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.

100_4881a-comp

Fooled You! They’re-Fake-Suspenders 1947 Day Dress

Post WWII was an interesting time for the fashion world to dive into new styles, new fabrics, and new idealized silhouettes. While some things were changing, some things were also staying the same. The dress presented in this post is from 1947, a year caught in between the famous Dior “New Look” and the lingering classic 40’s appearance. I made this dress a little bit of both worlds but still oh-so-very 40’s – it is the classic comfort of basic cotton and accentuated shoulders, together with the boldness of dramatic color-blocking and handy, yet interesting details.100_4015abadge.80This is another “Agent Carter” Sew Along post.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  A basic 100% cotton broadcloth was used for the entire dress, bought from Hancock Fabrics. The main color, a deep purple, is slightly stiffer than the contrast color, a bright Kelly green.

NOTIONS:  I had bought the bias tapes, zipper, and thread needed when I had picked out the fabric, so that everything was on hand when the dress was finally put together. Half of the needed bias tapes were on clearance – ya hoo! – bought for only $1.

100_4026aPATTERN:  Simplicity #2075, year 1947

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Not long at all (in my estimation), at total time of about 8 hours, stretched out over three evenings. My dress was finished on September 26, 2014, and worn out to go vintage shop browsing the very next day.

THE INSIDES:  Everything is nicely covered in bias tape, and the only seams left, the suspenders, are covered on the inside by being lapped over with another mirrored piece. Smooth and comfy on my skin!

100_4035TOTAL COST:  I don’t really remember exactly anymore, only I think it might have cost me around $15 to $20, which is a little more than expected on account of buying double amount of the purple cotton (I’ll explain later).

The split neck and the pocket placement and styling is classic of ’47/’48. The hips began to be emphasized more for the first time in the decade – an early way to ease into the overly-exaggerated hips of Dior’s “New Look”, unveiled in 1947. The hip emphasis of ’47 and ’48 patterns is still quite subtle and very beautiful, in my opinion. I love the way that pockets were something more to show off externally and incorporate into the style of the outfit, rather than merely creatively hiding perfectly placed pockets, highlighting only with an external flap or such, like in most 1946 and earlier patterns. Here below are some sample 1947 and 1948 patterns (which I do not own) to prove an example for my point.  A style very similar to my ’47 dress, with fake suspenders, also apparently came back in the 80’s.

McCall #6752 yr1947,left, McCall #7185,yr1948,rightVogue 8375 80's tops, Simplicity 2094 yr 1947

My 1947 Simplicity #2075 pattern gave me the opportunity for some fun color pairing or stripe contrasting. I chose the color blocking, short sleeved option this time, but I can’t wait to make a wintertime long sleeved dress out of some bold stripes, just like on the other model in the envelope cover (see above). I tended to go for the bright apple green color for the pockets and “suspenders”, no doubt on account of the cover. The thought of having a dress with so much solid color of grey would not be very complimentary on me, so I paired the bright green with a very dark, deep purple. Using cotton broadcloth made my choice of these two colors quite a challenge, because Hancock Fabrics has so many colors and different tones to choose from.

100_4012a

My second leg is really there, just hidden!

The fact of matter is, my choice in color, fabric, and pattern for this 1947 dress is technically not a new one. Simplicity #2075 pattern is one of the very first old patterns I bought in 2011 when I discovered the vintage world. I knew wanted to make the dress, but d100_4016aidn’t pick out the fabrics until 2012. This dress was cut out and ready to be sewn up for Lucky Lucille’s 2013 “Sew for Victory” sew along, but that didn’t happen so the next year I made sure not to put off this project any longer. Sometimes waiting so long for the finished product of a project really makes you amazed and extremely happy to finally be able to wear it, although there is the possibility for it to be totally neglected or even loose it’s “new” and “exciting” luster. Even still, I am very happy to see my idea completed after all this time. My only regret is that I wish I had bought slightly more fabric, because I had to shorten the hem to mid-1940’s below knee length, instead of the proper mid-calf fall of the late 40’s skirts and dresses.

I made the construction of my fake suspender dress just a bit harder for myself so as to get paid off for it later by having a nicely finished project. Firstly, all of the purple pieces are double layered, because a single layered seemed too see-through…this is why I bought double amount and spent a bit more money. The double-layers made the seams quite thick for my machine to sew over, especially since all the seam edges were covered in bias tape. This purple cotton broadcloth is tightly woven! Secondly, I doubled up on the suspender and pocket pieces to have the insides covered and stable, and to give a deep toned color for a dramatic contrast to the purple. Now, just to clarify, the bright green fake 100_4025suspenders are actually a separate piece that gets sewn on and connects the sleeve/side bodice section to the middle bodice section. The suspenders are not just applied bands! (See pattern back picture.) Neat, huh? Lapped onto the inside of the suspender piece you see from the outside, is a second piece sewn down. The pockets were supposed to (as per the instructions) just have the opening edge turned under with bias tape. However, I treated the second pocket piece like a facing, sewing them together at the opening curved edge, then turning right sides out and top-stitching for a smooth finish, before the rest of the pocket was sewn on the dress like instructed.

100_4018Besides the interesting features of the dress which I have mentioned already, there is a very curious detail under the pocket area which unfortunately is completely hidden. At the upward arch where the pocket comes to join in the dress’ waistband, there are a handful 100_4033of tucks on either side underneath, on the purple cotton. Then the top strip gets gathered and sewn right over those tucks…why?! I thought the tucks looked good (hated to cover them up), and they sure make that spot a bit bulky, especially with the pocket top gathered, there too, and belt tabs sewn in that same spot, too! That’s right, this dress also has contrast green belt carriers, like big free hanging loops. I love the late 40’s Post-War fashion – so elegant and fetching and intricate.

100_4007

You can see how the fake suspenders wrap over my shoulders…however, I blinked!

Keeping the whole color-blocking theme going, I decided to make my own belt out of the same deep purple cotton as for the rest of the dress. The belt pattern included with the dress pattern was the one I used. Each time I make a belt I seem to make it differently in order to find my favorite, or at least the best, way. This time I experimented using “Stitch Witchery”, and I must say I am ecstatically pleased. It was easy, too. Three belt pieces were cut, two out of the purple cotton and one from the “Stitch Witchery”. Then I sewed the belt as any tube or tie would be sewn, including top-stitching. The final step was the ironing process which fuses all the layers and sets the belt into being one stable but flexible amazing “new” single piece of belting. Luckily, the belt was exactly the size of a sliding insert style of belt from my stash. The buckle might be fairly new, but it was a low-shine, low-key silver color to provide a neutral balance to the two bold colors of my 1947 dress.

Color blocking strikes me as holding a very odd, but special place in the history of the fashion world. It appears that pairing two different solid colors, whether in the same color group of not, has been around for quite many decades, and it still always has the ability to seem fresh and new. Of course, the ways in which the colors were used on garments has changed a bit. Not until the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and especially 60’s did different tones get assigned to panels and sections which are part of the clothing’s’ construction rather than layering contrasting tones of separate pieces of clothing like in past centuries. For some ideas of color blocking from the past, see this Pinterest page.

Agent Carter at Cafe in two tone dress from facebookPeggy Carter, from Marvel’s “Agent Carter” TV series, wears an amazing color stepped dress that is actually a vintage 40’s original. It has a duo of patriotic “Captain America” colors – cranberry red and dark navy blue – which run horizontally across a wide waist cummerbund. There is an excellent video on Marvel.com (found here at this link) where you can see this dress in reality, and see the rest of Peggy’s wardrobe closet. Apparently the waist cummerbund is attached to the front part of the dress, and, after studying pictures, I have also noticed several rows of runching below the center of the contrast bias neckline. The neckline detailing and her sleeves makes me guess that this dress is from about the year 1944 or earlier. (See the right 1938 ad for a very similar color blocked National Bella Hess catalog ad, 1938 color blocked tops and dress -cropped picdress.)  She is stuck in the life she had during the war, so wearing a dress that might be a few years old (the TV show takes place in 1946) would make sense for her character. Nevertheless, her dress is beautiful, and I challenge someone to use a pattern like Simplicity #1692 (a year 1944 reprint) to make a knock-off copy…I hope to make one myself at some point!

Silver Bells, Silver Brocade – It’s Christmastime in the City

Holiday parties, I’m ready for you!

Now that I have made myself the perfect go-to fancy event dress, I am all decked out in sparkle and silver and geared up for fun.  My dress is vintage to boot, with a very surprising, sexy but demure design.  I look all unadventurous and streamlined from the front, but there is a bit ‘va-va-voom’ from behind…just wait, read on and see.  It’s the time of year for surprises!

100_4269THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The fabric is a rather thick poly/metallic brocade, double sided in a ‘reverse negative’ sort of way.  The fabric’s floral, swirling, lace-like print is woven (part of the make-up), not printed.  It was bought at Jo Ann’s fabric store last year (2013) when their Holiday collection came out. Simplicity 6434 yr 1966

NOTIONS:  I already had everything on hand: black thread, interfacing, hem tape, zipper, and large sized hooks and eyes

PATTERN:  a year 1966 Simplicity #6434

TIME TO COMPLETE:   This dress was finished on November 29, 2014 after spending 15 to 20 hours to complete.

THE INSIDES:  Half of the long seams, such as the side seams and front princess seams, are finished in a French seam, while the bottom half is covered in bias tape to make the dress’ skirt stiffer and stick out like in the envelope picture.  My sleeves/armholes are covered in bias tape, too.  See the ‘inside-out’ picture below.  The only spot left raw is the inner top of the back pleat, but this spot doesn’t need any more of a bulky finish.  Anyway, I was just following directions!

100_4319TOTAL COST:  I remember that I was reluctant at first to buy this silver brocade because it was expensive by my standards.  Besides, I’d already dropped a good amount of dough on the fabric for my 1940 suit dress set about a month before.  Anyway, with a discount coupon, I believe the total for the fabric (my only expense) comes to maybe $30.  That total is still not bad at all for a dress like this.

          Do you see something interesting in picture of the inside front to my dress?  Pockets!  Yes, hidden in between the front princess seams are two handy-dandy pockets.  They fall at such an easy height – more or less hip height just over my lower tummy.  Now, anytime my hands are cold at a party or I need access to a tissue for my nose, I have my pockets to assist me.

Installing the pockets was one one the very first steps to complete before diving into any construction of the rest of the dress.  This way they could be sewn in one as part of the seam later on.  There are strips of stabilizer (I used black hem tape) sewn on the wrong side of the pocket openings to keep the fabric from stretching out of shape.  My silver brocade dress’ pockets remind me of another 60’s garment, one which has the same hip/tummy front “kangaroo” pockets – my 1968 ‘Pucci print’ Maxi Sundress.  Pockets seem to be my current obsession.  Pockets are so much easier to sew in than they seem, and well make up for any extra effort by their incredible utility.  Another reason I love sewing in pockets is because these vintage patterns really know how to cleverly place them…and besides, pockets are so hard to find in store RTW clothes.  The hidden convenient pockets are only one of the number of surprises to my silver brocade dress’ design.

100_4282     The side panels have three amazing specialties to add my unique holiday dress.  Firstly, there is no real side seam – the panels wrap around from off center side to off center back.  They more or less go from princess seam to princess seam.  I know I have seen patterns with this feature before, but they seem few and far in between.  The thing which completely “makes” the side panels do wonders for the dress are the fact that they are directed to be cut on the bias (cross selvedge).  Having the cross-grain in the pieces which complete the princess seaming give this dress’ fit an amazing beauty.  The bias side panels hug the body at every move, stretching and forming the princess seams to hug the body for a complimentary, yet forgiving fit.  Having the bias side panels being so ‘forgiving’ especially comes in handy after a big meal 🙂  I knew I liked the pattern (enough to order it!), but these two features of the side panels were only realized once I got into the ‘laying-out-and-cutting’ stage.  I had a “wow” moment.  Thirdly and finally, I cut the side panels to my dress on the opposite side of the fabric as was used for the rest of the dress.  Since the brocade is pretty and double sided (negative image, actually) I wanted to be able to both show each side of the fabric and also subtly highlight the side panels.

100_4280     Now, I suppose you’ve already seen the back design by looking at the pattern envelope picture above.  The back view of my dress reveals a wide open, deep V-back which opens up at the small of the back into a wide, gently flaring box pleat.  Sewing the back details was a very fun challenge – not too hard to accomplish, but just interesting enough to learn from doing it.  The back center zipper runs all the way down past the flare of the back box pleat.  This only involved an extra two step treatment of the zipper installation for the box pleat to properly flare freely.  You have to lift out the box pleat out of the way on each side of the zip and sew it in below the pleat.  Next I sewed up the rest (top half) of the zipper into the dress above the pleat opening.100_4322

When my dress was finished, of course I immediately tried it on and became a bit worried about the wide open back.  The dress seemed to have the tendency to slip off my shoulders from behind and slide forward.  However, once I added two large hook-and-eyes to close up an extra 2 inches above the zipper, as the instructions direct, the ‘slipping shoulders’ problem happily disappeared completely and the dress stays on effortlessly with no extra ‘lingerie catch straps’ or the like.  The back V-neckline even stays admirably flat against my back, with no gaping.  I credit this in part to the hook-and-eyes, another part to the great design, and a final part to the great fitting facings.  There is seam tape sewn into the facings (and the shoulder seams) to make sure those spots keep in perfect shape.  If you look at the picture at right, you can see it all – the hook-and eyes, the zipper between the pleat, my French seam innards, and the nice large, stable facings along the edges.

My one minor gripe about the design of my dress is the great excess of ease added into the sleeve caps.  It makes for some uber-gathered poufy sleeve caps which I think the dress could have looked better without.  Nevertheless, the poufy sleeve tops are not really that bad – they do provide plenty of reach room to move around in, and that’s rarely a bad thing 🙂

100_4276a     The funny factor about making this dress is the extra time and effort I made for myself by allowing room for unnecessary creativity.  Looking at the pattern, and comparing it to my brocade fabric, I thought perhaps the dress would look better with a longer hem and different sleeves.  Thus, at the cutting step, I added 3 inches extra to the bottom hem, as well as 3 inches to the hem length of the sleeves.  Hubby and I had these fantastic plans for some really pretty arched hem sleeves which could be turned up as cuffs with a button to show off the underside of the fabric.  After my dress was finished and I had tried it on, hubby and I both agreed that the original pattern had the design for the dress right after all, and our “changes” needed to go.  So, I had to go through some unpicking, and plenty of measuring and marking to get the dress back to the original length for the both the sleeves and bottom hem.  Three inches were added, and three inches taken off…oh, well!  We live and learn.

1966-soft-updo     Hubby and I were to attend a holiday party hosted by his workplace, and this was the first occasion (of many, I hope) for wearing my new party dress.  I wanted an authentic 1966 hair-do to match with my dress and found some great ideas amongst the blogging sphere.  My personal favorite page for 1966 party hair-do’s can be found here and my favorite page for 1965 evening wear hair is here.  As it turned out, I made a few valiant attempts at some of the more complicated up-do’s.  I ran out of 1966 David n' David wig adverttime when they weren’t working out, and so settled with a classic style, with thick side swept ‘bang’, a pony tail wrapped with a cone of hair at the base, and lightly curled tail.  I can’t help but think of this as a retro “Barbie doll” coiffed style.  It’s close to authentic, but still modern.  I would have liked something more spectacular (like my 1966 ad pictures below)…but I think I’ll have to spend some practice time first to reach the level of such hair art.

This project is my second 1960’s era ‘party dress’.  My first one can be seen here, and it is from 1961 for summertime glamor.  Both of them still have a strong 50’s influence in their lines.  I find it interesting that the 50’s still had such a strong influence on the 60’s fashion so late into the decade, with patterns such as the one used for my brocade dress still emphasizing the nipped waist, flared skirts, and open back.  I notice that what we traditionally think of the 60’s – ‘A-line’ silhouettes, easy dressing, “mod” prints, and the frequent unusual waist placement (such as empire or hip length) – does not seem to be in full force on pattern covers until 1967 and after.

100_4270     Wearing silver at Christmastime brings to my mind other places I see silver at this time of year, in pretty present wrappings, tinsel strands, and mirror-like shiny vintage glass ornaments.  Silver seems to reflect the beauty of the lights and colors of the holidays more perfectly than any other color…except for some white snow!  Thus, I feel my silver brocade ’66 dress to be a neat appropriate alternative to the traditional trio of black, red, or green worn for Christmas get-together occasions.  Silver is definitely good for more than just money!

My “Gracie Allen” Ensemble – a Casual Yet Classy Blouse and Skirt

Gracie Allen, wife of George Burns and comedic star of the Burns and Allen Show on radio and TV, is my top style icon for the 50’s.  In every TV episode, Gracie always had such a interesting, beautiful, and classy outfits which fit her perfectly and displayed the very best of the 50’s styling.  Of course, in my opinion she always wore great fashion styles, no matter what the era.  I would love to see all her fashions in color!  It was therefore only a matter of time before I got around to making this post’s featured outfit – my “Gracie” inspired 1952 skirt and a 40’s blouse. Burns and Allen show

Her wardrobe providers were primarily two very interesting (and sadly rather unknown) designers: Marjorie Michael (1951 to 1954) and later  De De Johnson of California (1955 to 1957).  Ms. Michael had one quirk which I admire in her designs – she used only natural fibers, like silk and cotton, with never so much as a synthetic even blended in.  The fabric for her dresses were primarily imports from either France or Italy, to reflect on the high quality of her work, because she liked to use “cotton that doesn’t look like cotton” (quote from here).  As for Ms. Johnson, she was a Los Angeles designer which in 1944 created the “pedal pusher” pants, “shorter than a Capri and with a slightly wider leg”. She wanted to create a garment that—unlike a lady’s skirt—won’t get caught in a bicycle chain. Teen idols Sandra Dee and Annette Funicello, as well as Hollywood stars like Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe, soon adopted De De Johnson’s look and made it into a 1950s fashion craze.  (Info from here)  Ms. Johnson also designed for other TV programs besides Burns and Allen, such as for Leave it to Beaver in 1960, and briefly for The Dick Van Dyke Show (hint, hint, Mary Tyler Moore’s “pedal pusher” look).  There is one more tidbit of info from a 1946 newspaper article regarding an unusual fashion show put on at a Grand Canyon ledge, and an ensuing accident to Ms. Johnson.  See the article photo here.

With my “Gracie” ensemble, I have completed an empty niche in my vintage/retro wardrobe fashions!  Previously I only had a handful of 50’s fashions which were all only for the warmer weather and only dresses, besides my jumper.  Now, I have two very useful separates, which are great spring/fall chilly weather transitional pieces, as well as providing a wonderful vintage look of the transitional 40s and 50s.

100_2617THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  FOR THE SKIRT:  a rayon/poly blend suiting, that is thick like a gabardine but very soft, flowing and wrinkle free at the same time.  It has a tiny hounds tooth design with the colors of white, black (or dark brown…I can’t tell), and an orange/rust brown.  FOR THE BLOUSE:  a Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton fabric in a slightly off-white “snow” color.  I love the softness of the Kona cotton – it feels so very premium and was wonderful to sew on.

NOTIONS:  I had all the interfacing and thread needed for both the skirt and the blouse.  I did have to buy a small rust orange 7 inch zipper for the side closure of the skirt.  The three flower shaped buttons for my blouse came from the familial stash of vintage buttons.  There is a story behind the buttons; I’ll share it with you further down.

PATTERN:  Simplicity 4012, year 1952, for the skirt;  and Simplicity 4602, year 1943, for the blouse.

Simplicity 4012 skirts from 1952Simplicity 4602 cover drawing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The skirt was a fast, easy and fun project; it only took around 6 hours from start to finish.  It was done on February 21, 2014.  My blouse was finished on February 7, 2014, and I spent at least 10 hours to make this.100_2633

THE INSIDES:  The fabric edges of the skirt are either bias bound or covered nicely by another seam.  All the inner seams of my blouse are done in solely French seams.  Only the blouse hem is covered in single fold bias tape and the sleeve seams are opened up clean finished seams.  See picture.

TOTAL COST:  The suiting fabric for my skirt was bought while on the “Spot the Bolt” clearance at Hancock Fabrics.  I spent about 60 cents a yard, and I bought 3 1/2 yards in total, but I only used a little over 2 yards for the skirt itself.  The blouse fabric was a good, reasonable price (with the sale) for such quality.  I spent around $5 a yard for the Kona cotton, and I think I bought just under 3 yards.  I did buy extra yardage which went towards lining the blouse’s body.  Not meaning to ramble on, but the skirt total was under $3, while the blouse was under $20.  Not bad prices for an outfit like this one! 

First, I will address the details of my ’52 skirt.  It was really a joy to put together, and just challenging enough to be good for my sewing skills.  My favorite part actually came at the beginning of assembly – shaping the pockets.  In order to do the point of the pocket (the one closest to the center front of the skirt; not the point in the side seams) the instruction100_2597as showed to do a mitered corner at this spot.  Yahoo!  I jumped for joy while smiling.  I haven’t sewed mitered corners in a number of years and (as you might guess) it is something I enjoy doing,  not just because I can do them well (if I must pat myself on the back).  The picture at right shows both my seam point and the corresponding instructions.  I’ll have to do more fine mitered corners to more projects…this sewing technique seems to be sadly neglected.100_2631

After finishing up the edge of the pocket openings, both pockets get sewn onto the skirt front, and then comes a tricky part.  As you can see on the bottom right of the instructions in the photo above, the pockets get sewn, raw edge under, to the skirt, except for the top and the lower half of the sides.  The bottom half of the pocket side opening gets cleverly tucked into the side seam while the top half (the finished edge where the hand goes in) runs parallel right over the side seam (see left picture).  You stitch the bottom corner of the pocket opening to stabilize that spot before clipping it, and I am proud at how well I did that tricky corner.  However, doing the pockets parallel over the side seams was almost trickier – I had to be very precise, careful, and take it slowly…especially the side that had the zipper.  It took some hand stitching to get the pocket opening edge, the zipper, and pocket details just right and perfectly invisible!  There is also seam tape added into the pocket opening area and zipper too.  It keeps those areas from stretching.

100_2629     The waistband finished up wonderfully!  No messed up bias or mismatching tabs here.  I actually surprised myself – I think the pattern must be printed and designed very well, but also think I cut the pieces out well (because the hounds tooth helped me line everything up).  There is a slight overlap of the waistband end tabs so as to sew in a sturdy, slide-style waistband hook.  See the left picture.

I hadn’t even planned on bothering to match up the hounds tooth plaid.  The plaid is so tiny I felt it didn’t need matching, and I probably would’ve gone a bit batty even trying too hard to match things up.  As it turned out, the plaid on the pockets aligns perfectly with the plaid on the skirt.  I couldn’t be more pleased!

100_2628     The skirt’s hem was finished with a tiny 1/8 inch seam.  Now, for an almost complete half-circle skirt like this one, a hem like this would normally take me about 2 hours to do with my regular straight stitch foot, step by step, fold by fold.  However, I had splurged on an 1/8 inch hemmer foot and I was astonished at the amount of work and time it saved me 100_2630on this project.  All in one step I had achieved an amazingly tiny hem in only 30 minutes.  The two side seams, with the bias tape, wouldn’t run through the 1/8 inch hemmer foot, so I merely covered the bottom sections with a small rectangle of more bias tape ( see right picture).  I don’t know of a better way to finish off the thick side seams in an 1/8 inch hem, and I don’t really care, because I’m happy with my skirt just how it is.

My blouse has all the details to make it on the more couture side with all the comfort to keep it on the “casual favorite” side of my wardrobe.  This blouse was also my very first sewing creation using an unprinted pattern, which solely uses perforated dots to direct what needs to be done.  It has the collar all-in-one with the blouse (there’s only facing to shape the collar).  It is also my only, but hopefully first of yet another, blouse which employs cuff links at the wrists.  All these points make me so proud of my finished classic blouse!

100_2624      I had to adapt the pattern just a bit as it was a size or two too small for me.  Other than fitting adjustments made to the pattern before cutting, no other design changes were made.  The bodice front and bodice back were doubled up to prevent any see through and also to allow me to invisibly hand stitch the neck facings down to the inside layer.

100_2625     Can you see the buttons down the blouse front in the picture at right?  Look closely in 100_2850 floral buttonthe picture at right and you will see they are slightly off-white, four petal flower shapes.  I picked out these buttons out soon after I started on the blouse, and I was so excited to use them as the highlight.  They are from hubby’s grandmother and date around the era of the 40’s/50’s.  Three buttons are all that was left from off of a red and white “Sunday best” dress which my mother-in law remembers her mom wearing as she was growing up, except the original dress seemed to have plenty more buttons that are missing.  I am just glad to give a small family heirloom another life and a new chance to shine.

100_2632     The collar was a bit challenging, and even somewhat of a pain to accomplish. However, I love the finished result to a degree that I definitely want to do more collars like this one.  The points, angles and curves were what made the collar difficult, not to sew, but to turn right sides out.  It just took some time and patience and detailed clipping to make the collar turn out o.k.  I even tried a Threads magazine tip to attempt at getting a precise point for the collar.  Before turning right sides out, I pulled a needle with thread through the point and double knotted the tail ends.  This way, with the right sides out, I should have been able to pull the thread to a perfect point.  The double knot is inside the wrong sides, to (supposedly) be a gentler resistance than a hard, plastic ‘point turner’ tool.  Well, the knotted thread tip didn’t work…it just ended up tearing a hole right through my collar points.  It wasn’t for any apparent reason I tore a hole – my seams were double stitched and I was not pulling THAT hard on the point.  I turned the collars wrong sides out again out and had to sew them over, making the points slightly smaller than the pattern (or myself) intended.  Nevertheless, I am just glad the collar turned out in the end, none the worse for my mess up.  I did iron on interfacing to the inside (wrong) side of the collar facing to make it more sturdy, even though the instructions mysteriously left out any mention of doing such a thing.  As the finishing touch, the entire edge of the collar facing was hand stitched down to only the inside lining layer of cotton so as to be invisible.  Trying a time saving tip taught me that sometimes nothing is as good as my own way of doing things.

100_2634     Since I just explained the collar, now I will briefly point out some interesting details of the off-set “shoulder”.  You can see in the pictures above and at left how the back bodice wraps over the top of my shoulder to meet the front, which gets gathered under the collar on my upper chest.  There is an L-shaped piece so the collar can be formed (the vertical bar of the L wraps around to join at the back neck center).  The inner corner of the L made for a spot where my sewing had to be exact and precise.  Bias tape covers the inside of the “shoulder” seam with the rest of the raw edges covered by the facing.  After seeing so many old movie costumes and other past patterns, it appears a good number of vintage blouses and jumpers have a very similar and very ingenious shoulder/collar placket design.

100_2619     Even the darts, which shaped the blouse from the waist down, were also a bit different.  The darts curve to end and come to a point right where the bottom end gets turned up.  Having the darts end at the hem makes the bottom of my blouse curve out nicely over the hips.  The bottom half fans out over my hips anyway because, remember, the buttons only go from the waist up (maybe wartime women saved on buttons, too).  My blouse almost seems like a sort of a jacket with the way the hips flare with the bodice thick and stable.

I know both these separate pieces will help me build a very casual but dressy workable wardrobe for the transitional time between the wartime 40’s and the early/mid 50’s.  A handmade 50’s era velvet top from my Grandmother matches beautifully with my big pocket ’52 skirt, while I already have a mid 40’s skirt which looks good with my white blouse as well.  Wearing my 1943 blouse and ’52 skirt together isn’t all that out of place – I have noticed that most popular and powerful style features last about a decade.  For just one example of this fact, just look at two modern reprints to see how a sailor collar dress style lasted at least a decade: Vintage Vogue 1171, year 1950 and Butterick 5747, year 1960, which are both quite similar.  Then, for grins and giggles,  look at this YouTube clip from the 1939 movie Honolulu, and you can also see a collared sailor dress on a quite young Gracie Allen.

There have been a few people who have unintentionally ‘corrected’ me for calling my skirt after Gracie Allen, telling me it’s a June Cleaver style.  However, I am Gracie’s biggest fan, and, believe me, I have watched plenty of Burns and Allen on TV.  I’ve been paying attention to her styles and mannerisms, and Gracie almost always had pockets, which she loved to keep her hands in when not using them to express herself as she and George did their vaudeville act at their show’s end.  I love how Gracie’s large charm bracelet would show outside her pockets, and so often she would pull out letters from her pockets, too, providing hilarious updates about her mom or her sisters or her Aunt Clara.

100_2614      I’m titling the full picture above “Gracie (a.k.a. Kelly) ready to go shopping”.  Unlike me, Gracie was a frequent shopper (at least for TV), and she never went anywhere without wearing a glamorous fur coat or fur stole.  In fact, she once said she and other women only go shopping to give their man a reason to earn money – so their wife can spend it!  Now there’s what I call a ‘Gracie-ism’ saying for you!