“School Teacher” 1940’s Suit Set

So many times, more than I can tell you, I hear from people who meet me, “…and, you’re a school teacher?”  As if it’s a half statement, that’s still a half question.  I really don’t know why this is – I do like tutoring but maybe it’s the eye glasses, he he!  Nevertheless, I’m embracing the school teacher vibes this time – the vintage 1940’s way!  My teacher’s outfit is authentically completed by a vintage oversized key brooch on my lapel, true 40’s alligator leather heels, and a post-WWII school building as our photo shoot backdrop.

This 40’s suit is achieved from an eclectic mix of vintage and vintage repro, sewing and refashioning.  The jacket is a true vintage piece that had seen better days (sadly), so I refashioned it using the skirt to salvage something wearable.  The skirt is made from a modern re-issued Simplicity pattern and some polyester plaid.  The blouse is made from a true vintage pattern and classic cotton for a basic, versatile wardrobe staple.  All these pieces have differing years in the 1940s as their sources.   Together, I end up with a cohesive 1940’s suit that is warm and classy to wear in the winter, and something I love to wear!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The blouse is cotton broadcloth, the skirt is a poly suiting, and the vintage jacket is a wool-rayon blend twill or gabardine

PATTERNS:  Simplicity #3714, year 1941, for the blouse (the legs on the cover women are intolerably, ridiculously long!); Simplicity #4044, a 2006 reprint of a 40’s pattern, now out of print

NOTIONS:  I had all the thread I needed, I used a modern zipper in the skirt, modern shoulder pads for replacement in the jacket, and new two-tone metal buttons (with an open filigree middle!), with bias tape packs to make all the insides nice and finished.  The only real vintage notion used here was the buttons on my blouse – they were from the stash of hubby’s Grandmother.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The jacket was re-fashioned in about 6 hours and finished on January 8, 2016.  The skirt came together in about 4 hours on October 24, while the brown blouse was made in 8 to 10 hours and finished on November 27, both in 2015.

THE INSIDES:  The blouse and the skirt are all nicely bias bound with lace hem tape.  The jacket’s lining covers up all inner seams.

TOTAL COSTThe vintage suit was bought for $15, the cotton was maybe $10 for 1 ½ yards, and the plaid suiting was on clearance at Jo Ann’s Fabrics at $10 for 2 yards.  A total of $35!

Before my re-fashion, a beat up mess of a suit set was offered to me for a small amount during one visit to a local vintage re-sale shop.  The owner knew I sew.  She gave me one of those “Buy this if you think you can do something with it or else I’ll probably end up throwing it away, but I did spend some good money on this” offer.  The shop owner was thankfully very forthright letting me know the condition history of the suit set.  The suit was originally so dirty when she got it there was ‘no choice’ but to throw it in the wash machine…which ended up shrinking the wool, making the lining’s stitching to fall apart and the metal buttons rust, thus causing brown staining.  She had then spray painted the buttons silver to cover the rust.  Ugh!  That one wash sure got the jacket clean but caused a MESS of problems for me to fix.  The shoulders pads had balled up and fallen apart inside, as well.  The left sleeve to the jacket was chewed up, but not by moths.  It looked like it had been caught in some machinery or run across something sharp that tore it up all the way down the underside from the elbow to the wrist.  Other than the sleeve, though, the body was luckily free of holes or fading.  The matching skinny straight skirt was generally fine, with a few fade spots and random holes.

The suit did fit me and with its lovely design lines and details, and felt I had to save it for all its potential still left.  I guess it’s like going to “just look” at a new puppy – I tried it on, so I was hooked.  The capability to give it the attention I felt it deserved is well in my ballpark, anyway.  The bittersweet fact is that many vintage suits do not have their matching skirt as this one, but that skirt was unfortunately sacrificed for the jacket to save face.  I was hopeful, but slightly doubting my efforts would turn out so well.

As it had been washed once already, I took the old buttons off, added stain remover to take out the rust marks, and washed it once again.  With the lining was loose, I could reach right into the jacket and take out the old shoulder pads and unpick the sleeves.  I unpicked them completely to use the pieces as a guide to trace out a pattern.  The new sleeves have their bias slightly off due to the size restrictions of the skinny skirt, but are overall the exact same.  Then, with the sleeve set in, new shoulder pads, and the lining all stitched up by hand, and the new buttons (pic below) as the icing on the cake, I must say this was an amazing renewal for a formerly desperate vintage item.  Now, with a new separates sewn to match, it really can shine again for years to come in my wardrobe.

The best basic perk is that it is nice to have a new suit jacket without all the effort of starting from scratch.  Besides – they just don’t make them like they used to anyway – in way of styling, fit, and material!  It’s more like the weight of a coat, it’s so lofty!  I am amazed at how sturdy this jacket is to have survived everything it has and still polish up like this.  It’s amazing enough to have something from the 40’s last until today as it is.  I do really think, from the look of the inside seams, the shoulder pads, and the lack of a label, that this could have been private seamstress or tailor-made, but it’s done so well, it’s hard to tell.  As it is now, how unique is a part me-made, yet still vintage garment?!  It’s ‘true-vintage-with-my-personal-touch’, I guess.

There are many reasons why I absolutely LOVE this blouse.  Firstly, it’s in a nice rich earth tone – not ugly or boring and uncomplimentary as some solid browns can be, but it has many undertones that I notice every time I wear it with a different color scheme.  Pictures do not do it justice.  Not your basic dirt shirt here!  Also, it was an easy make, coming together in no time, and it’s perfect for layering with the slimmed down details.  It’s a true 40’s pattern, yet without being as obviously vintage as some others, as this one’s lacking a giant sized collar and gathers in the body.  There still are the gathered sleeve caps, but there is giant darts that shape the chest from the bust up to the shoulder tops.  Looking at the pattern envelope front, this is primarily because it is designed to go under a jumper, but to me it is just as good on its own to change up my vintage style.  The simplified, toned-down details make this versatile to customization.  With a tweak here and a variation here, I can have a different style.  This time, nevertheless, I stuck to the original design and left it unchanged.

However, the best perk is that this pattern fits me like it was designed for my body in mind, and I can use it without needing to adjust anything.  Finding such a pattern in the world of sewing is a real treat.  They’re a true gem to hold onto (and copy!) when you have one, especially when it comes to vintage patterns, as sizing and fit standards have changed throughout the decades, and yet even for today as modern wearing ease can be unpredictable.  For this blouse pattern, I can just lay the tissue pieces out, cut it out, and whip it together, almost like I don’t really have to think much at all to do it.  I suppose the greatest demonstration for how much I treasure this pattern is the fact I have made three different versions of blouses using it, as you will see in the next few posts.  I really have been meaning to make the jumper, too, as I like the rest of the pattern so much!

The skirt was another quickie project, thankfully.  When making your own suit set, even though I didn’t start from scratch for the suit coat, sewing more than one garment to have an outfit can become wearisome by the time you come to the second or third item!  This is partly why I made sure that the skirt was so easy-to-make!  I kind of knew how this skirt would generally run a bit roomy, as I have made the trousers from the same pattern, so I had the assurance of what size to choose to fit as well as really liking the front curving detailing to the waistband!  I also love this skirt – it is a go-to item that matches with lot of other items that I have and has a nice dressed-up look without being too formal.

To make up for my limited fabric amount and to match up the plaid in a more pleasing manner, I went rogue against the grain line recommendations.  Don’t judge me here, please!  I rarely do this and then it’s only when I have thought things through.  The fabric was a tight, rather stiff man-made polyester so it was not going to have much of a grain line from the fabric, so I merely stuck with matching the plaid up well.  In order to fit the two skirt pattern pieces on my yard and s half, I stuck with the same tact as some of my other 40’s plaid skirts.  The A-line shape is emphasized by having the plaid line up horizontally on the side seams, while the plaid miters together at an angle in the middle front and back seams.  For a fabric more drapey, this layout probably would not work as well, but I like making the most of the little of what I had to make an idea work.

The finely detailed and openly-spaced plaid lends an interesting visual texture to the suit set, I think.  At first I wasn’t sure that such strong colors on my top half would overwhelm the muted but busy skirt fabric.  However, the plaid does have the tendency to look weird from a distance in the full shot pictures for some reason!  There is a sneaky bit of turquoise in the plaid actually, if you look up close.

As I mentioned at the beginning of my post, this is the first time I feel I have been able to assemble a cohesive outfit from garments across the entire decade of the 1940s.  The blouse is from the beginning of the era – year 1941 – when many styles were still very 30’s inspired, fully feminine and dramatically distinctive in the decade.  The suit is I suppose from circa 1946, when extra fabric was again allowed, as it has a longer length, flared peplum, and decorative pocket lapels.  The skirt is (again, from my estimation) a little later than the suit, circa 1947 or 1948, especially with the slightly longer length.  It was common for a woman from back then of the 1940s to have worn garments many years old already, but with all the inventiveness, the refashioning, and desire to not publicly show that rationing was putting a cinch in their fashion life, I imagine an outfit that spans 7 years might have been a stretch.

To me, I see set differences every two years at a time in the styles of the 1940s (such as hem lengths, sleeve styles, body emphasis), but I will leave a discussion of this for another time.  I will say that, for some reason, it seems the conventional stereotype for the 1940’s seems to be circa 1945, when skirts were quite slim and under the knee, as if the wartime fashion was the benchmark for the era.  In reality, there was so much variety in the decade that a dress for 1940 compared to one from 1949 would and could totally confuse someone as to how to “do” 40’s fashion.  There was as much going on in history at the time as there was in the garment realm, and so 40’s style can be all over the place!  There is no “one way”, and that’s the beauty of how the 1940’s can appeal to so many people with so many individual style tastes and body shapes.

I always like to respect the style differences I notice in each year of the 40’s because I see it as important to realize the rhyme and reason behind them.  However, my sewing is about personalizing fashion for me – after all I am the one making things – and learning and feeling fulfilled are the greatest perks I enjoy about it along the way.  Thus, I enjoy the fact that I am able to a slightly less predictable style of a blouse from pre-war, and incorporate it with a skirt from post-war, and a suit blazer from the very end of the time of the fighting and rationing.  I certainly did take a very “made do and mend” 1940’s attitude to the pitiful condition of the jacket as I found it!  I hope the original owner of this blue suit would be proud at how I saved it to reinvent a new suit set 70 years later.  1940’s year differences, modern fabrics, vintage tailoring, self-made fashion, and a refashioning mentality have all made peace together with my outfit!

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‘Gene Tierney’-esqe 1940’s Lumberjack Shirt and Trousers

It’s way too fun to let myself give in to my strong tendency to do pretty dresses.  With the weather turning chilly, I could use something different that isn’t quite so dressed up to keep me cozy.  So, now that I’ve been recently realizing the beauty of 1940s casual wear, through the inspiration of actresses Gene Tierney,  Ava Gardner, and Hayley Atwell (a.k.a. Agent Peggy Carter), I took two mid-40’s vintage original patterns from my stash to make my own downtime wear from the past.  There is something a bit timeless, tasteful, and special about a set of “down-time” clothes made in vintage style that modern ready-to-wear cannot have.  The 1940s can make wearing a man’s style look so ladylike!

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1946 is the magic year for my blouse.  Not only is it the year for the pattern of my blouse, but it is also the year of my inspiration.  Gene Tierney wears a lovely flannel shirt in her Noir movie “Leave Her to Heaven”.  Once I’d seen this movie, it has tendency to gene-tierney-leave-her-to-heaven-year-1946-see-classiq-me-style-in-filmcropuncomfortably stay in back of my mind and the fashions are equally memorable in a better way.  Luckily this movie was specially made in color (a rather special practice for the times) and I was so happy to find a plaid in a shockingly close color scheme.  Ava Gardner also wore a nice flannel blouse in her gritty part in another 1946 movie “The Killers”, as also did Paulette Goddard in the 1948 movie “Hazard”, though as both films are in black and white I don’t know the true colors.  You can visit my Pinterest page for “Ladies Lumberjack Blouses in the 1940’s” to see pictures of all movie inspiration mentioned for this blouse, as well as others, too.

peggy-and-sousa-promotional-imagecompBoth actresses Tierney and Atwell wore perfectly fitting bifurcated bottoms in colors, as did Marvel’s television heroine Peggy Carter.  They all put the “class” into “classic”.  Peggy wears such wonderful trousers during the exercising of her duties on the job, and although the inspiration garment came from her Season Two (year 1947), she is often stuck in the past.  Thus I feel using a pattern from an earlier date (1943) suits appropriately.  My spin on feminine menswear from the 40’s is completed with nail polish (Cover Girl XL nail gel in “rotund raspberry”), red lipstick (Cover Girl Continuous Color in “vintage wine”), my sole Bakelite bracelet, and a simple ponytail!

THE FACTS:mccall-6709-year-1946-ladies-lumberjack-shirt-compw

FABRIC:  BLOUSE – 100% cotton flannel, with cotton batiste scraps for lining the shoulder placket; PANTS – a mid-weight denim, 60% cotton, 36% polyester, and 4% stretch.

NOTIONS:  I relied on what was on hand and actually had everything I needed – the thread, interfacing, bias simplicity-4528-ca-year-1943-compwtape, zipper, waistband hooks, shoulder pads, and buttons (which came from hubby’s grandmother’s stash).   

PATTERNS:  McCall #6709, year 1946, for the shirt (view B belt looks like the modern Vogue #9222) and Simplicity #4528, year 1943 for the pants

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The pants took me about 5 hours in all from start (cutting) to finish, which was on March 4, 2016.  I spend maybe 30 or more hours to make the flannel shirt, and it was done on April 27, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  The denim of the pants was too thick to add more bulk with edge finishing, so they are left raw.  The shirt is nicely finished in either French seams or bias bindings.

TOTAL COST:  The denim was on clearance when the now defunct Hancock Fabrics was closing, so it cost maybe $6 for only 2 yards.  The flannel came from Wal-Mart and cost $7.50 for 2 ½ yards.  So my outfit cost less than $15 – good deal, huh?!

The shirt was a bit of a time consuming trouble to do all the details while the pants were so easy and quick.  Both the patterns fit me right out of the envelope no changes and no real fitting needed…it’s so nice when that happens!  A decent number of the 40’s patterns run small for me so I went up in size for the trousers to have a good comfy fit, especially as I was planning on tucking my thick flannel shirt in the waist.  Lumberjack shirts are often roomy, so I actually went smaller by finding a pattern in my exact sizing and making wider seam allowances.  Both steps were good ideas though the pants are a tad baggy when worn with lighter weight blouses.

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My flannel blouse served as an experimental piece on which to attempt two techniques for the first time before doing them on some upcoming projects.  As the back has a separate shoulder placket, and I did not have enough fabric to do something special (like mitering the plaid into V), I made my very own corded piping using self-fabric to make sure that dsc_0236a-compwseam has a special touch.  Making my own piping was not hard – it was fun actually!  All it took was a little extra time but is so worth it in the finished appearance.  I even cut the strip of fabric for the piping on the bias for more contrast.  See – the plaid is cross-grain.  Also, I found out how to do sleeve openings with a pointed over-and-underlapped placket.  They turned out great, but now I know what to do better next time.  Making these plackets became challenging with the flannel becoming so thick with multiple layers in one small spot, and they were barely all my machine could handle to sew.  I really do love the look of this kind of placket – so professional and finished looking, and special, too, as it was also cut on the cross-grain!  I can’t wait to try out these two techniques again.

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Most of the other skills that were needed to make my flannel blouse had already been done for my hubby’s 1943 flannel shirt as well as my “Saddle and Lace” Western-style tunic. This shirt has the collar stand all-in-one with the collar (like the tunic), a favorite feature of mine.  This makes for a smooth and unfussy neckline besides making it a bit less extra seaming to make.  My hem is arched into the side seams, shirt-tail style, though it is lacking a small patch at the inner arch, like what hubby’s shirt has.  On my shirt, the patch pocket (yes, just one) with the flap closure was every bit as stressfully detailed to match as last time I made them on my hubby’s shirt.  Just because I’ve done some techniques before doesn’t mean I like doing all of them any better for sewing them again 😉

dsc_0423-compcombowThe buttons on my shirt are vintage, as I said they come from the stash given to us of hubby’s Grandmother, but what era I’m not sure.  These buttons came in the number I needed, but they are also tiny and feminine, which is exactly what I wanted for the shirt, although they do kind of make it hard to button through the thick flannel.  The buttons had been coated with an imitation pearl stuff, but as most of it was coming off anyway, I used a pocket knife to take all of the coating off to have the buttons be a creamy white as you see them.  They are all kind bumpy on top with three small hills on each.  Does anyone have any idea what era these are from?

The shoulders are a bit droopy and I think they are meant to be like that but I did try todsc_0430a-compw prevent an extreme case.  I sewed the top shoulder seam in a ¾ inch seam allowance but as the sleeve was still over-long for my arm, I also made the cuffs in half the width they were meant to be.  Thin cuffs do look a bit different but I think this is a good save versus having the sleeves end up looking way too big for me.  I also added thick ½ inch shoulder pads inside the shirt to further structure the blouse’s silhouette, because the droopy sleeves fit better with them and also…this is the 1940’s after all!  Out of everything else on the shirt, it’s the shoulder pads that make me feel like this shirt is more like some sort of loose, unlined jacket.  I find it so funny how ginormous thick shoulder pads fit in so well with 1940’s fashion, they actually look good, and fit in to the garment’s style so well.  You’d never have guessed huge shoulder pads were in there, would you?

My trousers are so freaking awesome, I can’t praise true 1940’s high-waisted pants enough.  My last attempts were done using reprints of old patterns from Simplicity, and although they turned out decently enough, they seem modern and pale in comparison to the real vintage thing.  The reprints (especially Simplicity 3688) don’t have a proper vintage high waist, good crouch depth, and proper hip room that this old trousers pattern has to it.  The envelope back calls the set “pajamas” but I technically think that this set of tunic blouse and trousers is actually like a house outfit, probably worn as an option to the house dress.  Regular ‘blouse and slacks’ vintage original patterns for women seem to sell for more than I can reasonably spend, so this pattern is my affordable substitute.  The design is probably a bit more simplistic than an-outside-the-house pair of slacks, but they fit me better than I could have ever hoped for so that’s reason enough for them to deserve to be worn to be seen!

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The only small thing I did change was to transform a full dart out of the pattern’s prescribed knife pleat.  Just to be on the safe side, I added about 2 inches to the hem of the pants, but as they turned out, I didn’t need that extra length, so they have a very wide hem – no so 1943 at all when excess fabric like this would have been a waste not allowed by the war rations.  Next pair (yes, I am definitely making another) will not have the added length and wide hem – the pattern is just fine for me the way it is.  I have found a body match in this 1943 pants pattern.dsc_0306-compw

My trousers have seen so much use since I finished them, but here’s a different perspective yet.  I think they looked best the way I styled them to wear to our town annual WWII re-enactment weekend several months back.  I wore my white scalloped front blouse with the trousers, a leather belt which matched my studded wedge leather sandals, pearls, clip-on earrings, and a netted snood I my hair.  A re-enactor told me he thought I looked like I was dressed up like I was a French civilian.  My hubby can be seen in his recent lucky find of a never worn, Eisenhower-style, military suit set (just need to hem his pants…).  These service suits were being worn on limited personnel in 1943, but became standard issue after November 1944, so he and I are not too far off in time frame.  If I am re-enacting a French civilian, maybe I can play the part of the bride that he met while serving the European front of the war.

Do you, too, have some “inspiration icons”?  Do you sew your own casual wear, weather vintage or modern?  Have you, like me, happened to find a magic pattern that seems as if it was meant for your body?

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!  Here’s to best wishes for good eats, good times, and good memories!

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1940 Summer Plaid Sundress with Mock-Shirred Bodice

Some of my projects unintentionally get passed up under my radar of “things to be posted”.  This lovely staple in my summer wardrobe of vintage garments is one of them.

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At first, this dress was an “Un-Finished-Object” (often dubbed as U.F.O.’s) for quite a while ‘til I eventually conquered its problems and finished it, then it became a “Un-Blogged-Object”.  No longer!  I am proud at how I saved a potential failure here to make another ‘favorite’ frock.  I know the pattern I used is still published (and seemingly popular), so I hope you like my sundress, too, and find both my review and my way of making the dress helpful.  The bolero jacket, part of the pattern, too, is something I have plans to make in the near future, so that review will have to be in a different post.

THE FACTS:Vintage Vogue 8812

FABRIC:  My dress’ fabric is a loosely woven-style polyester blend in blue/tan/white plaid; the lining is a poly pongee in white

NOTIONS:  The thread, zipper, and hook-and-eyes came from on hand.

PATTERN:  a year 1940 reprint, Vintage Vogue #8812

THE INSIDES:  bias bound seams are in the skirt but everywhere else is fully lined.

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TIME TO COMPLETE:  Well…this is a story in itself.  It was first made in spring 2013 for Lucky Lucille’s 1940’s “Sew for Victory”, yet finally finished on May 5, 2014.

TOTAL COST:  This fabric came from something my parents found in their basement and gave to me.  I know it’s not like vintage kind of old, just something from awhile back.  No one remembers when it was bought, so I’m counting it as free.  The lining was from my stash, so I’ll count that as free, too.  Yay!

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In general, I have never had a Vintage Vogue re-print that I didn’t like, didn’t have great fit, nor have I had one that did not turn out successfully.  When this 1940 sundress didn’t seem like it was working for me I was so sad to break this record, so I was elated I could easily make it turn out well.  It was really easy to make, super quick to put together, and does fit very well – I will say that.    But I really think my change improved on the design and also places my dress more on the emphasis of the late 1930’s side of the year 1940.  Yet, at the same time, it seems (from the compliments I’ve received) that either this sundress is deceptively modern looking or this vintage style is quite appealing…maybe both.  It’s great to wear, that’s all I know.

100_2883a-compMy main problem was with the bust gathering of the dress, but I also had random problems everywhere else.  To start with the smaller problems, the skirt length was extremely long and needed to be shortened by about 3 or 4 inches for my taste.  Also, I did not see the back closure working with buttons – I do not relish the idea of “blind” buttoning on myself contorting my arms behind me.  Besides, I wanted a snug smooth fit and (rightly or wrongly) imagined puckering if I added buttons and buttonholes.  So, long story short, I sewed a zipper into the back placket in the same method as a pant or trouser front fly.  I added in hook-and-eyes to the back placket flap edge at both the waist and the top for extra smoothness.  Finally, I changed up the placement of the straps to criss-cross rather than simply going over the shoulders.  I didn’t want to have a dress with straps that droop, always needing attention to be picked up over the shoulders much like many lingerie slips.  With the straps forming an X between my shoulder blades adds added interest but especially gives the bodice more support and just plain stays up properly.

100_2882-compNow the bodice…well, perhaps part of the problem was the stiffness of my chosen fabric.  I can possibly see this working out “as-is” if the fabric was a lovely jersey knit or a handkerchief weight cotton (something loose and flowing), but even still, I’m doubtful.  I did raise up the neckline of the front of the dress’ ‘bra-like’ portion higher by a few inches to make it less revealing, as well as leaving out the “window” opening through the middle.  This added a bit of a challenge to cutting out the pattern and perhaps the more gathering that I ended up with made it overwhelming.  Either way, how it turned out, I could not stand the way the bust drooped a puffed out all at once – so awful!  I was so upset, and for a long time all I could figure for a fix was to cut off the gathered part and top-stitch something on instead. However I had done a good job (not to boast) and the points of the bodice under the ‘bra’ part turned out very well and I hated to give up on all of that.  Finally, it occurred to me to merely control the gathers by the then (1940/late 1930’s times) popular method of shirring or ruching.

100_2871-compWell, I couldn’t start from scratch to make real shirring, so my stitching sewn on the top of the bust gathers are a fake look-alike but just as beautiful and effective.  I maxed out my supply of straight pins to tack down all the gathers.  Seeing all those pins really put my hubby off when he saw it – I suppose he was picturing it on myself like that, making me like a prickly sharp porcupine in the wrong place.  Anyway, I stitched across on top in as straight lines as possible starting from one back side going horizontally all the way around to the other back.  This mock-shirring almost feels like quilting in reality and ends up giving the bust part semi-firm, yet supple, needed support better than some good interfacing.

I felt such relief to see how this mock-shirring was the perfect solution.  It can be so hard to happen to have to right idea for amending sewing projects that just don’t fit the bill of100_2877a-comp approval on oneself.  I find such ideas can’t really be forced, and I have to relax and let the solution come to me after (calming down, first) and be alright with the idea going on a “back burner”.  If I regard it as a failure (easily done), the thought is too crushing and kind of defeats the goal of re-purposing my project into something I’ll eventually like.

So, this is part of the reason why I waited so long between when my dress was first made and when I was finally happy with how it fit and turned out.  Maybe, this is also why I get so many good ideas in the evening…when I get relaxed with a happy tummy my mind also gets happy!  Now, why it took me so long to get to posting about this, well I’ve got no excuse except that when I wear something I’ve made often enough it doesn’t seem ‘new and excitably blog-worthy’ anymore.  Silly me!

My Hubby’s 1956 “Odd-Collar” Madras Shirt

Menswear can get pretty predictable after a while, and it’s hard for me to find “something new and different” for my hubby without being too avant-garde or “look-at-me”.  So often, it’s the little details or subtle touches or even the fit that makes all the difference to menswear…so here is one shirt that stands on its own.  I’ve never seen anything like it, but leave it to a vintage pattern to offer something amazing!  I think this shirt rides the delicate balance of being fresh, vintage yet timeless, comfy and classy, with a toned down unusual-ness.

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THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% cotton madras plaid100_6215a-comp

NOTIONS:  I had the bias tape, thread, and interfacing used already on hand.  The two buttons at the neckline came from hubby’s Grandmother’s collection so they are most probably vintage.

PATTERN:  Butterick #7673, year 1956

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This is by far the easiest and quickest shirt I’ve made for him to date.  It was made in about 5 hours and finished on September 24, 2015.

THE INSIDES:  All cleanly finished bias bound edges.

100_6581-compTOTAL COST:  The madras was bought for pittance when our favorite local fabric store was closing.  For only 1 ¾ yard it cost maybe $3 or $4.  Cheap, cheap!

My hubby loves how comfy his shirt is in the weightless madras cotton.  He also seems rather tickled at the shirt’s uniqueness.  He does get thrown off just a little by the unusual way of closure but it is not hard in the least to slip on over the head.  On my end, being the one that did the sewing, the biggest perk is that it is so easy and super quick to make (believe it or not), besides being incredibly fun to do something so out of the norm.  Plus, (lovey-dovey gushing alert) I also own a matching ladies version (Butterick #7771) so I can sew my own “odd collar” blouse to match my man!  Awww!  Look for my version coming soon to my blog.

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I would like to know if there is an official name or title for this style or type of collar.  I think I remember seeing in an old catalog page or ad where this kind of shirt was called an “Italian-front” shirt.  I have not yet re-found where I saw this so I feel badly that I am not justified for saying this.  The envelope back identifies the other style of shirt in the pattern as a “wing collar” (unusual, too) but yet does not identify the other view that I made.  For the ladies’ version, the envelope back summary calls it a “two button horizontal closing”, but there has to be a better name.  If anyone else can help me out as to what an “Italian-front” shirt is, or any designation or story or such for my hubby’s shirt please let me know.100_6580-comp

Peter at “Male Pattern Boldness” made a version of this same style shirt, only in long sleeves, from a different brand, and (surprisingly) in an earlier year, 1954.   Now, as the ladies’ version of this style shirt is the latest dated version I’ve yet seen I can’t help but wonder – was it so popular for the men that the ladies demanded a version or was it planned by Butterick anyway?

Back to my man’s shirt, I do love the option of decorative top-stitching across the front.  I’d like to try this on a solid version – after all, I do have a late 50’s sewing machine (kept in storage) with a dozen cams to make such fancy stitches.

However, hubby had an immediate liking for the feel and the plaid of the black and white madras when he found it in the fabric store.  As is the unfortunate trend, the fabric he again picked for a shirt for himself was a seriously shortened length.  Not even two yards!  It was the last end of a bolt…barely enough for a shirt but just enough to make it a very challenging effort for me to finally make it work.  This is why there is an unplanned-for (but rather invisible) seam down the center back of the collar and the shoulder panel – I had to piece those parts together just to get a match of the plaid or even fit them on the fabric at all.  I’m hoping yet that someday making a shirt for him will be easier with at least one having enough (or more) fabric to spare (…feel the doubt in my tone).

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The continuous lapped sleeves are wonderful – so much easier than the set-in kind.  I wish more women’s patterns had this but then again we ladies generally want slightly more defined shoulders.  There are side slits that go up to the level of his pants pockets so the shirt doesn’t have to come up when he wants to use his pockets.  The sleeve hems are shortened up by several inches because the original length is about down to his elbows and that made his shirt only look frumpy (so we thought).  We also wanted simplicity to let the plaid shine so I left off the optional chest pocket…it would be too much like a dentist’s shirt at that point.  Besides the sleeve hems and the pocket, the rest of the pattern was 100% unchanged even for the fit as it was his size right out of the envelope.  Hallelujah for easy!  The hardest part was figuring out ahead of time how the collar goes together, but I just followed the directions and it came together with no problem.  I’d like to congratulate the person who came up with this shirt’s design and its instructions.

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Who knew sportswear could be so sophisticated, yet effortless to make?!  What is so funny is the way we like to see if others notice something different when he’s wearing his shirt.  For example, one day my dad complimented him on the shirt (knowing if he’s wearing a new shirt I probably made it) yet he looked at it better saying “Wait, what…something’s going on…where are the buttons…how do you put it on?”  It’s so good to catch people off guard in such a good way, getting them to see and think differently about men’s clothes, a thing often taken for granted when it comes to style or change.  Do you have a favorite “out-of-the-box” garment you really enjoyed finding and/or making?

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(It looks like hubby is doing a Western-movie pose, much like, “Draw partner!”)

As Heavy as the Weather

Cold temperatures are my nemesis. I hate being chilly and get so very easily – even layers don’t help and only are uncomfortable for me. I know, I sound picky, but I seriously think I was meant for warm weather. Yet, clothes that are a combination of tailored, vintage, fashionable, extremely cozy are nonexistent in ready-to-wear…so I make them! The best thing about sewing is the complete independence it gives. You make reality what you want and/or need.100_6888a-comp

So…recently I opened my big mouth and expressed my excitement with a comment over at Burda Style.com when they recently re-released a “new” vintage 1957-1958 pattern. I don’t have anything like it and I really was struck by the simple slimming design. The comments that followed seemed to challenge me to get right to it and make my own version of the dress pattern sooner rather than later. Here’s that final garment just in time for an extreme cold snap. It was an unexpected project but perfect timing for our forecasted climate. My 1957-1958 wool dress is indeed as heavy as the weather demands, more like a coat dress than anything, yet oh-so-50’s fashionable and complimentary. I really do love it. The dress is cozy, comfy, and classy. Bonus – it has my favorite color purple with a little bit a sparkle!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  My fashion fabric is a thick wool blend (70% wool, 25% acrylic, 5% poly and other). It’s a purple and grey hound’s-tooth with some gold metallic strands woven through. The lining is a grey poly cotton blend broadcloth.Retro Wool Dress #128, 01-2016, dress pic with line drawing

NOTIONS:  Everything I needed was on hand already – bias and lace tapes, thread, and zipper.

PATTERN:  Burda Style’s “Retro Wool Dress” #128, from 01/2016

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Gosh, this dress took quite a while for me – maybe 30 to 40 or more hours spent over the course of two weeks. It was finished on January 20, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  All the inner seams are bound by either bias tape or lace tape, except for the armscye which is left raw on account of the complexity with the underarm gusset.

TOTAL COST:  This fabric was bought at Hancock Fabrics on a super clearance for $3.25 a yard. I bought 2 ½ yards but only used about 2 of them for the dress, so I suppose I spent about $6.50 on this dress. I’m counting the notions and lining as free because they were on hand.

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When I saw the pattern it immediately struck me as a coat-style dress. This is why I went with such a heavy wool. There were other ideas in my head that someone else might want to try. I was tempted at first to actually turn it into a coat, but now I’m glad I didn’t because I love it how it is. Then, I also had the idea to make the top half and the bottom half in two different colors out of a lighter weight chiffon type fabric, in brown tones, and add pockets to the chest for a kind of “safari” look. The solid color that the Burda model is wearing would look fabulous with some beautiful embroidery down the length of the vertical pleat. So many ideas and so little time. Let me know if you make any of my other ideas for a variation on this pattern!

Burda patterns (for those readers who don’t know) need some assembly and tracing before being ready for layout on your chosen fabric. They can be bought as a downloadable PDF file, to print out, or traced from the leaflet included in a magazine issue (the “Retro Wool Dress” is in the January 2016 edition).  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a pattern prepped. This is the stage where I pick out my size, tracing out only the size I need to use, including any grading and adding on chosen seam allowances.

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I don’t mind a challenging project, but during the sewing part, this dress was something I felt like I wrestled with and was confounded and frustrated by it instead. Part of my ‘frustration and wrestling’ was on account of the thick and heavy combination of the fabrics I used. However, the instructions to the pattern did not help make this dress a success at all. They are convoluted and not very clear. Since when do you sew together the side seams and the rest of the general dress and then add in the in-seam pockets?! Talk about making things hard, if not nearly impossible. The pattern piece doesn’t even seem made for this method. If only the paragraph for the pockets had been added in several lines earlier, it is effortless to sew in pockets as part of the side seams like all my sewing books show and as I’ve always done in my sewing. The skirt back pleated flap instructions were basically non-existent too, as it didn’t seem to recognize that the skirt is cut differently (on the fold) so it is unlike the bodice back’s pleated flap. I figured it out on my own and am happy with how it looks, I just wish I hadn’t created some smoking of my mental gears to get it how it is as you see it. As I end up saying with most all reprints of vintage patterns, I would absolutely love to see the original as a comparison. Vintage patterns almost always impress me in some way or another so I wonder if some change was made to the original before this pattern was released.

100_6828a-compSpeaking of change, I made no more than a few slight changes to the design of the pattern, and all of these were on account of a better look and fit. The only exception to this might be the sleeve pattern piece, where I combined to two separate front and back into a combined one piece sleeve merely for the sake of simplicity.

This pattern seems to run quite small, especially in the sleeves and the skirt bottom, and I don’t think it’s solely because of the thickness of my material. I went with my normal sizes, grading up as normal for my waist and hips, but I technically could have went up a whole size up more than that. I even cut the sleeves on the bias, but they still restricted my arms to the point that I couldn’t reach up to my hair. When I would reach back to put my hands in my pocket I would smash my bust due to lack of room too. I have a feeling that there is too sharp of a curve to the bottom of the sleeve. If this was a ready-to wear item, and fit this restrictively, I would not buy it. So time consuming work and all, I unpicked liberally to get the fit right (as you can read more about later down). For every two steps I made in progress, it truly felt like I made two steps back in unpicking. For most of the evenings spent sewing I would get one spot right only to have to unpick another spot which needed re-sewing and fixing, but after so many nights of this balancing act I eventually worked out all the ill-fitting spots. To me, the garments I make should fit right or the time spent in sewing is worth no more than time roaming a mall for clothes to my liking. A pattern needs to turn out well, too, so others can enjoy it, thus I’m giving an open confession of the problems I ran across.

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So many extra little touches were made, that for my benefit (and maybe yours), I’ll quickly list them. Firstly the pockets were sewn into the skirt pieces before doing the side seams for real “in-seam” pockets. I remembered to do the hem (a wide 1 inch hem) before doing the skirts’ pleats and side seams to make things easy and less bulky. The same early pre-hemming was done to the sleeve hems. In order to fit my derrière, I took out the back skirt darts, cutting their length in half. The vertical back pleat was let out for a smaller fold to give my rump and legs slightly more room. I picked out the 5/8 inch seam allowance of the bottom half of the sleeves to a scant 3/8 inch. The self-facing edges for the front were turned under for a clean edge (not mentioned in the instructions but a very good idea I think). A tiny hook and eye is sewn at the top outer edge of the zipper end to hide it under the pleat (works great). Shoulder pads are tacked in as well to nicely fill in and shape the bodice. Finally, to appease my preference, I tacked down the top corners of the front top opening so that it seems as if there are lapels at the neck. 100_6862a-comp

Under the most of the center front pleated lapel is the zipper. It has an interesting lapped sort of insertion which reminds me of a pants zipper fly. It was confusing at first especially sewing it wrong side down (see picture), but it works. When my mom saw the dress on me, she was voicing, “How do you put it on? Oh, there’s a zipper under the flap!” Surprise.

The very best alteration to the fit and look of the “Retro Wool Dress” is my addition of underarm gussets. I don’t mean to pat myself on the back, but the gussets make it more 50’s than it already is and fix my fitting problems. Underarm gussets were a frequent sight on 1950’s era garments. They are also the perfect solution for problems with sleeves which offer limited movement without having to start from scratch again. I drafted my own gusset this time – a pointy oval “cat eye” shape with a 2 inch center width by 4 inch center length, without seam allowances. Two and ¼ inches down the side seams was unpicked open in the bodice and in the sleeve so could insert the one piece gusset. See Gertie’s blog for a great tutorial.  Adding the gussets wasn’t really all that hard for me to sew, just awkward and fiddly, but I made it work…and boy does it improve things! Room glorious room!

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“Do I really have to highlight something at my armpit? There’s the gusset. Awkward!”

100_6880-compPockets flaps are vying for first place with the underarm gussets when it comes to helping the look and fit. As they were, the side pocket openings were slightly puffing out, changing the silhouette, as well as being a little too obvious for my taste. So I made them more “fashionably” obvious by closing them with a self-drafted flap closure. I drafted a 3 inch by 2 inch triangle (before seam allowances) to be sewn on the skirt back pocket edge and closing with a decorative button with a snap closing underneath. I love the little bit of extra class the pocket flaps add. They so clearly remind me of those little fine details that I see with designs (especially on suits) from the 1940’s and 1950’s when class and style and attention to subtlety was a matter of course. Both the gussets and pocket flaps (I think) show how a little extra effort goes a long way.

Burda’s “Retro Wool Dress” has a timeless appeal which is modern yet entirely vintage. It has the hourglass silhouette with the slightly exaggerated blousy hips of a classic 1950’s dress. Yet, its features also remind me of other garments I have Chanel Tan and Blue Cotton Tweed Sleeveless Zip Front Sheath Dress, spring of 2009seen, such as a spring 2009 Chanel cotton suiting dress which has a simiButterick #1192, year 1941 pattern cover-complar zip front under a vertical placket. Burda’s “Retro Wool Dress” also makes me think of another vintage pattern from another decade, Butterick’s new re-release #6282 and (what I think) is its original, Butterick #1192 from my collection, both from the year 1941. These two also have a vertical placket down the front, with a pleat hiding underneath and closures down part of it, and the small flap collar lapels (on the old Butterick #1192) like what I did to my version of Burda’s dress.

Thanks Burda Style for another interesting re-release of a vintage pattern. It is a good dress for me and a wonderful addition to my wardrobe, as well as an enjoyable make.  Another step forward in my effort towards combating the cold!