Mardi Gras Tricolor

The festivities of revelry are never as outgoing and widespread quite like what happens throughout the world before the Lenten season, whether or not one chooses to participate.  Trying to say goodbye to excess and habits by indulging in them seems rather odd to me, but nevertheless I like an opportunity to wear some great colors.  The trademark tones for the popular American “Carne Vale” are as bold in their pairing as the party antics which are carried on.  They are as rich in history as they are saturated in hue.  Yellow gold, dark yet bright purple, and a cheery grass green are quintessentially, visually recognizable of a New Orleans inspired pre-Lent celebration.

Not that this post’s outfit was originally intended to call to mind Mardi Gras…it was just an Art Deco fabric on hand and the inspiration of the 1930s penchant for bold color pairings which led me to make the dress you see.  This had been one of my early 1930s projects I had intended to make back when I started blogging, but I realized both that I was not ready for the challenge and I was perpetually undecided on a fabric choice.  Finally, everything came together and I am so happy with the results!  The geometric print is perfect for a dress from the very early 30’s, the fabric appears much nicer in quality than a modern poly, and the design has such great features I think it is so appealing even for today.

To keep with both the Mardi Gras theme and the 30’s inspiration, I am wearing a modern wool beret.  Mardi Gras is a French word after all, and New Orleans has a rich French heritage, so my beret fits right in!  Do you notice the fancy stylized French Fleur-de-lis on the wall behind me, as well?

Also, look for my special accessories, too.  The necklace is a true vintage gem – a 1920’s glass bead piece that needed my help by doing a restringing and adding a clasp for a whole new life.  My earrings are me-made to match (as best I could) using clip-on blanks.  My gloves are true vintage from the 30’s.  I even broke out my old timey Cuban-heeled stockings!


FABRIC:  The main body of the dress is a polyester satin with a sheen on the printed side and a buff finish on the other.  The neckline contrast, sleeve bands, and belt are a burgundy-tinted, rich purple buff polyester satin remnant.  The dress is fully lined in poly scraps…mostly a pebbled satin purple supplemented with a black non-cling variety

PATTERN:  McCall #6957, year 1932 – I used the reprint from Past Patterns which you can buy here

NOTIONS:  The belt buckle is a prized Bakelite vintage item I’ve been holding onto for the perfect project like this!  (Subsequently, the buckle has sadly broken…and is tentatively glued back together for now.) All else that I needed was lots of thread and some scraps of interfacing for the sleeve bands and belt.  It’s a simple needs Depression-era garment!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was made in about 20 hours and was finished on April 18, 2018

THE INSIDES:  Left raw…but you can’t really tell because the dress is fully lined

TOTAL COST:  The fabrics for this dress are more of my precious hoard of clearance deals which I bought when Hancock Fabrics was going out of business.  I don’t remember exactly but this dress can’t have cost me more than $15.

Now, I recognize that the Eva Dress Reproduction Pattern Company also sells copies of this McCall pattern, but I have always preferred Past Patterns.  Besides – their sizing is closer to mine which means less dramatic grading for me.  However, if you need a bigger size than Past Patterns’ 36” bust, Eva Dress’ repro is a 38” bust.  Even still, I often find 1930’s patterns from 1936 and before seem to run small and this one was no exception.  You want a slightly baggy fit with this dress because it is a slip-on with no side zipper called for.  Also this design was coming from a time that was still easing away from the 1920s, which is very obvious when I take off my belt!  I graded this pattern down to what was still technically a roomy size for me (with extra for a modern 5/8 inch seam allowance) and I feel it fits perfectly enough to both be comfy and land at the right points on my body.

I am quite impressed with this pattern.  Everything matched together well and it turned out just as the cover drawing portrays.  It was relatively easy to figure out how to sew together despite the fact that there are several tricky spots to take time on.  Many of my other 30s patterns made to date needed tweaking to the fit, or some of the panels were a bit off, or some of the instructions lacking…but not with Past Patterns.  The designs they choose to reprint have so far always turned out happily successful for me so far.

Making the many exact points and precise corners to this dress was quite time consuming and honestly a bit stressful along the way.  My fabric was a very slippery and always shifting material.  It was hard to be precise and avoid any bubbling out at the points, especially since (for the skirt insets) I was trying to connect two opposing grain lines together.  The insets were stitched together like a regular seam, making it harder, but the neckline contrast was invisibly top-stitched on to be exact and clean because it is more easily seen.

All of the pattern pieces were rather odd and almost unrecognizable on paper, but looking at the cover they all made sense.  It’s amazing how sewing works, isn’t it?!  The front is all one enormously long piece (as there is no waist seam) which appears like a giant capitol H, because of the insert panels at the neck and skirt center.  The back is mostly like a squared-off basic bodice, except with two ‘tails’ attached for either side of the middle panel.  The seemingly rectangular middle panels swerve out on the sides like the curve of half of the letter U to provide soft fullness to the skirt below knee.  The sleeves, dramatically opened up because of the numerous pleats, are almost 30” wide.  It’s no wonder that this dress needed a very anti-Depression era fabric amount of 3 ½ yards…and I was using 60” width material!

I have never done tucks quite like what was called for on these fun, poufy sleeves, and it was sure an experience.  You have to make them in a certain direction because they are layered on top of one another.  I have seen this type of mock-pleating on the skirt waist some couture garments (such as Dior).

You start from the side and pleat towards the center then move to do the same for the other side.  Both top and bottom have to be done separately because the center has to be left free.  All the pleats are folded into the skinny cuff band and attached to the dress…suddenly the sleeve looks amazing!  I had planned on an organza ‘filler’ to go inside the sleeve thinking it would need help poufing out, but no it doesn’t, even though my fabric is silky soft.  My printed fabric and the discrepancy of photography does not do these sleeves due justice for their awesome detail.

The neckline was definitely the most ingenious and usual piece of all, and I absolutely love the look of it in the contrast solid!  It reminds of an adapted jabot, but it is merely called “a vestee” according to the pattern.  A project I’ve already made from the next year in history, my 1933 McCall’s reprint set, also has a wrapped front drape at the neckline – a more dramatic and simplistic version of what is on this ’32 dress.  Neckline interest was very popular in the early to mid-30’s and I like all the interesting variety of it, especially neck drapes and ties.

I changed up the instructed making of the “vestee” for what I think is a cleaner and more straightforward construction.  It called for a single layer of fabric drape which connects to another single layer half piece which doesn’t have a drape.  This would have showed the underside of the fabric, been awkward to sew together at the center, besides showing the hemmed edge.  I made two, draped, full “vestee” style neck insets so that they could be sewn together like a facing for a clean edge along the center drape that doesn’t show the other color of the other side to the fabric.  I had to add the trio of pleats to each of the two pieces before sewing them together and on the vest.  Then I hand tacked the pleats together down the center.

The same beautiful, rich purple solid satin as what was used for my 1951 slip dress and the details to my 1955 Redingote jacket went towards the contrast here to break up the busy print and made the most of my remnant stash.  Just you wait, though, I am not yet done using this purple satin…there is one more project I’ve squeezed out of it (to be posted soon)!  I used the darker satin side of the fabric on this dress.

Purple normally is the color for royalty, and many Mardi Gras celebrations to have a King (and Queen) that is crowned to preside, but the southern American symbolism for it during the pre-Lent partying is “Justice”.  The green represents “Faith”, gold represents “Power”.  It all relates to both heraldry symbolism as well as the fact both United States and French flags are tri-colored.  My green is the new spring grass, and the rest of the colors I’m wearing.  I don’t always wear the dress accessorized like this – tans, or ivory, or black tones mellow out the bright but rich colors.  Finding vintage accessories in my size, in decent condition, in a reasonable cost, in more unusual colors is a challenge otherwise I would also try out pale yellows, or light purple, and other colors with this dress!

My first sewing project from 1932 has been long in coming but I’m glad I can enjoy it now.  I have been straying at the very strong shouldered and cultural influenced styles of the late 30’s for quite a while recently and this is such a refresher!  This has me thinking about what will fill in my empty spot for the year 1930…hummm.  Look for that this summer!

“It’s De-Lovely” – My 1936 Puff Sleeve Polka Dot Blouse

The year 1936 is very interesting to me.  Americans of that year seemed to have had a new-found, hopeful, upbeat outlook due in large part to the Presidency of Roosevelt and the second round of the New Deal programs  (enacted 1935 to 1938).  The Civil Works Administration was providing people with some money, Prohibition was now a thing of the past, and a brand new era of swing music was cranking out a string of hits.

Among this meditation of mine on historical happenings, I have made a blouse that brings me back to those middle 30’s.  My blouse turned out so much better than I hoped, I am truly very happy when I wear it!  The 40’s style is hinted at in my blouse while still staying true to the 30’s, especially by the fact of the bodice pieces being cut on the bias for a complimentary fit.  Comfort is not neglected either…the grading I did between the sizes was tricky (read about it down below) but gave me a great custom fit feel.

100_1713    Like a thrifty housewife of any era, my inspiration for this blouse came from sighting a pattern that I absolutely loved, but wasn’t willing to spend the money, and made do just as well -if not better- with what was on hand.  Now, with that proud explanation I will give you…


FABRIC:  a polyester silky print with a soft matte finish and peachskin feel, bought at Hancock Fabrics just this spring for only a few dollars a yard;  lined in ivory poly cling-free lining from my stash downstairsMcCall 9170

NOTIONS:  none needed;  I had thread, interfacing, satin covered buttons, and hem tape (only a few inches more than what was necessary) all on hand

PATTERN:  Simplicity 2614, year 2009, for the whole top;  my 1937 original, McCall 9170 (used before here), for the sleeves and ties;  Eva Dress pattern 7482 (click here for link) for my inspiration pattern


TIME TO COMPLETE:  finished on July 22, 2013, after about 8 hours of time to complete this blouse

THE INSIDES: The hem of the sleeves and the bottom are covered in beige hem tape.  Besides those places, all other seams (even the shoulders) are finished in French seams.  I did a good deal of  hand stitching to tack the facing down to the lining and also along the neckline edge – see picture below.  All that hand stitching makes for an invisible and special non-conventional look…time consuming but totally worth it!100_1754

I must say I really LOVE the Simplicity 2614.  There are many things that are great about it, from the fit to the styling.  There isn’t a zipper or any closure needed here, as the back and bottom front stretch (and drape along the torso) beautifully, owing to being cut on the bias.  I loved the fact how Simplicity 2614 had custom cup sizes A,B,C, and D for you to get the best fit possible.  Beyond fit, this pattern has a sophistication that lets your choice of fabric shine while keeping a feminine style with vintage yet modern flair.  Bonus time!  Minimal seams make this blouse a cinch to whip up – even with my vintage additions.

I achieved a great fit with, as I mentioned earlier  above, some unusual grading.  Here I would like to tip my hat and extend a thanks to Kathrin at her blog, “Sew long, cowgirl” (click here for the link) where she makes 3 different versions of Simplicity 2614 and did an excellent review that I found VERY helpful.

100_1711     Being a small person who is more comfortable with room across the back of my shoulders like Kathrin, I cut the back pattern piece a size up from the size which I cut for the front.  This is how she made this pattern.  Since I couldn’t decide which size to go with I cut in between sizes as well.  So, to fully explain, the bust piece I cut as a 8/10, the bottom front I graded to a 10/12, and the back piece was cut as a 12/14.  Technically I think I hung closer to a size 8 for the front shoulders and neckline seams, because the size 8 facings for the neck fit fine.  I surprised myself how all the pieces fit so well together after being cut in all those different sizes.

100_1755      Each and every piece was cut separately because I wanted a perfect match of the polka-dots, so I laid out my fabric (and pattern) in a single layer.  It didn’t seem that important to worry about matching the side seams as much as the sleeves and bust pieces.  The front center seam matched pretty well in between my non-working buttons.

I wasn’t sure if the poufy sleeves were going to pouf on their own or if I was going to stuff them just to get the right look.  As it turns out,  the bottom of the sleeves are just snug enough, while there’s so much gathering at the top of the shoulders that together I get the same look as on the front of the envelope.  What a happy surprise I had when all the markings and darts matched up perfectly together, like the modern pattern and the one from over 70 years ago were made for one another.

100_1714     My “ties” are simply 2 pieces cut out using the belt pattern from the same vintage McCall’s I used for the sleeves.  I sewed the ties onto the side seams at a slight angle downwards, just where the bust/lower bodice come together, so that they slope to where I want them to be tied – at the waist.

It’s so fun to achieve the vintage look I was hoping for, and more so to have it work for me well enough to love it on myself, too.  I can understand and appreciate people of a past era better when I can dress in their clothes, read about what they lived through, and listen to their music.

100_1709     Speaking of music, it’s amazing how well the music of the 30’s speaks so loudly about what the attitude and outlook was for each year.  Who would’ve thought the song “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”, from 1931, would by 1936 eventually give way to songs with the titles of “I’m Shootin’ High”, or even “With Plenty of Money and You” (Dick Powell and Victor Young’s Orchestra).  I can see myself putting on this outfit in 1936 and wanting to go out, spend a little money and have a good time, maybe even do some dancing.

Even though “Marie” by Tommy Dorsey is hands down my favorite song of the year 1936, I had to name my post after Cole Porter’s classic “It’s De-Lovely” – it was Porter’s year of a line of hit songs.  Please take a gander and click on these links to a few more of my favorite songs from 1936: “Goody Goody” , “Stompin’ at the Savoy” ,  and finally “I’m an Old Cowhand”  by Johnny Mercer, from the movie Rhythm on the Range.

Our pictures were taken at an amazing 1930 era building, only a stone’s throw from the house.  The building is at a busy corner, in a very distinctive Deco style, and is well maintained as well, which is good for the neighborhood and for us, too!  The side entrance has a decorative lintel above that perfectly frames and appropriately dates my 1936 outfit.

100_1708     I even wore my antique jewelry to further complete the vintag100_1719e feel.

My necklace is ‘1928’ modern vintage brand, but it matches perfectly with my 1930’s old original screw-back earrings.  The earrings were a lucky antique store find (on me at left).

Be it antique earrings or clothing fashions, the attention to detail and timeless styling of things from the 30’s never cease to amaze me.