“Catch Me I’m Falling”…For the 80’s!

All I know is that I realized my Easter tradition of going up through the decades of the 20th century was going to be more challenging after reaching the 1980s this year’s holiday.  It all started with a 1920’s dress back in Easter of 2013.  Now, my “vintage sewing” has a white elephant in the room.  I never thought I could love the 80’s as much as I do this suit!  Nevertheless, this is a designer pattern, to add to the appeal…a year 1985 Givenchy skirt suit set to be exact.  Help me – I have fallen for a ‘new’ outdated era.  Dare I call it ‘vintage’ when I was born in that decade?

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  2 ½ yards of faux suede was used for the main body (exterior) of the jacket, with a cotton broadcloth (also 2 ½ yards) for the interlining and a cotton lightweight canvas weight (one yard) for interfacing; the skirt only needed on yard and was cut from a silk satin vintage Indian sari.  A dusty grey under toned purple silk Habotai was the lining for both the jacket and the skirt, as well as being used for the top…3 ½ yards was enough for everything.

PATTERN:  a “Vogue Paris Original” Givenchy designer pattern, #1665.  It is dated 1986 by Vogue on the envelope and 1985 by Givenchy (as pointed out by Jessika Ahlström on Instagram).  The top was made using Simplicity #1690, a Leanne Marshal pattern from year 2013 (used once before to make this lace crop top)

NOTIONS:  The etched gold buttons were 80’s or 90’s from my husband’s Grandmother’s stash that I’ve inherited, while the zipper was luckily on hand in my stash.  I luckily had 3 spools of the thread color I needed on hand as well.  The only thing I really had to buy for this suit set was the front jacket closures – 1 inch brass hook and eyes.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Not even counting the at least 15 hours it took me to tailor some of the pattern pieces (which meant re-tracing them out onto new paper) and the cut them out of all the layers and separate fabrics needed…the actual construction of the skirt took about 12 hours, the top 6 hours, and the jacket just over 30 hours.  All together that’s a total of about 65 hours!  Everything was finished just two days before Easter, April 18, 2019.

TOTAL COST:  The faux suede has been in my stash forever, and the sari was a birthday present a few years back so I’m counting both as free and also a stash busting win at this point.  Except for the jacket hook closures ($3), even the notions were on hand so I’m counting them as a non-cost.  The silk was an awesome find on Etsy from someone clearing out their stash…it was only $15. Perhaps I can also count my vintage 80’s shoes, specifically bought to go with this outfit, at $30.  So my suit was just under $50…a far cry from any ballpark cost for a Givenchy suit much less one this quality.  I’m so happy!

Now, I had some good preliminary practice with my Agent Carter “One Shot” 1946 suit to have so much more confidence and relaxation going into making this suit.  I knew what to expect and how to figure it.  Except this time, I went a bar above – this is a designer style, almost exclusively in silk, and a full three piece set.  Granted, I was in so much more of a time crunch with this suit not getting to it until the beginning of April, but even still – with all the no-stops care and attention to detail that I did, it was finished in only two weeks.  I think I can pat myself in pride on the back for this set both in time and quality, if only my achy hands and shoulders weren’t crying out something different afterwards!

As for the last suit, here I made the skirt – and the top – first.  For being just a one yard, minimal pattern piece patterns, both skirt and top took me so much longer than imaginable.  This is due to the fact that in order to match with the couture quality that a Givenchy set deserves, and to give justice to the deluxe materials I was working with, most everything here was sewn by hand.  Yes, you read right.  The side seams to the top were machine sewn French finished, and the skirt had machine sewn side seams with the raw edges encased in between the lining.  Everything else, though, was sewn as invisibly as possible by hand.  The skirt’s hem is “floating”, attached only to the lining, and the bias binding of the top was rolled and stitched “in the ditch”.  I guess I’m just crazy, too dedicated, or overly meticulous, but even if I’m the only one that sees the details, I’m happy as a lark.  I’m learning and growing through this, I know, and I love the source of pride and accomplishment something like suit making offers.  Couture tailoring of suits is a whole separate world with new terms and skills called for completely out of the norm for general home sewing or dressmaking.

I did make a few slight changes along the way to both the top and the skirt.  First of all, I cut the top on the bias grain rather than the straight grain (parallel to the selvedge) as directed.  This fits the otherwise boxy and oversized shape to my body better besides making the top easier to put on and much more luxurious to wear.  I actually went down from what should have been my proper size, too.  The skirt did not originally call for a little ease-of-movement slit at the knee.  As this is a tapered skirt – gathered at the waist and tapering down to almost a wiggle skirt from the hips downward – I feel much more comfortable and less confined with this little extra detail.  It also keeps the skirt appealing and feminine to a style that could easily look frumpy, in my opinion.  A little “oh la la” never hurt anything.

The original pattern didn’t call for the contrast placket that is under the buttons on my left side, either.  I added this feature to break up the busyness of the print, make the purely decorative buttons appear more purposeful, lengthen the visual line of the skirt’s silhouette, and to incorporate it into the jacket for an overall harmonious suit.  I actually used the underside of the faux suede for the added left side skirt placket.  The underside has a nicely low-key shiny satin finish in a slightly deeper, more dusty color green (than the creamier pastel of the suede side) that I love paired with the muted, varied tones of the skirt sari satin.  The only other place in my suit set where I used this satin underside is on the facings along the inside neckline and front to the jacket.

I don’t understand how a sari is worn, but it would help me understand why there was a cotton hem protecting panel running along half of the one long edge’s underside.  You see, a sari is a long 4 yard rectangle.  This satin sari had a big, square, artistic, highly detailed panel at one of the long ends and a matching border that ran along the rest of the edges, about 5 inches wide.  So far all the saris I have seen generally follow this pattern of design layout, and it’s so beautiful and interesting, but I would love to find the reason why.

The added-on cotton protecting panel ran from the square artistic end to half way down, and was obviously there to save that edge from wear and tear looking at the fading and color distortion around it, so I assume that area was above the back of the feet.  I actually used the fabric from this little add-on panel as the facing underside of the skirt’s waistband.  Otherwise, the rest of the portions I used for the skirt came from both ends of my sari – the front skirt was half of the wide, detailed square end, while the back skirt is from the other plain end.  The front therefore has most of the dusty purple undertones, matching with the color of the Habotai for the top and lining, while the back has the turquoise, lime green, and rich teal.  If it wasn’t for the rich complexity of color in this luxurious sari, I would have never thought of pairing purple and green as I did!  Luckily, I have plenty of sari left (3 yards!) to use to make something else in the future.

Inside out view of “the guts”…

Now the jacket was a bit less intense than the Agent Carter one because the faux suede was not lofty enough to pad stitch.  It was much too buttery of a material (so dreamy of a hand!) anyway and most of the seaming needed smooth flowing lines…not an allover firm body pad stitching lends.  However, my hand stitching game needed to be really strong because the suede also would make any thread ugly obvious.  Luckily, the interlining and interfacing gave me something to catch with my hand stitching so no thread is visible yet all the layers become joined together.  Thus, the credit of success for my jacket goes to precise hand stitching, seam allowance trimming, proper interfacing/interlining weight fabric, and meticulous ironing at every…single…step.  When I know (and see) that all of this makes such a day and night difference in ending with a professionally tailored jacket, it is not as much of a bother as it could be, no matter how exhausting those steps can be to execute.

I must say the pattern instructions were so very excellent at leading me through the whole process but my preliminary familiarity was necessary still.  Vogue designer patterns can be intimidating, but they are not impossible.  Their instructions obviously step up to meet your needs but seem to assume experience on your part, too.  Every piece of interfacing had its own pattern piece!  I mean, this isn’t something you see too often for home sewing!  I would expect no less, though, because why else would a designer pattern be special?  Luckily, my particular copy of Vogue #1662 came with a clothing label…hard to come by nowadays and a rare find.  I have two other labels with other patterns but this set really deserved it.  I splurged.  It made my home couture creation feel so verified!

What I have noticed with designer clothes (or in my case, home patterns for designer clothes) is the quality details that are low-key.  For example, this jacket has no side seams.  The front panels on either side of the center are stiffed and full of body.  Then there is a princess seam that joins the side panel to the front.  Those panels that attach to the front wrap around to the back to join a center back panel that is only interfaced across the shoulders.  Last year’s Sybil Connolly suit from 1976 had something similar, as well.  This time is freaking ingenious for such a fitted suit jacket.  It blows my mind.  Sorry, though, my seams are so smooth and flat (as they should be…) that the camera couldn’t really show it.  What really amazed me was the curving that was achieved in the seam side panel.  Polyester faux suede – even though this is the nicest version I have ever felt – is so hard to sew smoothly.  It’s a tightly woven material with almost zero give even on the cross-grain.  Preventing puckering of the seams which had extra ease (a.k.a. the princess seams and sleeve caps) was so very tricky.

There is hardly anything I changed to the suit jacket.  I kept it how it was.  The most visible exception is at the center front closing.  The pattern called for a strip of the suit fabric to be made, four large snaps sewn on it, and then sewing it along the left side facing so the right side of the jacket would close over the extension added to the left.  I didn’t like the idea of being tied down to always having the jacket closed if it was on me, something that the added front snap extension would do.  The oversized hook and eyes did the same trick just as nicely and I have the versatility of showing off my top with an open front jacket.  The front panels are so sturdy, I do believe the snap extension piece would have been overkill.

Other than that, I changed up the layering of the interlining.  Each layer was sewn separately, ironed out and layered on top of each other, and slightly pad-stitched over the main seams before being covered up by the lining.  The pattern called for each individual piece to be layered then sewn together which would only make for bulky seams that no amount of allowance clipping or ironing could fix.  No pattern instruction can be better than knowledge gained through previous familiarity of what does and doesn’t work for a technique.  It may be a designer pattern, but since it is in my hands, I am ultimately the final designer.  I can be the one to made what I deem are the best decisions for the appearance and material I have chosen, but for the designer patterns I have sewn so far I generally stay close to the original idea just to respect the designer.  Many times along the process of going from the designer’s idea to a final product the original design is tweaked, changed, and sometimes downgraded to adapt to how it is going to be made or offered, and I wonder if the instructions showing the interlining layered over each piece is something Vogue thought was more suited to a home market.

This was my first experience with suit jacket cuffs and I am fascinated.  It was smartly engineered to turn out fantastic.  What really helped was ironing down an interfacing piece that ran along the line where the cuff is turned under, giving a crisp folded edge.  It was ironed down after doing one of the long seams to the two-part sleeves.  There is a mitered corner to the cuff flap that folds over (the outside flap, not the one facing my wrist) so there is a wonderful clean finished point.  I love doing mitered points and wish more patterns included this detail.  The cuff buttons match with the three down the left side of my skirt and are merely decoratively sewn down to connect and close the cuff flaps, in other words non-working buttons.  Something new and different has been conquered.

This completely feels like the best version of me – between the custom fit, the colors and fabrics that are all of my choosing, and the labor of love spent to have a finished suit, I am comfortable in the 1980s like I never imagined.  After all, though, much of the 80’s, and especially in regards to this suit, has everything I love about the 1940s just in a different form.  The strong shoulders in particular are the most obvious common point, and even I’ll admit that sometimes the padding in the era was a little too extreme.  A nipped-in waist and slight peplum here save the shoulders from being overkill, as does the skinny, short, restrained skirt.  I think Yves Saint Laurent, Thierry Mugler, and Emanuel Ungaro designs of the 80’s all remind me of everything I like about this Givenchy design but you can see more of my favorite 1980s inspiration here at my special Pinterest board!  These shoulder heavy, hip emphasizing, leg baring styles are the friend of any hourglass shaped woman like me in particular.

Nevertheless, I think what I find so appealing about the 80’s was the attitude of the fashion, the boldness of combining experimental colors, and wide array of styles.  The confidence I see in the fashion advertisements is so refreshing, compared to the sickly, no-personality, smoldering faces of many models on the runways today.  The bright and fun colors, even on the ugly 80’s sweatsuits, are cheering enough to make you smile and laugh!  Much of what I see in designer fashion shows do not make me expressly feel happy like the 80’s can.  The stereotypical 80’s fashion is what turns most everybody off, but the more I did into the era, the more I see such a variety of styles – mermaid skirts, pencil skirts, pleated pants, tapered leg trousers, Grecian-like wrap blouses and dresses, and all sorts of past historical references such as military jackets, Victorian coats, and 20’s style French heeled shoes.  If I do say so myself, the 80’s had the best music, too!  (My post’s title is named for a popular tune by Pretty Poison, year 1988.)

Well, I hope I have not shocked you completely by entertaining the idea of the 80’s being appealing and even being vintage.  I am optimistic that I have inspired you to take another look at an era of past fashion that seems to be the easiest to criticize and dismiss.  As always, thank you for reading!

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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!

THE FACTS:

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!

Totally Reversible 1967 Suit Dress Set

How does one maximize a garment’s wearing options with style?  By not deciding!  Before you tell me I’m crazy, listen.  You see, when I was planning to sew a 1967 suit set, and I had set my heart on two fabrics for it, I thought why not just go all out and make it reversible?  I had equal amounts of a lovely lavender linen and a fleur-dis-lis printed cotton, both of which I saw as meant for one another.  I wasn’t willing to hide one or the other to use as a lining, and using them separately just wouldn’t have the same effect.  Making a reversible suit set sure solved the problem of which fabric to choose, and it also gave me a darn good challenge, to boot…especially since my pattern was lacking instructions!  I had to count on my sewing smarts to get me through!

Yes, I know how to make things hard for myself, but it gives me a goal to accomplish which can make me feel proud to complete successfully.  There are so many ways of wearing a reversible suit dress set, so each picture practically has a different combination and different details to show.  I love how this set ‘suits’ my body, yet I mostly enjoy the ability to pop into a bathroom and come out looking different as if I’ve changed what I’m wearing when I really haven’t!  He, he.  It’s never dull around me apparently 😉THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The one fabric is 100% linen, in an open woven blend of the lavender, lilac, grey, and purple.  The other fabric is a 100% cotton in lavender, with a purple geometric Fleur-dis-lis print which has a slight metallic silver sheen printed over it.

PATTERN:  Simplicity #6957, year 1967 junior’s pattern

NOTIONS:  Believe it or not, everything I needed for this project was already on hand  – thread, interfacing, a zipper, as well a vintage buttons from the stash of hubby’s Grandmother

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The set was finished on May 24, 2015, after maybe 25 to 30 hours spent.

TOTAL COST:  Everything for making this project was stuff languishing in my different stashes for many, many years, so I’m counting this project as free!

I will admit that I had ‘support’ for my idea from a major fashion figurehead – Chanel – and an outfit of hers with a dramatic story behind it.  I’m talking about a suit set that she designed for her Patrimoine collection which was showcased in Marie Claire magazine No. 181 in September 1967.  It looks like a dress in a violet tweed with a reversible, or at least contrast lined, jacket and hiding helmet-style hat.  This Marie Claire magazine article was part of a daring and little known contest they hosted between Andre Courrèges and Chanel.  Thus, the violet tweed outfit that was my ‘splashboard’ was the best of what made Chanel, well…Chanel, still presenting appealing yet classic designs in the crazy decade of the 60’s and setting her apart from her modern peer Courrèges.  A woman’s suit, traditionally a man’s garment decades back when she was beginning her career, is Chanel’s specialty, along with that elegant “distinction” which her designs have.  The youthful, bright designs of Courrèges (such as the go-go boot or mini skirt), by the very way they fit, are cut, and worn, bring the body close to one’s sensibilities and contrast in bold terms with Chanel.  (More info can be found in the book “The Language of Fashion” by Roland Barthes, Chapter 11, pages 99 to 103, you can read some of it here.)  More or less, Simplicity was offering a very high class design here.For some reason, I feel that my reversible suit dress set from 1967 is an unorthodox mix of both Chanel’s dignified tweed design (with her soft feminine colors to boot) and the youthful, arm baring, modern aura of a Courrèges creation (my cotton print does have shiny silver, his preferred color besides white, and it is a junior’s pattern).  We were at a contemporary art museum for these pictures after all, yet many of my poses are dignified for even more contrast.  Hopefully, in my 1967 set, the contest between Chanel and Courrèges from years back is now a tie.

To the actual sewing, I more or less made the entire dress and jacket in double, with all edges inside itself.  There was so much turning of edges, pinning, top-stitching involved!  I eliminated all facings (of course) and instead ironed on interfacing inside where facings would have been.  Luckily this dress did not need any adjusting to fit me other than the changes I made to the pattern already at the cutting out stage!

The two biggest challenges to making this suit set reversible was the shoulder pleats to the dress and the button closing to the jacket.  The dress’ shoulder pleats are more akin to an overlapping fold, or technically a knife pleat, which runs right along the outer sleeve edge.  To make this work on a reversible dress, I did these folds last, and stitched them down individually.  There are four in total – one on each shoulder and one on each fabric side – and make things only slightly bulky (nothing a good ironing can’t fix), but at least the original design lines are kept intact.For the jacket buttoning, I went with a method which was popular in the 1930’s when delicate closures could be smashed through rough treatment from roller style wash machines – removable buttons!  Both sides of the jacket opening edge have button holes.  This way my buttons can be placed in the correct side, whichever that may be, for the right and the left change up when my jacket is reversed!  Vintage 1930’s buttons had a metal look which used a ring or a pin to keep them in place in the buttonhole openings (see pics of that in detail on the “Vintage Gal” blog), but I didn’t have that advantage here.

Again, my indecision saved the day for my outfit!  As I couldn’t choose between some large satin finish pale pink buttons or fancy deep purple shell ones, I used them both, connecting them underneath with a ribbon tie.  Making the buttons reversible actually worked out very well, because the second button behind whichever side I use acts like a backing to keep them in place in the button hole opening.  Next time you make something and want to use some precious or fragile buttons, or even if you want something reversible, remember to make both closing sides with button holes and make your buttons removable in one way or another!  A little ingenuity can go a long way to solving problems.

Even though my fabrics are not busy, I’m disappointed at how they hide the graceful style lines to this set.  You can’t really see, but the dress has these shaping side bust panels that arch down from the back neckline darts, swoop under the bust to head into and around the back just above the waistline.  So lovely!  This way there are no darts or other means of shaping besides a well-tailored panel which brings in a curve over the chest and high waist, unlike many other fashions for juniors from the same time (mostly non-body conscious A-line dresses and loose “baby doll” styles).  With such a shaped dress, a short and boxy jacket (which has French darts and an arched side seam hem) actually works much better than I’ve ever come across before.  I’ve always tended to dislike boxy jackets – I find them hard to pair with most of what I wear or have in closet, and never before found a way to like one so much on my body.  I love it when utilizing both my sewing and vintage styles opens up a way for me to like something on myself I’ve always avoided before.  It is hard for me not to like anything in any shade of purple, anyway!Oh yes, I can’t forget to talk about the back zipper!  I’ll confess I made things hard on myself here by using a “normal” modern zipper.  I know they make reversible zippers, but buying one 22 inch length would get pricey and finding one that match would be more challenging, so I merely used one that was on hand.  For the first time I switched to the lavender Fleur-dis-lis printed side out, it originally was quite tricky to zip closed the dress on myself grabbing the pull from the inside…a bit stressful, to tell the truth.  To make things easier, I later used my jewelry making skills to attach a double jump ring to the small zipper pull so I could add a decorative metal Fleur-dis-lis charm.  This charm makes the zipper pull easier to find and grab so I can close my dress no matter which side I wear without freaking out, stuck in a bathroom changing, with the back of my dress open (it has happened, can’t you tell).  Besides, the charm hanging at the back of my neck is quite, fun, and quirky.  Also, in my opinion, and there is no such a thing as Fleur-dis-lis overload.

There was a storm blowing in when we took these pictures, and as my hairstyle did not hold against the humidity, I resorted to using a vintage scarf which actually worked out quite well.  I think it conveys modernity, youth, and movement (Courrèges influence), as well as keeping my outfit from being too stiffly dressy, although I am wearing pearls…so very classic Chanel!  My shoes and gloves are vintage pieces, too.  The gloves have a scalloped edge, much like my suit jacket, and I think my shoes are very similar to the ones drawn on the middle model of my dress’ pattern cover!

I really enjoy reversible garments – I love how they offer optimal wearing options, and prompt me to nicely cover up all edges for a nice finish!  Not too often do I come across a garment with more than one wearing option – changing up one’s look with a single garment isn’t an option that I see in ready-to-wear, unless it’s travel-themed clothes.  I now have many pairing options for the effort of sewing one relatively simple suit set.  I feel like I’ve maximized some of my time and the space in my closet without compromising style.  Yet, reversible clothes doesn’t have to mean simple design…I’ve just proved that with my crazy sewing experiment.What do you think of reversible clothes?  Have you worn anything reversible, or made anything reversible?  Do you prefer the style of Chanel or of Courrèges for the 60’s?

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Princess in Purple – a Two-Piece Formal Set

I for one cannot fathom the popular princess craze for little girls…pink and sparkles, oh my!  Nevertheless, as much as I despise the whole commercialism of it, I’ll sheepishly admit I know I have some inner princess to me.  I must have – why else to I keep going for long full, swishy skirts, love to dress up, and make and wear fancy clothes even when there is really no event to wear them to?  I even remember as an early teen, I made myself this skirt for my birthday…it was ankle length, full, with a sheer small floral cotton over a darker blue lining and I sewed ribbons to hold the fullness back like a bustle.  I felt like Cinderella in my head…oh the things I’ve been happy making and wearing for myself!!!  I think this is (finally) a classy and adult version of princess dressing for me.

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As this season is Prom time and also officially “National Princess Week”, I thought I would post about my newest, formal, princess inspired creation.  My outfit is both vintage and modern inspired, in varying tones of my favorite color purple, and pretty much made with no pattern and no occasion to wear it to.  I just made it because I wanted to, and it made me happy to make something that I half-envisioned wearing in a dream.  Man, where’s my fairy Godmother to magic up a ball for me?  Granted I’ve already found (and married) my “Prince Charming”.

Speaking of hubby, he finds it funny that “National Princess Week” comes just before “National BBQ Week”.  He thinks maybe the two weeks can coincide with a “BBQ princess picnic” – and all I can reply to this is an eye roll and a mental picture of a recipe for a dress disaster.  What do you think?

THE FACTS:

FABRICS:  a purple poly crepe and blue navy chiffon for the skirt with a magenta pink lace and matching buff satin (leftover from making this hat) for the top.  All fabrics were bought at my local JoAnn’s Fabrics store from their special occasion collection.

Simplicity 1690, Leanne Marshal yr. 2013PATTERN:  Simplicity #1690, a Leanne Marshal pattern from 2013 for the top while the skirt was self-drafted by me

NOTIONS:  I only used what was on hand, but this didn’t require much – specialty colored waistband elastic in navy (leftover from this past skirt project), thread, and hook-and-eyes.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My outfit was finished on August 8, 2016.  The lace top was made in 2 or 3 hours while the skirt took me about 5 hours.

DSC_0017a-comp,wTHE INSIDES:  Nice!  The way my skirt fabrics were cut the selvedge edges are along the hem and waist – the waist is covered with elastic while the hems are turned under into tiny ¼ inch hems.  As the side seams of the sheer and crepe layers are separate, they are French finished.  The top is bias bound.

TOTAL COST:  I really don’t remember exactly how much I spent, even though I recently bought it.  Perhaps I really don’t want to count costs for this one, but it probably wasn’t over $40…

I keep seeing this combo of crop top and full, long skirt popping up everywhere – in some e-mails from Mood Fabrics, in clothes and department store catalogs, in the front window of local formal/bridal shops, and in pattern re-leases.  It seems as if I started seeing such a trend when this past New Year’s celebration fashions were coming out and it has extended into and through the current Prom/school dance season.  I do like the idea of having an easy to wear and/or make option to traditional dresses, especially when it is no less ‘dressy’!  The basic design idea is really simple, too – hey, most ladies have ‘done’ skirts and tops at a regular non-dressy setting – and more body types can fit into a two-piece.  With a such a divided formal set, any little details, every variance of material, and fit differences all can be mixed and matched to have every set different and personalized to each body.  Sorry to ‘sell’ this trend, I just think it is awesome!

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When making my own set, I found that the tops need very little fabric while the skirts are fabric hogs (obviously).  I assume this is why so many of the crop tops to such two-piece formal sets are made of a more stunning fabric than the skirt – you can even out the scales when you pick an expensive material but can make something out of only half a yard of it!  Not that the bottom half isn’t worth it either.  Maybe a de-luxe taffeta skirt might look awesome on the right body/person/with the right color but then you’d need a basic, simple top.  I was tempted to go for the stiffer taffeta skirt-basic top combo, but the inner princess in me called for a swishy bottom.  A lovely lace in the fabric store won me over, too, to the idea.

Very easily do I tend to the color purple…in all its shades.  I still have it in this outfit, it’s DSC_0005a-comp,wjust more disguised!  The inner, lining layer of my skirt is purple, yes, but the sheer, true-blue navy over that combines to make a lovely and new color that changes up my fascination.  (My Anne Klein kitten heels match the over-layer blue, by the way.)  Purple is after all an intermediary between blue and red – so the navy sheer and bright pink are the opposite ends of the spectrum for my lining.  Purple is associated with royalty, making this even more of a princess-y outfit.  Did you know that “in fact, Queen Elizabeth I forbad anyone except close members of the royal family to wear it. Purple’s elite status stems from the rarity and cost of the dye originally used to produce it” says ‘LiveScience’.  Here’s your history nugget for the day…and a reason to buy more purple along with me!

So many patterns for these long full formal skirts called for about 3 yards of fabric.  As I was buying double fabric for my skirt, I did not want to buy or deal with that much fabric.  After all, I was trying to make an idea in my head and sewing it for myself…so why should I confine myself to a pattern at all?  I bought two yards of my skirt fabric and figured things out from there.  I have long been admiring 60’s and 50’s full, pleated skirts that over emphasize the hips and make the waist high and skinny.  Check out my Pinterest boards for some of my inspiration both modern and vintage.  Then, I just used mathematics to make my skirt.  My skirt fabrics were cut on the fold created when the selvedges were lined up (laid out), so my skirt is 30 inches long by four total yards width around.  I know what my waist is and I knew the length of the fabric I had to work with, thus the pleats were figured out the calculating way.

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Double pleats on top of pleats? Yes! I started with deep, sewn-in tucks at the line of the inner fold of the first pair of center pleats, both front and back.  These sewn-in tucks control the fullness of the skirt, keeping in place the under layer of pleats in place so the second layer of pleats can lay right.  You can only see the sewn in pleats when I swirl and my skirt becomes as full as it can be, like in the picture above.

DSC_0019a-comp,wThese double pleats of course make the skirt quite heavy so I chose a decorative elastic waistband to hug my middle tightly.  My problem was how to get it on easily?  I made my skirt have a front closure opening through the middle of the pleats.  It closes with a line of three large hook-and-eyes hidden under the fold edge.  I like to add a brooch or decorative pin over the closure just because it makes the waistband look like a belt, and I do have so many of those sorts of add on pretties.  However, the waist front is also fine without it too, and I’m so glad my hand-sewing is invisible.  Sewing through all the layers – two thicknesses of elastic with all the fabric layers doubled – was tough on my hands.  I was poked quite well a good number of times, as well.  Yup, this was another project I gave blood for…

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Now the top was loosely cut off of Simplicity’s pattern.  I choose the size larger than what I needed, on purpose.  I wanted a wide cropped top to widen my shoulders and emphasize the high waist of my skirt.  Then the hem was cut along the design of the lace a few inches above the waist.  Matching solid poly was cut into bias binding to finish all the edges – inner side and shoulder seams, neckline, and armholes.  Easy!  The only ‘fault’ to the top is that it is airy thin and light, moving around somewhat off of my shoulders sometimes, plus I have to be careful of what I brush against because of the open lace.  It’s just too pretty to find any real problem.  Underneath I’m merely wearing a tube top, but if I ever want a full coverage option, I’ll sew up a second top in a nude or matching pink color.

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Our photo shoot location is at someplace called Tower Grove Park, characterized as “the largest and best preserved 19th-century Gardenesque style city park in the United States”.  It is one of the landmarks to see in our town, as it has historical importance together with lots of spectacular sights (architecturally and in regards to nature).  Among those sights are all the elaborate Victorian pavilions and houses, two of which we captured as the background for my formal set.  For some reason I see Victorian architecture as grandiose, somewhat brooding, mysterious, and flaunting in-your-face elegance.  Those same adjectives can also apply to many of the castles and palaces that many princesses find themselves in…

Have you had a similar project where you made something full-blown fancy, just because you had an idea or wanted to make something specific to wear (occasion or not)?  Do you also find it hard (like me) to have more occasions to dress up?  So many events which used to be fancy are becoming so casual nowadays.  However, there is “National Princess Week” to give us girls of all ages a semi-legitimate excuse to ‘go all out’ the way that pleases your inner nobility.

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“Poster Girl” – Hat, Dior Flower, and 1951 Dress

If it’s on the front cover of a magazine, or in a publicity shot, your outfit had better be good, right?  Well, the villainess for Marvel’s “Agent Carter” television show wears some pretty killer post-War 1940s and early 50’s fashions, and no less so for the outfit she wears for both the preview publicity pictures of her character and for the cover of a vintage “Fashion News” magazine (seen in “Better Angels”, Season Two, episode 3).

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In order to recreate her “Poster Girl” outfit, I made a bunch of different pieces – the dress, the hat, and the clip-on flower.  I’m not complaining – this was closer to being a labor of love to sew, not a bother.  It required a good flow of my creative juices, some good pattern sourcing, and taking my time to enjoy myself for things to turn out “just so” for an equally killer outfit which I would like to think could hold its own against the class of Whitney Frost.  Her sense of fashion is probably one of the reasons she was held as the face for Hollywood, as well as her seemingly ‘perfect’ life with her husband.  However, 'All eyes on her, but no one sees her'-combobeing a “Poster Girl” (definition here) was a hard standard to hold up to for her.  For Whitney, it only meant keeping up the façade of happiness and glamour, always smiling and keeping the truth hidden…and boy, did she have some dark secrets to hide.  George C. Scott once said, “Technique is making what is absolutely false appear to be totally true in a manner that is not recognizable.”  Here, I intend to only stick to Whitney’s fashion without her superficiality.  This is my closest copy yet of a Ms. Frost outfit, and I absolutely love it!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  THE DRESS and FLOWER: a 100% cotton sateen, a “Gertie” print; THE HAT: Simplicity 8390, cover front-comp,wa buff satin polyester solid in fuchsia color

PATTERN:  THE DRESS: Simplicity #8390, year 1951, “Misses One-Piece Dress and Stole”; THE HAT: Vogue #7657, view F, year 2002; THE FLOWER: the instructions and guide to how to make a ‘Dior’ rose came from a small “Easy-to-Sew Flowers” booklet, compiled by Threads magazine, copyright 2012.  The tutorial is listed as adapted from Threads article “Dior Roses” by the late Roberta Carr, in issue no. 34. 

Vogue 7657, yr 2002, pics onlyNOTIONS:  Believe it or not, this outfit was made with only what was already on hand.  I had all the thread, interfacing, closure notions, bias tapes, and other odd and ends needed for the hat, dress, and flower here in my “magic” stash.  The only thing I needed was to order a buckram hat blank base (more info where it came from and what it is exactly down later).  Ah – and the cotton velvet ribbon,  “Waverly” brand, was bought (of all places) at Wal-Mart.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The Dress was made in about 20 hours and finished on September 15, 2016, and the hat came maybe 10 hours later.  The flower was made in just under an hour the day or two afterwards.

THE INSIDES:  There is a combo of both French and bias bound seams inside this dress for a clean finish.

TOTAL COST:  The dress cost a reasonable but decent amount, about $7 a yard for about 4 yards.  The hat fabric combined with the buckram base and ribbon cost me just under $15.

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I had some problems dating my dress’ pattern.  My first problem was the presence of new pattern numbers stamped in grey on the back info of the envelope.  The instruction sheet has the date of the year 1951, but the newer stamped numbers of ‘4291’ would make this about year 1953.  However, as everything else to this pattern points to the year 1951 (the style of dress, the original numbers, the instruction sheet, as well as the double bars on the top left side of the front envelope), I am sticking to that early year in the decade.  I have not yet found any evidence of this design being re-released later under a new number, so I’m not sure why the stamped combination was added on (it does look quite official like it was a die cast impression).  One of the many wonders and curiosities that vintage patterns offer…

DSC_0384a-comp,w,combo, Whitney and Calvin

The dress design is lovely, and smartly designed.  It also fits very well on me – perhaps the best fitting 50’s pattern to date.  I usually find that the back waists are too long, shoulders proportionally too wide, and busts too generous on other 50s patterns, but not here!  The pattern was close enough to the inspiration dress that some small adaptations were needed to get to where I wanted it to be for my copy.  The fabric is, as you might have seen above in “The Facts”, another lovely Gertie print.  My other Whitney Frost dress that I made was in a different Gertie print, so this is the second time her fabric has been what I feel is the right parallel for channeling the Agent Carter villainess.  Sure my dress fabric has more grey with an addition of magenta and deep purple, but these last two mentioned are her signature colors, and the print is still a water colored in theme like the original, so I feel it is a good match.  From what I can tell, I suspect that the original dress on Whitney Frost is silk, and maybe a taffeta form of that, but Gertie’s sateen prints are quite luxurious without being impractical for a not-overly-dressy garment.  This means my dress will see more wearing…and as comfy and classy as I feel in this, frequent donning of it is good!

DSC_0419a-comp,wThe collar is of course the highlight of the dress and although the original design is neat, with a little mind crunching to figure out the curious construction method I was able to tweak it to have it more like Whitney Frost’s inspiration dress.  I re-drafted the over the shoulder portion to eliminate the notches, then curved and widened it a tad more.  I also had the facing be the same as the dress fabric, not a contrast as the cover envelope shows.  The underside of the collar has this interesting L-shaped method of piecing together the collar while the outside facing is all one, long, giant wrap around-to-the-back cut – I love vintage pattern details!

Maybe the collar is vying for the top favorite position among this dress’ feature because I also love the squared off armholes and the squared back of the collar.  This shows how subtle complimenting of details can go a long way and make all the difference for an awesome garment.  The square back of the collar end is something I haven’t seen in a pattern before and it is a nice way to add interest to the view from behind.  The squared armholes allow for extra room that my larger upper arms appreciate, as well as something extra different and lovely.

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The skirt had been a small, sort of adapted half-circle, bias-cut four-panel style.  What I did for my dress was to take the side seam side (over the hips) and add about 5 more inches out so I could gather the skirt over the hips.  This created and extra 10 inches over each hip which was then tightly gathered between side front to side back.  The gathers give my dress an extra 50’s style widening emphasis on the hips, slimming my waist (so I feel) and also (I think) balancing out the giant collar better than the original plain skirt as the pattern shows.  (This vintage year 1949 dress has the same skirt with gathered hips.)  Besides, I wanted to copy the same detail on the inspiration dress of Whitney Frost.

DSC_0416a-comp,wHowever, adding the gathers over the hips of the skirt portion to my dress did mean that I could not place a zipper in the side.  Where would I put the zipper?  Bing – on goes the light bulb over my head.  Down the front like a pants fly!  This idea actually came from seeing this kind of closure method on and existing vintage 1950’s dress I have – this is how I knew to re-create it plus the benefit of knowing this was done in the decade (keeping things authentic).  The front bodice of the dress is a wrap-over, double-breasted closure so I merely continued the closure down the front center seam of the skirt to include a small 7 inch zipper.  It took some forethought, but I love this part of the dress!  It’s so easy to get in and out of with all the closures in plain sight…not on the side or down the back like many other vintage garments.  I think the front zipper is pretty undetectable.  Knowing that I made something work out, besides its being different and new (for me), leaves me tickled.

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Now – onto the hat.   I must say that the hat itself is ingeniously designed and the pattern was excellent, very clearly explained and turning out a finished product better than even what the picture shows (so I think).  It is incredibly simple in its construction and design, but it is also terribly tedious and detailed work to make so that it turns out well.  The last part is where the ‘trouble’ comes in, especially for me because I cannot tolerate hand sewing (because my wrist and shoulders do not take it well).  However, every ache and minute spent on this hat was so worth it to me ending up with something like this!  I feel like this hat is my first fully ‘proper’ millinery piece, and it was good practice with good teaching steps towards diving into more detailed and professional headwear.

I was able to use everything that was on hand already, but the buckram hat base was something special needed here – no ways around it.  The good news is that I found the buckram hat blank quite affordable and very easy to work with…I was even able to stitch around the edge on my machine!  For this hat I used a 7 ½ inch by 5 ½ inch teardrop shaped blank from “Dance Costume Supply” on Etsy.  It did have a covered edge with a wire in it (not called for in the pattern’s instructions), but I think it gives the hat better, firmer shaping than otherwise.

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My first step was to cover the buckram blank.  The instructions say to steam the fabric or soak in water in order to shape over the hat blank (blocking method), but my chosen fabric is a poly blend and would not react to either method so I cut the piece on the bias and lightly stretched (then stitched) the cover pieces over both underside and top side.  Next, the head straps were made and stitched onto the side edges.  Then I made a bias binding and stitched it over the edge just the same as one would for the neckline or armhole edges of a garment – easy!

I am so glad I went with my gut and made the head straps to match my hair color rather than the hat.  I love how this helps the hat stand out all the better and the way it stays on all the more subdued.  I especially love the fact that I used good old-fashioned cotton velvet ribbon, too.  Not only does it add a bit more authenticity (being in cotton), but from a practical standpoint the velvet literally acts like Velcro to my hair keeping the hat band in place like glue where I put it without needing pins.  Cotton velvet ribbon hair bands for hats are literally the best thing ever!  I need stock in this ribbon for my next hats…

DSC_0383a-comp,wThe final step to the finished hat was the hardest – the stand-up crown.  This is really nothing more than an interfaced rectangular strip of fabric whose edge gets sewn right onto the very edge of the front 2/3 of the hat.  This was very slow, tricky work that did damage to my hands and required precision to make the stitches invisible.  Beforehand, however, I scavenged through the house to find something more poker-stiff than the DSC_0422a-comp,winterfacing sewn in the crown and – bingo – I came across a perfect sized strip of thick plastic laminate to slide in the rectangular piece.  Every so often my habit of saving “things-that-might-be-useful” comes in handy, as long as I can find what I want when I want it.  Anyway, this plastic worked perfectly – it’s still 100% bendable but keeps a shape nonetheless.  I cut the strip a few inches shorter than the fabric’s length on each end so I could fold the crown down and tack onto the hat base, behind which the bow sits.  In order to give the bow some pouf without stiffness, the final extra adjustment was to have a strip of sheer organza in the fabric bands.  In order to cover up the not-so-perfect bow center, I have a small bias band to finish things off nicely.

Last but not least is the fabric flower clip.  This flower was so fun and easy to make (one hour!) I am tempted to spend one day to make a dozen of these out of my fabric scrapDSC_0417-comp,w stash.  They do not need that much fabric – just three pointy almond-shaped ovals in consecutively smaller sizes cut on the bias.  My flower turned out very good without much difficulty and too much hand stitching (I was about done with hand stitching after the hat).  Some scraps of green felt finished off the bottom of my flower and gave me a lovely ‘leaf’ look as well as a base to sew on my hair clip.  I’d bought this how-to booklet at our local JoAnn’s fabric store a few years back, but finally just came to using it – I should have done so sooner!  If you’d like to try these Dior roses out for yourself and don’t know where to find the Threads booklet, visit the blog “Oliver + s” for an excellent tutorial along with a mini history lesson (link here).

Witney Frost cameo shot in collared 50's dressThis flower just so ultimately finishes off my outfit, in my opinion.  It’s that understated extra touch, not to mention the fact that it is a fabric rose in the style of the famous Dior.  This is so like Whitney Frost to wear an accent used by the “famous Parisian couturier whose designs were worn by the world’s most glamorous women” (to quote the Threads article).  It all adds to the sham of the “Poster girl’s” face.  For me, it makes my handmade efforts seem all the more worthwhile to be able to use my talents to re-create something from the likes of Dior, Hollywood, and the decades that had more style and class than what I see in most  fashion of today.

Speaking of style and class, a small part of this outfit is (I would like to think) also in the mode of the most sophisticated woman I’ve known – my own dear, and now departed Grandmother.  She was a young, newly married 21 year old in 1951 (the year of my outfit) and she frequently dressed up, and on these occasions would never go out lacking a hat, pearls, and a flower (she loved nature).  Grandma was also a “Poster Girl”, too – in her younger years she was a local vaudeville celebrity.  Oddly enough, I recently found a picture of her in a dress similar to the one in this post, with a large collar and double breasted front closing, from the year 1951.  I know her dress is in a solid with a notched collar, different from my own, but we do share the same smile and taste in clothes, so I would like to think she would be proud to see me wear something after her own heart.  This is why I’m including this dress in Tanya’s “Dress Like Your Grandma” sewing challenge.  Have you heard about this!  Maybe you could join in on the challenge along with me?!

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