Hubby’s Vintage “Non-Smoking” Jacket

With Fathers’ Day here today, let’s address something relevant which is in my craw.  Menswear seems so ‘bleh’ nowadays, in my opinion.  They do not get fantastic creations from off of the red carpet (when they do, it sure never makes headlines).  Their fashions relatively stay the same (most guys probably like it that way, though), which is not bad in itself, but the scales are disproportionately tipped between the sexes.  As style is so casual for pretty much all occasions (at least where we live) there is no real variety of clothing to give men an opportunity to express themselves…beyond printed tees.  Ah, men deserve better.  I believe it’s time to bring back a garment that always used to embody masculinity, giving men a sense of personal ownership of their own leisure time, and my hubby is happy with the creative result of my sentiment because he now has a wonderful, custom-made 1940s ‘Smoking Jacket’.

A smoking jacket doesn’t necessarily have to do with practicing the habit of smoking cigarettes or a pipe (it does as far as history is concerned, but more on that in a minute).  My husband doesn’t even smoke, hence my post’s title.  Neither does it imply a compliment to a man degree of hotness.  What we women know as a housecoat or lounging robe, men have had for the last several centuries termed as a loose informal jacket, donned after dinner to enjoy leisure activities, to cover up one’s nice clothes in between stages of undressing, or to receive guests in the privacy of one’s abode.  This type of garment is luxurious in materials and decoration, and is not as private as women’s lingerie, but have been immortalized by popular, public pictures of many famous men in history being seen wearing their smoking jackets.  The poet and playwright Oscar Wilde is THE man to have brought the smoking jacket to both popular and public consciousness, but even in our modern times, the great Martin Luther King wore a satin smoking jacket for press pictures during his recovery in the hospital in 1958, after being stabbed by a letter opener during a book signing in Harlem.  My hubby’s smoking jacket always comes with him on our travels, and the Art Deco halls of a 1920s hotel became the perfect setting for some blog photos.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit this smoking jacket is glaringly made from the wrong (traditionally speaking) materials.  Smoking jackets are supposed to be make of posh, deluxe fabrics like satin, velvet, and brocade for some examples.  However, as this was going to be all his own – and a very useful, around-the-house item at that – I let him pick out all the fabrics, materials, and color scheme himself to perfectly accommodate his taste.  He is quite good at the preliminary creative process to garment crafting, although he doesn’t want to admit it!  I believe presents should be personalized to the recipient’s wants, after all, and what better way to do that than having them involved.  Besides, I figure this very basic version of a smoking jacket can be my uber-useful test run for learning how I want to approach the next one…a truly proper and over-the-top fancy smoking jacket.  I have some quilted burgundy velvet, and some black satin cording, so his next smoking jacket will be more in the style of the Victorian times, the height of the garment’s popularity as a status symbol.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a brushed all-cotton flannel lined in a crepe finish polyester lining with faux suede collar and pocket detail

PATTERN:  Simplicity #2172, year 1947

NOTIONS:  I needed lots and lots of thread, plenty of interfacing, one button, and lots of macramé cord (I’ll explain why below)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This took me about 40 plus hours to make and was finished on September 6, 2017

THE INSIDES:  What insides?  This is fully lined

TOTAL COST:  Well, my Mr. Cheapskate picked out everything for his smoking jacket from the clearance section at our local JoAnn store, so the total must have been reasonable although neither of us was really counting too much as this was his present!

At-home Robe (Banyan) with Matching Waistcoat France, 1720s

It is very telling that this pattern is from 1947.  The Second World War was over and men could again reclaim their right to rest and relaxation, and take time to building up their household and adding to their bank account with a job less life-or-death related.  The post war period of the 40’s was reclaiming the feelings that created the smoking jacket in the first place.  Sure, the trend for the popularity of Turkish tobacco and the Egyptian cigarette, adopted by the British, French, and Russian soldiers of the Crimea War (1853 to 56), had to do with the creation of men’s lounging rooms for them to enjoy their new found habits in a social setting that celebrated leisure time and stereotypical masculine pastimes, such as newspaper reading.  By 1903, Turkish cigarettes accounted for 25% of the American market, and smoking was considered an expected masculine activity all the way into the mid-century.

At-home Robe (Banyan) England, circa 1880

However, beyond the tobacco portion of the smoking jacket’s history, the idea of a robe for personal leisure time began all the way back with (again) Turkish and also Oriental influence of international trade and political climates in Europe of the late 17th century.  Foreign textiles, and the fashions which inspired them, were being highly sought after as imports, and a form of the Japanese kimono called a “banyan” began being worn by men of the elite classes for informal home time, such as non-physical games, fireside discussions, or letter writing.  “Caftans” – a full length, long sleeved loose jacket-like garment traditional to parts of the Middle East, North Africa, and Eastern Europe – were also popular because of their textiles which were often used for the popular fancy, floral, frilly waistcoats which men, especially those deemed as “dandies”, were wearing, particularly in France, during the 18th century.

In the mid—19th century, the Industrial Revolution was adapting traditional Kashmiri shawls’ traditional motifs into a commercialized paisley print and this influenced a change in the ethnic influence of the smoking jackets.  They became more Turkish (again) and even India-inspired as the tobacco influence of the Crimean War settled into many various cultures as the soldiers settled into their respective homes.  Satin smoking jackets are a slight carry-over from the more Oriental influence, but after World War I, the smoking jacket of the 1920s and later seemed to lose any obvious cultural significance and become a sexy and intimate part of a man’s home life, if looking at advertisements and silver-screen movies is telling the truth of the times.  At least post-WWI eras equalized the smoking jacket for all men of all classes.  Only then in the 1970s, Yves Saint Laurent confused the traditions of the smoking jacket with the release of his tuxedo-inspired collection for women in 1966, calling it “Le Smoking”.

Whew!  As exhausting and complicated as the history of the smoking jacket is – and believe me when I say I just gave you a general overview here – making a proper one is equally arduous and time consuming!  Every detail counts on a smoking jacket.  This one has full body lining.  There are several belt carriers around the waist to hold the belt tie.  The sleeves are the two panel construction similar to a suit jacket.  The solo closing button is vintage and came from the notions stash of hubby’s grandmother, so it is very appropriately on something for him.  I wanted to add some fringe or a tassel to the ends of the ties, but he hasn’t been keen on the idea quite yet.

Whenever I let my man choose how he wants his garment to be made, he tends to choose materials which make construction a challenge.  Luckily, I convinced him that a shawl collar, and not pointed lapels, were the only, true smoking jacket version of the pattern to go with, or else my work would have been much more challenging than it already was.  At least he now has an item that he loves to wear the heck out of, something he never knew how he did without before.  Those kinds of makes are the best kind!

For this, he wanted piping to match the creamy tan lines in the printed flannel, and I agreed that doing so was necessary to ‘the look’.  It’s only that fact that the perfect pre-made piping was not to be found!  I had to make myself all the 5 yards which were necessary, using macramé cord and extra of the same material I used for the full body lining.  Granted, my custom made piping was so much better than the pre-made stuff, but it was an exhausting effort that ultimately paid off since I think makes the smoking jacket overall fantastic.  I personally think this has been my best installed piping to date (it was so hard to make a complete circle around the cuffs, finishing the ends smoothly) so of course I am biased.  It is always nice to see going the extra mile was worth it, though!

What really made me question my offer to make this for my hubby was ultimately working with the fake suede he chose.  It was more than a micro-suede, it was every bit as think and stiff as a real leather with all the problems of being a polyester…horrible stuff to work with that appears remarkably nice to touch and see.  Wherever the faux leather met up with the piping was hard on my machine, my hands, and my nerves but I eventually wrestled it into proper submission to be exactly what it was supposed to be.  The faux suede was not interfaced, it was troublesome enough, and it is on the contrast pocket top edge as well as the whole length of the collar-facing piece which goes from hem end to hem end wrapping around the back of the neck in the process.  Most of the corners were hand-stitched to give my machine a break, but even still, the darn faux suede was too thick for my regular leather thimble and poked my fingers too many times.  Not too many of my own projects do I bleed over just to make, so either my hubby is a lucky man or I was crazy to keep going!  I really don’t want an answer to that…

Just because you are comfortable doesn’t mean one has to quit being stylish, and oppositely, sophistication doesn’t mean an end to ease.  I like Oscar Wilde’s Aesthetic ideals behind adopting the smoking jacket as a visual and material manifestation to his creativity.  He wanted “to exist beautifully”.  There is something very uplifting about lounging around your own domicile in something nice, by which I mean something other than your lowest grade clothing.  I do believe that clothing for your relaxation should be something we look forward to putting on in a way that makes us appreciate the beauty of the little things around us.

Luckily there have been some luxury brands bringing back versions of a smoking jacket in the forms of velvet of brocade lounge suit – looking at you, Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton in 2005, in particular, but Tom Ford deserves some credit, too, as well as Alexander McQueen’s 2013 Fall collection…ah, the classiness of the old-style lounging man.  See this page for some serious eye candy.  The jackets all are something like a cross between a sumptuous robe and a casual tuxedo.  Let’s re-claim those personal hours (or minutes, if that’s all you have) of recharging and personal enjoyment as a continuation of our individual beauty.  No one needs help in this area more than men, since they rarely care for any extra fuss and nonsense on their own.

A picture from the exhibit “Reigning Men”, with (from left to right) a May’s Co. Dept. Store short jacket from 1948, a Victorian-era engraving, and a Smoking suit in satin from ca. 1880

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“Iris Garden” Burda Style Dress

Like a garden that emerges from its winter slumber to become a lovely surprise, this dress also took a different direction from what I originally planned but turned out nice in the end.  I feel like I’m wearing the season of spring with my dress…if that is remotely possible.

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I originally hoped to make a new Burda pattern into an art dress, one that would remind someone of a stained glass window.  However, to make the garment aesthetically uniform and complementary for my taste I had to combine two patterns to give the dress a new bodice and finish it as you see it. I am still a bit disappointed to not be able to make an idea that I had in my mind, but I’ll still try to scratch that itch.

As for this dress…well, all’s well that ends well, I suppose.  My hubby calls the dress ‘cute’ or ‘sweet’, and it is so comfy with my favorite colors I will admit.  Also, iris flowers are in my “favorites” list of botanicals since they are akin to the fleur-did-lis and King St. Louis IX, patron of our town.  I personally find it just mediocre and rather un-exciting as compared to other projects, nor does it come at all close to the avant-garde design I had planned.  However, I do love a dress that appears quite nice but actually feels on myself like a lazy day Saturday garment…this is that kind of dress.  Can’t beat that!

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I do have a really interesting bodice left over to work with and I could use your help and input as to what to do with it (you’ll see it further down and I’ll still give it a full review).  Please let me know what you think!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The trio of solid colors in the original but unused bodice are all cotton sateen.  The bottom skirt half is a quilter’s cotton, “Deco Delight” “Iris garden” designed by “Fabric Freedom” in London, England.  The current dress bodice is a cotton knit with a slight pebbled silver sheen printed on the good side (leftover from my camouflage knit dress).  The facing for the neckline of the current bodice is from a scrap piece of polyester crepe back satin in light pink, also.

A-Line Cocktail Dress 03-2016 #122NOTIONS:  I had the seam tape, piping, lining, a 9 inch zipper, and thread needed on hand already.  I just had to go out to buy an extra pack of piping.

PATTERNS:  Burda Style’s ‘A-Line Cocktail Dress’ #122, from 03/2016, found online or in the monthly magazine, and Burda Style #7301, a paper tactile pattern (not online)Burda Style 7301, vintage style dress with arched neckline

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The original piped bodice took me about 5 hours, while the skirt took maybe 2 hours, and the new knit bodice took me about an hour and a half.

THE INSIDES:  I kept things simple for the inside and its finishing.  Everything is double stitched but left with raw edges.

TOTAL COST:  The “Deco Delight” fabric was a special order off of the internet and 2 ½ yards cost me about $30 (yikes!).  As my chosen Tiffany print fabric is from England, I had a hard time finding an American seller…this is reason for the higher price.  The pink knit was from my scrap bin, and the sateen fabrics were all on hand already, bought to be made into other projects, so I just cut small bits from those bolts for my Tiffany Art dress.  Thus they cost pittance in the scheme of things.  So I guess my dress cost me about $35.00.

As for any Burda Style pattern from online or out of a magazine, printing and/or tracing is necessary to have a usable pattern to lay on your desired fabric.  My “Cocktail Dress” #122 pattern was traced out from the insert sheet of the magazine issue using a roll of medical paper but you can also buy it, download it, and print it out from Burda Style’s online store.  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.  Now, none of this is needed with a paper tactile pattern (which is sold through Simplicity, I believe) – all seam allowances are included and it’s a regular conventional pattern (to me in America) except for the European sizing.

This dress’ original pattern has good points to its style but the fitting definitely has fair share of problems, too.  Firstly, I found the bodice design just lovely but so sadly lacking in the proper curving in the right places.  The outward curve isn’t nearly properly generous DSC_0337a-compenough for the bust, while (without adjustments) there is an awkward pucker on the upper chest.  It’s like the bust went into the wrong place – even I know it’s not parallel with the chest just below the collarbone.  As you can see in my picture, starting at 4 ½ inches down, I had to unpick to straighten out the curve ¼ inch in to eliminate the pucker.  Also, I had to add in darts to the top back bodice (close to the neck) and the side bust (by the front underarm).  The back neck darts are about ½ inch by 4 inches long while the bust darts are about 5/8 inch by 3 inches in.  These darts do make it a bit more of a snug fit, and it’s already a tad snug for I think the bodice runs small, but a least it’s a tailored fit now.  For the good points, the skirt is quick and straightforward.  Although the bodice isn’t hard to sew besides the bothersome fitting, the skirt portion is easy and fits well with the sizing DSC_0433-compright on.  I made the skirts’ front box pleat fold a bit crisper by finishing off the bottom hem before adding in the insert, and hemming the pleat insert separately before sewing it into the rest of the skirt.  There’s no continuous horizontal seam to interfere with the vertical seams of the box pleat the way I did it, but it doesn’t have to be done this way.

I am tickled by the way the skirt holds a surprise in its design with the center front box pleat.  When I’m just standing you’d never guess the box pleat would be there, the skirt appears to be knife pleated with a bell-flared silhouette.  Then, all of a sudden if I move or kick up high – surprise, there’s more fabric to come out of it’s hiding like the magic skirt that never stops expanding.

One Burda pattern went towards fixing another Burda pattern!  The “Cocktail Dress” is an odd mix, I should have seen this misfit coming but the lovely solid color of the model dress deceived me.  The bodice is overly modern and dramatic (especially the way I made it) and the skirt is more classic with enough going on too, but in a separate more feminine theme especially with my floral printed cotton. The replacement bodice from the Burda paper pattern was so super easy with sizing right on and lovely details.

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I personally think this bodice is the correct pairing for the skirt and does wonders to the silhouette.  I went back to what I know about creating a visual deception of wide shoulders of the 1940’s and 1950’s to balance out a pleated or full skirt.  Thus I knew I needed a pattern with a wide neck, preferably simple, to complement the skirt and slim the waist…thus I went for a kimono sleeve bodice with a sweet neckline arch that reminds me of the femininity of the overall dress.  The only adaptation I did to accommodating adding this bodice to my existing skirt was to extend the bottom by and inch so the dress’ horizontal center would fall at a high waist rather than an empire height.  Now, I have a dress which visually takes off pounds from my figure – yay!DSC_0455-comp

Besides switching bodices, the zipper closure was moved to the side underarm, rather than having it down the center back.  This side zipper placement didn’t mar my plan of adding in piping to the bodice seams, but as that bodice wasn’t used it made for a nice clean garment design keeping the zipper on the side.  I also didn’t line the bodice – either of them.  I did not want to restrict what stretch I had in the sateen of the piped bodice – and besides, I do not know exactly what to do with it yet anyway.  The pink knit bodice needed to be lightweight and thin so as to give let the bottom skirt half give it the right pull from below to hang right and stay in place on my shoulders.

Now what do I do with the piped tri-colored bodice?  As you see it, the edges are currently unfinished and there is no proper closure.  I really do like it, I spent enough time to make it and finally got it to fit me just right I want to do something interesting with it.  The bodice almost reminds me of a swim top or cropped sports tank the way it is like a second skin and has the streamlined contouring design.

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Do I just keep it has a separate crop top to pair with whatever for the bottoms?  Should I add in a short separating side zip or just have hook and eyes?  What bottoms will go with this – a high-waisted skinny pencil skirt (like Butterick 6326) or shorts or what else?  Do I turn the top into the bodice for a dress (and what kind of dress) or maybe a jumpsuit?  I know I’ll figure these queries out but I can’t put a finger on the right idea yet, so I’d be grateful if you can help me by sharing your ideas and thoughts.

A Shapely 1962 Sundress

Out of all the fashions, styles, and decades of clothing which I sew, I can only go for so long before the need to make something from the 1960’s makes itself manifest. I do love making and wearing the 1960’s style, and am always so impressed with the patterns and clothes I make with patterns from that decade. Personally, in those patterns I find the styling lines so interesting to the point of impressive and notice the fit from the 60’s to be either difficult or spot on. This unique sundress is one of the best examples of a 60’s – a superbly complimentary fit combined with an unexpectedly rich floral print. This is by far my favorite make for this years’ summer.

100_5595ab-compTHE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton, bought from the quilting section of Hancock Fabrics. The cotton print had the label “Eclectic Elements by Tim Holtz – 2014 Bouquet“ on the selvedge. It is a multi-layered, off-inked mix of flowers – roses, hydrangeas, lilacs, and peonies – in soft but strong colors. The straps are a poly/cotton linen-look fabric, leftover from making my 1931 day dress (see post for that here).100_5653a-comp

NOTIONS:  I only bought a pack of piping. The zipper, thread, bias tape, and a hook-and-eye (for the top zipper closure) were all on hand already.

PATTERN:  McCall’s 6261, year 1962, an “Easy-to-Sew” pattern

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was finished on July 8, 2015, after maybe 15 to 20 hours from start to finish.

THE INSIDES:  Inside, almost every exposed seam is a French seam – just how I like them! Seams that aren’t French are the hems, the neckline (because it’s covered by facing), and the long vertical seam with the piping, which is covered with bias tape.

100_5655-compTOTAL COST:  My total for the fabric on sale and one pack of piping is about $15 to $20.

I love the way the floral print could be uber-feminine to the point of being overwhelming, but this is prevented and softened by being blurred slightly and muted in colors, especially with the contrast dusty olive green of the straps and piping. This is fabric caught my eye as a very close similarity to the dress of the left model on the pattern envelope cover drawing. So, I went along with sewing my look-alike and also picked the same contrast, happy to have an opportunity to use up scraps from my “leftovers” stash. When I use scraps from one project and incorporate them into other projects, I feel like I’m intertwining all my creations, giving them a subtle ‘common ground’. Most of the time, I shy away from copying envelope front model pictures or drawings, after seeing how modern patterns have the worst cover examples of any patterns. However, the vintage pattern’s drawing cover can be so cute and appealing, and I get so tickled when I am able to find a modern look-alike fabric for a vintage one. So, I guess I’m guilty of a lapse in creativity by being a ‘cover copy-cat’, but at least I know then that it’s a true vintage design.

100_5617a-compThere are two bodice options to this pattern – a regular “on the fold” cut bodice, in cut one piece with darts, or an asymmetrical, mock-wrap, princess-seamed bodice, cut in two parts. I chose the two part bodice as it is more unique, offered more interesting creative possibilities, and (as I correctly thought) seemed to have more amazing shaping.

100_5611a-compThe construction steps were adapted and varied a bit from the instruction sheet in order to accommodate adding in the piping trim all the way down the front asymmetric side seam. I did the darts first, of course, but then I sewed the bodice pieces to the skirt pieces and left the top edge facing for last. There was a bit of forethought needed to sew the two different top pieces to the skirt sections and not be totally confused. To understand what I mean here, know that both the front and the back skirt bottom to the dress are made of three sections (six sections in total). Thus, I had to sew both the middle and the left skirt pieces together to attach to the left bodice panel, but the skinny right bodice panel was sewn to a single right panel. The back bodice is one piece, sewn to all three of the back skirt sections joined together. The piping was then sewn in with the asymmetric vertical seam connecting the entire (bodice and skirt) left/center front to the entire right front so the side seams could be stitched for a completed main dress body. Besides the construction order being changed so I could add in piping and a slight downgrade in size, nothing major was altered to the design of the dress according to the pattern.

After sewing my 1944 Easter dress together, I felt very confident and excited about working with piping again, but I did improve on my method of sewing it into a seam. For this project, instead of sandwiching the piping in with the seam and sewing everything all at once (as for the Easter dress), I first sewed down the piping to one side of the fabric at the given seam allowance width. This way the piping was in sturdily place and acting like a “curb” to my final seam with other fabric laid on top.

100_5657-compFor a while, I was on the fence as to whether or not to add piping to the top bodice edge. Hubby helped me reason that it would unify the piping down the front, finish off the edge, and make the green contrast standout more. Since the piping happened to luckily be the exact color match with the fabric for my shoulder straps, I might as well use more of it! With the piping added along the bodice edge, I did not iron or sew on any interfacing to the facing. The only drawback with the piping along the top edge is the fact that the chest size is set for the dress now…it’s not forgiving. My arm and chest muscles can’t get any bigger, but for now, the dress fits, and it’s my summer standby go-to outfit this year!

100_5604a-compIt was a bit a challenge when it came to adding in the side zipper, because all the curving and shaping was in the side seams, instead of in main body dress panels. This is a something I see in 50’s and 60’s patterns, whereas in most 1940’s patterns, which also often have multi-paneled skirts to dresses, the shaping is in the panels that are part of the main body of the garment. (See the patterns for my Mock-wrap ’46 dress and Winter Mint ’42 dress, for two examples for panel shaping, versus my ’50 wrap top or “Whiz-wrap” skirt, for two examples of side seam shaping.) The only main body shaping to my ’62 sundress was at the bust. Speaking of seams, I loved to see how the skirt panels coordinated with the darts for the bodice. Even the straps for the shoulder are sewn on at a vertical match with the bodice darts – what irony…beautiful symmetry paired with asymmetry!

100_5654a-compWould you believe the shoulder straps are actually shaped like a half circle? Check out the pattern back.  This is the ingenious way the pattern resolves design of the straps sewn so far over by the armpits. Usually with straps so far apart, they would slip off the shoulders, and that’s really not a problem on this ’62 dress since these straps deceive the eye and curve in towards the neck to stay put. Smart! I would never have guessed, nor did I think it would work myself, until actually wearing the dress as designed. Vintage patterns always have so much depth and interesting design to offer…more than what meets the eye on the envelope drawing!

Near our house was the perfect setting for an era-appropriate backdrop. There is nothing as appealing to me as an architecturally interesting building, especially one as much loved, well known and local as what people of our town know as the old Buder Branch Library building. (See the B.E.L.T blog page for a handful of links about this building.)  For many years it has been home to The Record Exchange store, which sells used vinyl records, cassettes, movies, and audio/visual equipment, so the whole retro-flashback feel is still alive in this amazing building. It was built in 1961, the year before the date of my dress, and I am always in awe of the graceful, standout Mid-Century Modern style of this building. Just like a well-made garment, the old Buder Branch Building is picturesque and beautiful from any and every angle it’s seen from.

In all, what you see in this post is my perfect warm weather fix…the 60’s era, a sundress, comfy cotton, complimentary shaping, and flowers – everything I love about summer! What can you sew to make your favorite season instantly better than ever?

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Me in front of my favorite summer blossom, the “snowball” bush.

1944, Piped, in Periwinkle…My Easter Dress!

Oh, and I can’t forget, there is another “P” to my dress – a pocket! Oh boy did I wear some rich and vibrant colors for Easter this year to brighten up my spring, although I had the new grass and magnolia trees for competition! Pop goes the Periwinkle…and the orange, and the white, and the fuchsia!

100_4877ab-compThere were a number of sewing “firsts” for me when making my Easter dress. I had fun with adding a “baker’s dozen” worth of vintage shell buttons all the long way down the front. To date in my sewing, this dress has the most buttons used and button holes made on a garment. My Easter dress also is my very first full button front dress. This was even my first try, and a successful one at that, doing piping to “accentuate the positive” to the pattern design, dating to 1944. 100_4895-comp

Three years ago, my Easter outfit was a design from the 20’s (my hankie-hem 1929 dress), and last year I made a dress from a 1935 pattern (posted here). This year I went for the 1940’s, because I wanted a decade succession up each year, and because of my excitement for the 40’s due to my “Agent Carter” sew along. By the way, I already have my 1950’s Easter outfit picked out for next year 🙂

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% rayon challis, bought at Hancock Fabrics as one of their new spring offerings. It reminds me so much of the fabric drawn on the dress of the lady on the left of the pattern front.

NOTIONS:  I bought most of what was needed for this dress – fabric, thread, and the piping. The interfacing and the shoulder pads were on hand already.  The buttons came from hubby’s Grandmother’s stash, which I now have. They are slightly heavy carved shell buttons with a glazed shiny top.  

Easter dress pattern front-comp.jpegPATTERN:  McCall’s 5668, year 1944

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Not too long but longer than “normal” for me, maybe 20 hours. It was finished on March 31, 2015.

THE INSIDES:  So nice…I love them this way! On account of an addition which was purely my idea, the waist band is covered smoothly inside with a second waistband cut out made to be an inner “facing” piece. Every other seam, except for the hems of course, is in French seams. The extra time spent on these finishes is so worth it when you see the insides putting it on.

TOTAL COST:  about $12

As much as I like this dress as a project, I really still am not sure how much I like it actually on myself, but I think this is merely because it is a new style. I’m not accustomed to having my waist so accentuated (with the piping in the waistband), but you know your waist is traditionally regarded as one of your shape’s best assets. After all, there is the famous song “Ac-cen-tchu-ate the Positive” which was published and recorded in the same year as my dress – 1944. So, I might as well follow those words and highlight my shape and the pattern’s style in one move! 100_4885-comp

However much I like the dress on me, one of the major selling points to make this dress so very special is the fact that it is (as far as I know) my only local vintage pattern which has actually stayed in town the past 70 years. Through an old receipt found inside the envelope of pattern, I can see the original place of first purchase in town and narrow down the year of purchase by a note written on the back. Then I happened to find and buy it about 10 miles away from the store on the receipt…talk about localized! I can’t do this exact sourcing with any other pattern in my stock. Dissemination of patterns through online sellers, vendors, and such seem to me to make sure that many patterns do not stay where they came from. After having so much enjoyment finding this 1944 McCall #5668, I now feel that this fact is rather a sad necessity for getting old patterns bought and sold.

100_4879a-b-compHappily my research into the pattern’s history through the receipt helped me discover something new about my own city and about the turnaround of old patterns. At the top of the receipt, it is a little faded, but I can still read “Sears, Roebuck and Co. retail store, Grand Blvd. and Winnebago St.” My scan didn’t pick up as much as I can see on the real receipt. There is a date of “March 2” with no year. The total amount of purchase shown comes to $1.35. At first, I talked to my mom, because she grew up not too far from that area and her mom worked in retail department stores. She remembered going with her mom to this store, where some good memories were made. Then, I looked up on my favorite preservationist and architectural appreciation web sites for our town and found this page showing pictures of the building and telling the sad story of how the Art Deco building had been neglected, unwanted, and torn down years after its closing in 1993. Now that I could place the location and store this pattern came from, I assumed it was bought in the year of the pattern, 1944, until I saw a handwritten note of “McCalls P. no. 5948” on the receipt back.Sears store receipt - back & front-comp Now I have done the best internet searching I can do, and I find no records, no picture, or anything of a McCall pattern by that number. However, I do possess a pattern with a very close number, McCall #5946 (see the post of my “Daily Life Dress”), and this pattern is from the next year after my Easter dress, year 1945. This presents so many questions. Is it possible this 1944 McCall #5668 pattern was bought in 1945? Did patterns stay out for purchase years after release, or was this something that happened just during war-time due to the smaller amounts of available resources for consumers and companies alike? I know I’ve definitely noticed a boom in patterns and styles in the year 1946, so did some of these patterns which had been out to buy for most of the war get shelved at that time? What is this mystery pattern the purchaser wrote on the back of my receipt? I wonder. If anyone wants to join in with me and help me answer some of these questions, you’re most welcome.

100_4889-compNow that I’ve addressed the “travel history” of the pattern, I’ll tell you making the pattern for my Easter dress was really pretty easy, requiring no extremely complicated skills. I merely made things harder (but a lot nicer in the end) for myself by deciding to add in the piping and extra inside waist facing. The most time consuming parts were the ones you would expect – the French seams, the piping, and the buttons and their holes down the front. Also, interfacing was ironed onto the wrong side of the front waistband, the self-facing half of the fronts (bodice halves and skirt halves), and the back facing piece. This type of iron-on interfacing (done for my 1946 Yellow Knit Top) is tricky and time-consuming but it really helps get sharply turned edges on a material as drapey as rayon challis.

100_4890-compThe dress was made exactly according to the pattern, except for one fun personal change – the chest tucks at each side of the neckline are facing out, where you can notice them, rather than the conventional inward facing. This makes them more like pin tucks, and much more decorative, than regular tucks. I figured they would also complement the angles of the square neckline I chose. Wearing a square neckline is real pleasure, too – and a nice oddity in my wardrobe. It nicely frames the face, I think, making this dress, together with the bold, bright floral fabric, not a frock for the wallflower side of me.

The top half of the dress turned out more blouse-y and generous than I anticipated. Oh well, this gives me room to move my arms easily and wear some vintage figure enhancing lingerie. I did also sew in rounded, softened silhouette shoulder pads which fill in the dress’ top and nicely shapes the droopy fabric. At least, the bottom half of my dress turned out fitting snugly comfortable. I was afraid that the skirt section would be a close fit which would end up pulling at the buttons. Whenever I see this, I imagine a button popping out at me.

100_4919a-compNot too often do I have a larger lot of vintage buttons, and I was excited to be able to use 100_4917-compup a “baker’s dozen” of 13 shell buttons. They all are a little different in character, but that’s what makes them special. Button number 13 wasn’t actually needed by time I hemmed the dress, so it is sewn in to the bottom side seam as an extra “just-in-case” one. The waistband middle was way too thick for me to even remotely consider making a workable buttonhole there – it might break my precious special vintage “buttonholer” machine. So I just did a once around to make what looks like a buttonhole there and sewed the button directly down. There are double heavy-duty snaps to keep the waist band securely closed. When the dress is on me, no but you will know the difference.

100_4847-compThe piping really is the small addition to this dress’ design that makes the whole thing go up a notch in style. Why have a separate waistband designed in the dress and let it get lost in appearance?!? This was my first time sewing with piping, and I am relatively happy at how I did wedging it in the seams. I wasn’t sure how to even make it work, until I had the idea to use my invisible zipper foot on my 1970’s Brother sewing machine. I suppose using a zipper presser foot is a simple cheater’s way of doing something without an expensive specialty part, but, hey – it worked great! It took lots of pinning, measuring, and slow stitching to reach the point where I was happy with the piping…and I am my own worst100_4918-comp critic. I must admit I wasn’t 100% happy with the “Wrights brand” piping tape, but I don’t really know if there is any other option out there to buy. I’m not meaning to complain, for after all, all’s well that ends well, especially when the addition of piping helped my dress turn out better than I had hoped. As a last minute “after-everything-else-is-done” decision, there is also piping added along the top opening of the pocket. Otherwise the pocket would have been lost in the rest of the dress. Never underestimate the beauty and utility of having a pocket.

100_4892-compFor Easter, I totally splurged and chose my own gift to wear with my outfit – new shoes! I did not know until a few days before Easter if my dress would be done in time, and so I decided at the last moment to order my shoes from ModCloth. They are the “Say It with Sophistication Heel in Ivory”. The employee I spoke to on the phone was extremely kind and helpful, even giving me a free “rush” 2 day delivery upgrade on my order. I was so tickled! My shoes look so high heeled, but they are really the most comfortable heels I’ve worn in a long time. I love all of Chelsea Crew’s brand shoes and have several, but this pair is lovely – nice details and oh-so-very 1940’s. They are the perfect complement to my dress even though in reality they are a darker ivory color than I expected. I’ve seen old originals which look just like these…Chelsea Crew did a good job imitating those old beauties. By the way, the grass in our pictures really isn’t fake, just the first new grass of spring.1940's green snakeskin leather strap heels100_4900a-comp

Spring rains are necessary for such lovely grass but it made the ground mushy where I was posing. My heel sunk right into the ground and I totally felt stuck and frustrated. Pulling my heels out left me with a yucky plug of mud, ruining my “perfect Easter outfit” look. Nothing mars the prettiest Easter outfit like an ugly scowl as hubby caught in this picture. A passing man that was jogging on the trail behind me (which you can see his feet if you look by the tree) filled in the words for me, yelling out an exaggerated, “Eww, yuck!” It was quite embarrassing, funny, and totally memorable.

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