My “Conservative Gilda” Nightgown

The character of the woman Gilda, in the famous Rita Hayworth movie by the same name, is that of a bold woman, to say it tactfully.  In no uncertain terms, she is shown to the viewer – from that very first moment in the boudoir (watch it here on TCM) – that she is not scrupulous when using her female wiles for whatever emotional game or selfish desire she chooses to play upon.  The sheer tulle and off-the-shoulder nightgown says volumes.  Her character is so far removed from me, yet I love the relaxed, romantic aura of what she has on.  With a pattern already on hand that was quite similar, I hope to have tamed that famous Gilda nightgown into something more respectable.  Am I decent in this?  I think so.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% cotton flannel and a sheer polyester tiny tulle

PATTERN:  Hollywood #1479, year 1944 (I’ve already made the tied-front crop top here as part of a playsuit)

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed for this on hand as it was all basic stuff – thread, some scraps of interfacing, and skinny elastic

TIME TO COMPLETE:  It took 5 hours to make and was finished on February 4, 2019

THE INSIDES:  French seams for the sleeves (including armscye), self-fabric bias binding for the neckline and bottom hem, raw edges for the long side seams

TOTAL COST:  The flannel was something I bought on deep discount when the now defunct Hancock Fabrics was going out of business – the tulle was just bought.  As the flannel was bought quite a while back for what must have been dirt cheap, I’m counting it as maybe $5 to $10.  Together with the $5 spent on the tulle, this is an under $15 glamorous steal of a nightgown!

This was a quick and ridiculously simple make for how nice it turned out.  Yet, at the same time it was a total fabric hog, especially since I chose the ankle length version (for both more warmth and elegance).  What is practically two giant rectangles comprise both the front and the back, taking up 3 ½ total yards of flannel!  This is partly the reason for the sheer sleeves – I flat out ran out of fabric for them.  However, hubby reminded me that sheer sleeves would bring my make closer to my chosen movie inspiration.  Two heads are better than one is a legitimately true phrase, but it’s always cool and surprising when that second brain – which isn’t sewing oriented – can be so helpful with my garment projects!

I chose tiny holed, super fine mesh tulle for the sleeves or a chiffon.  They have a bit more body in tulle to make for a nice blousing out above the cuffs which matches well with the heavier cotton body to my nightgown.  Chiffon can look droopy (as it does on the original Gilda nightgown), but that can also have its place with some styles.  Besides, something as slippery as chiffon did not sounds appealing to me on nightwear.  As sultry as that fabric can be, I think I understand the properties of chiffon and only imagined the fabric wrapping itself around my arms as I slept.  Whether that would happen or not, I didn’t take a chance.  The sleeves are two layers of tulle.  Two layers hopefully will be not as fragile as one seemed and lent more of a matching grey tone.

I have not been able to find any source which says what hue the original Gilda movie nightgown was, but for some reason (not just because it is in black and white) I picture it in a light color, close to no color.  Kind of like the ironic use of a pure and innocent white on Lana Turner in the movie “The Postman Always Rings Twice”, I could see the mischievous Gilda in a similarly demure costume to amplify her tempting, teasing demeanor.  Now, I could be totally wrong here, but anyway – these musings gave me a reason to use the material I did.  Flannel is my favorite nightwear material for lounging (used it for this nightgown already) and definitely more modest and practical.  While not as drafty or alluring as Gilda’s frilly, sheer gown, however, the print is pretty and delicate in the softest hint of a light grey scroll work motif.  I low-key complimented the print with the dove grey sleeves, but tried highlight it better by using a dark grey (albeit sheer, as well) ribbon as a belt.

The pattern called for a set waistband, one that either is elasticized or has a ribbon running through a sewn-on casing.  I left that out.  I like my waist free and unrestricted at night when I sleep, because this is still a nightgown that I am going to wear no matter how pretty it is!  Besides, I felt that seeing a ribbon around the waist, and not hiding it in a casing, would set a defined waistline better in this voluminous gown…hey it worked on Gilda!  Finally, having no set waistband is much more versatile, in my opinion.  I used a whole 3 yard spool for my ribbon tie because I absolutely love the way there are long ends that elegantly, dramatically flutter down, almost to the hem.

I kept the rest of the details as fuss-free as possible.  The cuffs around the wrist were instructed to be made like a regular blouse cuffs, but that is too much for nightwear.  I made them one piece and they just slip on or off of my wrist over my hand.  The neckline has elastic in the casing so I could easily wear this as a regular scoop neck or pull it off the shoulders for a full Gilda effect.  As the elastic is pretty thin and the neckline holds the entire weight of more than 3 yards of flannel, I have two strands of it through the casing.  In order to make the gathered ruffled neckline turn out (with the sheer material involved), I had to use more of the dress flannel for the casing and make a tiny “track” for maximum ruffling.  Thus, a thin, string-like elastic was the only way to go, anyway.  Simple, easy, so pretty, and timeless, vintage designs really know how to make nighttime clothes something to look forward to wearing at the end of a day!

This is the final post about the garments that I made for our trip to Denver, Colorado.  For these pictures, we were at our Alpine-style bed-and-breakfast the “Vasquez Creek Inn” at Winter Park.  The other garments I made for this trip included a refashioned boxy cropped pullover and a 1940s quilted jerkin with corduroy trousers.  Making a nightgown made me feel like I had a new, complete set for fun, fancy, or relaxing to bring with me!  Hotels are great for taking pictures of nightwear, anyway…they are an uncluttered, nicely decorated, different setting.  Not that our bedroom is an atrocious mess or not pleasant to see either, but we’ve already taken pictures there and as I’m not crazy about our old wallpaper, I didn’t want to do that again.  It’s always nice to take pictures where you’ve had good times away from home anyway, right?!

Undomiel and her Numedor Knight

Fantasy worlds can be quite lifelike and believable.  Fiction can seem more convincing than reality, especially when – in book form – the writing is realistically superb.  Then the reader’s imagination is traveled through space and time by the magic of the written page.  This can be especially true of stories which have make-believe creatures that have been known for centuries, such as dragons, elves, dwarves, and wizards to name a few.  The stories of the great J.R. Tolkien stand high as a remarkable, memorable tale of very credible and well-crafted fantasy, even rising to the likes of a cult classic.  To tell you the truth I am more of a C.S. Lewis Narnia gal, but I am almost as equally ‘into’ the Lord of the Rings world, as well as my husband.

I have been wanting to recreate something from the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings movies ever since all three were out, thus this project is very fulfilling as it has been so long in coming!  Even better yet, I was extremely happy to have my son want to jump on board with my costume and match me for yet another themed Halloween!  Recently, the film trilogy had been out again to re-watch in the big theater near us and my son has now seen snippets of them, as well, so the fire for these films were renewed for us.  With a medieval and renaissance themed event going on at our local Science Center, too, and everything I needed for my own outfit on hand (thanks to having everything ready to whip the dress up for the last 14 years), I felt now was the time to make good of an extended sewing project plan!

Besides the fact I saw the films again now, why am I just writing about our Halloween outfits when it’s almost Christmas, you may be wondering (guess if you weren’t thinking about it before, you are now).  Well, as other detailed oriented Lord of the Rings movie fan will understand it is around the middle of December that the trilogy films were always released.  Everyone who has seen our outfits always guesses my son and I are supposed to be Guinevere and King Arthur (kind of a gross pairing for us when you think about it), so I’m wondering how many die-hard fans of Lord of the Rings are out there today.  Unfortunately, Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” trilogy most likely killed off a good part of the fandom (those movies are SO bad, it’s no wonder).  Yet, I merely remember that the enduring beauty of the original written tales still remain and there are many more of Tolkien’s stories yet for me to read and many more costumes yet to be remade for myself, he he!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  My dress – crushed panne polyester velvet, red hammered-finish crepe-back satin, and a golden small mesh netting; My son’s ‘chain mail’ tunic – silver oversized mesh netting

PATTERNS:  My dress – Simplicity #4940, year 2004; My son’s tunic – no pattern but my own…self-drafted!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My dress took about 20 hours to make and my son’s tunic took about 3 hours both were finished at the end of July 2018.

THE INSIDES:  all clean from serged (overlocked) seam edges

TOTAL COST:  Having all the materials on hand for my dress since over a decade cut down on costs, and the grommet setting machine (more on this later) was paid for with a birthday gift certificate, so the only costs were on my son’s ‘chain mail’ – about $10 or less.

These outfits were incredibly fun to make, they turned out great (better than expected, actually), and were much easier coming together than envisioned.  I actually can’t wait to dive into more medieval and renaissance garments, because these time periods are my favorite specialty to study and research in non-fashion related fields.  I’m contemplating a 14th century low class woman’s set and a 16th century noblewoman’s gown, besides more Lord of the Rings costumes that are still tantalizing me.  My son would look so cute in a jerkin and doublet, I think, and I’d love to turn my hubby into a 14th century pilgrim on the El Camino de Santiago.  There’s too many ideas in my head and too little time!  Luckily, my hometown is actually a small hub for what we call “Medievalism studies” and “Creative Anachronism” so we would definitely have places to wear such old historical fashions and reasons to study them if I want to wear and sew more! Yay!

I realize that there are many historical inaccuracies to both of our outfits.  But hey – these are costumes based on a fantasy movie, and made with the purpose to go out and have fun, so I love the fact that the craving to do thorough research beforehand, like my other historical creations, as abated and I could merely sew our outfits to completely please ourselves and have them finished sooner than later.  This is my first dive into a new era of clothing and I couldn’t be happier!  If both me and my son don’t want to have to take our outfits off once they are on, but continue to swirl around and pretend play, than that is the best sign of success I could hope for.

It might be selfish of me, but can I just start by addressing my Arwen gown?  It was the more involved to make anyway.  This was inspired by her famous “Death dress”, worn when her strength was fading away as she is becoming less elf and more human in “Return of the King”.  “I wish I could have seen him (Aragorn) one…last…time…” she says in this dress as her Evenstar falls and shatters.  That scene was so emotional in the movie.  There is a large influence of early medieval Celtic in the swirling detailing of the Rivendell elves and so I incorporated much of that into my version as well.

However, I could not reconcile myself with (nor achieve) the long and perfectly shiny and wavy tresses like Arwen, so I choose a more historical, half fictional (Star Wars, anyone?) hairstyle option of braided side buns option I liked better on myself, anyway.  The chiffon headcovering was left off for some pictures so you can see the gown better or just to make this outfit easier to play in, but a medieval woman would not have went without one!  My simple ‘crown’ (as my son calls it) is a brass sheeting strip from my father-in-law toolbox of scraps leftover from old jobs.  We folded it into thirds and rounded into a headband ring.  I have a faux leather strip taped to the inside otherwise the brass turns my forehead green.

The main body of the dress has some a-mazing shaping (see this Instagram post of mine), especially for the upper body, thanks to the multiple princess seams (which are a big ‘historical’ no-no for medieval gowns, but whatever).  I sized down so I would have a snug fit since I knew my fabric, the panne velvet, was very stretchy.  Choosing this sizing was a good idea here.  There is over 4 yards of material just for the dress body and most of it is the full, flare of the dress’ panels below the hips.  This makes this such as elegant dress with lovely, princess-like swing as I walk, but the dress is very heavy.  I had to raise the shoulders by just over an inch to accommodate the dress being pulled down by the skirt portion.  I am secretly wearing my 1905 Gibson Girl era petticoat under this dress.  “Kind of weird” you might say, but the dress looked like an awkward, limp, wet rag of a thing hanging on me without the mid-calf fullness the 1905 slip provides.  With the slip, there is a much better silhouette overall plus it keeps the back train from tangling up under my feet!

Now onto the dramatic sleeves!  It took some training while wearing to figure out how to move, think ahead, and overall deal with these kinds of sleeves, but once you learn how not to clear a table mistakenly, get your arm stuck in a door, or drop them in a toilet (all of which I’ve done), they are so poetic.  I loved finding ways of doing fight scene moves so that the hanging sleeve would swirl around and look awesome, like what the actress Bridget Reagan did in the tv series “Legend of the Seeker”.  My ultimate sleeve action inspiration is from the Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi and what she was able to do (playing a blind girl) in the beginning action scene to the “House of the Flying Daggers” 2004 martial arts movie (watch it here).  I know it sounds silly to play-act with your sleeves but movies have a strong influence and with all this odd amount of extra fabric, you have to admit that sounds entertaining, right?!

The fashion folds that are holding the top forearm extra sleeve length out of the way of my hands were directly inspired by both Olivia De Havilland’s costumes in the year 1940 “Robin Hood” movie and this Balenciaga coat from the fall of 1950.  It was a simple matter of tacking the sleeves down at regular intervals to a stable runner (like ribbon) underneath.  I think this is much, much nicer than a tie gathered casing (as the pattern calls for) and much better not having a sleeve top seam (I cut on the fold, instead).  I did make the sleeves a lot longer (by about 12 inches) than the pattern calls for, too, in order to do this pleating.  I also lengthened the hang of the sleeve bottom so it would end closer to the floor and could come to more of a point than a rounded curve as the pattern dictated.  The inner seam through the bottom sleeve drape was flat felled as it is visible.  I guess you can tell already, but I chose the satin shine for the outside and the crepe for the inside.

My sleeve’s upper half (bicep portion) has so many layers to it!  The first layer is the panne velvet, the same as my dress.  Then it is layered over with a golden mesh material.  Finally, my fancy ribbon (expounded on the next paragraph) was stitched along just on the other side of the seam allowances at my shoulder top and lower sleeve seams.  Next to the neckline – which has multiple layers of fabric with the facing, interfacing, and woven golden trim stitched along it – the upper sleeves are the thickest and most complex to finish parts to the dress.  I needed to add little snap-closed ribbon lingerie straps inside the tiny shoulder seams of this dress just to keep the sleeves from slipping off.

The ribbon I used for both my belt and sleeve trimming is the pride and joy of my whole outfit.  It looks like a reproduction of the margin decorations from the Book of Kells (800 A.D.) combined with the saturated tones of a 16th century Safavid manuscript and is amazing…quite heavy, rich in color, and detailed…woven like a tapestry.  I had about 6 yards of it stashed away since about 2004, and I must have found it at an incredible deal or else my mom would not have let me buy it (she never liked me spending a lot towards something I liked without an immediate plan to use it).  Its swirling designs are just like the crowns worn by Arwen or Galadriel.  This ribbon is subtle enough to not overpower, yet detailed enough to add a touch of complexity and finery suited (so I feel) to an Arwen inspired dress.  There is actually a heavy nail sewn to the bottom hang of my belt to weigh it down.  A snap connects the elbow of the Y around my waist.  I know a belt is not part of Arwen outfit, but just like my hair, it is a bit more of a historical touch that helps my version please me better than an exact copy.

There were no corsets but a natural look for women of 14th century dressing, and the lacing to their clothing closings were just that…closures.  From what I have seen, back then eyelets would have been hand worked or (later) metal rings sewn on along the edge for the lacings to go through.  I needed to make about two dozen eyelets and wanted the flashy prettiness of golden metal modern ones.  Only, I was not going to hammer each one of them in by hand, but that was the only way I had available.  Thus, I put a birthday gift certificate to good use, did a last minute run to the fabric store, and splurged on a mechanical hand pressed hole punch and eyelet setter.  It looks like a pliers on steroids!  I chose the “Crop-A-Dile” by “We R Memory Keepers” brand tool and it is so ridiculously easy, makes very uniform eyelets which are sturdy, and it has so many useful function options (it can even do snaps!), I love it.  In 30 minutes I did all two dozen eyelets cut and set through four layers of fabric with interfacing in between.  It was so fun to have such a helpful tool that takes any stress out of a complicated technique.  I have been disappointed by fancy tools before but this might be the one that has worked so much better than expected – best gift ever, even if I did pick it out.

Now, for my son’s mock chain mail tunic!  From close-up, the mesh material reminds me of tiny backyard fencing.  I had been looking for something for a while beforehand and this was the best, the most reasonable, and most available material we found.  I do believe it conveys the jist of a chain mail tunic well enough though, and when it gets wet (it rained Halloween evening) it only becomes all the more sparkly!  He loved his tunic, most importantly, but I’m glad the medieval event we attended in our outfits had examples of the real deal armor, weapons, and chain mail both on display and on re-enactors so he could get a hands-on realization of the genuine thing!

I traced a pattern for a two-piece kimono sleeve tunic off of an existing t-shirt that currently was a tad roomy.  This had to be a pullover so I added a bit extra room around the t-shirt, besides seam allowance.  The shoulders and side seams were the only thing I stitched (the edges don’t fray) and I’m glad because sewing such a stiff metallic material that was mostly open was a pain.  I used mesh seam tape to give the stitches something to hold onto.  Next, his hood was drafted using the proportions of and existing hood, and then changing the shape so it would cover his neck and fall over and around his shoulders and chest.  The hood was lined in black cotton to keep the mesh from scratching his face and keep the texture of the material in the spotlight.  He wore a black turtleneck top under the tunic, and quilted black pants which kind of reminded me of a fencer’s padded practice gear.

His serious face cracks me up. Anyone recognize the Monty Python reference?

His armor is admittedly cheap plastic but it really added a lot to the tunic and it makes him feel oh-so-tough.  For my dream outfit (which are quite extra sometimes!), I was really tempted to find some fake bird wings in white to add on the sides of his helmet or even a black capelet so he could be more clearly a Numedor knighted guard of Gondor (the White City).  Yet, I realized that no one would “get it” and the extra fuss would be make his costume more complicated…meaning less fun for him.  For example, when we came home Halloween evening after trick-or-treating, hubby was trying to get decent pictures and our dachshund was incredibly curious and acting hurt at being left out, so our son, with his armor on, only began using his imagination.  It’s the tale of when our “killer” dachshund came with “vicious plans” to lick to the death (ha!) and my brave 6 year old knight threatened with his sword and shield to rescue the fair maiden. My hero…

Fiction is very much intermingled with the truth when it comes to history, for better or for worse, and the older you go (like medieval) it is even harder to separate the two.  Sometimes you have to accept them both when it comes to manuscripts because some legends, whether true or false, were part of those time’s belief system and culture.  To take such fanciful understanding away would leave a blank spot in our modern understanding of ancient pictures and thought processes.  A large percent of manuscript illuminators and textual writers were monks who never left their monastery walls, after all, while the rest were mostly young students with an extremely fanciful and active imaginations (margin doodles are sometimes quite shocking!).  The difference between fact and fiction is something we still have to define and process even today with all the information availability we have at every turn.  Perhaps our modern medieval mish-mash costumes are seriously more perfect than if we had be wearing veritable real thing.  I still open up wardrobes with a playful curiosity which makes me feel I’m in Lucy Pevensie’s shoes and can clearly picture the mischievous, animated face of Bilbo Baggins!

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.
100_1295B5522

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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