Warning! Sharp Angles Ahead…

When I don me-made modern wear, I really prefer it to be every bit as interesting with the details and design as the vintage pieces I normally choose.  Even though my vintage outfits can be styled in a very appealingly modern way, I do find that my current designs do come in handy within professional spheres such as University conferences and research visits, for nights out with hubby at the ‘hip’ spots in town, or just to stay in touch with the sewing world of today.  This post is presenting what might be one of my favorite pieces of modern sewing – a Melissa Watson wrap-on dress tweaked with my own custom-drafted sleeves added, contrast hemline fronts, and a cool, contrast, full body lining.

This dress is for the outgoing personality in me, the side that is not at all afraid to stand out.  It is bright enough to stop traffic and classy yet smoldering all in one awesome, easy-on dress.  I do not really mind the bit of leg flash this dress displays, even though it was unexpected coming into the pattern!  Now, I know wrap dresses are generally asymmetric by nature – and I do positively love asymmetric styles – but this is even more so due to the one curved and one angled front arching hemline.  Combining those gradients with the geometric print and the 90-degree points on my sleeves and I am in a seamstresses’ mathematical, creative heaven!  I hope that by pairing it with some black boots and a cardigan, I can enjoy this dress for more than one season.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a polyester peach-skin print lined in a poly-cotton broadcloth

PATTERN:  McCall’s #7246, a Melissa Watson design from 2015

NOTIONS:  just some thread and a little interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was made in about 10 hours and was finished on May 2, 2019

THE INSIDES:  What inside raw edges?  They are completely covered by the lining.

TOTAL COST:  The geometric poly has been in my stash for about 7 years now. It was bought from Fashion Fabrics Club along with a bunch of other fabrics when I started to get back into sewing after my son was born in 2012.  I had 3 yards of this, bought for about $7 a yard, I believe.  The broadcloth was a few dollars cheaper a yard, so my total cost was about $35, spread out over many years!

For being a general quick-sew and de-stashing project, this turned out fantastic.  I kind of suddenly jumped into this project idea at the last minute before a Kentucky Derby Day watch party and wasn’t sure what to expect of the finished look.  That day, I received so many compliments and curious questions as to where I got my dress.  Sadly, too many ladies only bemoaned the fact they don’t sew or – for the funnier reaction – they were surprised my dress wasn’t actually a vintage design!  Using this Melissa Watson pattern has been on my “must-sew” projects backburner since it came out, and I am so glad the perfect fabric combo for it finally struck me.

Melissa Watson is the daughter of the renowned fit expert Pati Palmer, so of course there are very thorough and exhaustive fitting guides in with the instructions to the pattern.  This is all well and good, and a nice change versus the normal McCall’s issues.  However, all clumped together on one or two sheets and printed busily over every pattern piece seemed just overwhelming and confusing for me (and not to brag, but I feel like I know more about fitting adjustments than any average home sewer).  I think all the info just made it hard to figure out what actually needed to be done for a good fitting finished dress, and just made the ‘work’ of it seem harder than it really is to do.  How does a beginner really know exactly which fitting tweak to enact with all the info laid out on how to do them?  ‘Reading’ the signs of a bad fit is a difficult and not instantly acquired talent that no ‘quick cheat sheet’ can teach.  As the dress turned out for me, I wish it had slightly better reach room in the back and lower half of the armscye (sleeve).  I was literally too exhausted by the complications added to the generally simple design to remember to check that spot before cutting.  So – the bad drawback from a great pattern is actually too much good information.  Trying too hard does not necessarily make anything better.

That off my chest, I liked (and kept) the slight blousiness of the tucked darts to the waist of the bodice, but I couldn’t just make your normal, classic plain-Jane sleeves here.  There were too many angles going on and not enough playing with them!  Specialty sleeves are so unrated.  With all the over-information on fitting in the pattern itself, I would like to say that sleeves – in my opinion – are an excellent place to start with tweaking, experimenting, and understanding patterns.  They elevate a garment to the next level when they are outside the norm, and drafting unusual sleeves is such a relatively simple, low-risk, and easy-to-understand tweak.

I merely started by finding an inspiration picture on Instagram together with a simple deconstruction layout.  I thought backwards from there to fill in the blanks of how to do that myself.  You have to think in 3D, and reverse engineer that into a flat lay or simply start from the basic paper pattern and slash and spread where you will be adding new folds and fabric depth.  I’m equating my new drafts to being a version of an upside-down, folded petal-style sleeves.  They call them “envelope sleeves”.  I personally love the 90 degree angles it creates and the lovely sleeve cap it forms.  It made for a very thick hem that needed lots of clipping and hand stitching to look nice and turn out smoothly.

Talk about having things turn out smoothly, I just freaking love full body lining, especially when the inside is made visible by the design!  The pattern does not call for lining, but mullet or hi-low hems (like on this past make of mine) make the underside of the fabric particularly visible, even more so when it is a wrap dress like the one here.  Why not go for the fully fashionable play with the opportunity?!  Not only does lining the underside in a contrast look so pretty and make the garment pop, but the added wrap dress factor is just screaming for the opportunity to make the entire insides so very nice.  No way was I going to make a tiny hem all the continuous way around the wrap’s edges, anyway…enclosing it and all the raw seams inside the lining puts my mind at ease knowing I can beautifully cover-up any messiness.

Sure, it was like making two dresses, after all.  Yet, there is nothing equal to a personal happiness that comes from lovely insides meant for only you to see as you get dressed in your handmade clothes.  I, however, did have further ulterior motives for the full body lining.  I hate the feeling of polyester on my skin and the pretty print was far too lightweight and unsubstantial on its own to be a dress.  So – all these many reasons, it absolutely needed lining here.  I chose a solid cool mint green/aqua underneath to tame down the bright colors on the dress’ outside.

Beside the new sleeves and the added lining, the front hem is something subtle I changed, too, as mentioned at the posts beginning.  The right side has the angled hem while the left slides under along the 115 degree point with its curved hem.  It is subtle, which I wanted, but it adds to the whole play on the geometrics here and makes this so much more of an individual creation for me.  I sort of feel a silly guilt when I go line-for-line or fabric-imitation copy of a pattern with no personal changes.  Look – I even tie the ties around my waist like a belt to end in a cute little bow in front rather than a traditional wrap dress back knot or bow with streamers.  Oh my goodness, do I dare tell you I used my fabric pens to color in the top stitching along the edges so it blended in with print and becomes invisible?!  Yes, I do love to spare no detail to satisfy the perfectionist in me sometimes.

A big reason for my sewing is of course the creative outlet of it but also the opportunity to personalize my wardrobe and do that in better quality than can be found in most RTW.  Making sure to think about what is really coming from my creativity versus just going with what I see isn’t always easy but makes me own what I sew and feel more like me in the handmade wardrobe I wear.  That is the key to home sewing patterns and patterns available for the public to buy – they are tools that can be built upon to make your wildest clothing dreams come true.  This dress pattern might not have been the best tool – it was rather confusing in an unexpected way – but it helped me make a modern dress that even my vintage inspired heart loves!

Painted Bunting

Ah, it’s finally spring in the northern hemisphere, at least officially that is.  It’s the time for one of my favorite parts to spring besides the newly awakened flowers – the bird activity!  The snow birds are leaving town and both our ‘normal’ varieties of avian creatures as well as unusual visitors will be showing up through this next month.  Then the sweet but noisy baby birds will be coming!  I am one who admittedly has a “life list” of species I’ve spotted, and although birding is no longer as serious of a deal that it was when I was a teen, I now have a dress for that.

Novelty prints are not really my “thing” but this bird one is winning me over.  It is such a bright and cheerful print of what is probably fantasy songbirds, but they remind me of all my vivid-colored, real-life  favorites – the kestrel, the redstart, orioles, warblers, or my ‘yet-to-be-seen spotter’s life goal’ the painted bunting.  However, this post’s title is appropriate in more than one sense!  With its swishy, full, mullet hemline and peek-a-boo flashes of skin, my dress is fully lined in a hot pink cotton for both unexpected fun in my fashion and to have a non-poly comfort against my skin.  I’m carrying a celebration of cheerfulness with me when I wear this dress!

The fact that this dress has received top rating from my 6 year old is proof of the happiness this dress exudes.  He always laughs, smiles, and is like glue to me just to study the print – if I ever want to make his (and my) day better, I wear this.  Want proof?  My son made me a necklace that matches.  It was totally a surprise project of his.  Someone brought a beading kit to keep the kids busy after church one Sunday and he was busy making something for me in all the colors, but extra beads in especially the ones I love – turquoise, purple, and pink!  Together with earrings from my Grandma which remind me of baby robin eggs, this is a combo that is spring and summer embodied for me.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The bird print is a buff finish polyester satin while the solid bright pink lining is a poly and cotton blend broadcloth

PATTERN:  Burda Style “Cut Out Dress” pattern #116B from August 2014

NOTIONS:  All I needed was thread!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was a quickie compared to how it looks a bit complex – 6 to 7 hours and finished on April 19, 2017

TOTAL COST:  I didn’t really wait for a sale to buy this – it was too cute to wait and see if there was going to be any left!  However, I did buy it years back at the (now defunct) Hancock Fabrics so sorry if you want some, too!  It was about $7 for each of the 3 yards…and the broadcloth was a few dollars a yard too.  Thus – my total is about $20.

Everything matched up well for this pattern and the instructions were decent (not as great as sometimes).  However I did go up in size and I’m glad I did.  The bust and shoulders seem to run small in my opinion, but then again I did not want a tight fit for a breezy balmy weather dress made out of a non-stretch woven material.  I also brought the shape of the neckline in just a tad – straightening out the dip of the scoop in front and bringing in the sides so as to cover my brassiere straps better.  The neckline now appears to be more of a wide boatneck, but it is still easy to slip over the head as well as complimentary open around the neck, just now compatible with normal lingerie.  Finally, I slightly lengthened the front half of the hem line to the skirt.  All these changes I am so glad I had done at the cutting stage.  I do not think I would like my dress as much as I do if I hadn’t have done such adjustments.

I do love how this dress is a balance of simple and complex depending on how you look at it.  The pattern pieces were rather interesting, too.  From the front it has clean lines – straight, shorter skirt and a basic bodice with cut-on kimono cap sleeves and only a flashing hint of the ‘party in the back’.  From the back, the skirt has a full sweep – like a lovely cape – in midi length and the bodice is separated from the waistline for some skin baring in an uncommon spot.

The cut out ‘window’ at the back waistline more than just a feature, though – is adjustable with a drawstring going through the casing made around the oval opening so you can customize your coverage to your liking.  I love when personal preference is considered in fashion!  This design also makes this dress a pull-on which needs no zipper!  You loosen up the gathers to pop it on, then pull the drawcord ends (one long 1/4 strip made of the dress’ fabric) to close the back as you prefer.  The back opening as you see it on me is almost as small as it will go, so if you like this design, too, keep that in mind.   The half waistband that is in the front of the dress merely basic and comfy elastic kept in a casing made of the seam allowance.

Such a design detail of an open back above the waistline can be seen on the sporty dresses and versatile playsuits of the vintage world of fashion.  I notice similar styling from the 1940s to the 1970s.  In the case of this Burda dress, the back opening sort of makes it look like the bodice is only connected at the front and side waistline.

In the cases of vintage styles which are similar the bodice and bottoms can be actually disconnected for completely versatile set!  There is a modern (readily available) New Look sewing pattern which offers the same cute and ingenious styling as the 40’s and 50’s counterparts I showed as just a few examples.  However, none of them include a high-low hemline, as well.

If you’ve been following my site for awhile you may have noticed I do enjoy a high-low hem.  This style of skirt does show up here and there in my projects because I like it only in small doses.  This particular variety of a mullet hem is my favorite yet.  It has a fantastic sweep due to the back opening gathers – just the back half of the skirt was such a large pattern piece it practically was one yard in itself.  The lining underside the skirt really makes the most out of the hem shape because if you’re gonna see the ‘wrong side’ make it worth noticing.

Full body lining is the absolute best thing for this dress, I do believe.  The pattern needs to be amended from henceforth to include this step.  I don’t know about you, but I hate the feeling of a polyester fabric on my skin…man-made fibers aggravate both my body and my mental state in more ways than one.  So – to keep both my sanity and comfort whenever I do succumb to the cuteness of a polyester fabric, I line such garments in good old cotton broadcloth.

No, really, though – full body lining also makes the edge finishing so much cleaner and fuss-free.  No tiny hemming to do, and no raw fraying edges to deal with either.  I love a clean inside as much as I love how nice my garments look on the outside when on myself.  You can see the clean, no-seam hot pink lining side through the open armholes, too, and do so enjoy a garment that has its innards visible when they are done as nicely as this!  It’s not that much extra work – sure it takes twice as much fabric – but it is worth it in the end product.  For me, I guess sewing is not just materializing an idea or feeling, neither is it just crafting something I need or want.  I suppose my habit of finely finished insides say that what I love about sewing is the beauty and the art of it.

Cedar Waxwings I spotted in my parents’ backyard!

The ultimate magnificence is in nature, however, and birds are the cheerful feathered announcers that living is to be celebrated.  I am lucky to have had up-close and personal time with birds – especially the time I took a class on bird banding as a teen and actually held my favorite local feeder visitors.  Then, there is the time I was by a creek painting some flowers and a hummingbird buzzed me, coming up to within inches of me, seemingly thinking I was something which needed checking out.  Yes, the thing I love about birds is the best way to enjoy them – stop the busyness of life, listen with your heart, and soak in the cathartic benefits of realizing their simple but indispensable existence.  Something as insignificant as this post’s home-made piece of clothing, no matter how fabulous, reminds me of the greater beauty of life around me.

A 1920s Aesthetic for Today

It has been a while since I have posted anything 1920s here!  Unfortunately, part of the reason is not only the fact that the decade’s silhouettes can be hard to love on myself, but also the fact that I want something from that decade to wear today without looking like I am doing historical re-enacting.  It seems to me that something pre-early 1930s can easily be obviously vintage.  I generally love to bring my vintage style into my everyday life and wardrobe in a way that keeps it modernly appealing yet still true to the history of the decade’s fashion.  This is a hard balance to find all the time, which is why you don’t see as much 1920s things in my list of makes…and also why I am posting (with great excitement) about my newest Burda Style dress!

I somehow feel like life is so much more fun, free, and easy in this dress.  There are no closures (zippers, or the like) needed with the bias crossover bodice.  It is a popover dress that is flowing, comfy, unconfining, and freshly different.  I absolutely LOVE the garment make of mine.  It embodies the late 1920s crazed hype that lived life to its fullest – and foresaw many of the modern conveniences (television, computers, etc.).  The late 20’s overdrive (1927 to the crash of 1929) produced both short above-the-knee skirts and many avant-garde inventions that would not been seen for many decades later.

This era of the 20’s had an amazing modernity that I feel has been captured by this dress.  There is a zig-zag print on the skirt to pay homage to the hardened, mathematical form of Art Deco that flourished in the time.  The bodice is a mock-wrap to pay homage to the popular fashions of the few years before (1926 and 1927).  It’s also made from a soft textured gauze which reminds me of the lace, sheer, and interesting fabric bodices of many fashions in the 20’s.  The high-low hem with a fishtail skirt ‘train’ is later, very 1927 to 1929, though (see this post for more info).  All of these years are my favorites to this decade.  So – yes – this dress is a rather accurate combo of everything I love best in the 20’s from an unexpectedly modern source!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a cotton gauze for the bodice, with a poly blend gabardine for the waist ‘belt’, a poly print lined in cotton muslin for the skirt

PATTERN:  Burda Style #118 “Wrap Dress” from April 2015

NOTIONS:  nothing complicated was needed to finish this – just thread and scraps of interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  maybe 30 plus hours…it was finally finished on May 28, 2018

THE INSIDES:  a combination of French, bias bound, and raw seams

TOTAL COST:  This is a project that spanned 3 years, so I do not remember anymore but I know it didn’t cost much with 1 yard for the bodice, and about 2 yards for the skirt, with only scraps left over from these two projects (here and here) for the contrast belt.

My 20’s style dress project counts for my monthly “Burda Challenge 2018”, my ongoing “Retro Forward with Burda Style” blog series, plus the “Sew Together for the Summer of the Wrap Dress” challenge.  Now, you might say this is only a mock wrap and not a proper wrap dress.  Well, yes and no!

The name for the pattern is “Wrap Dress”, for the first thing.  More than that, though, the full ‘lap’, cross-body, tie-on dress that we tend to think as a proper wrap didn’t quite look the same 90 years back.  In the 1920’s, a wrap dress was a garment that was often faking it, with a cross-over bodice, a one-piece skirt, and a sash or tie of some sort on one side to continue the deception.  A mock wrap to us of today was a full wrap dress in the 1920’s.  Not only this, but mock wraps were immensely popular in the decade anyway, even in the blouse or jacket form.

By the next decade of the 1930s, wrap-on dresses were normally a one piece, full tie on garment, closer to what we are used to today, with a caveat.  They were often reversible and considered more of an apron or pinafore like garment meant for housework or grocery errand duty…the hum-drum efforts which only result in sweat and grime appearing on one’s clothes.  Many of these full wrap-on dresses were called “Hooverettes”, after the American president at the time of the Great Depression.  These were like a gloried robe for women to iron easily and look sensibly cute yet incredibly comfy to do all the things that the hard times required of them.  With the rationing of the 1940’s, an easy-to-make full wrap-on dress was glamorized even further to being included as possible for evening looks (with the right fabric).  The 1950s and 60’s widely used wrap dresses with great ingenuity in many of their designs, but Diane Von Furstenberg and the trending Boho Hippy look in the 70’s democratized the wrap dress as we know it today for all shapes, occasions, and materials.  Yet, according to this article, even for Ms. Furstenberg, her early “wrap dresses” started off as a cross-over top paired with a skirt!

Now, for as easy as this dress is to wear and put on, it was one of my most difficult makes, especially among Burda patterns.  As you see the dress now, it is in its re-fashioned form.  Yes, I do re-fashion my own makes…I’ll do whatever it takes to save a project and turn it into something I love!  So, this dress is not the original design – very close but still slightly adapted.  I did make the dress according to the pattern back in 2016 (at left), and it did turn out well after some difficulty with the curved, drop waistband.

However, as nice it looks on the hanger, the final fit on me was less than complimentary.  The gauze had more of a give/stretch than I expected, the dress’ fishtail train hung past the ground on me, and the drop waist back was way below my booty.  I really didn’t like that much of the contrast waistband, after all, too.  I did like the general shape, the colors I chose, and the print/texture combo.  So, the dress had been saved to sit in my “projects half finished” pile (which is quite small, I can brag) for these last two years until I felt I had the right idea of how to re-work it.  No wonder it feels so good to finally wear this!  This dress makes shaking my booty so good looking with such a swishy skirt!

A good drop waist dress should fall (in some small portion) somewhere through the hip area, slightly above the true hip line yet at least 5 inches below the true high waistline.  It technically should not be much below the bend of your body when you sit, from my understanding.  Thus, to ‘fix’ my dress, I figured on leaving the hem alone and making a new straight line (taking out the curved “belt”) across and around the mid-section, parallel to just below the bottom of the front contrast waistband.  I did want to keep a small portion of the contrast “belt” to transition the two fabrics with a solid color and give the appearance of a mock half-belt panel.  It was sure tricky to straighten out the skirt in turn around the back with that amazing bias to the skirt!  In the 1920s, the waistline traveled all over from very low to almost non-existent, but this dress’ waistline is a slightly higher, later in the decade style to match with the skirt.  Otherwise than this re-fashion step, I kept the bodice as it was except for pulling up the shoulder seam slightly.  To keep the full skirt weighted down nicely (so it wouldn’t turn wrong way up like Marilyn Monroe over an air vent) and keep it opaque, I fully lined it.

This dress’ skirt does need a tiny 1/8 inch hem so that it doesn’t get stiffened at all.  At the same time, such a tiny hem on a skirt like this was a major pain.  It might not be immediately obvious, but the length of hemline just seemed to keep going, and going…but all that turns out well in the end is worth it in my opinion.  Do tiny hems wear you out and seem overly tedious like they do for me?

It was entirely my idea to make a long tie piece and stitch it to the left side of the bodice, thereby continuing the mock wrap dress deception!  I especially like how much this little touch adds to the dress.  This is again another true 1920s feature, as most of the era’s mock wraps had ties on the corresponding side to continue the illusory appearance.  To me, the tie also adds a touch of asymmetric that was also so popular in the 1920s.

Somehow it seems so much easier for me to interpret a modern take on the 20’s when I am starting with a pattern from today, versus starting with an old original pattern.  I almost always recommend others to use vintage patterns because I think that they offer so much to learn from and have better details.  However, there are so many modern patterns that have veritable 1920s features if you know what to look for.  This presents two interesting points.

Firstly, here I am saying it’s hard to make an old 20’s pattern look modern, yet I’m also saying that many modern fashions (patterns and ready-to-wear) have very 1920s features.  Perhaps the era between WWI “The Great War” and the Depression of the 1930s has more in common with us of today than we think.  Looking at old fashion plates or extant garments might not make this as obvious as it could be…it just takes the styles of today to give us a new perspective!

Secondly, this proves how important it is to pepper one’s awareness of current styles with a knowledge of fashion history.  A good overall view of the big picture might just be something specific to me as others have told me, but looking around and seeing the beginning of a trend is always a good idea. Actually, style is something that seems to only be recycled over and over again the more one sees.  Besides, often finding the source, or at least seeing the ways a detail is re-interpreted, is fun, interesting, and always worthwhile…not to mention the benefit of giving me more ideas for my projects!  Don’t be afraid to dive into some fashion research next time you start wearing the “newest” thing and find out the reference of where it came from!