Winter “Petal” Gown

One of the main things I miss the most during winter is the lack of blooming beauties of nature.  How’s a warm-weather-loving girl supposed to survive months without green grass, pretty flowers, and the comforting sound of rustling leaves?  Even still, I will admit their dormant and withered state has its own loveliness.  Winter’s withered vegetation holds onto its amazing potential for future blossoming under the cloak of an unassuming, bland, natural-toned exterior.  Scientific explanations aside, it is rather like an annual miracle, a kind of superpower, if you think about it in a child’s point of view.  Let me celebrate the awesomeness of nature in winter through some high fashion for this year’s “Designin’ December” challenge, sponsored by Linda at “Nice dress! Thanks, I made it!!” blog.  I am channeling the great American couturier Charles James, and hopefully looking like a drooping but elegant winter petal doing so, with my muses being two famous gowns from circa 1950. 

The way I understand it, there are definite phases in Charles James’ life.  In the 1930s, he had moved from millinery to making garments, designing pieces ahead of his time inventing wrap dresses and “sculptural fashion” such as a futuristic puffer jackets.  He also took control of the Charles James brand by licensing his company under his name in 1935.  In the 1940s, James made important marketing connections, working with Elizabeth Arden, Lord & Taylor, and Bergdorf Goodman as well as being photographed by the famous Cecil Beaton for Vogue.  “Mathematical tailoring combined with the flow of drapery is his forte,” Vogue noted of James in 1944, as he continued offering luxurious dresses despite war-time rationing, at times even using inventive fabrics.  Then, there is the man of his first (of two) COTY award of 1950 in which his work was defined by over-the-top, 10-something pound full-skirted evening gowns – equipped with caging and immense boning since they were almost always bare shouldered – that only high society’s wealthiest women could afford.  This last and most defining period of his design is what I am channeling with my sewing, although I think the first 30’s portion had the greater talent because I respect the avant-garde.  Charles James retired in 1958 and died in 1978.

Unfortunately, I cannot personally connect to either time period of James’ life, as he is not remotely on my list of favorite designers.  It has been said he would lock his seamstresses in his shop if he felt they were not “working hard enough”, and being the fiery personality and obsessive perfectionist that he was, made very few friends he could keep.  Between his irresponsibility in financial matters and his inability to ever deliver an order on time to a client, I feel too distracted by the drama of his life’s story to fully appreciate his work, and I do not welcome the erotic undertones he subtly included in his dresses.  By all means, nevertheless, please do your own research on the life, the works, and ingenuity of Charles James so you can make your own opinion.

His design house did not outlive him so he is not known as well as his genius warrants.  Charles James was an influence not worthy of being so largely unacknowledged.  He inspired the likes of Christian Dior, Salvador Dalí, and Balenciaga while Chanel and Schiaparelli (one of my top favorite designers) were included in his exclusive list of clients.  Thus, I admire his work and ingenuity enough that some of his creations warrant my saving pictures of them for remembering later.  Other things he is famous for actually repel me – I must respect my natural reaction.  Thus, it is a big deal for me to even be attempting this designer imitation in the first place.  Do not anticipate any other direct Charles James inspiration to be seen here again on my blog, unless I happen to remake James’ famous “Taxi” dress of 1932.  So enjoy this probable one-off Charles James appreciation post here, and come delight with me in the monotone loveliness of nature in winter.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% cotton thick novelty ribbed velveteen, lined in a poly crepe, for the top and a polyester nubby ivory shantung for the bottom half of my outfit

PATTERNS:  Simplicity #1409, a year 1955 original, from my personal pattern stash, for the ‘petal’ top and a Butterick “Retro” #4919, year 2006 reprint of a 1952 pattern (originally Butterick #6338) for the skirt portion

NOTIONS:  lots of thread, bias tape, and two zippers                                                           

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The shantung dress worn as a skirt was finished on April 9, 2021 in 15 hours while my bodice was finished on December 16, 2021 after 16 hours (8 hours hand stitching, 5 hours by machine, and 3 hours of re-drafting the pattern).

THE INSIDES:  My top is fully lined while the shantung part has its raw edges zig-zagged over to reduce fraying

TOTAL COST:  The novelty velvet for the top was a remnant found on clearance at JoAnn fabric store at $4 for 7/8 of a yard.  Lining for the velvet was a no-cost choice – it was a bed sheet originally and leftover from sewing this 90’s era sundress.  The shantung was bought 10 years back from a local store, which is out-of-business now, so I no longer remember the cost.  I did buy 4 yards of the shantung and I always bought fabric from that store on some sort of discount…maybe I spent $7 a yard.

The iconic “petal dress” of 1951, in cream and olive toned satin, was my main inspiration ever since I happened to acquire my Simplicity #1409 pattern.  The pointed hip detail was an unmistakable reference.  James described the the dress as a “curving stem of velvet…above 25 yards of blowing, billowing (silk) taffeta.”  According to the Chicago History Museum, which has a black and white version in its collection, “If James were not so clever, the Petal’s twenty-five yards of material would have created an undesirable bulk at the waist. He solved this by stitching most of the material to petal-shaped hip panels and only one layer to the waist seam.” It makes the torso appear as an upside down stalk, with the hip points being what is technically called the “sepal” to flowering plants, with the skirt becoming the petals.

Later, I happened to stumble across an image of another Charles James dress from the year 1950 on which the red velvet bodice had the same “W” notched neckline as my Simplicity #1409.  This red and white Charles James dress was famously worn by Mrs. Barbara Paley, the wife of the founder of CBS, as well as Mrs. Dominique de Menil, a rich art patron in Texas, besides being featured in the 2014 “Charles James: Beyond Fashion” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute.  Now I had a stronger reason to blend both features together, just as the pattern has it, which was actually just the way I liked it!  I noticed that both had velvet bodices and know that both have much more complex technical detailing than I realize from only looking at pictures.  I was not doing anything that couture in the one week I had to recreate this.  There was also a black and white variations James made of this inspiration dress, as well (see it here).  However, I gravitate towards James’ versions with more color.  My intent with my simpler, blended version here was merely to do my best work and capture the spirit of both dresses in one.

My dual inspiration garments were both dresses, but here I have turned my interpretation into a two-piece set.   You’d never guess, would you?!?  Charles James was inventive and came up with unusual combinations, so I thought my choice might be (remotely) along his way of thinking.  A big difference between us might be the way I was driven by a desire for versatility and practical finery, and not a desire for pure extravagance with my ‘copy’.  Only this month (yes, very last minute), when I decided on this particular designer project, it struck me that a vintage 1952 dress I sewed in ivory shantung earlier this year was the perfect color and silhouette for pairing with a Charles James “petal” dress look-alike.  Wearing it skirt-style, with the wrapped bodice portion hanging inside, saved me the time and money, and is just what I wanted anyway!  The full dress will receive its own post very soon because it is just so good, so versatile when worn as intended, and a sneaky movie costume look-alike, too.  It is a 4 seamed full circle skirt with a wrap bodice which is the most useful evening gown you could ever want.  I am ecstatic over it…but for now, the ‘skirt’ will not be addressed anymore in this post.  So stay tuned!

I have actually been sitting on this Charles James inspired project for the last few years.  There is a perfect time for every one of my sewing projects – I let inspiration happen when it naturally comes or when my free time allows.  Up until now, the tweaking that my chosen pattern needed as well as the lack of easily finding the “perfect” fabric has together discouraged me from tackling this idea.  The pattern I had for the ‘petal’ blouse was a Junior misses (teenager) pattern in petite proportions as well as a tiny bust-waist-hips ratio.  It needed dramatic resizing before being useable for me.  I had to trace the two bodice pieces out to tissue paper and cut, splice, and tape it all back together into something for my measurements.  I wanted the set-in shoulders to hug the outer point of my real shoulders so I cut and spread open the sides of the neckline to adapt.  The original red 1950 gown hugs the end of the shoulders but has a flap-like collar, too, while the classic “petal” gown is mere skinny straps – neither were to my taste.  I always stick to my personal preference first over any desire to copy verbatim any original – no matter how good that may be.  

I made so many tweaks and customizations to my tissue paper pattern ‘copy’ I feel as if it is my design now more than something directly owed to the original vintage pattern.  I recognize that my chosen pattern is from a date which is several years later from the Charles James original inspiration dresses, but he was fashion forward and home sewing companies no doubt had their hands full keeping up with all the great designs that were exploding right and left during the 1950s.  I have read from reputable sources that Charles James ‘revived’ the Petal design in 1958 as a ready-to-wear dress for the junior market, but I have yet to find solid proof of this.  So I guess my Simplicity pattern from 1955 was both ahead and behind for its time, coming after the original 1949 Petal dress but before James’ release for teenagers.

As I mentioned above, my favorite (and the one I see the most) of the “petal” dress has a sort of brownish, earthy, green velvet bodice.  I had a novelty velvet on hand, only recently bought, that was an olive-toned tan with an ombré sheen – very deluxe looking and close enough in reference.  It is obvious Charles James apparently liked working with velvet, and his 50’s era creations were highly structured.  I figured this thick ribbed material – which was almost like a heavy corduroy – would be very suitable.  I did not bone the seams or add any internal structure to the bodice because of the sturdy weight of my velvet.  I figure I can come back and add boning channels with some hand stitching if I choose to at a later date.  Inside is merely a lightweight lining to give it a fine finish and smooth feel against my skin.  The lining also helps stop the way the raw edges were disintegrating into little fuzzy lint balls everywhere I was working.  It was a messy project that definitely added to our normal household amount of dust.  It turned out looking so cleanly tailored when finally finished, though!

I expected this velvet bodice was going to be easy-to-make – so I thought.  There were only two pattern pieces, few seams, and the pattern (since it was re-drafted by me) was exactly my size now but it became a beast that I could hardly bear to finish.  The points of the hem and the neckline, the sharp curves around the arm openings, and a mirrored pairing of the lining with its velvet bodice all severely tested my normal desire for perfectionism.  I did so very much hand stitching on everything but the internal darts and right (zipper free) side seam for the sake of my said desire for perfection…I guess I am not too completely unrelated to Charles James as I may think. 

My fingers have never before been so sore and torn up from the hand stitching through the layers of tough velvet…I was to the point of tears only halfway though.  At the same time, I am never very comfortable using a metal thimble and would rather adapt my stitching strategy by using a different finger.  I tore up the skin of almost four fingertips by the time I was finished.  Yet, I have a boundless determination to not leave my sewing projects hanging.  I try not to have unfinished endeavors.  I also had a deadline for it to be part of the “Designin’ December” challenge!  As you can see, I powered through, with stitches that are not as perfect as I might have liked but still finely done, for a top which turned out just as wonderful as I had happily imagined.

Additional versions (circa 1953) of the Charles James dress originally worn by Babe Paley – see the Victorian influence?!

Early on, the hip hem points vaguely reminded me of Tinker Bell, the fairy in Disney’s 1953 animated Peter Pan movie.  Fairies are forest creatures and protectors of the woods, after all and often modeled after flowers in the visual arts.  Even more so, though, my two inspiration dresses are very much reminiscent of the elegant open necklines, close fitting bodices, liberal use of luxurious material, and artful skirt drapery of women’s older historical clothing.  The Victorian bustle era, 1850s caged skirts, the 18th century court gowns with hip panniers, and the corseted shaping of the Edwardian period all were sources of inspiration for the 1940s and 50’s gowns created by Charles James.   He just did a more modern, individualistic interpretation of those old styles, but the principles of boning, caging, draping, and overall artful reshaping the female figure are still there.  Every famous quote from every other designer about wearing a dress – such as “What is important in a dress is the woman who is wearing it” by Yves Saint Laurent or “It’s not about the dress you wear but it’s about the life you lead in the dress” by Diana Vreeland – is blown away by the overwhelming power of a Charles James frock.

My personal recreation is nowhere as extreme as what the courtier who was my inspiration would have chosen, although I am wearing a heavily boned original 1950s body fitting brassiere underneath.  Comparing my version to the original dress, I am now also half-wishing I had worn a couple of my floofy 50’s petticoats underneath instead of just one.  My outfit seemed very grand with a grandly swishy skirt when I was wearing it for these photos – I was knocking things over!  As I’ve mentioned before, this is meant to be my practical, made-in-one-week, using-what-was-on-hand version of something extremely high fashion.  Since this turned out something less dramatic than the original yet still immediately recognizable, I am very still proud I was able to pull off what I did.  I am very proud I worked through the pain and trouble to perfect those points, corners, and invisible hand stitching, too.

This was a tough sewing project for me to end the year on, but one that – just like my other “Designing December” entries from past years – is something which ends my year of sewing on a grand note.  It’s like going out in fireworks to have my last project of the year be about attaining for myself those seemingly unattainable designer pieces I languish over as a photo on my computer.  Now all I need is an excuse of some event to wear this glamorous outfit somewhere…soon!  Petals are the showiest part of a flower after all, and this “Petal” set is just begging to be seen at a dinner party or dance somewhere.  I will be a walking bouquet!  Until then, this dress will be only live vicariously through this blog post.  So I’ll send off 2021 with my special “Petal” outfit, to offer some natural beauty for entering into the cold and quiet darkness I despise about January.  I wish you a New Year a peace, health, beauty, and happiness.  

Ready for Another Adventure?

Ah, I can’t help but interrupt my previously planned post for one that highlights Agent Carter…because she’s back!  Well, sort of.  Sadly, it has been confirmed Peggy will be back only in name only for the newest (and last) Season 7 of “Agents of Shield”, despite her romantic interest Agent Sousa being front and center in the most recent episodes.  I’ll admit that I have not been following “Agents of Shield” until now and I do despise the last ditch ideas of time travel which shows too often fall back on at the end of their run.  But if Agent Carter is back for some sort of relevant story continuation (which was cut short by the lack of an expected Season Three of her TV show), I’m here for it by adding more outfits from seasons one and two to my wardrobe and perhaps watching the new show.  I’ll pick up on sewin’ and postin’ more Peggy fashions, starting with recreating the first thing we see her in upon embarking on her new California adventure at the beginning of Season Two, “The Lady in the Lake” episode.  “Are you ready for another adventure, Miss Carter?” said Mr. Jarvis.  Oh how I do love having my own exciting escapades when in Peggy’s shoes!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a Matte Blue 100% Silk Batiste (sorry, but it’s sold out now!) accented my handmade bias tape of Dove White Cotton Sateen, both from Fashion Fabrics Club

PATTERN:  an adapted version of Butterick #6374, originally a year 1944 design, reprinted in 2016

NOTIONS:  I needed nothing extraordinary – just thread, a bit of interfacing, and 3 vintage buttons out of the stash of hubby’s grandmother.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Not counting the hour or two spent to re-draft the pattern, sewing the blouse took me about 6 hours.  It was finished on June 11, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  French seamed with a bias covered hem

TOTAL COST:  1 ½ yards of the silk and a ½ yard remnant of the sateen cost me a total of just over $30.

First off, yes, I am wearing separates – a blouse and trousers (which are the Marlene pants from Burda Style, posted here) – and yes, my pattern for the top half of my outfit was highly redrafted from a dress pattern.  You did not read the facts above wrongly.  I wanted to start with a vintage pattern, of course, and all the blouse patterns I had on hand were not remotely close to what I wanted.  Yet I did have the 1944 dress pattern which had a similar shawl collar and strong, slightly full, shoulders.  After all, Peggy Carter was known for wearing mid-40s fashions prior to her time out in California in the second season, so the dating would be perfect, too.  I was never a big fan of the original dress, although I might eventually try it in the future, but I bought it anyway a few years back on one of those $1-something sales.  This way I feel like it is not just taking up useless space in my pattern drawers.  It has now actually come in handy, just not in the way initially intended.  I might have a large stash of patterns, but I do not hoard…the patterns I have are cared for gently and often preserved and copied, but they do ‘work’ for their keep here and they are much more than a pretty inspiration!

I first had to trace out the pattern as it was, from hip length up, and then tweak it.  Next, I extended the collar to be wider, especially in the front over the chest, as well as making it roll over itself better.  The back collar was drafted by me to be just wide enough for the edging.  I am so happy to have ended up with a collar which was just what I wanted!  The shoulders and main body are pretty much the same as the original dress, but I added greater wearing ease all over so it would be blousier than the original slim fitting dress.  The back bodice had a dramatic re-drafting because the original dress had princess seams.  I combined the pattern pieces to become one piece, cut on the fold, with two vertical fish-eye darts.  Remember, it really doesn’t take much to change things up dramatically on paper for a sewing pattern…an extra ¼ inch may go a long way.

The semi-sheer batiste needed to be double layered to be an opaque blouse, which was rather hard to pull off on only 1 ½ yards.  This silk is so lightweight and breathable two layers is no big deal, though, once I was able to fit the pattern pieces in.  Silk is the world’s most all-season, easy to wear, and overall beautiful fabric in my opinion.  The listing for this fabric said it was matte finish, but there is still the loveliest shine along every soft fold.  Even a matte silk blend has the same lovely sheen.  Every time I create with silk, I find it is more imperative than other fabrics to use a new needle in my machine, otherwise it create pulls in the fabric as I sew.

Now both the silk and the sateen listings say to dry clean them…bah!  Only in a few exceptions – and vintage acetate is one of them – have I come across a fabric that is not washable.  I wash woolens, silks, rayon, cottons, linens, and of course any man-made (i.e. polyester), as well as any combo of those, and have never come across any unpleasant effects of doing so besides a few wrinkles, which a good ironing can easily remedy.  Even many decorator fabrics can totally be washed, although their first dip in water does shrink them like crazy.  Washing all of these fabrics must be better for them anyway over harsh, unpleasant chemicals of conventional dry cleaning!  When in doubt, I do try and wash a small, snipped off test corner first.  So, don’t be afraid to get your fabrics clean, just do so in the gentlest way possible.  For me, this means either hand-washing, or placing them in a zip-closed laundry bag before machine washing on the delicate cycle.  A cleaner garment means less attraction for hungry bugs that might like to eat them, remember!

I am still thrilled over the lovely novelty of self-made bias tape, as seen in my making of my last project, this multi-use apron/sundress/ jumper thing (posted here).  Especially when your bias tape will take a front and center stage, it is important to have a quality notion.  So I started with a quality fabric to edge this blouse the way I figured it, and I’m so glad I did.  The slightly heavier weight of the decorator’s sateen is perfect for keeping the collar in place and stabilizing the soft silk.  The slight shine on the sateen matches the finish on the silk, too.  The very slight off-white color is a gentler contrast than a pure white.  I just love it when an idea for a garment comes together as good as or even better than I expected!  It’s the best surprise.

This ‘blouse-from-a-dress’ experiment opens up all new doors for my pattern stash, now.  A dress can be tweaked to become a jacket, a vest can have sleeves added to develop a blouse, or a skirt can be reformed into pants when you approach patterns as a fluid tool with great potential to aid in creating anything with your hands.  This is the beauty of sewing.  It is all up to you – the skies the limit!  Anything can be sewn up anyway you like it.

With that said, I want an entire wardrobe of everything Agent Carter has worn in her TV series, and so my sewing creativity in this sphere goes towards personalizing and doing some historical basing of my ‘copies’ of Peggy’s outfits.  “Copying” an existing garment you admire can be every bit as challenging, if not more so, as trying to match your own individual idea.  Sewing is an exciting undertaking in its own way, and even small adventures are important in our times when there is so much wrong about the world today and a pandemic has forced too many of us into an unwelcome isolation.  Stepping into Peggy Carter’s shoes and clothes is my ongoing quest that suits me up with her spirit of independence, personal confidence, sense of equity, and – of course – great fashion taste.  How is sewing your special adventure?

I Got Big Sleeves, and Don’t Care!

Last years’ “Designin’ December” challenge hosted by Linda at “Nice dress! Thanks, I made it!!” gave me the gumption to step up and make my own personal version of a 1937 Schiaparelli outfit I had long admired.  Well, this for this year’s 2018 Challenge I’ve chosen another Schiaparelli design to sew up in my own interpretation!

I was determined to be inspired by a Schiaparelli creation that has always amazed and mystified me – a Spring year 1951 voluminous sleeve blouse made of organdy, worn with a slim satin skirt, modeled in the original photo by Della Oake (click on “Show More” to read about her).  How was this garment to wear and move about in?  What is the symbolic inspiration Schiaparelli was thinking when designing it?  As a seamstress’ point of view, how were those sleeves made?  What did their pattern look like?  All these questions in my head could only be answered if I made my own version, I felt.  This is what I love about the “Designin’ December” challenge…I use it to push my boundaries and learn new things.  This project definitely has done that for me again.

I tried my best and, although my sleeves are not anywhere as dramatic as the original which inspired me, I am happy to say I think I succeeded in making a comparably impressive and recognizably similar blouse.  This doesn’t just meet look-alike appearances…it also has a generous movement for any pose or movement.  Yay!  I can officially say I am ending my 2018 year of sewing with a big bang!

My outfit is completed worn with a true vintage silk faille black pencil skirt and my Grandmother’s vintage earrings.  The vintage skirt is the bottom half of an old local “Martha Manning” brand suit set that I have dated with near certainty to 1952.  So my skirt is also very age appropriate to the date of my inspiration blouse!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a “burnout” velvet, also called “devoré” fabric

PATTERN:  self-drafted sleeves, but the cuffs and main body are from a vintage year 1951 McCall’s #1651

NOTIONS:  all I needed was thread and a fabric covered button kit (¾ inch)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was finished on December 20, 2018 after 30 something hours spent to make it.

THE INSIDES:  All fancy and clean in French seams.  As this is a sheer blouse and the material is very delicate and fine, French seams were the only way to go!

TOTAL COST:  On sale, with an end of the bolt discount since I took everything that was left, I bought almost 3 yards for the price of one regular price yard – $30.

People say that high fashion/designer style doesn’t make much practical sense.  This particular Schiaparelli blouse, when shared on social media, seems to frequently receive comments that compare it to having wings for flying, or picture the mess those sleeves would cause during serving or preparing a meal.  In reality, yes – that would be a problem and no, we can’t fly with some full sleeves.  As I have quoted before, though, Stefano Gabbana (of Dolce & Gabbana) has said, “Fashion makes people dream -this is the service it gives.”  Regular everyday clothes are boring and practical enough, in my opinion.  We need gloriously inventive and fantastically impractical clothes to realize something different and amazing is out there, and perhaps find a wonderful middle ground between the two by doing what I and all the participants of “Designin’ December” are doing.

Personally, I think a good percent of what is paraded down runways today is completely unwearable for many except the rich and famous, but that doesn’t keep me from still finding it all interesting and fun to follow because good and bad ideas alike are still creativity and inspirational.  Vintage designer fashion (also, my opinion) had a closer connection to and influence on everyday fashion, and the 1950s especially had a flair for the fantastic silhouettes and elegant fashions, so I love the way making and wearing this pared-down Schiaparelli-inspired blouse is so very wearable.  How often is a blouse exciting nowadays, much less sleeves?  But, hey…why shouldn’t it be so?!  Our desire for what is new and different can bring out the romantic dreamer in any of us, and fashion is a readily seen and popular medium for such inventiveness because we can literally and visibly wear our taste and personality!

The phrase “something up your sleeve” takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to this blouse.  I have room for it!  I actually started from scratch and drafted these sleeves myself from a basic block.  As far as I know there is nothing close to what I wanted and I didn’t feel like looking.  Anyway, I wanted to totally own this pattern and comprehend a new level of pattern drafting – another reason to start from a basic beginning.

These sleeves not just have extra volume.  Notice they still have a normal armscye (shoulder/armhole sleeve) with a hint of the vintage puff tops and the sleeve length down my arm is a basic ‘normal’ span for the top half.  I knew the design was more complex than what might be first thought.  The extra fabric is concentrated to under my arm on each side of the sleeve seam and all the drape and interest culminates at the front bottom.  This might not be how Schiaparelli’s version was constructed because there isn’t a whole lot to see in the one picture that is out there of that blouse, but I’m ‘reading’ it from the knowledge I currently have of both fabric draping and pattern making.  To ‘read’ backwards through a finished garment to reach the flat patterning stage is perhaps one of the hardest parts of trying to re-make something you see.

The funny this is that in the process of trying to figure out how to make these Schiaparelli sleeves I was helped by a finding a designer copy.  The great courtier herself, the mysterious (also French) Madame Grès had included very similar sleeves on a 1969 taffeta gown that was popular enough to be made in several solid colors over the course of almost 10 years.  As there were plenty more pictures of this designer copycat in many more poses, I could understand the workings of such a sleeve.  Yes – granted the Madame Grès dresses are in a much stiffer material (hence the full-bodied shaping compared to my Schiaparelli look-alike), but the fact that I had two designers to be inspired by for this one style makes me laugh a little at the trials of staying original and bittersweet taste of the ‘flattery’ of imitation.  Navigating the big fashion scene must be tough.

Engineering these sleeves was only possible by realizing the basic principle that you slash and spread directly where you want to add in extra interest.  I used my old pattern drafting manuals to change the sleeve block into a basic full bishop sleeve then adapted it to be as you see it from there.  My finished sleeve pattern was 60 inches wide by about 1 ¼ yards long, so both sleeves took a total of 2 ½ yards of material.  This is significant in the light that the main body of the blouse only needed ½ yard.

I religiously stuck to the vintage pattern for the main body as well as the sleeve cuffs.  The Schiaparelli blouse is a 1951 design and as this McCall pattern has fantastic details worthy of a designer besides being from the exact same year.  Besides – it is shown is a sheer fabric just like I was going to use to copy what Schiaparelli did!  Out of all the sheer chiffons and printed organzas I was contemplating, went with my personal preference and chose a French fabric (“devoré”) to copy a French design.

It has my favorite color purple, an enticing sheerness enough to fulfill both vintage trends and the modern one, and an interesting fabric pattern that I think is so much more appealing than the Schiaparelli polka dots!  It is so much better to ‘own’ a ‘look-alike’ by staying true to your own personal taste when it varies from the inspiration.  Especially when it comes to designer garments, not copying them line for line, fabric exactness and all, is actually more respectful to the individual talent of both you and the couturier in my opinion.

The scalloped, curved cuffs and collar were so challenging!  They don’t even show up very well compared to the rest of the blouse but that’s okay…the little details are always stand-out fantastic in designer garments, too.  As I was working with a mostly transparent material, I went with sheer and clear, slightly stiff organza in lieu of interfacing for inside the cuffs and collar.  This always works well for my sheer creations, but with the detail to the cuffs and collar, I had to snip seam allowances within ¼ inch or less and take my time with the edge top-stitching.

I wanted standout buttons to close up this blouse because figured the more detail the better, right?  I originally had big ideas of hand beaded buttons but I reckoned that would be too hard to push through a button hole.  No – there was enough going on and enough time spent already, I self-argued, so covered buttons made out of the velvet portion of the fabric are plenty ‘specialty’ for me.  I chose a larger size button kit because the Schiaparelli blouse’s buttons were oversized, too.

Buttonholes in such a sheer, delicate material as the velvet could have been a problem that I avoided with a little mesh seam tape under the stitching.  I totally avoided letting wide buttonholes messing with the fancy scallops in the cuffs by having them close by lapping over with tiny hook-n-eyes.  This is how I noticed the Madame Grès sleeves closed!

It’s amazing what a sleeve can do.  So often arms are regarded as too functional.  These giant sleeves do not really get in the way of life as much as you’d think, and my blouse happily seemed to attract many admirers like flies to raw meat.  To see mere functionality of the body as a barrier to limitless creative expression is sad to me – our arms are a means of expression, love, passion, and all the best activities of life.  Why not provide them with all the feelings that suit them?!  To make one’s arms beautiful and elegant at every angle through the use of clothes is a wonderful achievement.  I haven’t yet had an inner sense for the inspired perception that Schiaparelli might have had for dreaming up these sleeves besides the recurring life theme of a butterfly.  Just as the wings of a butterfly give it a new life and a certain sense of liberty in its fragile beauty, so a romantic and impractical sleeve blouse such as this is freeing in its unusualness of silent communication.

“Retro Forward” Burda Style – V-Neck Jersey Top

True 1930s patterns can be expensive, fragile, simplistic in instructions, and in a size that will not instantly fit – therefore not appealing to everybody.  Thus, I love it when a modern pattern comes out which is sneakily a true vintage design.  This Burda top is one that falls in this category, which is why it is part of my ongoing “Retro Forward with Burda Style” series. On its own it is a great design.  However, if you look to the past for verification (see this board for that), and add in an awesome sleeve adaptation (like I did) to suit both the 30’s styles and the 2017 “Year of the Sleeve”…you have modern does vintage (or is it the other way around) so seamlessly.  Yet this is not stuffy.  It’s every bit as elegant as it is as loose and comfy as a relaxed summer peasant tunic.  I’m extremely happy with this project!

DSC_0616a-comp,w

This project is perfect for me to count it as part of the “Sleevefest 2017” hosted by ‘Valentine & Stitch’ as well as ‘Dream, Cut, Sew’.  I re-drafted a very boring and basic sleeve into something elegant and detailed to match and complete the garment’s design sleevefest2017 badgeand era from which it seems to harken back to.  I always admire how the 1930’s were so rocking awesome at not forgetting that sleeves can have details, too, and add greatly to the overall rest of a garment.  After all, this is the era that had patterns specifically dedicated to offering many versions of sleeve styles to choose from and make for substituting in other garment designs.  Why not have elegant sleeves when our arms are something so useful, so full of movement, and so graceful in retrospect to the rest of the body?!  Bring on the sleeve drama!

This is by no means the only dramatic sleeve I have made this “Year of the Sleeve”…I am just behind on posting so many projects, so look for me to be leaking snippets of other garments with fancy sleeves on my Instagram!

Burda Style V-Neck Jersey Shirt, 06-2010 #108, line drawing & garment exampleTHE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a weightlessly thin polyester interlock knit with a satin-finish

PATTERN:  Burda Style pattern #108, from June 2010

NOTIONS:  Nothin’ but thread was needed…and I always have that handy here!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The top was finished on March 29, 2017 after only about 5 hours

TOTAL COST:  Two yards of the jersey cost under $10

Now, as for any Burda Style pattern, printing and/or tracing is necessary to have a usable pattern to lay on your desired fabric.  My pattern was traced from the downloaded and assembled PDF bought at the online store but if you have a magazine issue, use a roll of medical paper to trace your pieces from the insert sheet.  It’s at this preliminary step that you pick out your proper size and add in your choice of seam allowance width.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a finished pattern prepped.  Sorry to repeat something you might already know, but this is just an “FYI” for those that don’t know.

DSC_0601a-comp,w

My base for my re-draft was the original pattern simple sleeve, after extending it to a full long sleeve length (it is bracelet length, otherwise).  Then, I used this very technical sleeve hack plandiagram which I found off of Pinterest as my guide for my re-draft.  (You can see more re-drafting ideas that I like and plenty eye-candy images of lovely sleeves in my Pinterest board.)  I paid close attention to measurements and proportions in the diagram and I am impressed at how perfectly the finished sleeve turned out.  Please note that the gathers are not a separate panel but are merely an extension of the sleeve – they taper into it from a dart.  I actually ended up making the final version of my sleeve with a double-long cuff so that I could fold it in completely on itself.  In other words, below the gathers, the end of my sleeve is doubled up for a substantial support to the sleeve, one that beneficially weighs it down just a tad.  I love to use my sewing capabilities to achieve exactly what I want!  I know this sounds terribly selfish, but I see it as fulfilling in reality something which previously existed in my head…which gives a very satisfactory and relieving feeling for me!  What I picture sometimes and what really ends up doesn’t always match…

DSC_0608a-comp,w

Even with the sleeve change, this was a super quick and quite easy to make project, especially as I was working with a knit that needed no finishing inside.  The only slightly tricky part was the V-neckline’s bottom point – it’s also were the front panel ends.  As long as you break stitching of the bias band facing on either side of the center, and not stitch in one continuous V, it works.  It still was a bit fiddly there.  Making the front panel lay nicely required some hand stitching at strategic points and plenty of steam from the iron, as well.

DSC_0605a-comp,w

I did go up in size from my “normal” fitting number with other Burda patterns to make this top.  I felt that a form fitting top would ruin the front gathers somewhat but even with stitching a bigger side seam allowance, my blouse is still generous.  I never really found a nice in between baggy and tight fitting for this top, but I’m ok with the looseness, for it feels very comfy and drapey, as if it is really only a play/casual top.

I paired my top with my Grandmother’s vintage jewelry and a white linen skirt for a real summer tropical theme.  My Grandmother’s jewelry is, as far as I heard, something she bought one time was in St. Augustine, Florida, circa 1950’s.  However, it seems to fill   in the wide open neckline nicely, add fun colors, and even look very similar to actual novelty vintage jewelry from the 1930s.  Our pictures were taken in a tropical conservatory in town, so with the humidity and rare, exotic plants and wildlife inside, I really had a true warm weather tolerability test in my top!  The interlock knit is light as a whisper on the skin and the long sleeves keep of both bugs and the sun’s rays.  Needless to say, my top passed with flying colors, or should I say turquoise, white, and pastel colors!

DSC_0621a-comp,w