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!

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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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Simple Luxury – a 1940 Flannel Bias Nightgown

I’ve been wanting to post this for so long (two years), but it’s a nightgown so I don’t usually make sure to have make-up on and decently arranged hair in evening when I want to be cozy and relax!  This is the first part of a small three part February series of easy ways to do vintage for nighttime.  Emileigh of “Flashback Summer” blog beat me to the punch, and has a similar idea with her own “Lovely Lounging” series for February.

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Vintage fashion really knows how to make basic items so elegant and beautiful, and I think nightwear is one of the best examples of that, especially in the 1930s and 40’s.  Not that new luxury nightgowns cannot be found nowadays as well, but they tend to cost a lot of dough and are generally in static-attracting, non-breathable polyesters.  On the flip side, so many flannel nightgowns available (even today) are the “granny-style” Lanz of Salzburg type, completely vintage authentic, decent, quaint, and cozy.  Yet, I’m too afraid that a vintage one will end up tearing irreparably, so although they are so beautiful and still rather easy-to find in our town, I only own one and don’t wear it to sleep in.

100_4670-compwNow, the 1940 pattern I used for this nightgown’s post was so quick (a few hours), easy (only four pieces), required little fabric (just under 2 yards), and fits and feels wonderful to wear with the bias-cut skirt working in my favor.  This has the best of both elegance and warm comfort, not to mention it’s new and hand-made vintage.  I am totally hooked…I want one of these to wear every night!

Now you’ve also got a glimpse of our tiny 1930’s era bathroom, too.  Lucky for me I like lavender so much, since I see it every day!  We are proud to be one of the seemingly few homes in our primarily 1930’s/1940’s era neighborhood which still has many original features, especially in our bathroom.  We have lavender swirled Vitrolite tiles, powder grey/blue painted walls, and black and white tiled floor.  Odd combinations of colors were a popular craze starting in the late 1920’s…at least we don’t have colored fixtures, too!  Anyway, this architectural chat should postponed to get to “The Facts”.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% cotton brushed flannel in two prints – just under two yards of a purple and green floral with an aqua background, with an extra ¼ yard of a swirled purple print.

100_4669-compwNOTIONS:  Everything I needed was on hand already, only needs basic items: thread and bias tapes.

PATTERN:  Simplicity #3508, year 1940 (…this was such a lucky buy on Ebay, one of those where nobody bids and you get it for the dirt cheap starting price!)  By the way, look at this year 1940 Hollywood #544.  This Jane Wyman pattern is just about an exact copy of Simplicity #3508!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  From cutting out to finish took me about 3 hours.  It was finished on February 27, 2015.

THE INSIDES:  raw but nicely stitched over

TOTAL COST:  These fabrics were bought so very long ago (maybe 10 years back) from Hancock Fabrics, so I’m counting this as free.

This nightgown is a great example of a small niche in the decade of the 1940’s – pre-WWII times.  The fashion from 1940 to 1941 (and maybe 1942, for a stretch) has a very unique style in my eyes.  It shows strong influence of the styles from the decade before, the 1930’s, so much so that some early 40’s designs can be similar to as far back as about 1936.  Yet it is still the 40’s, too, so that lends its own touch to the styles.  The popular Tyrolean/Slavonic/Germanic designs of the late 30’s and the Latin American prints which spawned of the “Good Neighbor Policy” of 1933 was another way that influences carried over into the 40’s as well with such items as pinafores, peasant styles, dirndl-style embroidery, fun border printed skirts and dresses, Xavier Cugat music, novelty brooches, and unusual hats (like turbans, for one example)…this is just a short list.  Besides, rationing wasn’t in effect as of yet in America and our country’s designers were just beginning to hold their own against the other leading fashion headquarters of the world.  I see in the early 40’s a glimpse of something similar but yet apart from the rest of what 1940’s fashion became – it also gives me the sneaking haunch that had not WWII changed and influenced so much, the decade could have looked much differently than we know it.

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My duo of matching/contrasting flannel fabric has been something I’ve been holding onto for about a decade because I liked it so much and also because I wasn’t up for sewing nightwear until just a few years ago.  My original intent was pajama pants, but no – I have enough of them.  One night when I was in the strong mood to wear a vintage nightgown, I had finally felt I was holding onto the flannel long enough and laid my pattern and fabric out in the early evening and started cutting.  By late night (our bed-time) I had a new, glamorous nightgown.  Oh, thank goodness for uncomplicated, easy satisfaction projects!  I love it when you can start something and wear the results on the same day!  So many early 40’s patterns were labeled as simple-to-sew, when really they are complicated by today’s standards.  This nightwear pattern has no easy-to-make labeling, but it is truly a breeze.

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Perhaps the other best part was the fact there is no need for any closures.  No zipper, no snaps, no ties – the bias gives enough, and the pattern sizing is generous enough that this just slips on over my head.  No facings, either – just bias tape finished edges all around.  How easy can it get?  The flannel body keeps me warm enough, the sleevelessness gives me just enough to air to keep myself from being too hot, and if I’m chilly I’ll just cover up with my housecoat…another tease of what’s in the next post, sorry!

Before I forget to add fitting facts – this nightgown did run large (like 2 sizes too large).  Granted some extra room comes from the double facts that flannel gets larger as it is washed and worn besides extra ease needed to make this a slip-on gown (as I said above). However, I sewed a full front and a full back and then sewed the side seams as my last step so the fit is easily adjustable.  The nightgown pattern also was originally oh-so-very long.  I graded out about 10 inches from the length.  I do not need to trip all over an evening gown length just feel elegant in my bed wear! 100_6236-compw

The bottom hem band of contrast was added not so much to extend length (although I didn’t mind) but just to provide a matching contrast which would pair well with the tie belt.  I didn’t want just the aqua floral, not that it isn’t so pretty, but I had kept the purple swirl flannel paired with it for such a long time the two deserved to stay together.

As lovely and simple and quick as this nightgown was to make, this was (at the same time) another unprinted, hole-punched markings pattern where the pieces do not properly fit or match together.  The bodice needed to be cut smaller to fit into the skirt and the gathers didn’t seem quite equal, and I think this is mostly due to the skirt portion.  I have read before that unprinted patterns can be off-balance, because of the way they were made.  Large stacks of many, many layers of sheet are die cut and if you get one towards the bottom, its markings can be off – and anyone who sews knows that every little variation counts towards a successful finished garment.  Oh well, this is a simple enough design it was not hard to adjust, so I’m sorry if I seem like I’m complaining…just making an observation for you all just in case you happen to snag this pattern for yourself, too…and do buy it if you see it, and if it’s not too much for your wallet!

100_6224a-compwThere are plans in the works to use this pattern again, believe me.  Out of all the patterns in my collection, this one is a true asset in the way it is a good base, a tried-and-true starting point to tweak and draft off many other variations, especially some of the ever popular 1930’s era bias gowns.  Just imagine how this design would hang and drape in a lightweight sweater knit or a silk charmeuse for a dress version!  My immediate ideas for re-incarnations of my nightgown’s pattern are Simplicity #3835 (year 1941), one of these 1933 dresses or this 1935 evening dress (both from “Eva Dress”), and even this super elegant Butterick #5413 (year 1933).

For now, I just hope to make the bed jacket at some point to keep the chill off my arms when I don’t want the weight of a full housecoat.  I did make a bed jacket from a different pattern, modelling it over this post’s nightgown (link to see it here), but this was actually a present for my mother.

Stay tuned for the next installments of my vintage nightwear reveal.  Now, to decide which night wear project for myself to tackle next.  I actually have three in the queue – will you help me pick the next one?

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