Free From My Tower

I suspect that many of us can now empathize (or commiserate) to some small degree with the fairy tale girl Rapunzel, who was locked up in a tower for the whole of her young life.  Being kept from social situations, apart from friends and family, as well as seeing the same limited spaces all too frequently during the pandemic has been very trying for me…I can’t dare to imagine a 16 year solitude!  Thus, I am here portraying a Rapunzel liberated from her tower, barefoot and free amongst nature, wearing my interpretation of a Bavarian Edelweiss dirndl to honor the Germanic version of the fairy tale.  My hair may not be blonde, nor is it remotely long enough to be comparable Rapunzel’s tresses, yet I was really feeling the part here nevertheless.  Enjoy the fun vintage spin with cultural heritage that I wove into my dirndl for a Bavarian take on this popular character – yet another installment to my ongoing Disney inspired “Pandemic Princess” blog series

The classic “Rapunzel” is a fairy tale that Friedrich Schulz printed in 1790 in Kleine Romane (Little Novels), followed by the Brothers Grimm publishing it in 1812 as part of Children’s and Household Tales.  Tied to the witch of the story, Rapunzel’s name is given to her because of the German word for a salad vegetable.  Although the Grimm’s recounting of the fairy tale is the most prevalent version of the “Maiden in the Tower” in the western literature, the basic storyline has strong origins to French and Mediterranean tales rather than to Germanic oral folktales, as once believed.

However, the only version that I particularly enjoy is Disney’s “Tangled” from 2010. It’s a 3D animated film loosely based on the Rapunzel fairytale with an added, appealing twist – she’s born a princess with magical hair whose ‘rescue’ is tied to the character redemption of the handsome scoundrel Eugene, aka Flynn Rider. 

Do not be confused though, as I am posting this just before Halloween – it is not meant to be a costume!  I am of German ancestry myself, and esteem and appreciate wearing a garment which is intrinsic to the story of my heritage.  Cultural attire of any kind is NEVER a costume for misinterpretation or joking about.  I made this as a true dirndl, attempting remain authentic to its heritage while also being modern enough to be very wearable for me to enjoy outside of Oktoberfest or ethnic settings.  If you go by past standards, yes, I am channeling someone that I am not – an unmarried girl of the Alpine region – with my choices of color and style inspired by a commercial Disney retelling of an old German fairytale.  Yes, I am sadly missing and apron here, too…I normally do follow a more old-fashioned expression for this kind of clothing.  This is only a ‘costume’ for me in the older, sensible, “uncountable noun” term of the word – a set of clothing, just like anything else in my wardrobe, for expressing who I am in this time and place, not a characterization of another race or culture.

Dirndls of nowadays, however, are not as confined to older traditions that designate them to be a visual statement on your state and condition of life (I will address more on this topic further down in my post).  Today we have to freedom to wear what we want, how we want.  Nevertheless, cultural clothing like a sari, a kimono, a kilt, or a dirndl (for just a few examples), always needs to be worn with proper context, understanding, and respect.   I have sadly seen way too many ‘influencers’ on social media this month wearing a dirndl has a costume, especially for “Lord of the Rings” themed Hobbit parties.  History has many deep tales to tell and perspectives to teach, along with amazing people to hear about, so let’s open up to all those lessons by respecting garments that express cultural identity.  Is there a garment for you that signifies your ancestor’s’ heritage?

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton Alexander Henry fabric dated to 1999 (seen on the selvedge) in the “chloe” floral print, with solid color jacquard woven cotton for the contrast front and sleeves, a sheer matching colored poly chiffon for the ¾ length undersleeves, and fabric leftover from sewing this vintage hat went towards making the tiny tubing which is my front dirndl lacing

PATTERN:  Butterick #6352, a vintage inspired Gertie design

NOTIONS:  Lots of thread, lots of interfacing (for the entire bodice), one zipper, and a set of traditional dirndl hooks

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was sewn in about 20 hours and it was finished on October 7, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound edges

TOTAL COST:  practically nothing – this fabric was picked up at a second-hand thrift sale where fabric is sold for $1 per pound.  The 3 yard cut of this thick, substantial fabric was kind of hefty, so it was probably just a few dollars.  The rest of my supplies was all items on hand for longer than I remember or leftover from another project, so I’m counting that stuff as free!

I loved being able to start off this project with such a high end cotton with starting place tied to that of Disney and a date that reminds me of just how long “Tangled” was in the works before its completion. The concept of an animated film based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale “Rapunzel” originated from Disney supervising animator Glen Keane in 1996.  Keane pitched the idea in 2001 to then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner who approved it, but requested the film to be computer-animated. 

My 1999 fabric hits right in between those preliminary dates for the film.  Alexander Henry is a premier textile design house, producing original cotton prints for product manufacturers and home sewists alike from their talented artists who hand-paint each design the line produces.  Their business is located in Burbank, California which is also the corporate headquarters for Walt Disney Studios!  We drove through Burbank on our way in to Los Angeles a few years back, and it was so nice, with great shopping opportunities!  I love weaving in little details and cool correlations to my outfits, but especially so when they all come together without even trying, such as for this dress.  It also happened to be the perfect purple-pink orchid tone for a Rapunzel frock!  It was such a soft, thick, and fabulously lovely cotton!  I love how serendipitous this project came together.

Now, knowing that Disney’s story base was the German version of Rapunzel, I looked beyond the artistic license of the animation to see that her dress was intrinsically a dirndl.  It was the laced front, the puffed sleeves, (faux) apron, and the neckline shaping that give it away for me.  This would make total sense, anyways.  Dirndls are an established manner of local dressing, an organic means of freely expressing cultural identity, for Bavaria, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and more.  They are not just for Oktoberfest.  “Fashion With Renée” relates that back in 1626, the Bavarian Prince, Maximilian I created a ‘dress code’ to show people’s rank in society. The law separated people into seven groups and noted that farmers (and the lower class workers) were not allowed to wear imported clothing…and thus the dirndl was adopted for women, just as the lederhosen was for men.  The Bavarian Alps are located in what is now Germany (since 1945) near the southern border of the federal state of Bavaria and continue across the border into Austria.  

“Girl Sewing”, 1869 by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. This is a great example of the romanticism of the peasant life that brought the dirndl to the consciousness of the aristocratic class. Our picture is of an original oil painting, from a 2019 exhibit at the Memphis, Tennessee Brooks Museum of Art.

Beginning in the early 1800s, aristocrats, upper classes, and even artists romanticized rural living of the Alpine regions.  That eminent Habsburg the Archduke Johann of Styria (briefly Regent of Germany in 1848 to ’49) sported traditional Tyrolean styles in his coats and jackets, and his famous nephew, the Emperor Franz Joseph I, was a great hunter of the Alps who also was an aficionado appreciative of the rustic designs of the region.  In 1900, two Jewish brothers, Julius and Moritz Wallach, opened a clothing store in the Bavarian city of Munich and had the clever and successful idea of marketing dirndls and lederhosen as a kind of urban “rural chic”, transforming them into a fashion trend.  The Wallach name was renowned for their famous custom printed folk textile prints, even offering fashion shows of Bavarian and Austrian wear in their cloth.  (See this excellent blog post here for more info on the Wallach history.)  Thus the dirndl (and lederhosen, too) became both more universally adopted and overall more vibrantly fashionable.  Much of this energy and growth was snuffed around the time WWII began, only for Germanic clothing to find a comeback for the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich.   Today in 2021 they are having a moment in popularity again with an exhibit “’Dirndl – Tradition Goes Fashion” at the Mamorschloessl palace (former summer residence of Emperor Franz Joseph I) in Bad Ischl, Upper Austria.

Vivienne Westwood dirndl on display at the “Tradition Goes Fashion” exhibit in Bad Ischl, Austria, 2021.

On a local level, in the 150 years before the 1940s, many new, organic traditions were evolving around the dirndl to make the wearer’s marital, economic, and regional status be something visibly recognizable by the every detail of one’s manner of dress. For example, an apron knot tied on a woman’s left hip meant she was unmarried, the right meant married, while the center back meant she was either engaged or otherwise working at her job (so leave her alone).  Married women were more restricted in colors to choose from while single girls were permitted the flowered hair crowns and the prettiest variety of tones.  These are just a few of the many, interesting, and beautiful traditions surrounding an old-style wearing of the dirndl.

The rich pastel colors that Rapunzel is wearing properly designates her as a young unmarried woman while the laced bodice with the dirndl hooks ties it to the Alpine region, which would be the perfect place to hide the tower the witch uses to imprison her.  However, I am so excited to have thought out not just her dress but about the main symbol associated to Disney’s Rapunzel – the golden sun of her parents’ Kingdom of Corona.  I see it as reminiscent of an edelweiss flower, also called the “mountain star”.  

The Edelweiss is such a long-standing Alpine symbol – it’s still on everything from Swiss airline planes, beer cans, club logos, coats-of-arms, money, and certain uniforms for army officials and mountain troops in Germany and the Bavarian Alps.  Again, it was the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I who popularized a renewed passion for the edelweiss flower in 1856, when he made a point of gifting the flowers, picked during a hike in the mountains, to his beloved wife the Empress “Sissi”.  As I wanted a simple outfit without jewelry, the most natural (and practical) way to add this Alpine symbol was to order a set of edelweiss flower dirndl hooks, ordered direct from a shop in Bavaria that sells tract supplies (link here).  The pattern called for loops to be sewn in anyway, so decorative hooks for the front tie was a prettier, more interesting, more authentic to have a laced-front dirndl.  The way they show the long and short petals radiating out in a staggered, wavy fashion perfectly embodies Disney’s Rapunzel Corona sun symbol while still being specifically Bavarian.  I love how beautiful the hooks are on my dress. They bring out the color of the golden flowers in the print and shimmered in the sunset glow for this post’s pictures.  

Lacing is not necessary to the front of a dirndl, but one of the many decorative elements that are optional yet also traditional.  Because it is not a corset, a dirndl normally has a closure on its own separate from embellishments – here the dress has a center closing zipper.  Lacing is a traditional Bavarian feature, but dirndls often have a front buttoning closure instead, especially ones from Germany (such as a “Black Forest” dirndl, which I have posted more about here).  A dirndl has a stable, substantial bodice, which is why it was fully interfaced just as the Gertie pattern instructs.  Most Gertie patterns call for boning, which I thought would have been overkill here, so I did leave it off for my version.  Dirndls have a close fit with little excess wearing ease, which was how the pattern fit anyway after choosing my matching size according to the given chart.  It is not confining, though, but fits me perfectly because of the pattern’s excellent curving drafted into the princess seams. 

The way a dirndl’s front bodice panels (in between the lacing) are often in a different fabric, or at least highly decorative either by adding embroidery or lace, is reminiscent to their old and hazy origins to a corset.  Either way, for my center panels I used a heavy cotton jacquard that alternates stripes with a tiny floral.  It was just a remnant on hand, and it happily matched the Alexander Henry print I used for the rest of the dress.  Disney’s Rapunzel had striped sleeves so I was originally led to choosing this contrast fabric from my stash so I could have a similar look on my dress, but then carried it over into the front panels to incorporate it into the dress, just as many dirndls do.  The open U-neckline is another classic dirndl feature, and such a pretty one for framing the face.  I see dipped U-necklines pop up a lot in the late 1940s (see this ’49 one I made back when I started blogging) into the 1950s, and Gertie herself says this pattern of hers is strongly 50’s inspired, after all.   

Whether or not the skirt is the easy part depends on how much detail and what level of quality you want to achieve. Some dirndls have tiny, even pleats going completely around the waist, and the high end ones are sometimes smocked, but many are merely gathered into a waistband – the simplest method by far. I chose that last mentioned option, using fabric left (about two yards) from cutting out the rest of dress, making sure to have the selvedge be the hemline to save myself some trouble!

My chiffon undersleeves are a custom addition.  Not only do they bring my dirndl closer to a Rapunzel look alike, but they help my dress look polished.  They add a nice touch of color and a differing texture that helps make it more interesting, in my opinion.  They help my puffed short sleeves stay controlled, most importantly.  I did wear my dress for a short time without the undersleeves, and the puff sleeves crept up my arm and ended up looking weird.  I just used a very basic, skinny fitting, long sleeve pattern piece from another pattern (don’t remember which one), sewed it in under the puffed sleeves, and then shortened to the length I wanted.  The two sleeves are tacked together around the cuff of the outer puff sleeves and the hem kept simple by a bead of Fray-Check liquid.

It was so awesome how this Gertie pattern has so many authentic dirndl details under the guise of being a cute, vintage style dress.  This is a great pattern I highly recommend.  Granted, it is a mark of 20th century modernization for a dirndl to suddenly be a one-piece garment, instead of separates – skirt, dirndl (under) blouse, dirndl (vest) blouse, apron, and an optional collar.  Just like any other culture, traditional clothes tend to evolve along with the changing needs and the present history of the culture they are a part of, yet traditional elements still remain.  In the decades between WWI and WWII, the groundbreaking research of Austrian Jewish anthropologist Eugenie Goldstern showed how the Alpine culture has not been static, or overly set in its ways, but has adapted over the centuries since ancient times when King Charlemange was hunting in the region and was impressed by the sturdy, warm Loden cloth of the region.   

Many of the cultural stereotypes for Germany originate from the Bavarian Alps, yet ironically it only composes less than 10% of Germany’s total area.  All too often stereotypes have the facts warped or screwed up to the point that the actualities are understood in a distorted way.  Popular understanding of history doesn’t automatically equal truth.  I love to uncover facts that get overlooked or forgotten for a clearer picture.  I hope you enjoyed this deep dive into the history, lore, and traditions surrounding a dirndl – if you fancy more, read my last post on the other German fairytale princess Snow White, as well as my post on my “Black Forest” dirndl interpretation.  Maybe the next time you hear of Rapunzel, or visit an Oktoberfest, I will have given you a different, deeper outlook!  As you can tell, I became totally invested in taking on this particular fairytale through the lens of my heritage.  I do admire a girl who can grow her hair that long.  I’m pretending I’m the Rapunzel who got her hair cut after being free from her isolation, ha!

“Just Whistle While You Work”

I know this year’s official Oktoberfest in Munich is over for this year.  Actually, though, the 12 to 17 of this month marks the very first occasion of this celebration, something which evolved from repeating the festivities surrounding the 1810 wedding of the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen.  Interestingly enough, the Brothers Grimm published their first edition of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, which included “Snow White” (“Schneewittchen“ in German) as story #53, around the same time in 1812.  What better excuse to post my outfit inspired by the legendary apple-biting princess with the most traditionally German background?  Let’s dive into my Snow White “rags” work dress, made of a 1937 design, the same year as the release of the first Disney animated film by the same name.  This post’s outfit is yet another installment in my ongoing “Pandemic Princess” blog series.

I am proud of how I incorporated the heritage of the Snow White story together with the year of its Disney film, especially when it comes to the fact that this entire dress was cobbled together from my scrap bin.  What we first see Snow wearing at the beginning of the Disney film (when she meets her prince while singing into the wishing well) has the title “rags” dress after all.  I both interpreted that dress literally and opened up room for storing more scraps – ha!  Snow was yet another princess who’s an unloved daughter working as the domestic servant in the house of her stepmother, much like “Cinderella”, and so it makes sense that her garb seemed cobbled together in tattered condition.  For my dress, my “rags” are all very nice material to begin with, so it might be scrapped together too, but it is still a very nice and comfy dress!  It also happens to happily be one I don’t have to keep perfectly clean and proper in while wearing (I don’t have many of these kind), or clean and proper in my grade of construction, as well, for a strange change of circumstances.

The location for these photos is a testament to the enduring, strong presence of German immigrants in the history of my Mid-Western American hometown.  It is a landmark for our city and called the “Bevo Mill”.  The Dutch-style mill was built by August Busch Sr. (of Anheuser-Busch fame) in 1917.  The story goes that August wanted a halfway point between his brewery near down town and his home in the county. It was later opened to the public as a restaurant.  “Bevo” is supposed to be derived from the Bohemian word “pivo,” which means “beer”.  During Prohibition (1920-1933), Anheuser-Busch brewed a non-alcoholic beer named that he also named “Bevo.  The place has a very Bavarian lodge kind of feel to it which was perfect for pictures!  I have many, many great memories of coming to this place since I was old enough to remember for good food and music with special friends and family. 

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% linen – all leftover from my past projects. The skirt was a hacked up one-ish yard remnant from this 30’s skirt, the collar and sleeves came from this 1910’s era suit, and a rich brown soft vintage linen napkin set became the bodice and pocket for the dress.  Scraps of silk leftover from this blouse became the second contrast pocket and headband

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8248, a 2016 reprint of a March 1938 pattern, originally Simplicity #2432

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread and one zipper

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress came together in about 6 hours and was finished on July 21, 2020.

THIS INSIDES:  This is a “rags” dress made from scraps…it would be weird to be cleanly finished inside, right?!  The seam allowance edges are left raw.

TOTAL COST:  This dress cost me nothing!  I normally do not count the cost of material when I am using seemingly insignificant scraps, so this covers most of the dress.  The vintage table linen set was picked up for 25¢ and the zipper was on hand in my stash already, so I’m counting my dress as an ‘as-good-as-free’ project!

Women’s fashion for the year 1938 marked a widespread Germanic and Bavarian cultural influence that was unmistakable, frequent, and easily recognizable in late 30’s fashion for women.  A Germanic folk style had been creeping into women’s stylish street fashions before then because of nationalistic, racialist, and expansionist ideas stemming from both the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy during the First World War and Hitler becoming Chancellor.  “The traditional dirndl (a tracht) was also promoted through the Trapp Family Singers, who wore folk fashion during their performance at the Salzburg Festival (1936), and later on their worldwide tours.  In addition, the film “Heidi”, with Shirley Temple in the lead role, became a hit in 1937. By that year, the dirndl – and Germanic influenced fashion – was considered a ‘must’ in the wardrobe of every fashionable American woman.” (Quoted info from Wikipedia here.)  No doubt the influx of immigrants fleeing pre-WWII invasions and takeovers helped bring a new cultural influence into American style as well.  Folk fashion of central Europe had spread way beyond Germany but the fascination in the United States had dissipated by 1942 to be replaced by a craze for all things Polynesian and South American.    

There is a darker side to the German influence on late 30’s fashion, often called “Tyrolean”, which needs to be addressed.  The women’s League of the Nazi party promoted a “renewal” of the traditional Germanic designs, reworking them into a more attractive version of their folk costume which might easily entice women to adopt the styles outside of festivals.  The Nazi women’s League added short puff sleeves, a more form revealing bodice, and shorter skirt length…all scarily close to how we know the dirndl of today.  To me, Snow White’s “rags” dress seems like a hybrid, bared down version with no lacing or apron.  The way its bodice is a different color from the rest of the dress is reminiscent of an old-style tracht over-bodice with a conservative coverage over the chest, high rounded neck, and little collar.  Yet, there are the puffed sleeves and the shorter skirt.  However, this is enough of my rambling – I will dive into this topic deeper in my next post on the other Germanic fairytale princess…the one with magical hair who was imprisoned in a tower.  So stay tuned! Until then, visit my Pinterest page here on dirndls (modern and traditional) for some eye candy.

I suppose the most obvious choice of pattern to make a vintage Snow White outfit would have been Simplicity #8486, a vintage re-issue for the 80th anniversary of the Disney film in 1937, but as I keep saying for my princess series projects, I do not want a costume.  Simplicity #8486 is indeed a ‘37 design in its lines when you just look at the technical drawing, but it just seems a bit forced to make it in such a way that is a Snow White outfit.  Sure it works, but for my purposes it is too obvious of a character reference sewn like that.  I couldn’t see myself wearing these pieces otherwise, so I will come back to that pattern when I have a non-Disney inspired idea for it.  (I have made the pattern’s hat, posted here, and highly recommend it!)  Now I will explain at the end of this post why I gravitated to Snow’s “rags” dress rather than her princess one, but it was also an easy choice when another 1937 reprint – Simplicity #8248 – was an almost line for line ‘copy’.  This shows just how much Disney’s styling of Snow White makes her very much a product of the times.  I have been aching to sew Simplicity #8248 ever since it came out, anyway, and I was so happy to finally have a reason to do so!

My little bluebird pin on my collar is a gift to me from my Aunt!

Before diving into my Snow White dress, I checked out a few reviews on the pattern and immediately saw one constant warning – this pattern runs small and short-waisted.  I can now attest that this is 100% true.  Heeding the warnings (‘cause it’s better to be safe than sorry), I cut out one whole size bigger than what I needed (according to the given chart) and gave myself an extra inch in the bodice length.  It was a good thing I took these precautions – the dress just fits, and couldn’t be any smaller.  Any tighter in the bodice and I would have been restricted in reach room or my bust would’ve been smashed.  I do wish I had widened the shoulders more because they are too far in towards my neck.  However, the puff sleeve tops fill in for this fitting mishap.  I did have to take out the seam allowance from the waist down because the hips in the dress were snug enough to wrinkle and ride up on me.  I wholeheartedly recommend this dress, though – it is a cute design that lends itself to many differing interpretations.  The details are top notch (omg…the angular darted sleeve caps I chose from view B = love).  It was easy to sew.   It is a classic example of late 30’s fashion.  I will be coming back to this and making another dress from this pattern, maybe even color blocking the bodice panels.  It’s a winner – I hope you try this dress out for yourself.

Pockets just big enough for a to-do list, small handkerchief, or my lipstick – in this case Besame Cosmetics’ “Fairest Red”, a faithful recreation of Snow White’s lip color in the 1937 Disney film.

That being said, I did slightly change up the pattern, not by altering anything in the design, just by adding in extra seam lines to accommodate the small fabric pieces I was using.  The four napkin squares that I had were just barely enough to work – only wide enough to fit half of my body at a time.  Luckily the bodice was in two pieces as well because This linen was dense, super soft, and luxurious – understandable as it was intended to be napkins – and in the perfect color for Snow’s bodice.  I was determined to make my idea work.  The entire front and center bodice is supposed to be cut on the fold, but I had to add a center seam to all the pieces because of linen napkins I was using.  Even the collar pieces had to be seamed together as well because the two biggest scraps went towards the sleeves.  Since there was a seam down the front anyway, and since a collar that is tight around my neck can feel stifling for me, I added a long 22 inch zipper to make my dress fuss-free and adjustable for my comfort. Of course, the double, overlapping, two-tone pockets are my idea as well, and the cutest way to flaunt something so utilitarian!

There was a chunk cut out of the almost perfect one yard left that I needed for the dress’ skirt.  No problem – I was being forced to do the natural thing to make an accurate rendition of the “rags” dress…patches!  It’s not just decorative for looks alone…I really used up the few pieces I had left to barely cover the hole in my skirt material.  It couldn’t have been any more perfect, it was laughable – I would never do this to a project otherwise!!  This was a fantastic case of serendipity.  I left the dress bottom raw, fraying and unhemmed to complement the “rags” look.  Even still, I did use decorative, basic embroidery (a chain-stitch and feather stitch) to sew the patch panels down so at least they would look well-done.  The patch work goes against my ingrained sewing style but the embroidery made it palatable. 

I realized something important here – just because clothing becomes mended doesn’t mean it is ruined or on it’s last life.  My husband, my son, and I have been wearing out our clothes, socks, etc. at a far quicker pace than ever before since the start of the pandemic in 2020 and the rate of repairs I have been doing is quite constant.  I suppose it’s all the extra time and work we are getting done at home – I don’t really know.  Anyway, this Snow White dress is a good example of the visible mending trend I am trying to lean into anyway.  I have always been about reusing, refashioning, and recycling what we have on hand for a new purpose here at home.  Sure, it would be easier to just pitch or recycle such items and buy new, and in some cases we need to do just that, yet change in the fashion industry has to come from somewhere…so it might as well start with me.  I’ve just never tried to incorporate mending so intentionally into something vintage, much less newly made.  As I said, it’s weird for me…in a good way.

As much as I love this dress, and as happy as I am wearing it, Snow White’s story is troublesome to me, mostly on account of the many questionable and problematic elements to her tale.  One young woman to keep house for seven men she just met?  At least the Grimm Brothers’ version makes the Disney interpretation seem so much better than it is on its own.  Don’t get me wrong, though.  The Disney movie version is fantastic in its own right, particularly as a landmark achievement in animation history, and charming in its presentation.  I love how Snow was animated, I enjoy her songs, and relish the humor intertwined in her movie.  Even still, as a person, I find Snow White to be one of the hardest Disney princesses to associate myself with or understand…she is too naive and gullible, for my taste.  Even the messages of both the Grimm tale and the Disney story is sort of confusing…physical beauty will save you and find you love?  Be kind to the point of overly trusting of strangers?  I know it was the older “scare” style of teaching lessons. Yet, seriously, folks…how the antiquated fairytales were for children, I’ll never fully understand.   

I like to ‘see’ a better message from Snow White’s tale, which is why I gravitated towards the “rags” dress in the first place.  Beauty is not dependent on the clothing you wear or the manner of styling oneself.  Marilyn Monroe put a spin on this belief in the most fantastic, hilarious manner in recent memory by wearing a potato sack for a photo shoot.  Beauty is what’s on the inside.  I know this may be a cliché phrase by now, but it’s worth repeating so we can remember what’s important in a world that’s driven by image-centric social media ‘perfection’.

Furthermore, on a practical level, I can completely relate to Snow White’s working song, “Just Whistle While You Work”, which I why it’s my post’s title.  I do like a bit of merry, energizing background music while I do chores or sewing (but not fabric cutting…too much to focus on).  Believe it or not, I sometimes even like my favorite tunes playing on the side when I do my blog post writing.  However, such a setting only applies when my “comfort” music is played, the kind that I know by heart and places me in a great mood!  Now if only I can get all the squirrels, rabbits, and birds that we have around our yard to actually help me get things done, as well, I suppose I would be ecstatic enough to whistle about it, too!  

“How Far I’ll Go…”

     “See the line where the sky meets the sea?  It calls me. 

          What’s beyond that line?  Will I cross that line?

               If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me, one day I’ll know…”

     -lyrics from the song “How Far I’ll Go”

I might have my personal favorite princesses, but in our house, Disney’s 2016 “Moana” is an all-around favorite of all of us, especially my son.  The movie is an excellent example of Polynesian lore and culture, besides having Moana herself be an all-around exemplary, relatable 16-year-old human, even for all the legendary situations she is placed in.  I love that Moana has her family there for her throughout the film, which is unique for Disney (which tends to kill off the mom figure), and that she is searching for her own identity, not a love interest.  It has songs that are catchier than the best classic 90’s Disney tunes with amazing visuals that are an absolute treat.  It contains my husband’s favorite Disney song – “You’re Welcome” – and was my son’s first in-person movie theatre experience.  “Moana” is also the only Disney animated princess movie I cry to every single time we re-watch it again and again!  It is fitting that my last summer season sewing is something related to the princess Moana.

Of course I had to interpret this specific inspiration with a play set for my latest and greatest installment in my “Pandemic Princess” blog series!  There wasn’t a better decade for the cutest play sets than the 1940s, in my opinion.  Besides, with all the American soldiers (and their families in some instances) stationed at many of the Pacific islands during and after WWII, Polynesian culture heavily influenced the warm weather and playtime fashions for women of that decade. 

I had a head start on the 3-pieces which constitute a play set by wearing my pleated, skirt-style 40’s shorts, which I sewed years back as the base for another play set (posted here), to match with my newly made Moana novelty printed blouse.  The rich blue to the shorts reminds me of the ocean…and I enjoy being able to still be wear my older creations, after all.  Then the jumper, which is newly made and can be worn over both pieces, also matches with the blouse as it peeks out from underneath.  It creates a suddenly dressy tone to the fun time duo.  The brown linen jumper was custom dyed by me, and calls to my mind both Moana’s dark hair and the natural fibers that many ethnic Polynesian clothes are made of.

My accessories are especially coordinating this time.  I have a toy plush version of Moana’s sidekick the rooster Hei Hei to keep me company.  He might not be the best help on Moana’s boat (see this hilarious movie clip) but together with the pig Pua (shown on my blouse) complete her ‘conventional’ Princess ‘requirements’.  This Hei Hei toy was a present from my mother-in-law and can walk and “scream” by battery power.  I also have a large conch shell with me – it was acquired by hubby’s Grandmother in the 1960s or earlier.  It is a beautiful pink inside just like the ones the ocean gave Moana as a baby (see this movie clip – it’s so sweet). 

Now to the rest of my accessories, like my handmade ones! My belt is a multicolored novelty jute ‘ribbon’ which I originally made into a belt to match with this dress (post here) but works fantastically to brighten up the solid brown of the jumper.  Even my sea-inspired hair clip was me-made, too.  I started with a cheap $1 store basic hair item then glued on wooden themed charms of a sea horse, starfish, shell, and a fish that I bought from my local fabric store.  I love my self-made items which complete my outfits!  Finally my amazingly comfy shoes (the “Elinor” lace up ballerina pumps) are from the great brand Miss L Fire, which is sadly going out of business in the next week or two.  All together I felt fantastic in my outfit and also ready for whatever comes my way.  Oh ‘how far I’ll go’ for the perfect dream outfit…

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a heavyweight all-linen for the jumper and an all-cotton Disney brand Moana character print for the blouse

PATTERN:  McCall #5607, year 1944, a vintage original pattern from my stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread, vintage buttons from the inherited stash of both my Grandmother and my husband’s Grandmother, vintage hem tape, vintage bias binding, and some interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The jumper took me about 8 to 10 hours to make and was finished September, 25, 2021.  The blouse came afterwards, being finished on September 27, and was made in only 4 hours.

THE INSIDES:  all cleanly finished thanks to vintage bindings on hand

TOTAL COST:  1 ½ yards of the Moana cotton bought at Jo Ann Fabric store cost me about $12; the fabric for the jumper was linen I had on hand longer than I can remember so I’m counting it as free.  The dye for the linen cost $3 something dollars.  All other notions were on hand from my stash so I’m counting them as free, too.  My total cost for this outfit was about $15.

This overall project started out as an experiment.  I had this lovely bright orange, almost neon, soft and supple linen that was my ideal fabric but in a wrong tone for the jumper to match with the Moana print fabric.  I had an overall 3 ½ yard cut of the material, and only needed just over 2 yards.  Thus, I cut out the pattern pieces for the jumper and saved the rest leftover for my upcoming “Part Two” Moana-inspired outfit.  Then, those jumper pieces were partially sewn together (darts, pleats, and all secondary seams), and the front buttonholes were marked with thread, so they could be cooked in a bath of RIT brand liquid dark brown dye. 

I actually had absolutely no idea what tone I would end up with, but expected a burnt orange.  Any way the dye job would have turned out, I was ready to be happy with it as long as it remotely matched the Moana blouse fabric and became a different color.  I think that since my fabric was a natural linen (which takes well to dye), and I chose a dark brown versus just a natural brown, I ended up with this lovely rich and opaque nut color.  I wanted a jumper which would carry me beyond this particular outfit and be versatile going into fall, but overall become an all-season piece.  This jumper as it turned out is not what I expected but just what I wanted.  It was a planned surprise.  Dyeing is always so very interesting and fun, but always a gamble.

Other than the dye job, this jumper was easy to come together.  Part of the joy to it was how much like sewing through butter was the linen I was using.  Also, though, it has been too long since I’ve used a true vintage printed McCall’s pattern – they’re my favorite.  I appreciate the general predictability of how well they fit me out of the envelope and their details are understatedly fantastic.  The waistband panel – an incorporated ‘belt’ – was eliminated for my version of the jumper because I am both short-waisted and wanted to cut down on the blousiness of the style.  Otherwise, I sewed this jumper just as it is shown on the envelope, not counting grading up in size.  The deep cut armholes are great to show off the blouse underneath and keep the jumper from being confining.  The way the bust darts radiate from the sleeve openings is my favorite unexpected detail.  I went the extra mile to do only hand-stitching finishing touches so no thread is visible besides for the buttonholes.

My blouse was super easy and straightforward as shirts go.  It has menswear details, no doubt added just to keep a smooth profile for layering under the jumper.  Many 1940s blouses have some gathers or shirring somewhere, normally across the shoulders (to add bust fullness) or the back.  This blouse has the conventional separate shoulder panel across the bodice upper back, but with masculine-style pleats for reach room below that.  The front relies on a giant bust dart set into the shoulder down to shape the bust, then there’s a small below-the-waist tiny pleats to fit the hips.  Even this collar is rather on the tame side as 1940s collars go and I like it.  The shoulders are nice and smooth, too.  These features all help this blouse seem a bit more timeless than dated, more than many other 40’s blouses do.  I will definitely coming back to this top pattern to sew a dressy, solid colored version in the future. 

Even if you don’t know Moana or have not yet seen her movie, I hope you enjoyed my new play set with our beach themed photos and find yourself inspired by what I have said about our family favorite princess.  At a basic level, it is just an outfit inspired by a girl whose enthralling story revolves around what she will do out of her love for both home and family.  Whatever her culture, that is a universally admirable quality…but especially for a 16 year old heroine like Moana! 

My outfit respectfully avoids any cultural interpretation, and instead focuses on the predominant colors of the animated tale, vintage clothing for ‘fun in the sun’ by the water, and my personal fangirl manifestation.  With the blouse, the skirt, and my old favorite shorts all in one set, it has been a fun but still practical project to complete.  Out of all my other “Pandemic Princess” inspired garments, this one is perhaps my most natural or ‘organic’ interpretation.

I for one am not into logo tees or character tops unless it is for Agent Carter, Wonder Woman, or as a concert souvenir.  For Moana to be included in that category for me should tell you something big!  Please do yourself a favor and see the animated film “Moana” if you haven’t done so already…and if you have, let me know what your favorite scene was!  I have so many, it is hard to pick anything other than every minute of the movie.  I am so super hyped to have an outfit that embodies this special Polynesian princess.  Many Pacific Islands are an underrated and underrepresented part (if only a satellite affiliation) of the United States, after all!

Make It Blue! Make It Pink! Make it Both, I Say!

Out of all the princesses in the Disney franchise, one of the most divisive topics seems to be the personal color preference for the gown of Aurora, also known as Briar Rose, aka Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.  It doesn’t help the matter that the fairies who magically whipped up her gown couldn’t decide on blue or pink, either.  If only the third fairy had been the tie breaker in the matter, this would not be a controversy!  I have my own opinion on the “blue or pink” subject which I will explain in another post.  Since Aurora is practically my favorite princess (mostly on account of the movie’s songs, artistry, and overall aesthetics), there will be some follow-up, further ‘inspired-by’ outfit…or two!  Nevertheless, I took a neutral stance with this, my main Sleeping Beauty inspired dress, as it was made as part of my “Pandemic Princess” series.  Thus, I chose a fabric that includes both pastel tones of blue and pink.  This is much more of a fashionable combo between those two colors than the magically splashed version as seen in fairies’ quarrel during the film!

As I mentioned in my flagship post (here) announcing my series, I took the route of interpreting most of these princess outfits through a pattern related to the year the animated film was released.  Disney’s animated interpretations are very much a product of their times, and here the year 1959 “Sleeping Beauty” has the most enchanting medieval spin on a mid-century outlook (explained in further detail in this “Frock Flicks” post).  Looking at design lines, common color preferences, as well as fabric choices of circa 1959 women’s clothing, I easily saw a natural way of interpreting Aurora’s dresses in a way that would be just as dreamy and feminine yet also wearable on an everyday basis.  My finished inspiration dress is perfect for twirling, light enough in weight for summer, comfortable, and in such pretty colors.  It is perhaps my most subtle princess referenced outfit from my “Pandemic Princess” series, but I definitely love the way it is such a practical luxury and a comfortable, useful wardrobe staple.  Its reference is like a little personal secret that makes me a very happy girl when wearing it!  I’ll admit it makes me break off in random spurts of swishing and twirling around while humming the tune “Once Upon a Dream” or “I Wonder”

Pages from my old original Disney children’s book, dated 1959!

Next to Disney’s animated “Cinderella” film from nine years earlier in 1950, “Sleeping Beauty” is also heavy with sewing referenced scenes…and I absolutely love it!  Please follow my link here and watch the whole thing for yourself.  It is a hilarious representation of the trials and challenges of people new to the craft.  “It’s simple – all you do is follow the book!” exclaims Fauna to Flora, who has never sewn before.  She starts with cutting a hole in the middle of the fabric (why yes, do start with the hem) because “…that’s for the feet!”  At least they had proper enthusiasm, if improper approach.  The fairies are so snarky with one another the whole time, I am in awe every time I watch.  When Merryweather, who was told to “be the dummy”, comments that the finished dress looks horrible (and I agree) Flora tells her, “Well that because it’s on you, dear.”  Ouch!  Sewing difficulties can bring out one’s ill-tempered side, that’s for sure.  Sadly, however, the rest of us do not have wands to magically, quickly remedy our troubled projects – which is why I am blogging about my princess creation, sharing its progress steps and related inspiration.  Enjoy!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a Madras semi-sheer 100% cotton imported from India from “Fibers to Fabric” shop on Etsy

PATTERN:  Simplicity #3039, year 1959, from my pattern stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread, interfacing, bias and hem tape, six large snaps, and one hook n’ eye

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress took me at least 25 hours’ of time, and it was finished by July 1, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound

TOTAL COST:  The only cost was the fabric, which cost about $15 for 3 ½ yards on a clearance sale…all else that I needed was on hand already in my stash

A classic shirtdress pattern with fine details from 1959 gets the royal treatment here!  Yet, for being ‘just’ a shirtdress, this was quite a long haul of a project to make.  Collars and plackets are not a challenge for me any longer, but they still take time.  Mostly though, there was a lot of fabric to wrangle into a tailored dress.  The bodice, sleeves, collar and front placket pieces together took just under ¾ yard which left me with a full 3 yards plus for the skirt alone.  Even still, I was short on material enough that I had to adapt the pattern for the skirt to be pared down and thereby somewhat matched up.  Buying 5 yards for a shirtdress seems over-the-top to me…somehow I feel better splurging on something fancy.  Also, pleats are time-consuming for me to achieve, since I am the exacting type that wants to mark, fold, sew, and iron them perfectly.  Here are multiple clusters of four tiny pleats around the waist for further details that are amazing once finished but a headache to do.  Finally, hand sewing over half a dozen closures was a whole chunk of time and patience in itself.  Whew!  This princess dress may appear unassuming but it was just as much ‘work’ as any nicer piece.  That’s okay!  A finely made basic is much appreciated and most appropriate for my ideal princess collection.

I chose my pattern because not only was it from my stash but it had the similar design lines in the skirt as Aurora’s.  The quadruple pleats are grouped up into sections between blank, flat spaces so that the skirt has a controlled fullness combined with a detail that fine tunes the look.  It ends up being very elegant and certainly hides the fact there are several yards of material in the skirt alone!  Aurora’s skirt to both her woodland outfit and her princess gown have been drawn so that something similar seems to be the case.  When she twirls with her prince, her skirts open up to an amazing fullness. When at rest, her skirts fall into what looks like concentrated sections of multiple pleats which give the appearance of a slimming bell shape. 

Animation back then was not as literal and uber-realistic as the digitized films Disney releases today (such as “Tangled” or “Frozen”) and so I am filling in with my imagination for the drawn stylized elements.  Although, in the same breath, Disney animators for “Sleeping Beauty” did draw from live models in full costume (see this article for more info), and actress and dancer Helene Stanley in her woodland Briar Rose outfit (see video here) does have pleat clustering to her skirt just as I was supposing.

A plaid is great to pair with any garment which is pleated.  I knew that 50’s decade had a lot of plaid dresses, and such a print is a great way to combine colors which normally do not go together, such as a soft pink and blue.  Then – without looking for it – I just so happened to run across an Indian Madras plaid cotton which was exactly what I had hoped to find.  Don’t you just love when a project idea starts to come to life before your eyes?!  It’s always so exciting.  The best part about going with a plaid is the mathematical aid it provides when you are pleating.  For the quadruple clusters, I could depend on the first pleat being folded on the beginning of the grey vertical stripe, the second folded through the middle, and the third on the other end of that color strip.  The fourth pleat was folded at ¾ inch into the pink tone.  Plaids help pleats be precise and predictable and this way can give a very sharp look.

This leads me to explain how I adapted the skirt.  As I mentioned above, this dress’ skirt was supposed to be almost a yard fuller and I pared it down to keep this garment manageable for me to wear and make.  Making the skirt smaller in width messed with the pattern’s pleating layout so I reconfigured it myself.  This step literally hurt my head, but I knew it was just a matter of mathematics.  I knew what finished waist size was needed because I had sewn the bodice first, and I chose how many clusters of pleats I wanted.  Then I chose how deep I wanted the pleats.  I mostly worked with the plaid to help me make some of these decisions, because (as I mentioned in the previous paragraph) that I wanted the pleating to be aided by the predictability of the lines to the geometric plaid.  If you notice, I have the pleats fanning in towards each center for some slight visual drama!

The simple, more deeply folded center back box pleat was my favorite part to my personal choice in drafting this skirt.  I hate the way complex pleats which are at the back end of a garment become so messy in a hot minute.  By the first time they are sat on, especially in a soft cotton garment like this dress, pleats over the booty become frazzled and wrinkled.  Here, I simplified the center back pleat to the point that doing something necessary like sitting doesn’t ruin the overall look of the dress.  The folds are deep enough to reach over to the next pleat cluster so that everything back there stays in place.  I tend to either floof my skirt up around me when I sit, which takes up half of our couch or all of a seat and makes me totally feel like a princess, or I do the old fashioned, prim and proper thing where you use your hands to smooth out the back of your skirt as you sit down. 

After all that thinking which went towards figuring out the skirt, my use of snaps rather than buttons down the front was a matter of indecisiveness.  I could not find buttons that I liked enough to commit to, nor did I want to break up the crazy plaid.  I merely couldn’t make up my mind anymore regarding anything for this dress.  I was tired but excited it was almost done, and so snaps were chosen.  At least I find oversized snaps so much easier to sew and match up than tiny ones.  If I were to consider a technical take on my chosen closures, this would no longer be a shirtdress because of its lack of both buttons and belt. If I ever find my ideal buttons for this dress – ones that are clear with inlaid roses in their plastic or acrylic – then I’ll make buttonholes.   

For my accessories, I am wearing some ceramic rose earrings, Charlie Stone brand  sandals, and the Bésame Cosmetics “Sleeping Beauty” pendant locket that they released back in 2019.  I love the novelty of wearing my makeup’s case as part of my accessories for the day – it makes something pretty and handy out of something which would clutter my purse.  It is also a useful combo of either crème rouge or lip tint in a whisper pink color, contained in a rose gold mini book that imitates the one seen in the intro of the film for a further reference to my inspiration.  I am wearing the crème on both my lips and my cheeks so I can take my slumber in royal fashion.  Hopefully my prince will wake me from this rose garden!  Oh wait, he’s busy taking my picture at the moment…