 yard cut that had been floating around in my stash for what seems like forever.

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed for this project, basically only thread.  I had a small 7 inch piece of cotton lace leftover from this Thanksgiving project, and that lace went across the front of my under dress so I could be able to tell it from the back 🙂  See picture below.
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PATTERNS:  The dress was made using a modern pattern Butterick #5522, year 2010.  The under dress is more authentic, as I used a Past Pattern No. 501, “Ladies and Misses 1920’s Combination Undergarment”.  I used this Past Pattern No. 501 once before to make these tap pants.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  For both the lace dress and the dress underneath, it took me about 5 hours or less to complete.  Both were finished by August 13, 2013.

THE INSIDES:  The side seams of the lace dress are in French seams, and the neckline is bound in a bias faced lace band.  The under dress is also entirely in French seams (excepting hems, of course).

TOTAL COST:  My interlock knit for the under dress was in my stash for so long, let’s consider it free – and a relief at that to find a use for it, finally!  The lace was bought from Hancock Fabrics for about 80 cents a yard. (Yes, you read that price right…cheap, huh?)  So my total was $4.00.

At first, I had a very hard time deciding what color and length the under dress shouldFrench-chiffon&lace-dress-c_1923-from-the-Vintage-Textile-archives become to make the certain ‘look’ I wanted.  Originally, I was inspired to make this lace 20’s project because of ‘The Historical Fortnightly 2013’ challenge sponsored by Leimomi “The Dreamstress”.  She had a “White” challenge (#15) in the summer, and then she was having a “Green” challenge (#21) later on in October.  I did try out a long white under dress, which I made using the same pattern as for the lace dress, but it made me seem like I was in a bridal outfit.  For some reason, Leimomi’s two challenges appealed to me together, especially when she posted an inspiration “Green” garment like this one at right, dating to 1923.  The final inspiration which helped me decide on going with my mint green color was, ironically, an outfit from a Rose's lace and green day dress combodecade older – a costume dress worn by the character Rose in the 1997 movie “Titanic”.  Thus, my dress is long and skinny, sort of like the “hobble skirt” fashion of the 1910 era, while still having the straight, no-waist, sleeveless style of the early 20’s.  I get the best of both decades with my short 1920’s combination under dress and my coral colored accessories (vintage scarf as a belt and my over-sized hat), just like Rose from “Titanic”.

Just to clarify my use of the term tea gown, I would like to reference to two blog posts from Leimomi “The Dreamstress”.  According to her terminology post (link here) my gown should technically not be called a tea gown.  However, reading the characteristics of tea gowns makes it more of a perfect sense thing to apply that title to this lace creation of mine.  Except for the “wrapper-style” category, my dress outfit certainly has ‘gorgeous materials’, a ‘dress that gets worn over an under-dress’, and an ‘ease of entry’ dressing method.  The ‘slip-on’ feature, to be worn without a constricting corset, of a tea gown is what designates it for the afternoons.  Leimomi’s “Rate the Dress” post from here also mentions the extra fact of the pastel colors of many tea gowns.  If I can check off most all the boxes in the tea gown category, when it comes to my lace dress ensemble, I am confident in using it in my title.  I’ve made another new type of historical garment!

100_1789     I really loved making the under dress.  The first time I made this pattern #501 from Past 100_1794Patterns (when I made tap pants from it), I had the feeling I was going to love this pattern in general, and, boy was I right.  The sizing is perfect – what size seems to be your size will be your right size when it is made.  All the pieces that I have made from the pattern sew together quickly and easily.  It is much appreciated how my under dress turned out so decent, covering up my lingerie straps.  The only tiny alteration to the slip dress was to make two small tucks under the armpits at the top of the bodice.  Those tucks bring in the bodice to fit the bust just a bit better, only remember this would not be possible in a woven material.

Using up my small remnant of lace to mark the front really made my day, as well.  I love to be able to find a way to find a useful purpose for every small bit of what I have on hand!  The little bit of lace also seems to connect the under dress with the over dress, in a ‘themed’ sort-of-way.

For my lace over dress, I was actually experimenting with the fit of Butterick 5522.  Finding the perfect basic shift dress is a little challenging to find, and I wanted B5522 to be one of those “basics”.  Reading the finished garment measurements tipped me off to a perfect fit – this pattern runs very small.  I had to go up a size for everything.  I’ve only had to do this once before, for this dress, and then that was only because I was converting a stretch pattern to be made into a woven fabric.  Generally, I tend to make pattern sizes 8/10, but for B5522 I had to use a 12/14, otherwise it would have been a snug fit which is not the way the dress looks like on the envelope cover’s model.  Now that I know how the dress fits, I can’t wait to make the cover dress with those amazing sleeves.

100_1784     To make the most of my fabric, I folded the lace selvedges into the center of my 60″ lace fabric, so I could cut out the front and back out of only two yards.  The sleeve edges of the B5522 pattern were extended just a few inches so my dress would extend over my shoulders while still being sleeveless.  B5522 doesn’t call for a bias faced neckline – I added this feature because it is always such a clean and professional method of edge finishing.  Two long strips were cut out of my lace, so I could double up the neckline facing.  Lace is so thin and I needed a stable neckline to support the rest of my dress and create a shapely frame for my face.  However, I really didn’t like the open, oval neckline that I ended up with – it is a nice neckline but it did not look at all good on my lace dress.  I was tempted to create a square neckline, but, in the end, I stitched two rows of loose stitches down the center so as to pull the neck into a gathered V-neck (see picture).

In the close-up picture above, you can see in detail how my lace is a really interesting mix of shapes and designs, all put together in a sort of geometric crazy quilt method.  I know my lace isn’t authentic, but all those geometric shapes (mostly hexagons and parallelograms) are the base ideas behind the Art Deco movement of the 20’s and 30’s.  As if I didn’t have enough lace, I also wore my vintage crocheted lace gloves with my outfit…they have geometric shapes on them, too!

100_1785100_1788     I could see having my dress a long, ankle length, being a bit too much, so I wanted to find some way of adding interest and shortening the hem, if only temporarily.  My Hubby came up with the idea of a kind of tie that could pull up/gather the bottom of the dress hem.  I took his great idea just a bit further by making the hem ties out of small 12 inch cuts of random leftover lace trim pieces from my stash.  There are two hem ties: one at 15 inches above the hem, and another at 29 inches above the hem.  Both ties are on the left side.  In the pictures at left and above, you can see my dress gathered up from the lowest level lace tie.  You can almost see the center back seam in the left picture.  My preference would have been to eliminate that center back seam, but it is needed because the two back pieces are shaped nicely and cannot be put on the fold.

I truly feel very cool and comfy buy oh-so-pretty in this early 1920’s inspired ensemble.  It has a different style that is a slight departure from the classic “flapper” ideal, but still apparently vintage, while also being fresh and modern.  That’s a lot for a dress!  Whenever I wear this outfit, it always seems to garner compliments, then astonishment, when I briefly explain how it was easy, simple, and cheap.  More women need to make a dress like this for themselves…it is perfect for all skill levels and is absolutely wonderful to wear.  What could be more fail proof than that?!

100_1775     The luxurious public garden where we took these pictures couldn’t help but remind me of the backdrop of a work of art.  I felt like I was in a perfect dream world, or maybe just coming to life out of a painting by James Tissot, where there are plenty of details and interesting settings.  Please visit my Flickr page, at Seam Racer, for more close-ups and great pictures loaded soon of my lace 20’s outfit at the garden.

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A 1961 “Party Dress” – It’s “Sheer” Fun!

Who doesn’t love a party, especially when it involves making and wearing a fabulous frock?!  Our son’s birthday celebration afforded me a very good reason to whip up a fun, fresh, and unique 1961 pattern labeled as a “party dress”.  I used an old original pattern which provided me good practice at re-sizing (as it was for juniors) and an opportunity to work with new techniques by using different material.  The finished product is wonderfully feminine and my unique personal interpretation of a popular retro/vintage fashion.  I certainly love to be able to find reasons for wearing a dress like this!

100_1498     New fabrics revolutionized clothing and fashion styles between the 50’s and 60’s.  Petrochemicals provided easy wash, easy care Nylon,(Polyamide), Crimplene (Polyester), and Orlon (Acrylic mix) fabrics in a variety of pastels and fun colors.  It is definitely not the world’s most comfortable line of fabric.  However, there is almost nothing more symbolic of the retro era than a sheer dress with a contrast underneath and an uber-gathered skirt.  I am so happy to have re-created another small piece of fashion history!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Overdress: a sheer 100% polyester organza-type fabric in a cranberry color;  Underdress: a linen-look rayon/cotton blend fabric in an pastel floral print; Lining for the bodice: white matte finish polyester scraps coming from off of a rummage sale bed skirt – leftover from lining my 1940 Vintage Vogue #8811 (link here).

S3769NOTIONS:  I bought about 10 yards of cranberry satin ribbon, matching thread, and a zip for the back.  I already had a bit of pink bias tape, off-white thread and  plenty of clear “plastic” monofilament thread, as well.

PATTERN:  Simplicity #3769, year 1961, teen and junior “Party Dress” (the large picture at right).  I found it at a rummage sale for pittance – only a quarter!  For the sleeveless floral under bodice to the dress, I used the top half of a modern pattern, Simplicity #1876 (picture below left).  I was going bold here…a strapless under bodice was entirely my idea, and not in the old pattern.Simplicity1876

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My dress was finished on May 17, 2013.  My nearest guess as to the time spent on my dress from beginning to end is 20 hours, maybe more.

THE INSIDES:  My sheer retro dress has nicely finished insides, and that was difficult to do considering all the waist gathers.  The side bodice seams are the only ‘unfinished’ seams, but they are double zig zag stitched along the raw edge.  Otherwise, the skirt seams (for the under and over dress) are in French seams, all the nylon edges have a satin ribbon edging, and the linen underskirt has a wide 3 inch hem (see left picture).  The inner waistband is covered in pink bias tape to ensure a comfortable feel despite all the bulk.  My sewing machine impressed me…if it can sew bias tape onto the already super thick, double fabric, tight gathered waist section, well my Singer is a true trooper and can indeed sew through anything I put under it!  100_1504

FIRST WORN:  to a vintage/retro car show displaying old classic models, held at a local antique shop’s parking lot.  In the main picture above, by the way, the car behind me happens to be an uncommon beauty: a Nash Metropolitan car, year 1960.  

TOTAL COST:  I don’t exactly remember anymore, but I think the total was close to $25/$30.  All my fabrics and supplies were on clearance but, since I needed a lot of yardage, the prices added up.  My finished dress was well worth it!

Mad Men 60's variety dresses_Trudy in poufy dress combo      I had some strong inspiration shooting off fireworks of ideas in my head, allowing me to see ahead of time exactly how I wanted my finished “party dress” to look.  My first inspiration was when I saw a beautiful 1957 dress on display (see right side of picture duo) at an exhibit in our town’s History Museum.  The exhibit was called “Underneath It All”, and it showed the history of the items women wore beneath, how they created a certain image, and were tied to both fashion and historical events.  When the timeline came to the 50’s, it addressed the Famous Dior “New Look”, and the example on display was a summer batiste dress, by Josephine Scullin, with a bluish/aqua/purple floral under a solid sheer aqua.  I had to make a dress like this for myself – crinoline slip and all!  My second major inspiration is none other than the T.V. show Mad Men, much loved by many seamstresses for inspiring drool-worthy 50’s to 70’s fashions.  The character of Betty especially loves to wear the classic style similar to my “party dress”, but other actresses also wore similar sheer floral frocks (see Trudy in the ivory floral dress at left picture).

100_1503     Just look at that beautiful dip of the back neckline!  Personally, I love this feature along with the classic almost way off the shoulder fit of the kimono sleeves.

I really thought ahead before and while making this dress.  At the pattern stage, I had to add inches at the waist, adjust the position of the bust (as the pattern was for juniors), and take out a whopping 10 inches from the huge skirt panels to reduce the overabundance of gathers.  I tried to use a spray adhesive to tack the sheer panels to the matching under pieces, but I think taking the time to do basting worked out better here anyway.  The floral under bodice’s boning was eliminated since I planned on having it supported up by being invisibly hand tacked to the organza bodice.

100_1506     I was very conscious of the weight that would be put on the delicate bodice and shoulder seams, seeing that they are only the sheer organza.  A delicate satin ribbon facing goes under the sleeve, neckline, and shoulder edges for a smooth, non-itchy feel which would fashionably support the barely there seams.  The entire hem of the organza over skirt was also hemmed with the ribbon…I love the resulting look but, believe me, the work was long, frustrating torture.100_1505

The only fitting that was needed on my “party dress” after it was done was to fix some slight gaping along the sides of the bust and under my arms.  I came up with my own out-of the-box idea.  Sewing in bias tape “channels” along the top inside edge of floral sleeveless under bodice, I started from the side of the center bust to under the armpits and fed through elastic.  The elastic channels gently gather in the excess fullness without confining the bodice at all.   Gathers surprisingly also gave the dress’ top half some added complimentary shaping.

A simple sash tie belt was made to wear at the waist of my dress.  The pattern called for these two giant sashes to be made and sewn into the side seams, so one could wrap them around the dress and tie into great big bow.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to want this feature on this dress, much less be committed to it by having them in the side seams, so I left them out.  However, I do still have enough sheer fabric to make the cummerbund sashes.  One day I would like to sew them up, tack them to the sides, and see what that would look like.  The giant sashes might give the “party dress” a completely different appearance I might love…an update will be posted here if that happens.

My crinoline petticoat under slip helps create the proper shape to my “party dress”.  I bought it here at Unique Vintage and I really how soft it is with the layers of ruffles.  It features a draw cord waist that tends to loosen a bit as I wear it, no matter how I double tie the bow.  So I added little loop at the inside waistband of my dress so I can connect the petticoat and the dress together.

100_1502     I did cover all the sheer seams in fray check just to make sure they don’t end up with a big run or rip too easily.  So far so good!
Someone gave me a wonderful compliment one day when wearing my “party grace-kelly-rear-window combo picdress”.  She told me my dress reminded her of something Grace Kelly wore in the Hitchcock movie “Rear Window”.  I went home and did an internet search on the subject and did find a dress quite similar in my respects (deep V-back, sheer poufy overskirt) to my own “party dress”.  See the picture below.  Grace Kelly also wears another dress in “Rear Window” with a similar sheer bodice which is strapless underneath.

      I hope you have enjoyed my post and get inspired to make your own wonderfully fun party attire.  Now all that is needed is a party!

I will post more photos soon on my Flickr page, Seam Racer.

Transformational Knitwear: My “Modern” 1920’s Shawl Collared Dress

One of the milestones to fashion history came when the much loved knitwear came into being. I tried to channel the innovative qualities of both knitwear and the 20’s style in this project.  A resale store purchase of a RTW dress, with a ‘big box’ store label, was transformed into a new vintage style dress reflecting the height 1920’s fashion.

100_2544     Thanks to two great personalities – Coco Chanel and Jean Patou – the populace were able to enjoy the freedom and comfort of knit fabric at an earlier date in history than many people realize.  In 1916, Chanel was using jersey in her hugely influential suits for women, thereby popularizing the feminine association with knits.  However, in 1919, French fashion designer Jean Patou, had come back from 4 years of fighting in WWI (The Great War) and re-opened his couture studio.  He soon became known  for designing what we know as sportswear, and is considered the inventor of the knitted swimwear and the tennis skirt. He also was the first designer to popularize the cardigan, besides being known for his cubist-inspired, color-blocked knits.  Jean Patou did wonders to move fashions towards the natural and comfortable, accommodating for the healthy and athletic lifestyle which was the “new” ideal for women starting with the ditching of constrictive corsets in the 20’s.  Coco Chanel is quoted as once famously saying, “I want women to eat and laugh without fear of fainting,” and knitwear for the newly independent and working women helped achieve Chanel’s desire all the way into our modern times.

ParisFrocks1930-12,Bertha collar refashion     I have found conflicting reports as to the proper titles that were used for the type of collar made for my black 20’s dress.  Technically, I believe this collar style should be called the “shawl” or “capelet” collar.  Nevertheless, I have found a few old original reprinted patterns, such as Past Patterns’ #2425 or Vintage Vogue #2535, and old prints from sewing books which refer to shawl collars as “Bertha” collars (such as the left picture drawing from a 1930 Butterick Delineator book; link here).  Whatever the real ‘official’ title for this type of collar is, it seemed to be used very widely throughout the 20’s and 30’s. Most shawl or capelet collars were recommended to be made out of soft, drape-friendly chiffon-like fabrics. I will explain below how I made my collar work with my knit fabric. By the way, I’m sticking with the shawl collar name..just because 😉

THE FACTS:

HISTORICAL FORTNIGHTLY CHALLENGE:  Innovation

100_2141FABRIC:  The main body of my shawl collar dress started out as an Old Navy item bought at a resale store (see the original dress in the picture at left).  The Old Navy dress is a Modal (rayon type) knit with a small percent of polyester, and is sort of thin but very soft with a brushed feel.  The fabric I bought (for the add-ons to re-fashion my dress) is a cotton/rayon knit with a small percent of spandex included.  The spandex made this knit less than favorable for a historical dress, but it was the best match color wise and similar to the knit of the Old Navy dress.  The shoulder bow is a rayon knit and comes from a top that was bought at Target (on clearance) about 10 years ago.  The bow was taken off of the top and has been in my “bone yard of extra stuff “for a decade, waiting for the right project to finally come along!

PATTERNS:  1) the Bertha/shawl collar came from view B of Vogue 8907, year 2013;  2) the longer second skirt that went under the Old Navy dress’ skirt came from Simplicity 2614, view A, year 2009;  3) the long sleeves came from an OOP Vintage Vogue #2354, view B, year 1999. 

V8907 frontSimplicity26142354vogue

NOTIONS:  The only thing I bought to make my dress was one skein of “Snow” colored cross stitch floss to decorate the shawl collar.  Black thread was the only other notion I used, and I always have plenty of that on hand.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress took me about 10 to 12 hours from beginning to end.  I was finished on November 12, 2013

THE INSIDES:  the original dress I re-fashioned had serged seams, which I left as is, except for the sleeves, of course.  Everything I sewed was done in French seams or self-covered.

TOTAL COST:  I spent only $4.00 for the original Old Navy dress, and around $20.00 for the fabric to refashion it, but with only 30 cents for the skin of cross stitch floss, I figure on a total of about $25.00.

HOW HISTORICALLY ACCURATE IS IT?  Quite accurate in everything except the small percent of polyester, spandex, and Modal in the knits.  Polyester has roots in the 1929 writings of Wallace Carothers, but it and spandex weren’t actually around ’til the 50’s.  See The Dreamstress’ post on “Rayon and other manufactured naturals” for an explanation on Modal and rayon’s historical stories.  Otherwise, the dropped waist of my dress is very classic of the 20’s, as are the new skinny sleeves I sewed and added.  The double skirt can also be found in some 20’s patterns and posters, while the shawl collar’s accuracy has already been proved.  

100_2539     My first step towards making my 20’s dress was to cut off the too tight short sleeves and sew in my new long sleeves.  I used my Vintage Vogue 2354 mainly on account of the skinny sleeve look, but also because of my intent to sew up this 1947 dress soon for an event, and I wanted to experiment and see how they would fit.  As they turned out, the VV2354 sleeves fit me great, but they are SO skinny!  The part around the wrist barely stretched over the free arm of my sewing machine.  I made a paper note to keep with the pattern, so when I make my VV2354 out of my satin, I will remember to hem the sleeve cuffs before I sew the sleeve length together.

Next, I sewed the front and the back the two skirt pieces together for t100_2536he under skirt I was adding.  The skirt of Simplicity 2614 is cut on the bias and has a beautiful gentle flare which complimented well with the skirt on the original dress.  The second under skirt was added to help prevent any see-through issues, to add length, and to give my re-fashioned dress extra authenticity and character.  The original pattern had to actually be shortened about 5 inches since I wanted the dress to be knee-length and, remember, the waistband is at the hips.  As you can see, my dress stays at that ‘borderline-to-shocking’ length for the late 20’s – short enough to show the knees at times but also long enough to cover them too.

The skirt was hemmed, the top folded in onto the ‘good’ side, and pinned then sewed to100_2569 the inside top of the hip waistband (see right picture).  My skirt addition does wonders for the dress’ hip waistband; it is now much more sturdy and it doesn’t roll or bunch up like it did without the second skirt underneath.  You bet I’m wearing my handmade 1920’s tap pants underneath!  It’s the perfect opportunity to go all out vintage in and out.

100_2127     The shawl collar was the 3rd part of my re-fashion.  The pattern I was basing my shawl collar on actually reminds me of “Superman”. It is the type of shawl which starts on the left shoulder, drapes across above bust length in the front, but comes all the way down the back and gets sewn under to the back bottom hem.  This design had to be adapted and re-drawn.  I began by pinning together the small shoulder shaping pleat on the right side of the collar pattern.  Next, I folded the collar pattern in half at the shoulders so I could trace the shape of the front collar onto the back half (see picture at left).  Technically I made the back just a little lower hanging than the front, but I did dip the center front down lower to make sure it would cover the open neck of the dress.  Besides re-drawing the pattern I further adapted it by double layering the shawl collar.  The instruction sheet merely says to do one layer and make a tiny hem on the edge, which sounds great for a chiffon or something lightweight.  However,  I knew one layer of my knit would make a flimsy collar, nor did I want: 1) a raw edge hem too be that obvious, 2) a collar which would stick to my dress or blow in my face.  So I cut out two collar pieces (which were quite large), sewed the front pleats and the left shoulder seams (the only shoulder seam), and sewed the collar pieces with right sides together along the outside edge.  Now the collar could be turned right sides out and there was a clean seam along the outside edge, ready to be top stitched, and later hand decorated.  The collar’s inner neckline edge was then pinned together, as well as under, so it could get sewn down to the dress finally.

I realized I needed to draft something to fill in the low, plunging U neckline on the original 100_2558adress (finished inside picture at left).  I had been waiting to do this step until the collar was done so I could measure everything and get as exact as possible.  I put the dress on, then placed the collar over myself, pinning at the shoulders.  The back of the collar seemed to match up exactly with the back neckline of the dress.  For the front, I measured the difference from the collar neckline down to the dress neckline and traced out the scoop neckline shape on the collar with white chalk.  After both items were off of me, I got out paper, stuck it inside the neckline of the dress as it was all laid out nicely on the floor, and began to trace out a filler neckline.  When I was done with my drawing, I compared it to the shape that was chalked out on the front collar, made some minor adjustments, and added seam allowances before it was cut out.  Once I had the fabric cut out in the shape of my neck filler, I turned the edges in, towards the right side, since I lapped the neckline line piece under the original neckline.  With the neckline ready, I turned in the neck edge of the shawl collar, and sort of lapped the neck and collar together in a stable double seam.

100_2538100_2564     My stitching along the edge was a fun and relaxing thing I got done one Saturday afternoon.  (See close-up at left) Every so often I do decorative hand-stitching techniques, and I feel I did quite a good job here doing even widths and choosing the right stitch.  The bow, all ready sewn in it’s shape, added a perfect last touch.  It is sewn down just on the front side of the left shoulder seam.  The old McCall 5313 envelope cover picture at far left shows a bow finishing off a sheer shawl collared dress.  One of my favorite movies, “Manhattan Tower”, from 1932, has the secretary character Mary wearing a large scarf bow on her left shoulder, too.  See it for yourself, here, at about the 5:30 time counter, then go ahead and watch the whole movie yourself at some point – it’s quite interesting.  ManhattanTower1932-mccall pattern combo

Originally, my main inspiration and idea for making this dress came from and outfit worn by the character Peppy Miller from the 2012 movie “The Artist”.  Peppy wears two different types of shawl/cape collar dresses in the movie, but the one that inspired my sewing can be seen in the combo of movie still/costume drawing at right.  Her dress was worn towards the movie’s beginning, the day after she makes headlines, and she is getting off a trolley car to try for a job as a movie extra.  Looking closely at the movie dress, I began to see a few ways to make my interpretation closer to historically authentic.  This is the second “The Artist” movie inspired dress I have made recently, the first can be seen here.  I plan on making two more dresses from the movie as well.

leaving trolley combo  In honor of “The Artist”, we still HAD to take our photo shoot at an old trolley car in front of our town’s History Museum.

I’d like to put a few captions to the pictures below.

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“Did I lose something back there? I think I’m clear of the trolley door. Tell me ’cause I can’t see…my bum sticks out in this dress, doesn’t it?”

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Hubby caught me doing a ‘Peppy Miller’ dance when he snapped this one.

Both pictures, while fun, also show how nicely my shawl collar lays.  Hubby seems to think the collar, together with everything about the dress, has a modern, fashion forward look.  All I know is I love wearing my dress!  It’s incredibly comfy, fun, and I feel like it has a classiness that isn’t trying too hard.  20’s meets modern in so many ways with this new dress of mine.   Talk about getting a “leg up” on fashion.

I have to let you go…I need to catch this trolley.  However, the ‘trolley car’ of innovations in the world of fashion never stops and always keeps rolling on, changing what we wear and how we wear it.  At the same time, when I make something like this 20’s shawl collar re-fashioned dress, I tend to think that some things just never change.

100_2532