Mardi Gras Tricolor

The festivities of revelry are never as outgoing and widespread quite like what happens throughout the world before the Lenten season, whether or not one chooses to participate.  Trying to say goodbye to excess and habits by indulging in them seems rather odd to me, but nevertheless I like an opportunity to wear some great colors.  The trademark tones for the popular American “Carne Vale” are as bold in their pairing as the party antics which are carried on.  They are as rich in history as they are saturated in hue.  Yellow gold, dark yet bright purple, and a cheery grass green are quintessentially, visually recognizable of a New Orleans inspired pre-Lent celebration.

Not that this post’s outfit was originally intended to call to mind Mardi Gras…it was just an Art Deco fabric on hand and the inspiration of the 1930s penchant for bold color pairings which led me to make the dress you see.  This had been one of my early 1930s projects I had intended to make back when I started blogging, but I realized both that I was not ready for the challenge and I was perpetually undecided on a fabric choice.  Finally, everything came together and I am so happy with the results!  The geometric print is perfect for a dress from the very early 30’s, the fabric appears much nicer in quality than a modern poly, and the design has such great features I think it is so appealing even for today.

To keep with both the Mardi Gras theme and the 30’s inspiration, I am wearing a modern wool beret.  Mardi Gras is a French word after all, and New Orleans has a rich French heritage, so my beret fits right in!  Do you notice the fancy stylized French Fleur-de-lis on the wall behind me, as well?

Also, look for my special accessories, too.  The necklace is a true vintage gem – a 1920’s glass bead piece that needed my help by doing a restringing and adding a clasp for a whole new life.  My earrings are me-made to match (as best I could) using clip-on blanks.  My gloves are true vintage from the 30’s.  I even broke out my old timey Cuban-heeled stockings!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The main body of the dress is a polyester satin with a sheen on the printed side and a buff finish on the other.  The neckline contrast, sleeve bands, and belt are a burgundy-tinted, rich purple buff polyester satin remnant.  The dress is fully lined in poly scraps…mostly a pebbled satin purple supplemented with a black non-cling variety

PATTERN:  McCall #6957, year 1932 – I used the reprint from Past Patterns which you can buy here

NOTIONS:  The belt buckle is a prized Bakelite vintage item I’ve been holding onto for the perfect project like this!  (Subsequently, the buckle has sadly broken…and is tentatively glued back together for now.) All else that I needed was lots of thread and some scraps of interfacing for the sleeve bands and belt.  It’s a simple needs Depression-era garment!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was made in about 20 hours and was finished on April 18, 2018

THE INSIDES:  Left raw…but you can’t really tell because the dress is fully lined

TOTAL COST:  The fabrics for this dress are more of my precious hoard of clearance deals which I bought when Hancock Fabrics was going out of business.  I don’t remember exactly but this dress can’t have cost me more than $15.

Now, I recognize that the Eva Dress Reproduction Pattern Company also sells copies of this McCall pattern, but I have always preferred Past Patterns.  Besides – their sizing is closer to mine which means less dramatic grading for me.  However, if you need a bigger size than Past Patterns’ 36” bust, Eva Dress’ repro is a 38” bust.  Even still, I often find 1930’s patterns from 1936 and before seem to run small and this one was no exception.  You want a slightly baggy fit with this dress because it is a slip-on with no side zipper called for.  Also this design was coming from a time that was still easing away from the 1920s, which is very obvious when I take off my belt!  I graded this pattern down to what was still technically a roomy size for me (with extra for a modern 5/8 inch seam allowance) and I feel it fits perfectly enough to both be comfy and land at the right points on my body.

I am quite impressed with this pattern.  Everything matched together well and it turned out just as the cover drawing portrays.  It was relatively easy to figure out how to sew together despite the fact that there are several tricky spots to take time on.  Many of my other 30s patterns made to date needed tweaking to the fit, or some of the panels were a bit off, or some of the instructions lacking…but not with Past Patterns.  The designs they choose to reprint have so far always turned out happily successful for me so far.

Making the many exact points and precise corners to this dress was quite time consuming and honestly a bit stressful along the way.  My fabric was a very slippery and always shifting material.  It was hard to be precise and avoid any bubbling out at the points, especially since (for the skirt insets) I was trying to connect two opposing grain lines together.  The insets were stitched together like a regular seam, making it harder, but the neckline contrast was invisibly top-stitched on to be exact and clean because it is more easily seen.

All of the pattern pieces were rather odd and almost unrecognizable on paper, but looking at the cover they all made sense.  It’s amazing how sewing works, isn’t it?!  The front is all one enormously long piece (as there is no waist seam) which appears like a giant capitol H, because of the insert panels at the neck and skirt center.  The back is mostly like a squared-off basic bodice, except with two ‘tails’ attached for either side of the middle panel.  The seemingly rectangular middle panels swerve out on the sides like the curve of half of the letter U to provide soft fullness to the skirt below knee.  The sleeves, dramatically opened up because of the numerous pleats, are almost 30” wide.  It’s no wonder that this dress needed a very anti-Depression era fabric amount of 3 ½ yards…and I was using 60” width material!

I have never done tucks quite like what was called for on these fun, poufy sleeves, and it was sure an experience.  You have to make them in a certain direction because they are layered on top of one another.  I have seen this type of mock-pleating on the skirt waist some couture garments (such as Dior).

You start from the side and pleat towards the center then move to do the same for the other side.  Both top and bottom have to be done separately because the center has to be left free.  All the pleats are folded into the skinny cuff band and attached to the dress…suddenly the sleeve looks amazing!  I had planned on an organza ‘filler’ to go inside the sleeve thinking it would need help poufing out, but no it doesn’t, even though my fabric is silky soft.  My printed fabric and the discrepancy of photography does not do these sleeves due justice for their awesome detail.

The neckline was definitely the most ingenious and usual piece of all, and I absolutely love the look of it in the contrast solid!  It reminds of an adapted jabot, but it is merely called “a vestee” according to the pattern.  A project I’ve already made from the next year in history, my 1933 McCall’s reprint set, also has a wrapped front drape at the neckline – a more dramatic and simplistic version of what is on this ’32 dress.  Neckline interest was very popular in the early to mid-30’s and I like all the interesting variety of it, especially neck drapes and ties.

I changed up the instructed making of the “vestee” for what I think is a cleaner and more straightforward construction.  It called for a single layer of fabric drape which connects to another single layer half piece which doesn’t have a drape.  This would have showed the underside of the fabric, been awkward to sew together at the center, besides showing the hemmed edge.  I made two, draped, full “vestee” style neck insets so that they could be sewn together like a facing for a clean edge along the center drape that doesn’t show the other color of the other side to the fabric.  I had to add the trio of pleats to each of the two pieces before sewing them together and on the vest.  Then I hand tacked the pleats together down the center.

The same beautiful, rich purple solid satin as what was used for my 1951 slip dress and the details to my 1955 Redingote jacket went towards the contrast here to break up the busy print and made the most of my remnant stash.  Just you wait, though, I am not yet done using this purple satin…there is one more project I’ve squeezed out of it (to be posted soon)!  I used the darker satin side of the fabric on this dress.

Purple normally is the color for royalty, and many Mardi Gras celebrations to have a King (and Queen) that is crowned to preside, but the southern American symbolism for it during the pre-Lent partying is “Justice”.  The green represents “Faith”, gold represents “Power”.  It all relates to both heraldry symbolism as well as the fact both United States and French flags are tri-colored.  My green is the new spring grass, and the rest of the colors I’m wearing.  I don’t always wear the dress accessorized like this – tans, or ivory, or black tones mellow out the bright but rich colors.  Finding vintage accessories in my size, in decent condition, in a reasonable cost, in more unusual colors is a challenge otherwise I would also try out pale yellows, or light purple, and other colors with this dress!

My first sewing project from 1932 has been long in coming but I’m glad I can enjoy it now.  I have been straying at the very strong shouldered and cultural influenced styles of the late 30’s for quite a while recently and this is such a refresher!  This has me thinking about what will fill in my empty spot for the year 1930…hummm.  Look for that this summer!

A 1917 Fairy-Tale

For some reason, circa 1917 garment styles for women are so dreamy, artistic, and fantastical, to me it’s like something out of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”, the First World War version.  Fashion was art, and art presented fashion in a way that is unrivaled, so that its appeal has not waned these past 100 years.  Women’s faces were drawn as delicate as a porcelain doll and their hands as graceful as a Goddess.  Their clothes are full of vivid and interesting color pairings.  Their silhouettes might be oddly inhuman in their attire, but somehow they appear harmonious, comfortable, with an entrancing complexity in design.  The background settings seem peaceful, idyllic, and dreamy.  It’s no wonder some teens’ era details are making subtle appearances on some modern runway clothes this year (see Chanel’s Haute Couture Collection, numbers 35, 38, 61, 63) and recently (Oscar de la Renta Spring 2012 dress or Gattinoni’s Spring/Summer 2012 couture).  The aura surrounding those old styles certainly were not a reflection of the reality of the times, however.

It is now the anniversary of Armistice, today November 11th.  This year’s Veteran’s Day is special as we are celebrating a benchmark century since a pact was signed for a cessation of the fighting of the Great War.  Thus, this year was high time that I figured out for myself the late 19-teens’ incredible niche in historical fashion, and an event this summer at the National World War I Memorial (in Kansas City, Missouri) had given me an excuse to do it, tangibly, in a glorious, flowing and feminine style.

Caught in between the 1920s and the late Titanic era, 1917 (1916 and 18, as well) clothes for women was neither the long lean lines of the era before nor was it the barreled torso silhouette of the one after.  Circa 1917 women’s fashion did take one thing to the extreme – the below the bust, almost Empire waistline, an interesting fad compared to the moderately high waist seen about 1914 and the almost hip length waist of the early 1920s.  Late WWI style was a beautiful middle ground that disappeared very quickly and only lasted a few years.  There was an overabundance of details, textures, interesting colors, and unusual features…many times in the same garment.  It was like an over-the-top display of quality, creative, and hand-crafted fashion before the clutches of mass-market RTW or the practicality following the post-stock market crash 10 years later would take over.

Now, let’s put a few things into perspective for a broader view of circa 1917 in my country.  By the late teens, the US had about 2,000 amusement parks.  As the culture of leisure carried over from the Gilded Age, and people seemed to be seeking thrills and adrenaline pumped delights with their free time, it was the beginning of the golden age of roller coasters (ca. 1919) due to the innovations of entrepreneur John Miller.  Menswear was beginning to break free of its Edwardian appearance and accepting the idea of “sportswear”, while women’s fashions were becoming more open to an independent woman, free to move through life without a full-length corset or a man to marry out of necessity.  The first Jazz music recording was commercially released to help usher in a whole new popular genre of listening pleasure and matching that with new active styles of dancing.  The United States officially acquired both Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.  Things were looking up.

Yet, for a darker perspective, there were also three to five percent of the world’s population dead from the Spanish Influenza epidemic (1918 to 1920).  WWI’s fighting was announced as begun for America in 1917 then hastily over in 1918, with about 13 major battles fought and counting about one man out of every thousand dead. President Wilson seemed to be wrapping it up for the nations, and the world was dealing with the aftereffects of the first Great War very unsuccessfully in my opinion.  On our own turf there were ‘problems’, as we had sixteen Americans executed by Pancho Villa and the southwest region in danger as part of our involvement in taking sides for the Mexican Revolution.  Dissatisfied workers in several unions in Seattle, Washington, seeking higher wages after toiling hard producing ships for WWI, went on America’s first general strike, where over 65,000 workers protested for 5 days.  Supposedly the strikers were under the inspiration of the Russian Revolution, leading to a “Red Scare”.

So – as much as the fashions of the late teens were dreamy, artistic, and evocative of ethereal beauty, the world of the mid to late 1910s was anything but a fairy-tale.  Face value can sometimes be just that…a dream, a wish for something better, visual trickery.  This is why the only modern item you will see on my 1917 dress is perhaps the most important one – an enamel red poppy flower pin from the National World War I Memorial.  We need to remember, respect, and learn of the sacrifices and the stories of the Forgotten Generation to make sure the Great War is not disregarded.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Cotton print (aqua background with a very Art Deco geometric design in purple) for the base layer of the dress, with a sheer lavender poly chiffon as the overlay for both dress and hat.  Basic white cotton sateen for the dress’ collar and ‘bib’ front panel.

PATTERN:  a Past Patterns Company reprint of a McCall #8159, from November 1917

NOTIONS:  Many prized notions went onto this dress to give it its necessary finishing touches – some are true vintage, some are special coming from family, and others are uniquely hard to find.  More about them in the body of my post.  Only the best…and I believe it shows!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  I worked on this dress on and off for a few months and finally finished it on June 28, 2018 after 50 plus hours.  The hat took only 2 hours to refashion.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound with the sheer sleeves, over skirt, and bodice armscye French finished

TOTAL COST:  All my fabric was bought at my local JoAnn’s Fabric Store, with all the finishing trims and notions already on hand (free), I spent around $40.

Fashion was very important to women of the time and magazines of the latest modes of dressing even more so.  “A reaction of the emergence of fashion photography, an annual subscription to an exquisitely illustrated fashion and lifestyle publications could cost as much as a car in 1914”.  During World War I, Ladies’ Home Journal and McCall’s Magazine alone had over a million subscribers each. No wonder the best artists were hired for illustrations – for one case in point, the great couturier Mainbocher started off as a fashion illustrator for Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue after serving in WWI.  Erté and George Barbier are more examples.

However, for one who wants to sew a ‘copy’ of such fashions, these drawings are important only so far as to figuring out what colors, what details, what silhouette to achieve to look authentic.  Construction and closing methods are a mystery.  That is why I started with a copy of a true original pattern…because nothing beats the real thing, right?  So, I had a good starting point but not much to go on because if you think vintage a la 1930s or 40’s patterns are lacking in instruction thoroughness, well, you’ve never seen an antique pattern.  I literally had only two small paragraphs and one tiny layout diagram to go by as my guide.  This is why my next resource was both textual research and sourcing old 100 year old garments for sale online to see physical specifics.

It wasn’t until the 1930s (pretty much) that the way a garment closed on the body was visible and buttons were more than just a means of decoration or display of wealth.  The mid to late teens era kept the closures well hidden in seams or under more fabric and therefore a bit mysterious.  This dress has the very common (for 1916 to ‘18) ‘bib’ front bodice vest piece that does the double duty of both covering the front closures and completing the waist by continuing on as a cummerbund-sash to be tied in a fancy bow behind.  It’s sort of hard to show, but underneath the bib panel, hook-and-eye tape closes the center front, with a few more single hooks for the small side seam opening (covered by the cummerbund wrap around).

On its own, the front covering is a large T-shaped piece.  It has every edge self-enclosed in a facing double and was the last thing directed to be added on to the dress.  Even then it is only lightly tacked on at the right top edge while it hook-and-loops closed at the left corner.  I have seen some of these ‘bib’ frontispieces for sale separately and so I can conclude that some of these were meant to be removable.  This is quite smart, really!  They could easily be cleaned gently by hand this way, without needing to launder the whole dress, too, and most of the prettiest decorations and precious haberdashery could be added on the frontispiece with no fear of being beat up by a general washing.  Most of the antique original ‘bib’ pieces that I have seen have been in the finest linen or silk, since (at that time) most of the wool was going to soldiers’ uniforms and the cotton was making canvas gaiters, satchels, and tents for the war.  Mine is sateen so it has a slight shine that the camera images aren’t really picking up, but I more than made up for the basic material with lots of detail and meticulous hand work.

First of all, plain whites need something extra to make them look fancy and not, well…plain.  This is a dress from the teens, anyway and more subdued excess (within reason) the better was the rule!  My primary add-on was the buttons on the bib front, I knew these were a definite choice.  They are true teens era buttons, in glass, painted in a rich purple over the nubby top texture (see a closer picture on this Instagram post).  They look like fresh tiny mulberries to me – mmm!  To prevent the paint from chipping, as it was starting to do already, I applied a light painting of clear top coat, such as is used on fingernail lacquer.

Then came the lace!  This is a heavy cotton lace which my husband bought for me over a year ago in Italy when he went on a business trip to Milan.  As much as it pained me to use it and not stash it, the Belgium-style lace was just what I had in mind and looks like embroidery from afar.  If I could have come up with a shortcut way to tack it on I would have, but instead it took me several extra hours of hand stitching to tack it down along the bib top along the neckline, along the bib front waistline bottom, and the bottom end of the sash just above the tassels.  Do the sash end tassels make it look like I have servant call pulls?  Maybe, but crazy things work in teens fashion and not only do the tassels weigh the ties down but add color and interest from behind.

Finally, to connect the aqua in the under (base) layer of the dress, which you don’t see much of above the knees, I added matching colored feather stitching along the collar edge. Let’s briefly address some good, old-fashioned, quality hand-stitching – it used to be much more than just straight and basic. Until about the teens and no later than the mid-1920’s, hand sewing, even if was just necessary for top-stitching, was detailed, incredibly tiny, precise, and very understated for the time and high quality it shows. It is a skill too lovely to only admire, with feather stitching in particular as my new fascination for hand stitching. This stitch is an embroidery technique which can be ornamental sewing when worked with single threads and it uses loops caught and pulled to make a vine design.  My favorite tutorial to learn feather stitching from can be found here if you want to learn too.  It’s not hard, but the challenge is to be uniform and consistent with spacing.  My collar needed top-stitching and it needed something to give it pizazz while being authentic – feather stitching took care of all of that at once.

Other than the detailing, the dress was really pretty simple to make and the fit was spot on.  After all the skirt was just a basic gathered skirt.  Every pattern piece was pretty much basic geometrics – no darts or fancy shaping, either.  Once the front closing mystery was understood the bodice was simple, too, as were the sleeves…very modern with their flared shape known as “angel” style.  (Look closely and you will see the small fishing weight on the inner sleeve end to make the chiffon hang!)  I must add, the dress while in progress did look like a total piece of trash all the way up until it was almost done.  I just kept hoping for the better as it was being assembled and plugging through the project.  Now I’m so very glad I persevered.

The pattern was my size technically, but I don’t like the lack of a “mistake cushion” that tiny 3/8 inch seam allowances provide so I added an extra inch all along every seam allowance to make them bigger and also “just in case” the fit was wrong.  I remembered that the 1920 blouse pattern which I used before had small shoulders – and I have big arms – so I slashed and spread this pattern’s sleeve tops before cutting out in the chiffon.  With my little changes, this pattern fits perfectly and turned out just like a 1917 dress from a fashion magazine, so I think!

The hem ran very long, again similar to both the 1920 and 1914 skirt patterns I have already used, but this is meant to be for a wide hem.  These wide and deep hems in early 20th century historical fashions really help to shape them, kind of like a stiffening, and need to hand pick-stitched down.  This dress’ hem has a slight “Hobble skirt” reference by the way is tapers in slightly slimmer for the last 8 inches above the hemline.  To emphasize the widening of the upper half of the skirt, the sheer overlay was cut in a high-low hem.  The more fashion images you see in the 1916 to 1918 range, the more it seems that every skirt overlay (and they were popular) had either a hem decoration and/or a curiously shaped hemline.  I went with both because it struck me as working well for this dress.  The arching sheer skirt compliments the arching bodice panel and the purple flower trim I added along this edge brings an overall harmony to the dress with the same trim being used on the sleeves.

With slightly shorter hemlines making it easier for women during the War to move around, it was also the opportunity to show off one’s pretty ankles in fabulous decorated stockings!  I have been holding onto these flocked, floral, vine-patterned, ivory stockings for a very long time just because I knew they were unusual, and now they were just what I needed.  Highly decorative embroidered or painted stockings, “clocked” hosiery as it’s called, had been immensely popular in the 18th century, but had a very strong comeback in the mid to late teens as soon as the skirts were slimmer and shorter.  Many 1910s and 20’s stockings enjoyed the “new” aspect of fashion even to the point of being very fantastical – see this post for snake and bird hosiery!  To say ‘Clocked’ stockings means they have an added design up the ankle, where traditionally a ‘gusset’/wedge has been added to give it shape – very racy considering it wasn’t until the later 1920’s that hosiery was considered as something other than underwear!

Of course, none of this outfit would have the proper look and feel without a good foundation.  Happily, I already had my under layers already me-made and available.  The late teens was in a weird position with regards to underwear.  Things were starting to change over to the looser, more modern two-piece “bra and bloomers”.  The corsetry that was around no longer had such long, lean lines and full body coverage (like what I wore under my 1914 ensemble).  I do not have a shorter late teens corset (like what the blogger “The Dreamstress” has put together).  The main idea is to have no bust support (keep the girls flat!) and volume around the knees with your slips and knickers, so I opted for the early 20’s underwear set I did have…envisioning myself as a very fashion-forward woman doing so!  Over the underwear went a reproduction sleeveless slip which was identical in style lines to this earlier teens era slip which I blogged about here.  The front is a lovely eyelet and the lack of sleeves was perfect for the sheer arms of my dress.

After all my efforts invested in the dress, there was no way I was starting from scratch for my headgear, too.  Thus, the hat is a refashion of a dated 80s or 90’s piece which became a very plausible authentic match.  I made use of something from my wardrobe I never really wear and not only beautified it, but turned it into something I needed anyway – win-win, right!?  Many summer hats in the teens had wide but sheer brims, whether it was made of lace in a wire frame, rows of ribbon, chiffon, or an open mesh.  The last kind was exactly what I had in my dated hat, it only needed a rounder, mushroom-style crown that needed to be much fancier before being closer to authentic.  In order to totally match with the dress, I used the small remnants left of the purple chiffon to loosely wrap (and gently, invisibly hand tack) around the crown, finished off with an intricate burgundy and purple ribbon remnant to match the colors of the buttons and the tassels.

My accessories are all some sort of vintage, except for the waist watch hanging from a chain at the waist of my ‘bib’ front bodice panel.  That was bought new because it looked like a hanging watch I have from my Great Grandmother, only I wouldn’t dare use that one out and about so this is a memory-free and guilt-free replacement.  However, I did have no qualms about using and bringing the umbrella you see.  This is a treasured find, though.  It is a true 1910s (or early 1920s at the latest) piece I found for a deal in perfect condition.  The fabric is dyed silk, and so is the tassel to match, with the handle is covered in leather.  My necklace is vintage 1930s I believe, and carved mother of pearl, actually.  The earrings are of the 1940s from my Grandmother.  The purse is something I actually made for my 1920 outfit, but luckily the colors and the style pairs up perfectly here, too, I believe.  I did find some vintage 1960s leather heels to match, since strappy shoes, and especially French heels, too, were what was popular back then.

Our photo location is an appropriate backdrop as this building was originally built after the turn of the 20th century as a publication headquarters for a women’s’ fashion magazine mogul, Edward Gardner Lewis.  It was constructed in the fancy French neo-classical “Beaux-Arts” style, and acres of the surrounding area were bought up by Lewis to build an equally beautiful upper middle class neighborhood.  Luckily, most of this area of University City is well preserved and the homes look every bit as beautiful as it probably did in the teens and twenties.  They just don’t make architecture like they used to.

There is something so inherently satisfying to spending such excess in time, materials, and personal investment on something beautiful, worthwhile, and creative weather it’s a building or on a dress. I can attest that in the sewing sphere, it is addictive. It hails back to a time when sewing was a true art using one’s hands, when making clothes was more about crafting beauty than just getting clothes for one’s back, and before commercial-fast fashion had its full stranglehold on the garment industry. Quality in the small details is sorely needed today…only our world today needs to understand that it doesn’t come quickly or in bulk quantities.

When you think about WWI in terms of this, though, society needed bulk quantities of lasting quality in order to supply the troops, and yet somehow the world stepped up to provide.  What wool moths and decay have left behind, luckily many of these uniforms are still in great condition and fully wearable today.  It is heartening to see the amount of extant WWI items that are being worn and displayed with pride and a spirit open to seeing and learning from the past anew!  Even though this great centennial will now be over, I hope this era of history keeps being understood and remembered.  My next Great War project will be a women’s military uniform.

“WWI is a romantic war, in all senses of the word. An entire generation of men and women left the comforts of Edwardian life to travel bravely, and sometimes even jauntily, to almost certain death. At the very least, any story or novel about WWI is about innocence shattered in the face of experience.” quote from Anita Shreve.  I hope my dreamy, fairy tale style dress outfit tells one small part of the great story.  Let us commemorate the fallen yet celebrate what peace we have today.

Three Eras of Ladies’ Changing Underwear Styles – Part One, Teens Era

For the last few years on my blog, it seems as if I use the holiday of Valentine’s Day as an excuse to post about ‘underthings’ in February.  As much as I like sewing intimates, I really don’t like showing them off in public, even if it’s not myself modeling them!  However, they are so pretty, a bit challenging to make, something I am proud of, and very informative to learn from.  So, I’ll continue the trend for yet another year by sharing some of the historical and vintage base layer underclothes which have made some of the outfits from the past year before so successful! 

So – just to show how far history progressed towards “modern” underthings, and how quickly it happened in a short period of time (30 years), I will share lingerie that I have made of the 19-teens, 1920s, and 1930s into a ‘revealing’, two-part post series.  Sometimes you can recognize progress and differences better when we take an overall look behind!  This post will be about the finishing piece to my pre-World War I set – a princess seamed slip.  This slip is the in-between to the first layer of underclothes (posted about here) which are covered by the corset, and the true fashion garments such as a blouse, skirt, and/or dress (such as this 1914 outfit of mine).

A good outfit starts from the inside out, and this is especially true the further back in historical dressing you get.  Fashion affected the style of underclothes, but at the same time the underclothes also influenced the fashion.  It was a tug of war, a give and take, with one influencing the other and being influenced in return.  The silhouette that we know a year or decade in past fashion to have had that shape because of what came underneath.  At the same time, throughout the most recent centuries the shape of women has been controlled and dictated by the underclothes that are made and expected to be worn.  Thus, the clothes and what is under them both worked to craft a certain image.  When the mode of dressing changed, underclothes necessarily had to go adapt with it.  Sometimes, as in the case of closed crouch knickers or panties that appeared in the late teens or 20’s, the underwear – not the outerwear – was the first step towards a desire for change, a new, public demanded, progressive thinking for women.  This co-jointed history between the under and outer layers was especially true up until the 1960s primarily.

But even if your reasons are not at all for history’s sake, making vintage undies is awesome!  I find that the teens to 30’s variety are so much more comfortable to wear than modern underwear, and much more fun and easy to sew…yes, really!  Especially when you use the kinds of materials that they would have had (such as cotton or silk), do you really get the full effect of how luxurious and lovely such items can feel.  With all the wires, padding, and image crafting features that add to the difficulty in finding that perfect fit for modern (at least American) lingerie, vintage forms (circa late teens through the 30’s) let your body have its own natural glory, and merely cover in a beautiful fashion and (if anything) only lightly support compared to previous eras.  How can that not sound enticing?!

Time is not wasted either on making vintage underwear because generally they can still work for today’s living.  My teen’s era underlayers (sans corset) might look interestingly odd by standards of today, but are ridiculously comfy.  Granted, they won’t work well under modern clothes, but still would make great night wear.  Most historical base layers were meant to be interchangeably left on at the end of the day as night wear anyway!  My simple 1920s Kestos style bra is hands down the best ever for comfort and ease in– no wonder it was the one of the first commercially produced bra with separate cups!  And 1930’s tap pants and bandeau bras are indulgent little slices of the Hollywood finery which was a part of everyday day life back then – whether seen or unseen!  Both the Kestos bra and the 1930’s tap pants will be in the next post, but can definitely work into modern clothes, perhaps not the knit ‘one-size-fits-all’ kind of fashions (with no zipper or tailoring), but definitely a nice, well-fitting skirt and blouse combo or dress.

Every little detail counts in sewing, but particularly so with vintage and historical underclothes.  Every ruffle has a reason and something as small as buttons over hook-and-eyes point to the state of events and conditions of living.  You can read old clothes, past sewing patterns, and out-of-print fashion images like a small history book if you look at them with the right eyes and inquiring mindset, and that is more than even true of underclothes.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% cotton broadcloth – both bleached and unbleached.  The beige colored unbleached cotton is left over from my year 1920 blouse, posted here.  

PATTERN:  Past Pattern’s reprint of a Ladies’ Home Journal Pattern #9206, circa 1912 to 1916

NOTIONS:  I needed wide eyelet for the hem as a shortcut to making ruffles myself.  So, I bought some poly/cotton blend border-stitched eyelet, about 5 or 6 inches wide, at my local Jo Ann’s store.  The cotton, two-tone string that was used for the neckline also came from Jo Ann’s store, but had been bought on clearance the year before for another project.  All the rest of what I needed came from my Grandmother’s stash of vintage notions.   

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The slip was finished on March 10, 2017, after about 4 hours.

THE INSIDES:  The inner edges are basically overcast, for a simple but relatively clean finish.

TOTAL COST:  All cottons were on hand in my stash already, so I’m counting them as free, like the notions from my Grandma, so my only cost was the eyelet, which was rather pricey (so I think), about $15.

This was such an easy, fun, well-fitting, and pretty make, I’m tempted to make another one out of a fashion fabric, something other than basic cotton, so I can wear it as a nightgown!  As this is a veritable reprint of true original pattern, the instructions are one paragraph of text, crude and overly brief to the modern eye used to clear, pictorial, and long-winded explanations.  If you can be confident in yourself, and see the design lines, you will see that this is really simple requiring nothing really too out-of-the-ordinary or complicated.  I think of old sewing patterns’ basic instructions as not being simple so as to leave you hanging…just so you can prove to yourself you really know more than you think and can do well on your own!

When it comes to 1920’s and earlier, pattern sizing can be randomly ill-fitting or unexpected.  Not so with this pattern!  It says it’s for a bust 34”, which is technically too big of a size wearing the era appropriate corset, close enough to be just my size in modern ‘natural’ sizing.  I cut out the pattern “as-is”, with no changes to the sizing or anything whatsoever, and it turned out great!  You don’t really want this to be on the smaller fit, you want it to be loose and slightly blousey.  But at the same time, the lovely princess seamed shaping darts keep this slip skimming the body, and make it easy to tuck into the skinny, high-waited skirts of the era.  I love this pattern.

The neckline is nothing but a simple, skinny casing with a tie to bring it in a fit it around the neck.  I considered sewing on a separate bias band to do the job, but instead I turned under the neckline twice and had the string run through the hem that I made.  I used the silly, contrast two-tone string not only because it was on hand and it was cotton, but honestly – it’s a fun little touch.  You can’t tell me that just because those ladies back then were wearing corsets and looking all decent and lady-like that they didn’t have a little fun with their underlayers.  Besides, look at the hem…something this frilly is definitely fun!

I went for the shorter length and it ends on my 5’ 3” figure somewhere between mid-calf and my knee.  It only looks a lot longer in our pictures because of the fullness at the hem and also on account of the angle my cameraman (aka, husband) was using to take the pictures.  This length and version of the pattern is perfect for those early to mid-teens era fashions, with their long and skinny, tapered hems.  Hem ruffles and gathered fabric below the knee create the silhouette of the legs that marked this part of the decade.  Skirts and frocks at this time skinny high waists (slightly higher in the back), with long hiplines that flared out into the widest part – just above and/or below the knees – to taper back in at the hemlines.  As soon as I made this slip and had it on, it struck me…of course!  How else would a skirt or dress get such a pouf out in just the right place with a slip or petticoat with ruffles right there to do the job?  Poufy drawers help with that, too.  Here again, the underwear makes the styles, and the styles are made possible by the underwear.  On a practical basis, I would think that a shorter slip would also be good for being unencumbering to footwear of the times.  Women were often wearing high-lacing boots, or at least fancy, fine stockings with the then-new ankle baring heels.  Besides the hem of my historical fashions have very wide hems – this is the case of my 1914 hobble skirt that I have worn over my slip so far.  A shorter length slip would not be absolutely necessary until the fuller, easier-to-move-in fashions of the WWI era (1914 to 1918) arrived.

This slip does button down the back – a tell-tale sign that women at this time had assistants helping them in and out of their clothes.  The time of female independence had definitely not come yet and class gentrification was strong.  For my own slip, I made the back placket, and proper button holes with old teens era carved horn buttons to match…only to realize that it was generously sized enough that I didn’t need to unbutton it to get it on.  So, I just to stabilize the back, make sure it stays closed, and make things simpler in the long run, I hand tacked each button and button hole closed (for now, at least).

Now, you might be wondering, “What’s up with the weird paneling and funky colors to the back half?”  If you didn’t see it before, I guess you see it now.  I wanted to “make-do” with what I had so I went all experimental.  A few scraps of basic, white, cotton rectangles in weight matching the beige fabric were pieced together to form a solid back piece then hand-dyed the white scraps to match as best I could with what was on hand.  As much as I would like a “perfect” looking garment, I am much happier using up and making the most of what’s on hand.  Besides, doing something resourceful like this is much more satisfying in the long run, as well as giving me a much more interesting story to share!  After all, I feel that if I’m going to experiment on something, might as well do it on underwear.

This was my very first tea dye, and I am very pleased!  We happened to have cold brew instant tea bags on hand already, and I own the book “Making Vintage Accessories” by Emma Brennan (great book, btw) to show me how to do it.  I was so excited to see how the dye turned out that I now wish I had left it in the tub longer than 2 hours, but the color is closer than I imagined I would get at all, so I’m happy.  I did add salt so that the color would “set” so I don’t know if I could do It again for a darker color.  The color did not change much at all on the eyelet has it was a cotton and polyester blend.  Man-made materials are no fun – they do not have all the possibilities that a basic, traditional woven like cotton has!

Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post on the lingerie of the next two decades.

Teens Era Transitional Suit Set

As of this past April, my country of America began commemorating a century since we entered into World War I, when we added our hearts, efforts, and supplies to the rest of the nations who had already been fighting.  As someone who sews and likes to dive right into history, I guess it’s no wonder I took to making my own outfit from the era as my effort at remembering history.  Besides being commemorative, our local art museum hosted an exhibit linked to the era of my outfit, “Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade”, and it gave me an actual destination to wear my historical garb.  Their “photo opportunity wall” was the setting for many of our pictures.  You see how I blend right in at a 1912 Millinery Parlor shop?  Also, the newly released “Wonder Woman” movie, which has a WWI setting, was the final odd but added impetus behind making my suit set.  My reasons are varied, but deeply rooted in the history that I love.

DSC_0158a,p-comp,w

1912 to 1914 was a true transitional period of history and my outfit, as I planned it, intends to pay homage to this.  1912 is roughly the end of the Titanic era, in which fashion still gave a clear visual definition of who was in and who was out of money.  1914 marks the beginning of World War I and the founding steps towards democracy of fashion and greater freedom in many realms of life.  I realize I am riding a fine line between pre-WWI and post WWI with my outfit but it has been two years in coming, and I couldn’t be happier with my first foray into both sewing and wearing teens era fashion!  During those two years, my outfit has been well-researched, long thought out, and lovingly worked on for a while now.  Most all of my details are tied to a historical fact.  Now I feel as if I have a historical statement piece with a story to tell about the history Great War.

Of course the best way to place myself in the shoes of a woman from circa 1914 was to go all out and do my outfit authentically from the inside out.  Yes, this means the underwear, the corset and the whole bit!  You can see my past post about the under layers here, and here is the post about the teens era slip I have since made to complete the underpinning ensemble.  Without the right underpinnings my set did not have the right silhouette, nor did I have the correct posture, ahem (as in being laced into it)!  Wearing a long line corset does make me realize just what a no-slouching posture really is, and it makes me appreciate the comfort of actually sitting in a chair to relax, not just the dainty ‘perching’ that I do in my teens corset.  Plus, it smoothes out all the ‘bumps’ that were undesired for the times, something which modern underwear only ‘supports’, if you know what I mean!

DSC_0149a-comp,w

I believe this combo of blouse, jacket, and skirt (not forgetting the hat) is technically called a “walking suit” even though a slim hobble skirt is not the best for walking.  Yet, I did not find this fashion as confining as many humorous cartoons (such as those by the satirist Benjamin Rabier) and other images make them out to be.

Circa 1914, the hobble skirt was widely worn, yet was being frequently and publically made fun of.  Then there was Paul Poiret, who backtracked on what he claimed he created and introduced the freedom and progressiveness of harem pantsJeanne Paquin, the first major female courtier, is supposed to have created a version of the hobble skirt which included pleats for ease of movement for the new, more active woman.  My own skirt is a combo of Paquin and Poiret – it has a trio of asymmetric pleats that are stitched down halfway up to free up my knees.  The world itself was fighting for the death of the skinny hobble skirt.  Active women who become a part of the workings of society were sorely needed and whatever fashion stood in way of that was destined to depart.  A suit such as mine was meant for a time in history when a woman of society was merely meant to be a figurehead and present an ideal image of her status.  By 1914, such a suit set was in its last, glorious, waning sundown.  Wearing this outfit was nothing too terribly uncomfortable, but it was a bit confining in its own right, which did take some getting used to.  It helped me realize why the fashions of the 1920s came about.

DSC_0185a-comp,w

When the newly enlisted soldiers left on the boats to go off to the Great War, many ladies wore their best “going away” clothes.  Not only was it dressing up to see their men off, but it was also one last big splurge, or indulgence, before buckling down into rationing and a full-hearted war effort.  I think this set certainly falls into the “going away” category!  I had ideas for even more finery I could have added, like a pocket watch, extra pockets, and more buttons.  I might get to that yet, but for now what I have is something finished and totally wearable.

DSC_0151-comp,wThe Great War had far-reaching implications on the previously active global import/export marketplace, thus there was an absence of much that had to do with the clothing, fashion, and textile industry.  Imported dyes, which had been coming out of Germany, became rare thus leading to a more frequent wearing of black and neutrals.  This is besides the fact that many people (especially mothers, wives, and sweethearts) were in mourning, anyway.  My own outfit greatly reflects this historical point, by using primarily black and grey tones together with two neutral cream colors to calmly brighten things up.

The war effort also caused heavy rationing/unavailability of leather, wool, and cotton (which, among other materials, were going towards supplies such as uniforms and tents).  Ladies had to wear more silks, with the occasional rayon blend (invented in 1910). Heavy rationing applied throughout many countries and America wasn’t excluded, but it did have situations a bit easier comparatively.  Straw, with some linen, were also somewhat rationed, so substitutes from paper were invented in counties like Russia and Germany, and “Jean cloth” (yes, denim) was resorted to as a leisure cloth.  At the beginning of the war, however, most walking suits still tended to be in “practical” and breathable pure linen.  As I am in the USA, I felt it would be fitting for me (if I was living back then) to have such a set as mine in linen, lined in a very basic cotton.  Non-war effort cottons like gingham and batiste were nonetheless used and still popular for housedresses, anyways.  Many women who weren’t involved in manual, farm, or food related work were enlisted into the textile industries or assigned to convalescence and hospital needs sewing, so I imagine access to rationed fabric was not entirely off-limits for all women.  Thus, my outfit is a mix of some fabrics and materials which would have been a luxury and some which would have been used for an authentic early war-time suit.  Restrained opulence was common with early and mid WWI clothes (see this for one example) since – after all – old habits die hard.  The Titanic era didn’t go down overnight like the famous ship did…

DSC_0134,a,p-comp,w

Asymmetric designs were incredibly popular at this point in fashion, being used on blouses, skirts, suits, and dresses for both day and evening – no doubt from the Art Nouveau influence.  The asymmetric trend probably had to do with the ‘new’ draping of fabric on the body (Grecian idealism) for evening and tea gowns as well as an elegant and avant-garde desire to break away from the sweetness of the Edwardian period before.  I wanted my suit set to have some asymmetric loveliness…I do love how the trend continued into the 1920s, 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s so strongly.

Even during WWI, common luxuries could frequently be taken with neck line collars, since they needed such a small amount of material.  This is why my single asymmetric collar with matching sleeve cuffs are from an expensive, all-cotton, burnout velvet tapestry.  My top collar is from the same fabric as my skirt to add continuity to the outfit, plus I see it as a practical, “making-do” touch to use up every last scrap!

IMAG0287a-comp,w“Making-do” was greatly encouraged in many aspects of life, more so when it came to fashion, especially when it came to hats.  Headwear was a necessity that a lady would not do without and publications of the times stepped up to the need to show how homemade hats could be done easily, inexpensively, yet with a no less fashionable appearance.  My own hat started out as an inexpensive, basic floppy-brimmed hat blank bought from Wal-Mart…of all places.  (Pardon the pins in the picture at left – it was here a work-in-progress.)  It is made of a thick 100% wool felt so it is an accurate and proper hat making material, just something that might have been an expensive luxury for 1914 – all the more reason a woman of those times would have re-fashioned it herself!

Feeling united with the war effort extended into the modes of fashion with many hats and clothing mid or late in WWI possessing details which had a very obvious, albeit past, military influence.  Napoleonic Era hats were frequent, and I channeled the old-time tricorne hats with my own re-fashion (although I know it’s probably more 1917-ish to do this).  My favorite part is how my hat looks so different from every angle it’s seen.DSC_0172-crop-comp,w

The top heavy, floral, opulent picture hats of the early teens were shrinking in size by the time the decade was nearing it midpoint.  World War I nudged hats to become more compact, with many non-flower related decoration and interesting features to the brims.  They were often trying to create more of a straight-line silhouette to the rest of an outfit…pretty much like my own hat does (especially thanks to the feathers)!

The overly frequent and outlandish use of birds on millinery in the decades leading up to WWI led to many protective steps to ensure the survival of many kinds of flying creatures, the most well-known being the founding of the Audubon society.  At the turn of the century, the Audubon Society offered 5 public lectures on such topics as “Woman as a bird enemy”. In 1910, the Audubon Plumage Law reigned in extravagant millinery practices harmful to wildlife, which is why I’m using humane but no less elaborate pheasant feathers.

There are a few modern re-makes that I snuck in to help complete the overall outfit.  Firstly, what you see under my suit jacket is more like the sensible and fully wearable option to the little neck dickies in the Butterick pattern.  I am wearing a full blouse, something that is a modern re-make my mom bought for me maybe a decade ago.  I am sure as fashionable as a woman of circa 1914 might have been, no doubt she would have appreciated the practical option of taking off her jacket, versus the façade of the neck-only dickies.  My blouse has a hidden button placket up the front, which would have been in the back for a true-vintage piece, but this is undetectable enough to not detract from my overall authenticity.  At my neck, I am wearing a “Downton Abbey” brand brooch I had bought from a Department store years back.  I think it is the perfect touch!  My glass bead earrings are from my Grandmother’s jewelry collection.

DSC_0199a-comp,w,cropFinally, my boots are something that I found at Wal-mart (of all places) about 17 years back.  They are only vinyl, yet they do have working grommet and hook closures plus a semi-French heel, so close enough is again wonderful.  Not that I wouldn’t be willing to spend a bit of money to have my ideally perfect outfit…but when I have items ‘close enough’ on hand already, that’s even better because what I’ve been holding on to for years can get its long-awaited opportunity to be useful and shine.

THE FACTS:Butterick 6108

FABRIC:  Suit Jacket – 100% linen exterior and a cotton lining with a combo of cotton brocade and linen for the collars; Hobble Skirt – 100% linen; Hat – Wool felt hat blank

Past Patterns hobble skirt pattern-compPATTERNS:  Suit Jacket came from Butterick #6108, a 1912 pattern; the hobble skirt was made using a Past Pattern, a copy of a Pictorial Review #5462, circa 1911 to 1913; the hat was self-drafted from looking at era authentic fashion plates and photos

NOTIONS:  Surprisingly, much of what I needed came from on hand, as it needed not all that odd of supplies.  I went through lots and lots of thread (of course), and I covered most all the inner seams of the jacket in bias tape.  The skirt’s inner waistband has a ribbon from my stash, and hook-and-eye tape (which I always try to keep on hand) goes in the side closure.  Vintage fancy buttons for the skirt pleats look as if they could be authentic jet, but they’re only deceptive plastic.  They came from the stash of my dear departed Grandmother.  Cotton interfacing (another vintage notion I always try to keep on hand) went into the collars and sleeve cuffs.  The only notions I had to buy was the frog closures for the jacket, the pheasant feathers (from Hobby Lobby), and the hemp ribbon (found at the Dollar Store).

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The skirt was made first, and was finished on March 28, 2017, after only 8 hours.  The jacket was done on April 20, 2017, after only 20 hours.  The hat was made on April 21, after only an hour or two.

DSC_0184,a,p-comp,wTHE INSIDES:  I finished everything so nicely in bias tape.

TOTAL COST:  The linen for the jacket exterior was made from a combo of one vintage tablecloth (found at rummage sale for $1) and a one yard cut of linen bought at Wal-Mart about 17 years back (old enough to be counted as free).  The cotton jacket lining was on sale at Jo Ann’s Fabrics for $2 a yard at 4 ½ yards (about $9).  The damask collar was $10 for half of a yard (coming from the expensive home furnishings section) and the grey toned linen for the skirt and single jacket collar was also only $2 a yard, bought when Hancock Fabrics was closing its business ($4 for only 2 yards).  The frog closures actually came from the button section, and so were a bit more expensive.  The supplies for the hats cost me a total of only $20.  So…added up, this outfit is a total of about $50.  Not a bad price for not cutting any corners with what I wanted!

DSC_0187-comp,wAs to the actual sewing, each piece really easily came together.  Making each was no harder than regular sewing and, when I think about it, actually more fun and informative!  The biggest challenge to making this set was the fact that I had to put on all the appropriate matching under layers (meaning the underwear combo, corset, slip, and blouse) each time I wanted to try on my suit jacket and skirt, see if they fit, and tailor them appropriately.  If I was going to do what a woman of those time would have done, fitting the suit to any other shape would have been pointless – a modern shape has too many buldges.  This caveat was not all that bad as it sounds.  Sure it was a bit of a bother, I was dedicated.  You know, the best part is it got me used to dressing into and wearing the Titanic era garments, so much so that it was not all that odd when I actually got around to wearing the full outfit out and about in public.

DSC_0193a-comp,wI found the fit of both patterns to be at generous.  The skirt pattern ran a few inches big and I had to make a giant pleat/tuck kind of adaptation down the center back as a fix, while the jacket was just a tad generous so I went down in size to find my perfect fit.  Other than this tip, my two garments needed no other change and were made as-is.  The skirt needed a giant 8 inch hem, but the wide hem helped properly which down and round out the bottom like interfacing.  Keep in mind that the teens era skirts have longer backs than fronts as the corsets were designed to smooth out the bum and back curve so they naturally sat higher from behind.  As I am quite skinny in my corset, I had to even out the hem, anyway.  The jacket sleeves were slightly brought closer into the armpit for more reach room – and yes, I do have full and comfortable movement!  I suppose I could have shortened the sleeves for my lightly petite frame, but they’re ok.  I did add a ribbon closure inside the jacket to help keep the wide open neckline closed better, with a small hidden hook-and-eye at the point where the asymmetric collar ends.

My biggest shortcut to sewing the jacket was to line each ivory linen jacket piece with the black lining.  I didn’t want any seam allowances showing through the light colored linen. Backing the pieces in the back knocked out ‘two birds with one stone’ by providing opacity and lining.  I just then finished off the seam edges with bias tape and top-stitched them down in their proper directions.  Not the best way, I know, but it gets the job done almost just as nicely yet quicker.  I do not like to take more time than is reasonable on an outfit that will not see all that much wearing.

(I’d like to title this next picture, “Hello ladies, may we chat?”)

DSC_0150,b&w-comp,w

I originally planned on a fully hand-made, from scratch millinery creation for the hat to match my outfit, but I was running short on time before the event I was to attend.  This is why I re-fashioned a hat.  The wonderful Tanith Rowan (blog here) was of assistance to be at this step, and even provided a few helpful links to free newspaper archives for some awesome yet relatively easy patterns from 1912 and 1913.  I have plans for those hats yet on another future teens era project, but for now I think this hat is just what my outfit needed.  No kidding – my set was “meh” or even “good” but still missing something until I put the hat on and it turned into amazing!  The power of hats is truly underrated.  They add so much to an outfit and a person…and with a hat like this, it can even add height when you have dramatic feathers!

If you’ve made it this far reading, thank you for joining me on my tirade about my efforts to make the perfect World War I commemorative outfit.  I have a special Pinterest board dedicated to my inspiration for this project – please visit it here.

So much of what has happened in the past is linked to why things are how they are in the present and clothing can be used as a tool to help tell such a story.  I like to share how my sewing skills help me accomplish that.  Look for more (and perhaps less involved) WWI era and older historical clothes to come here on my blog!

Shopping at the Old Arcade

Most people generally know twenties clothing as being tubular with drop waists.  Many also frequently think of the twenties as having beading, sheer fabrics, and fringe, but that was for evening and special occasion.  However, do you know what the turn of the decade, year 1920, actually looked like for everyday wear?  When I started doing research on this I was surprised.  Very high waists, overly exaggerated hips (many with ruffles and ridiculous pockets), slightly awkward long mid-calf length hems, and loose but lovely bust-less blouses.  Yes – this was the year 1920, when women were wearing fashion which was both a carry-over from 1918 – 1919 that was also finding its way for changing up styles in a new decade.  Here is my sewing creation interpreting the year 1920, as a woman in her nice, almost sporty, and nothing-too-fancy clothes to go do some window shopping.
DSC_0262,p,a-comp,w

Actual teens era/1920s hand painted glass buttons (close-up picture here on my Instagram) were included on the blouse I made, as well as several hours of decorative hand stitching on both neck and sleeves.  My hat is a thrift store purchase, which already had straw flowers, but I piled on a wide lace band and silk flowers for an old fashioned style.   I also made the skirt and the purse, as well as some of the authentic lingerie I’m wearing underneath.  This ensemble did not look right (silhouette speaking) until I had the correct undergarments, which I sewed myself as well (post for them here).

DSC_0277a-comp,w

Period authentic doesn’t have to be old-fashioned or un-wearable today.  Because it is all cotton and not body figure conscious, this is really quite comfy to wear.  Sure, it’s different, but yet lovely and tasteful enough for me to only receive kindly smiles from strangers who saw me.  I love the subtle complexity, the understated richness, and the odd femininity to the style of my 1920 pieces.  The ideal of beauty and the popular silhouette for women has changed so much throughout history, and this is just another incarnation that I am glad to have learned to appreciate through sewing it for myself!

THE FACTS:McCall 9412 & Pict.Review Overblouse, both ca. 1920, fm Past Patterns

FABRIC:  100% cotton specialty twill for the skirt, 100% cotton for the blouse, and a tapestry remnant (mystery content) for the purse lined in a burgundy Kona cotton leftover from this project.

PATTERNS:  Past Pattern’s No. 8268, Ladies’ Overblouse, from Pictorial Review circa 1920; a Past Pattern’s No. 9412 “Ladies’ Skirt with Hip Pocket Effect” from McCall Company circa 1920 , and a Vogue 7252 year 2000 patternVogue #7252 from the year 2000 for the purse

NOTIONS:  The notions for this came from everywhere.  The detailed, Art Nouveau-style brass buttons were a Hancock Fabrics’ store brand item, bought when the company was closing, while the old vintage blouse buttons were from our favorite antique store.  Most everything else needed was on hand – I even had the tassel for the purse in my stash!  

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The skirt was made in about 6 hours and finished on October 21, 2016.  The blouse took 8 to 10 hours, with 4 more hours for the hand embroidery, and was finished on February 26, 2017.  The purse was made in about 2 hours on February 28, 2017.

TOTAL COST:  The skirt’s fabric was bought at the now defunct Hancock Fabrics for less than $2 a yard…and I only needed 2 yards here.  I have 2 something extra yards still left for another (upcoming) project.  The blouse’s cotton was bought at JoAnn’s fabric recently for maybe $10.  The brass buttons were expensive even with the Hancock Fabrics closing clearance – maybe $17 – while the old buttons on the blouse were only $5.  The tapestry brocade came from I don’t know where from I don’t know how long ago, thus I’m counting it as free, but the cord handle was bought at JoAnn’s for about $4.  So, my total is about $40 something.

DSC_0232,p,a-comp,wWorking with patterns this old presented plenty of unknowns, but the primary one was in regards to fit.  What kind of body, what kind of peculiarities, and what ease do these patterns account for?  It’s one thing to get something to fit, but historical garments need a particular fit (as well as the right underwear) to be authentically worn.  I did have the assurance that my pattern came from Past Patterns Company…every single garment I have made from what they offer is a wonderful success I am most happy with.  No wonder they’ve been in business almost 40 years!

Let me start by talking about the bodice.  After some figuring, my estimated bust measurement of the blouse pattern as-is (in the size 38 to 40 bust) is 45 inch around.  This led to my figuring the wearing ease to this blouse was about 5 inches over and above the bigger of the two sizes (bust 40).  I can see that the bust is supposed to be bloused and roomy (over a flat chest) so I went down to a generous measurement for myself and ended taking out a total of 4 inches around hoping to end up at what would be the next size smaller for this pattern.  The side seam allowance is 1 whole inch so I figured I had plenty of room to fix a wrong calculation is sizing, but still…it’s easier to  take out some extra than it is to be stuck with a garment which ends up too small.  I totally feel like I nailed the right fit!

DSC_0253a-comp,w

I realized that this is an overblouse that I am not wearing as an overblouse.  This is not the first time I have made an over blouse only to wear it tucked into a skirt – see this 1958 project.  When I received my pattern in the mail Saundra Altman kindly included a tutorial page on how to add in a stay-belt inside the blouse.  As I am just getting the feel for teens and early 20’s dressing, I kept the construction of my blouse simple from the waist downPerry, Dame & Co Catalog, New York styles, fall and winter 1919-1920 because for now I plan on only wearing it as you see it.  At some future point I hope to make a year 1920-style pleated skirt and wear this same top as a proper overblouse, and at that point I might come back and add the welt pockets and a stay-band to the waist.

I did use my oldest (1930’s) sewing machine to do all the button holes along the front opening, but I also splurged and used all cotton thread and self-fabric bias tape for the neckline.  After I had made the button holes I decided I really didn’t want to subject the buttons to the wear and tear of pushing them through every time.  So, I still sewed two at a time connected like link buttons but they’re on there permanently for now, and if I want them off I’ll just cut the linking threads.  I did try to make these buttons linked by a metal loop with a connecting chain but I had disaster strike doing that.  The back loop on one broke by cracking right off, but it is a molded part of the rest of the button so it cannot be fixed unless I glue some loop or such on it.  I never guessed these were as fragile as they seem to be.  Until I figure out how to add something to the back of this broken button, I will sadly made-do with one at the top closure.  This is the risk of working with, or even wearing, old original items from many decades back – they are unique and fragile, but deserve to be seen nonetheless, so using them is a risk that also could only garners appreciation.

DSC_0246-comp,w

My decorative hand stitching is I know not the best compared to many others, but this is so much better than I used to be able to do.  Whatever my skill, the stitching does take my blouse to the next level, I think, besides show casing an old time-honored practice that modern garments are so far from.  Hand stitching was very much needed here because of the rather plain color of the blouse’s cotton.  I made my own design, and after several unsuccessful Art Deco drawings I settled on the softer more feminine floral on my blouse.  After all King Tut’s tomb would not yet be discovered for a few years from 1920!

The skirt probably would’ve fit me pretty much as-is, but I did add one extra inch to the waistband only to be on the safe side for fit.  I did not change the rest of the skirt because I wanted the gathers to be a bit looser.  Looking back I wish I had made no gathers across the center front of the skirt – the pockets and the hip panel would look better.  No matter, I like it just the same! DSC_0297a-comp,w

The skirt did not need any special closures for the left side opening – the placket kind of conceals itself because of the side seam pleat overlay.  Only hook-and-eyes keep it together at the waistline.  The waistband is quite neat.  It is a two inch band against my skin on the inside, with a 4 inch waistband gathered horizontally on the outside so it looks like a cummerbund belt.

DSC_0220a-comp,wTrue to the era, the back of the skirt is just a long rectangle for a small taste of the slim and skinny.  What a contrast for the front!  Along the front geometric pocket edge I made my own self-fabric “ribbon” to decorate, finish, and stabilize the edge.  At first I tried a brown velvet ribbon for the edge, but, no – I didn’t look good so I took it off and went with the matching fabric.  This pocket edge needs to be stiff enough to stick out on its own and define the hips so I was tempted to add interfacing.  My skirt’s twill fabric was thick enough that three layers along the edge (1 – the skirt, 2 – the ribbon edging seam allowance inside, 3 – outside of the ribbon edging) was plenty good.

Needless to say, as much as I love pockets, these take the cake! My skirt’s pockets are like mini suitcases.  I can keep everything in them and it doesn’t even make a difference the skirt is so roomy and meant to be billowy.  Yet, the only thing that mystifies me about my 1920 outfit is the pockets, mostly because the purses and hand bags were so tiny!  Pockets and purses were still relatively new items to 1920, and both signifying the independence and progression of women, but to go overboard with such a contrast between the two in interesting to me.  As you can see, I did take a slight shortcut and have the pocket opening close with a snap rather than a real working button and button hole.

DSC_0240a-comp,w

Patterns for both the skirt and the blouse both seemed to run very long.  I made the shorter length of the overblouse, which was just over 10 inches shorter than the full-length option, and it is still falls about mid-thigh on me.  For my skirt, I took out 4 whole inches from the length because as-is the pattern falls to floor length (I’m about 5’ 3” height).  Now, take into account the fact that these two garments are meant to have deep hems, especially the skirt.  My skirt does have a wide 3 inch hem to it which helps to weigh it down properly besides bringing it to the proper just-below-calf length for the year 1920.  Skirt and dress lengths of 1920 seem to be just enough to show the ankles, just enough to move freely in, and a tad shorter than just a year or two before (1919-ish).1916 purses

My purse is something so easy but I’m so tickled at how lovely and cute it turned out.  The pattern I used is a real unknown gem with lovely designs straight out of the teens and 20’s.  I remember my mom and I being so excited when this came out!  Look at this comparison between a 1916 handbag poster for comparison.  In a 1926 catalog, I’ve even seen a strikingly similar version to “View C”!  They are all really quite simple designs but I like the fact they give the tracing designs for all the beading and decoration.  My purse doesn’t hold much but came together so quickly.  Trimmings and de-luxe materials seems like the way to go with this pattern and a remnant was all I needed.  I will definitely be using this again!

In the 1920’s, handbags were often just enough room for a few small essentials (including lipstick and keys) and often geometric in shape, like my own vers ion.  Mine is probably way too stuffed than what a 1920 woman would have carried, yet as it was I didn’t have room for everything I needed!  Also in the 1920’s, handbags weren’t necessarily meant to match with an outfit but carry their own tasteful, individual, and often ostentatious flair…quite different from modern times!

DSC_0285a-comp,w

By making my purse (a ‘reticule’ style) from tapestry I am harkening back to a popular type of “daytime” purses of the 1920s – ones made of richly complex fabric carpet bags and delicately flourished needlepoint.  Handbags from these materials seem to either be meant to show the wealth of the one possessing it or the talent of the maker, as many of these types of purses were often handmade by either the woman herself or someone for the company that sold it and some were quite expensive.  By having a decorative tassel at the center bottom point I’m aiming to narrow this to a primarily early 20’s piece.  To read and see more, this “Vintage Dancer” page has a wonderful overview of all the ways 1920’s women carried what they needed.  There is so much history to this littlest part of my ensemble!

All the materials I used for this outfit are just a dream to wear and were wonderful to sew.  The twill for the skirt is a lovely weight and hand – almost as heavy as a denim, slight body, but drapey and soft enough to hang nicely.  The low-key design of the fabric adds interest and keeps the olive and brown tones to it from being too drab.  The cotton of the blouse is so soft it doesn’t really wrinkle all that much and it’s just sheer enough to be pretty.  The tapestry of the purse is so rough, textured, and stiff it provides a nice contrast to the blouse and skirt.

DSC_0215a-comp,b&w

The place of our photo shoot is something quite special.  Not only is it a city landmark and the town’s best example of Gothic Revival architecture, but it is a National Historic Landmark.  I’m talking about the St. Louis Arcade/Wright Building, opened in year 1919 as one of the very first indoor shopping areas of its kind in the country, a very early, but much more elegant version of the modern American suburban, indoor, covered “Mall”.  Just think how extraordinary this is from a historical standpoint – plans for this steel and stone skyscraper was begun in 1913 before World War I and many of the materials needed for this building were rationed.  Federal officials closed and postponed many construction operations during WWI.  It is rumored that the principle contractor apparently had a simultaneous deal with the government at the time, so I suppose he was able to pull a few strings.  The Arcade was the tallest building in the world for a number of years.  Besides, the architect, Tom Barnett, was something quite important nationally.  This multi-story hall was recently renovated (after being vacant for several decades), preserving much original pieces so that the Arcade can still give visitors a taste of what it might have been in its heyday when people came here for high-end purchases such as jewelry and fine china.  Being able to walk through and visit places like this in period authentic clothes makes sewing this outfit a very worthwhile experience.

DSC_0295aa-comp,wP.S. Good news…you don’t necessarily have to sew if you want this ‘look’!  ReVamp vintage has re-made an amazing year 1921 oversized pocket skirt very similar to my own, the “Prudence” with brownish olive twill and lovely details!  Although, there are a few ways to wear a modern take on such a style – “Dress Romantic” on Etsy marketplace has a neat version that’s my favorite!  As for ready-to-wear 1920 style blouses, ReVamp has lovely options but any loose modern blouse with lace and/or feminine details would work – my favorites are this Anthropologie yellow blouse, this J.Crew cream colored pleated neckline blouse, or this sheer smocked neckline top.  There’s always old originals out there, too, (like this one) for a taste of the real thing!  Will you be channeling the early 1920’s for yourself, or have you already?

Save