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, by 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, although I have yet to 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.  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 anything 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, so I will definitely show you what I wore (and made) in a future post.

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

A Fancy Feed Sack 1935 Dress Set

Something as commonplace as a vintage feed sack print gets an upscale upgrade when it came to planning and making my Easter outfit of the year 2014. I had made a number of 30’s era garments earlier than my 2014 Easter outfit, but an authentic and all-out-beautiful classic of the mid-1930s (one of my favorite fashion era years) was in order sooner or later in my plans. Here is my post about a sheer, flowing, silk chiffon afternoon tea dress with a under slip which has Art Deco lines. This 1930s silk set was quite time consuming to finish perfectly, but very fulfilling to make and even more lovely to wear.

100_2792a-compMy Easter dress for the year before this one was a design from the 1920’s (my 1929 hankie-hem dress made in 2013; posted here). For 2014, I merely went up a decade to the 30’s, to have some continuity of progression through the upcoming years.

THE FACTS:100_2800-comp

FABRIC:  The sheer feed sack printed over dress is an “Anna Sui Vintage Floral Silk Chiffon” (close-up at right) from Mood Fabrics. The under slip was made using a “Kiwi Color Solid Silk Chiffon”, also ordered from Mood.

NOTIONS:  I bought most of the notions that went into making my 1930’s Easter set. I had to buy several spools of thread, a package of stay tape, the buttons, and a skein of embroidery floss. I did have on hand the few snaps which were required. The belt buckle is a very old Art deco piece that I also had on hand, bought a while back from a vintage shop. PastPatterns#2303 SummerPartyDress ca1935

PATTERN:  My outer dress is a pattern from Past Patterns, #2303, “Summer Party Dress: Circa 1935”. The under slip pattern comes from the book “Vintage Lingerie” by Jill Salen, pages 46 to 49, the “1930’s Silk Slip”.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The outer sheer dress came together quite quickly considering, about 20 hours stretched out over 4 or 5 days. It would have been even less if I hadn’t caused more work for myself when it came to the sleeves (I’ll explain this down lower). The slip took…oh, my, very much time! It took long enough to get the slip wearable with the dress in time for Easter (April 20th), but much longer to do the final fitting, seam finishes, and embroidery details. I worked on the fine finishing details on and off for the next few months until it was finally done in August of 2014 (for a total of maybe 30 hours).

100_3408a-compTHE INSIDES:  All the inside seams for the sheer over dress are done in French seams, except for the bottom skirt flounce inserts, which were lapped on, and the skinny ¼ inch hems. My under slip had the bodice panels lapped on, similar to a flat felled seam. All the other seams to the slip were made in clean finished seams covered with a strip of stay tape for sturdiness (see left picture).

TOTAL COST:  I ordered 3 yards of the Anna Sui Feed Sack Silk Chiffon, at a sum of $38.40. Now the Kiwi Solid Chiffon was $39 for my cut yardage of 3 ½ yards, but I only used a yard and a half for the slip ($19.50). My total cost for the outfit fabric comes to $58, but…I didn’t have to pay for it! It was free as part of $100 gift credit, my prize for winning the “Butterick to the Big Screen Contest” in June of 2013. All I really paid for then was the notions, which might have been $10 or less! Score!

This was my very first time sewing with silk this fine and expensive. Boy, was I intimidated! I was so afraid of messing things up or having something in some way going wrong. But I knew I just needed to dive in and start learning and progressing. I did use my hubby’s Grandmother’s old Brother sewing machine because it has a smooth run, predictable stitches (besides, my favorite tried and true work horse machine was needing repair). I also started out with brand new “sharps” needles, and replaced one or two more needles on my machine throughout the outfit’s construction to eliminate any possibility of getting runs in the silk chiffon. Besides these basic steps, and just plain old being careful, thinking clearly, and taking my time, sewing with these silk was a truly a wonderful dream.

100_5771a-compI am still amazed at how easy the Anna Sui silk chiffon was to sew…much, much easier than polyester chiffon, with less runs and fraying than a poly imitation, too. Now I did find the thicker solid Kiwi Chiffon to be a bit more of a problem, but I think maybe it was just because I “wrestled” with making the slip work for so long, I may have a bit of prejudice towards it. At first, I also experimented with some scraps to do the method recommended on a few tutorials and blogs – keeping a layer of wax paper between the feed dogs and the chiffon. It was not working for me nor worth the trouble. All I did was stitch slowly and evenly, feeling out the bias of the fabric and being extremely careful to not stretch it in the least.

100_5786a-compUsing stay tape really helped add some body and help the feed dogs grip the fabric better, as well as stabilizing the seams for wearing. Stay tape was even sewn into every dart, and on top of the slip seams, because I didn’t want to rip or tear anything from the movement of wearing the dress. Look carefully in the picture at left of the dress’ insides and you can see the stay tape netting strips.  This was the best idea for my dress – the stay tape holds and helps all the seams, does not itch against the skin, and is just as perfectly soft and flowing as the silk. Thank you to the wonderful employee at my Hancock Fabric store for giving me the idea.

The Past Pattern for the over dress seemed to be close to my size, just a tad larger all over than what I needed. Knowing that, from my experience, many 1930’s patterns run small, I cut it out as is and it turned out just perfect. The one single change I made to the construction was to make single darts on each right and left side (a total of two) for the waist back instead of making them in pairs on each side (for a total of four) as the pattern instructs. Everything else for the pattern was made unaltered.100_5784a-comp

Believe it or not, there are only 4 easy pieces to make the afternoon dress. All the pieces fit and matched together perfectly. The sleeves and the skirt flounce inserts are cut on the 100_5776a-compbias and all other pieces (the front and back dress panels) are cut on straight grain. As you can see, I did choose the square neck option (over the V-neck). I love the gentle fit of the tiny double bust darts on each side of the front panel. What the pattern calls “cape sleeves” also have a tiny dart along the top of the shoulder coming from the neckline for a small touch of added shaping. There is a small opening a few inches in for a snap closure at the right neckline of the raglan seam of the sleeve, so the dress goes over the head easily.

I decided to add the sleeve hem ruffles, and it took several hours to do their hemming, gathering, and stitching down. After, the ruffles were on, I just could not like them. So…off they came after some serious time spent unpicking. My hubby generously did a good amount of the unpicking while I worked on the waist belt. I did end up having the trim a bit off the edge of the sleeves after the ruffles were out, just because the silk is too fine to not get affected by sewing and unpicking, so they are a tad shorter than intended. The belt 100_2805-compcame out wonderfully, but I wish it was a little longer. It was supposed to be my size but only hangs out a handful of inches past my old amazing Art Deco buckle. Oh well – as long as it makes it around my waist. The belt is lined in the same fabric as the under slip, making the belt pretty much reversible and similar in color tone as the rest of the dress.

The side closure is a simple button and loop style. I used the same “President braid” trim leftover from making my scalloped collar “The Artist” movie dress for the loops, and sandwiched them under some more stay tape for support along the one opening edge. On the other side of the side closure edge are tiny light pink heart shaped buttons to go with the feminine theme and pastel colors of my dress set.100_5773a-comp

Jill Salen book coverMy under slip pattern, coming from the book, had to be enlarged 200% in order to become full sized and usable. I had a local print shop do this step for me instead of my doing the re-grading by hand and ruler. I did my best at measuring the proportions of the slip to find out what size it might be. The patterns from the book were not made from other patterns, but from old vintage pieces themselves (I suppose whatever the author had access to or owned herself) so each piece in the book is a random mysterious size. Every time I use a pattern from this book “Vintage Lingerie”, it’s like taking a gamble. From what I could tell, the slip would be close to my size, so I added on seam allowances (5/8 inch) and cut it out as is. The entire slip is apparently and early 30’s design and meant to be worn under a bias dress, that is why it has such long lines and all straight grain pieces. The only bias to the slip is on the curved shaped edge of the upper bodice panels.

100_3517a-comp

My little dachshund is that dark thing on the floor at my feet!

Once it was finished, the slip was tried on and, yes it did fit but – wow – it was tight! My hips are about 35”, with my waist about 8 inches smaller than that, so I’m assuming this slip would comfortably fit someone smaller than me. My closest size estimate is that, unaltered, this 30’s slip is for a size 30” – 32” bust, 25” waist, and 33” hips. I was hoping to make the slip go on and off without needing a side closure so I needed to make extra room somehow. After some brainstorming with hubby, we came up with the idea of cutting out another two center front panel pieces from the slip pattern and adding it into the side seams. The center front panel is skinny with a slightly wider taper at hem end giving just the little bit of extra room I needed much like a godet. Adding in the side panels did add more seams for me to finish off, but so it had to be. I do wish the slip was a bit longer on me, and I think I’ll write a note to adjust the pattern, but I‘ve done enough work on it so I can’t complain.

100_5789a-compIn our pictures of me wearing just the slip, it actually fits tighter than originally when it was newly finished. This is because I didn’t wash the silk first before I assembled and wore it for Easter. It was washed later and now has a snug and complimentary body forming fit, but this was not intended. From the feel it, I am supposing the silk might act similarly to denim blue jeans: the fit is tighter once newly dried and out of the wash, loosens up again as I wear it, until the next time it gets cleaned when it shrinks up again. On the opposite side of things, the outer sheer overdress was not washed before the pictures were taken and it didn’t shrink much at all from washing it. The chiffon did change its finish, though, going from smooth and flat to looking like a seersucker after it was washed. The seersucker look is not a bad thing to have, and I like it enough to not iron it out…it was just unexpected. I normally wash every fabric before using, but now I know to make no exceptions (not even for silk, wool or linen) if I don’t want surprises.

100_3522a-compThe original blue slip shown in the book had more fine details, such as fagoting, drawn threads, and eyelet embroidery, than my own version. Making the slip was hard enough the way it was. However, I’m not really complaining, just happy the extra effort I put in comes to such a unique and special finished garment, even if (besides counting myself) it only gets seen on my blog! I don’t know if the front panel detailing was meant to be a monogram, and I was tempted to design my own, but it had a nice Art Deco design to it so I hand-stitched it exactly as the original in the book.

Afternoon Tea dresses have a style and beauty all their own. Soft flowing fabrics created a free-flowing, feminine, and comfortable garment – for summer it would be rayon, sheer cotton, and silk (if you had money in the 30’s), and for winter, wool crepes, rayon, and satins be in order. The swinging silhouette of mid 30’s afternoon dresses was achieved with flared bias panels and simplicity in design, like my own dress set, compared to day dresses which often had pleats and details like embellishments. Day dresses’ necklines had a utilitarian style, such as collars or front zippers and buttons, while afternoon dresses had simple, beautifully shaped necklines. Day or afternoon dresses were both quite decent as far as covering, but the “day” style was more utilitarian (for shopping or working at a job) while the “afternoon” style was for out of the home leisure, eating out, and other nice occasions. (Info from here.) A slim and sleek silhouette with wide but softly shaped shoulders is period appropriate for the decade of my dress with a belt necessary to define the waist, since the early 30’s drop waist look (of the 20’s) was definitely gone by 1935. My Easter dress set is indeed the perfect “tea” length which is mid-shin, iconic of the 1930’s…an odd length really, but quite complimentary once worn (so I think).

100_2787-compAfternoon dresses came from a time when there was a garment for different times of the day and occasions of life – day wear, afternoon “tea” outfits, house dresses, evening elegance, leisure gowns, negligée sets and nightwear. This did not last much longer past the 1940’s, but it sure provides an interesting variety of styles and garments to suit any person’s taste, body type, and need. History provides such a variety of vintage fashions. This variety enables “vintage” to be easily re-made (whether from a pattern – reprints and originals – or an old original piece) and worn in our modern times than many people realize. Try something new, and you might just find a new favorite!

Leaf Piling in Plaid

Leaves can be the curse or the joy of the season of fall.  So also, plaid prints can be the bane or the delight of those who sew and work with fabric.  Either way, if you want to move on to other things, both have to dealt with at some point.  So why not enjoy leaves and plaid at the same time?

I chose a simple shaped year 1928 Past Patterns reprint to make an earth-toned plaid dress perfect for fall’s transitional weather.  The straight lines and simple shaping of a late 20’s dress was also perfect to take the stress out of plaid matching.  A giant sycamore tree supplied the leaves to enjoy and an old Art Deco vitrolite decorated building provided the time-rewind backdrop.

100_4117THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  My plaid dress fabric is an incredibly lightweight, semi-sheer 100% cotton.  The plaid pattern is woven as part of the fabric, which I suppose, combined with the natural cotton content, technically makes it a textile and therefore quite historical.  Then, I go and ruin the historical bragging rights of my dress by lining my plaid fabric in a modern 100% cotton broadcloth (although broadcloth isn’t too UN-historical).  As you can see, the brown cotton broadcloth also went towards making the side godet/gusset inserts and the necktie.  Both fabrics were bought from Hancock Fabrics store.  100_4129

NOTIONS:  I only needed thread, but later on, when I also needed a zipper, that was in my stash too.

PATTERN:  A Past Patterns reprint #2792, Ladies’ and Misses Dress with Kimono Sleeves: Circa 1928-1929″.  Simplicity 4365, year 2005, was used for the godets added into the side seams.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My dress was completed on October 13, 2014.  I spent maybe 15 hours to finish this project, not too fast but not over long of a time either.

TOTAL COST:  The plaid cotton was super cheap on their ‘spot the bolt’ discount – I got everything on the bolt (only 1 yard and 28 inches) at only $2.00 a yard.  The brown broadcloth was on sale for $1.99 a yard.  Altogether, my total for everything comes to about $10 or less.

The sizing for this pattern showed measurement which were way too large for my size.  Naturally, I thought, “o.k, it needs to be graded down”.  I was technically right, but boy was I wrong.  However, this dress is another happy case of a mistake turning into a ‘design opportunity’, making my project even better than originally imagined.

100_4125     It seems that 20’s patterns have their own funny way of fitting…like, not at all!  No, really, they are based on straight rectangles, with no accounting for the reality of womanly bust/waist curves.  This fitting coincides with the ideal shape for the 20’s: a flattened bust and an elongated waist-less silhouette which focuses only on the hips.  Fitting was tailored in a unusual, unique, and subtle way that I myself have a hard time attaining in my 20’s projects, especially for my tango knickers.  From my experience, a 20’s pattern technically needs to be a size or two too large for you to fit…I am not joking.  I have a few late 20’s original McCall patterns, and they fit the same way – if you make sure the bust fits, then the rest of the dress (outfit) won’t fit, and it’s not just because of my hips.  Women are naturally hip dominant.  That being said, 1920’s patterns run tight in the hips, large in the bust, so you naturally have to go up in the era’s sizing.  Then, it might just lay on the body the way it should for the era, as long as you provide the proper 20’s shape underneath.  For example, the bust of my finished dress originally did not fit (it was too tight) when worn with a modern brassiere.  You have to wear something that flattens or at least offers low support to get the proper 20’s look and fit when you’re lacking period authentic foundation garments.

100_4019     Even though it was not completely the right move, I am proud at how well I figured the down grading of this 20’s pattern.  I divided the amount to take out in two (actually four) increments vertically between the aches of the dropped waist.  My picture shows grading for one of the bodice pieces.  Look how perfectly rectangular the piece is shaped, like I mentioned above.  Actually, grading down gave me just enough room to squeeze in all four pattern pieces into my small cut of plaid fabric.  Remember…I was only working with 1 yard and 28 inches of a 45 inch width fabric – yikes!  I folded the selvedge edges into the center and was thus able to place all four pieces (a front and back bodice, a front and back skirt) on a fold edge.  I would never have thought something like my finished dress could be made from so little fabric.

Here is a pattern which practically had no thorough assembly clarification as do modern instruction sheets.  There is merely a short paragraph and a picture or two to guide you, even less than the little that was given for my last Past Pattern, my 1931 dress.  As long as you know sewing and construction methods comfortably well, Past Patterns’ 1928 dress pattern should be rather self-explanatory coming together.  My method was to prepare both the skirt front and skirt back, as well as the bodice front and bodice back.  Next the bodice front was lapped seamed on the skirt front, and the same for the back sections.  Next the full front and full back were joined at the shoulder seams so I could do the neckline facing slash and necktie.  Finally the side seams were completed last…this was when I tried the dress on myself and realized (oh no) it was way too snug of a fit to be a proper 20’s silhouette.

100_4122100_3997     Ah ha!  No sweat – I had the ideal happy solution for the snug fit in my head!  Many skirts and dresses between the years 1910 to 1930 used godet inserts, a triangular piece of fabric usually set vertically into the hem of a garment to add fullness.  Their use faded somewhat in the 40’s and 50’s, and were mostly forgotten thereafter.  See the 1910 ladies walking skirt, this “Stylish Woman of 1928 in Day Dress”, or Eva Dress’ 1930 Dinner Gown, and also my own “The Artist” movie look-alike dress to see uses of godets through the 1910’s to 1930’s.  Thus, a godet was the perfect solution in more ways than one to fix the fitting issues of this 1928 dress of mine.  The use of the side godets being in the contrast on my dress also lends my dress a sort of “tabard” appearance, another fashion style used intermittently all the way from the Middle Ages into the 50’s and 60’s.  (See this 20’s style tabard dress and this 1963 dress for two examples)  Beyond all my historical proof, I love the way the brown godets were the model fix for a perfect fit, giving me a graded amount of extra room.  I personally think my dress looks better with the contrast godets than if it was without.  Between you and I, however, I did opt to add a zipper in the left side for ease of dressing.  The zipper is pretty invisible (I think) sandwiched in between the dress and the godet fabric under my arm.

I want to make a point that I found the dress length to be very, very long.  I had to make a 5 inch hem to bring it up to a decent 20’s style length.  The arched hip/skirt seam seems to fall in the right spot on my body so I really don’t think the dress needs to be shortened from out of the bodice area, just from out of the skirt section itself.  There is a blind hem done at the bottom of the skirt to make the large 5 inch turn up invisible.

100_4109     Using plaid for this Past Pattern makes sewing the dress extremely fun and easy.  Folding in the box pleats was merely a matter of matching up lines of the plaid.  This minimized the necessity of full chalk markings, which, in the end, saved some time.  Now you can see how the dress was quite easy and not too challenging to make, but a tad time consuming at the same time. 1926 vertical jabot dress pattern ad-cropped

My plaid 1928 dress is ridiculously fun and extremely comfy to wear – totally an easy play, shop, work, and general do-it-all in vintage style type of garment.  The only thing that stumps me is the decision to tie or not to tie the long neckband.  It looks so cute both ways!  According to this vintage 1926 magazine ad for a pattern, it looks like ladies wore it both ways.  Which way do you like?

There are plenty more pictures, especially some extra detail shots, on my Flickr Seam Racer page.  Also, if you’re interested (like me) in some amazing history tidbits, pop on over to ‘History Orb.com’ (link here) to get some ‘wow’ moments as you run through the info.

A ‘Double-Duty’ 1931 Day Dress

This “new” vintage dress which I have recently made is an all-around transitional piece, in more ways than one.  It offers a print and fabric and colors all perfect for the varying temperatures of both fall and spring.  At the same time, as a vintage/historical garment, my dress is a mix of styles and fashion ideals which were used through three decades: the 20’s, the 30’s, and the 40’s.  Wow…that’s a lot to go into something to wear!  It might be unusual, and certainly different – but a neat different.

100_3967a     Two different fabric types and the ability to snap on (or off) matching long sleeves make this 1931 dress a versatile winner in my wardrobe.  My dress has the appearance of a separate blouse and a skirt in one neat vintage project. I really love the way I can dress for cooler weather without wearing the “traditional” dark colors associated with it (see this post for another floral fall/winter dress of mine).  This is an all-around comfy, easy-care, nice but casual dress.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The olive green bottom half is in a rayon poly blend linen-look fabric, while the top bodice and sleeves are in a peach floral Swiss dot cotton.  The lining for the bodice Swiss dot fabric is a orange-peach cotton broadcloth.  All of these fabrics were bought at Hancock Fabrics store.  My 1 1/2 yards of peach Swiss dot fabric was bought 7 to 10 years ago.  It’s been in my stash for a while, and I am very glad to find such a wonderful use for it – finally!  The linen-look fabric was bought spring of 2013 (last year) when I had originally hoped to get around to making the dress.  This year (2014), I bought the broadcloth for the bodice lining.

NOTIONS:  I had on hand an old 30’s buckle, the thread, interfacing, bias tapes, and snap tape that I needed.  Buttons for the long sleeve cuffs, extra snap tape, and a side zipper were the only notions I had to buy.

PATTERN:  a year 1931 McCall reprint from Past Patterns #6611, a “dress with waist yoke” in several sleeve and fabric combination options

100_3995TIME TO COMPLETE:  Well, 8 to 10 hours were all it took to finish the dress, and it was done on August 23, 2014.  The matching long sleeves took at least 10, maybe 12, hours to be finished on October 3, 2014. 

THE INSIDES:  All seams except the side seams and neckline are covered with bias tape.  The neckline is self-enclosed by the lining (I’ll explain later how this worked) and the side seams are left raw to eliminate extra bulk and to make it easy to do fitting adjustments.

TOTAL COST:   As the Swiss dot fabric was bought so long ago, I’ll count it as free.  As for the only expenses, the linen-look for bottom and the other notions I bought, the grand total probably comes to $12.00 or less.

The main body of the dress, without the sleeves, was very easy and quick in coming together.  As you can see in the pattern picture above at left, the assembly instructions were themselves very simplistic – just one page of layout breakdown with about 8 sentences of directions.  However, looking at the dress pattern pieces together with the ‘cover envelope’ picture rather makes construction self-explanatory.  The only construction detail that is entirely up in the air for you, the seamstress, to decide is how to put the dress together.  A basic, but semi-thorough, knowledge of different seams is needed to know (for instance) that the middle front and back panels of the dress are best when added to the skirt in a lapped method.  Bias tape was also wonderful to cover the curvy seams of both the inner edges of the middle section and the bottom hem to what is a half-circle skirt.

100_3972a     I love how these old patterns allow you to learn, expand, and use your sewing skills by providing such simple instructions.  I feel it gives seamstresses more respect than laying out some detailed, dreary, and possibly confusing directions.  Granted, I know complicated instructions are needed and quite useful sometimes.  It’s just that sewing in an advanced form used to be common knowledge years ago, thus old patterns were created for such a person.  Those of you that feel comfortable with your skills, will also enjoy making these old patterns with simple instructions.

There are only just a few points in constructing my 1931 dress where I deviated (just a bit) from the assembly diagram to personalize and accommodate my taste.  To start with, I sewed the front and back neckline first – yeah, first.  I wanted the neckline to be nicely self-enclosed in between the Swiss dot and lining cotton by sewing the seams right sides together, clipping the curves, turning out, then top stitching in place.  As I had raised up the scoop neck by about 1/2 inch, I had trouble fitting my head through, so I had to unpick several inches in from the neck to add a snap placket to the left shoulder seam (see picture below).  I hate sewing in snaps…this part of the job was tough.  The length of the skirt was also extremely long which necessitated a chop off of about 3 1/2 inches to reach the proper mid-calf length.

100_3993     Fitting is very important when it comes to making this pattern reprint.  The dress needs to be slightly roomy everywhere else except the hips. I saw on the front of the ‘cover envelope’ drawing that the pattern specifically pointed out that “this garment fits closely at hips”.  O.k., I thought to myself, I need to grade the pattern down to my size, so I’ll make sure to get close but maybe just a little big when it comes to the fit.  You can always take something in, but when something too small…well that’s a problem.  Just so as to make fitting this dress to my body easy, I did something different from the construction instructions – the entire front pieces and then the entire back pieces are sewn up in two separate, full dress length panels.  This method left the two side seams (with a zipper in the left hip/waist) the very last thing done to complete the dress.  With three sections composing the length of the dress, there would be no way to adjust the sides if done otherwise.  In the finished dress, my down grading sizing turned out fitting perfectly, but I finally realized (once it was on me) how important it is to fit snug on the hips.  The bottom skirt is rather heavy, and, without the tight hip fit, the whole dress gets weighed down, thus losing the proper “blousing out” of the upper bodice.  There is a delicate balance trying to find a good hip fit for this dress – tight enough to hold the dress where it should be but not too tight to rip seams or make the dress wrinkle up uncomfortably.  After a handful of trial and error attempts, I feel I have found the perfect hip fit (for now at least).

100_3986a     Having a belt, especially when you can use an old 30’s buckle like I did, also helps to hold the dress up in place and balance out the harmony between the two fabrics.  I finally did an experiment with the belt I made to match my dress, one which has been in the creative “back-burner” of my mind.  Before I sealed off one end, I slipped in a venetian plastic window blind slat in to the long belt tube.  Of course the blind slat is stitched in place at the ends, but at least this way I have a bendable but sturdy belt on which there is no top stitching or interfacing.  It sounds strange, I know, but it works, and I like my idea…although I probably will not do it again.

I really find the silhouette of this dress even more dramatically interesting with long sleeves.    This dress does nothing for the bust or the shoulders (a very 1920s characteristic) while the long vertical emphasis of both the fit and the design of the main dress body stresses the hips (also of the 20’s) and lengthens the body (late 20’s).  With the long sleeves on the dress, they further the vertical emphasis, but widen it slightly, by beautifully drawing attention to the hips in a very unique manner.  I can’t figure out the reason for the three horizontal pin tucks – I can only think that they balance out the vertical lines of the dress.  The little bias flare of the bottom gives it a slight 30’s touch and the blouse top with its kimono sleeve style and U-neckline is definitely very 40’s (see my version of this blouse).  Besides all the styling, the use of Swiss dot fabric is very authentic for the era.  See this post by Marianne at Fintage for a classic example of the 30’s beautiful use of Swiss dot fabric.

100_3757     When it came to making the sleeves, there are absolutely no instructions whatsoever.  As long as you know how to make sleeve cuffs, this is not a problem – how to achieve the look of the cover drawing was the cause of consternation.  The pattern pieces do not clarify how many pieces to cut out of the cuff and the sleeve band.  Thus I ended up cutting out four of each cuff and sleeve band (two for each sleeve) and one each of interfacing.  According to the cover drawing, the cuffs looked like they are supposed to be in a turned back style, so I was going to face the cuff and sleeve band pieces with interfacing inside to achieve that look (see the left picture).  I believe my method to be the correct way to have done the sleeve cuffs, and, although I can’t guarantee this, the way they turned out is truly lovely with the way they curve.  The stable sleeve cuffs make for a nice finish for the poufy “bat wing” style sleeves above them.  At first I was concerned that the sleeves hang too low on my arms by the way the seam ends an inch or so below my elbow.  Looking at the cover envelope drawing again confirmed for me that they are supposed to fit that way.  The sleeves take a bit to get used to once they are on just because I’ve never had anything like them, but it doesn’t take long to love wearing them!

Tiny 1/4 inch coral pink buttons close up the inner cuff of my sleeve band.  Since I didn’t included a closure method when the cuffs were made, I got inventive to make something work.  Braided thread loops are great but are time-consuming.  Time was something I wanted to cut down on at this point.  So, I threaded a tapestry needle with 1/8 inch light pink satin ribbon and wound it through the cuff seams making three loops.  It looks dressy and it was easy at the same time.

100_3991     My idea for snap on and snap off long sleeves came from seeing this feature on an old 1920’s pattern.  How ingenious and versatile, I thought!  Nothing extraordinary was needed to do – the short sleeves were hemmed like a normal sleeve, and the long sleeves had a small band sewn on to both finish the edge and give room for the snap tape.  Sewing on the snap tape to the sleeves and getting both sides to match snaps was a long, time consuming, hand sewing torture that was made better by getting it done in the car.  Nothing like getting the most out of my passenger time to get my hand sewing done!  It really made all that hand sewing fun to do it in the car.  I want to do more sewing during car trips!  I’m wondering if a 1931 lady would have been able do sew as a passenger in their cars.

This project was unknown territory for me. It certainly brought me out of my comfort zone which is a good thing.  I thrive on a challenge and it helps me hone in on my skills.  My 1931 dress is one that is a surprise to me.  Every time I wear it out and about, I get a bit unsure and self-conscious thinking that it is too-vintage or unusual, but then I always seem to receive a positive compliment.  All I know is I think I’ve re-discovered a piece of history long over looked and forgotten.  I’m a lucky girl to get to make and wear such a piece.  Anyone care to join me and sew up their own version?

100_3978     Our photo shoot’s backdrop is a neighborhood apartment complex, which has the name “Crystal Tower” due to a superb use of decorative glass in the vitrolite tiles and blocks.  It is wonderful example of how everyday living had a touch of Art Deco glamour in the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s – the three decades included in my dress.  Perhaps, if you search in detail behind me in our pictures, you should see the “Crystal Tower” logo with its nautical cursive theme.  Even though the building was actually built in 1940, towards the end of the Deco style period, the building materials and design had been used similarly for a decade or two before, so our backdrop is authentic to my 1931 dress (historically speaking).  There is an excellent blog page at B.E.L.T. Stl which shows more details of the “Crystal Tower” apartments, if you’re interested.  For using such a homey, down-to-earth place for a photo shoot, I certainly think it neat to see such forethought and attention to detail in vintage construction.  Look forward to more of these Art Deco era living places in some upcoming blog posts.

As always, please check my Flickr site, Seam Racer, for more pictures.