Under Surveillance

I am never one to pass up an opportunity for what I sew to convey some understated irony.  The opposite of wrinkly is irony, after all (in case you haven’t heard that joke)!  In all seriousness, though – this post’s dress was perfect for a day traveling out in the middle of nowhere, on the edge of Death Valley.  I blend right in with my setting’s colors and am ‘under surveillance’ amidst the open scrub land in my boldly patterned knit version of a Rachel Comey designer piece.  My dress is paired with a casual, relaxed twist on the classic moto jacket for an outfit that accommodates the temperature swings of the desert in spring.

In 2014, Vogue Pattern Company released the pattern to her popular RTW item called the “Surveillance” dress.  It’s always so exciting when Vogue gives a home seamstress the ability to make her own ‘copy’ of a New York fashion item which sells for about $700 normally!!  Granted, I am in no way ‘up to date’ with things by finally getting around to sewing this six years later, but hey – better late to the game than never when it comes to personal fashion.  SO many times it is best to let my fabric and my patterns be paired up naturally as the inspiration strikes or as the setting feels right.  Forcing projects is often a recipe for later being unhappy with the outcome.

Making a jacket out of this lovely burgundy knit has been a long time coming as well, so everything about this outfit is something to be excited over.  As the wardrobe I chose for my travels out west was everything which would pair well with such a rich color, I finally dove into finding the right pattern for the burgundy knit and now have a new favorite versatile piece I dreamed of for years.  There never seems to be enough time in life for all the ideas and aspirations in my head and heart!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  For the dress – a cotton, rayon, and poly blend knit; For the jacket – a rayon and poly blend tiny ribbed knit, fully lined in a lightweight black poly interlock

PATTERNS:  Vogue #1406, a Rachel Comey dress pattern from 2014 together with Burda Style #105 jacket from March 2015

NOTIONS:  Just lots of thread, some cuts of interfacing, a few vintage buttons out of the stash I inherited from my Grandmother, and scraps of bias tape went into this ensemble!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The jacket took about 10 to 12 hours to make, and was finished on February 7, 2020; the dress was made in about 5 hours on January 30, 2020.

TOTAL COST:  As the fabrics for this whole outfit have been sitting in my stash for almost 10 years now (bought years ago at the now defunct Hancock Fabrics), I am counting these pieces as equal to free by this time!  Either way, I only needed 1 ½ yards for the jacket, and almost 3 yards for the dress (because I was working with a large scale repeated print) so I could not have paid all that much because I always found the best prices at Hancock!  My guess is no more than $30 in total.

Here’s how I cut out my pieces (single layer of fabric).

Now, for a designer pattern, Comey’s Surveillance dress has really simple but smart design lines.  The listings describe it as having an “asymmetrical neckline, hugging the body in just the right places, this fitted dress features a tailored bodice with clever tugs at the waist sides (gathers) for a flattering fit.”  I noticed that all the models in the RTW versions had no significant weight or body curves, so I surmised a close-fitting dress for their body type would not fit the same on me.  I made sure to go up one whole size than what the chart showed I needed, and I am glad I did so.  My sleeves were shortened because I like the versatility of ¾ length, and it made the sleeves easier to match with the striping on the dress, but otherwise no other changes were made to the design you see on the line drawing.

The original instructions call for very nice finishing techniques, such as cutting your own bias binding to finish the inner raw edges for the armscye and a fully lined body.  The detailed instructions are great because it gives a glimpse into how the expensive designer dresses are made.  Also, though, after you exhaust yourself doing such details, you may just realize that high end price is rather appropriate for the time, effort, and quality (RTW Surveillance dresses are silk) that goes into them…and they are made in the USA!

Now, I am not one to shy away from (or lack appreciation for) time-consuming ways of sewing high quality garments – goodness, I absolutely love spending ungodly amounts of hours to hand-sew suit coats!  However, my chosen fabric for this design was loose and much too relaxed to be highly tailored, so I stripped construction down to the bare bones here.  I eliminated the full body lining, facings, interfacing, and seam edge finishing (the knit does not ravel).  This made my dress only a 5 hour, ‘one-afternoon-sewing-binge’ kind of project.  As I had went up a size, and my material was stretchy knit, I left out the back zipper as the pattern called for, making this a pop-over dress for effortless dressing.  The center back skirt godet panel was also left out in my version and I merely drafted directly onto the dress itself.  This way the oversized print does not get broken up.

Even with the dress being simplified I had to think out of the box to accommodate supporting certain sections.  The one side of the neckline has a defined shoulder seam, which I supported with seam tape in with the stitching.  However the other shoulder – the one that wraps around from the back to come into the front at the neckline side that dips down – is one piece that drooped off my body.  To fix that I hand stitched down a strip of double fold, ½ inch wide bias tape to the inside across where the shoulder seam would have been.  Bias tape has just a tiny bit of give when it is double folded, but it is a pretty stable – yet simple – way for me to steady the one side of the upper neckline.  I also used double fold bias tape (the red is 1/4 inch wide) to stabilize the side seam and center back waistline gathers.

Can this dress still be in the shadow of New York’s high fashion or considered a designer knock-off when I have reduced it down to such a simple thing to make?  I almost feel badly, but hey – sewing my own clothes makes me a designer too, in my own right, so I am tickled deep down for finding my own unusual way of interpreting Comey’s design.  Even still, I do think that I stuck to her aesthetic, which is described as “combining thoughtful materials, bold prints, and modern silhouettes.”  That is the case with my knit which is a soft as a baby blanket, yet definitely bold, and certainly made into a modern body skimming fit. “Comey’s collections blend function, fashion, and form.  You will find designs that are sophisticated and cool, smart yet playful.”  I find that I made her Surveillance dress much more versatile with no closures needed in an easy-care knit.  My ‘downsizing’ of the details in no way brings this dress away from her trend of classy work-to-dinner-date wear so I’m happy to have a multi-purpose garment done my way!  With modern heels and chandelier earrings this would look so different.

My blazer is the opposite of the dress – it took more time, has finer details, and is not named designer pattern.  It is still a mix of casual and dressy.  It is fitted loosely, almost boxy, so there were none but two tiny bust darts to sew.  With the full body lining and soft knit this jacket feels as cozy as a sweatshirt but appears so much nicer!  The asymmetric closing has many differing ‘looks’ depending on how many (or if any) buttons I close, so it is closer to suiting in this respect, and a nice variant on the traditional moto jacket.

It does have suit jacket style, two-part sleeves for great mobility that doesn’t solely rely on the stretch of the knit.  I played upon the opportunity the seaming and moto style offered to use the other side of the fabric – the side with more of a black overtone and less of a twill finish as what is seen on the main body – for the underarm sleeve panels, collar, and insides of the revers.  For as bold as the dress is, I love the subtlety I added to the details of the jacket.  Choosing vintage leather buttons might not be the best in wash ability, but I liked how they standout without being too obnoxiously different.  As I said above, this is a set full of irony – yes, black, burgundy, and brown can complement one another and a moto jacket doesn’t always have to be in a stark biker style.

My outfit only has me chuffed to go along these lines even further.  As my second Rachel Comey dress, it is quite different from my first – this 40’s inspired Vogue #1209 pattern from 2010.  It will certainly not be my last, either.  I have several more patterns of her’s from Vogue in my cabinet, with fabric in my stash already picked out for them.  Also, I am itching to try another twist on the moto style jacket.  Burda Style has been really killing me with their amazing moto jacket designs over this past year.  Each one they release (and it has been many) has great features, so it will be hard to pick, but I will let the fabric “speak to me” to help decide things for next time.  One thing I do know is how easy it is to determine whether or not I am open to returning to the desert…the answer is a hearty YES!

Peplum on the Backside

I love it when modern patterns imitate vintage styles.  It’s always so interesting and offers the best of both worlds.  I have a handful of favorite designers from today, but precious few actually come out with patterns of their lovely ideas.  Luckily, the wonderful Rachel Comey offers her designs through Vogue, and I adore her slightly vintage style aesthetic.

This dress is one straight out of the 1940s!  It totally feeds my obsession with peplums, my late summer penchant for the color blue, and my love of fine details.  It is such a cottony soft, pastel treat on the senses combined with a swirl-worthy dress which is so comfy I really don’t sense that I am as dressed up as I appear.   What a win-win…vintage made modern – all the ease of casual attire paired with the appearance of being classy.  This is me-made clothing at its best!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a printed, sheer, batiste all-cotton lined in a combo of cotton blend broadcloth for the main body and a poly remnant for the peplum

PATTERN:  Vogue #1209, a Rachel Comey pattern from 2010

NOTIONS:  All I needed was lots of thread, and a zipper with a bit of interfacing.  There was nothing but the basics needed for this beauty!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Sewing this dress actually only took me about 6 hours to sew after spending several hours to adjust the pattern before cutting it out.  It was finished on July 25, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  All raw edges are covered up by the full lining

TOTAL COST:  This dress cost me less than $10

Making this dress had been something I wanted to do ever since the pattern first came out.  Yes, sometimes my favorite projects in my sewing queue keep being pushed back again and again sadly, but that just makes them such a relief and enjoyment to wear when they are finally finished!

I had to do a bunch of extra figuring to do any adjustments on this complex design.  I changed up the bottom half of the dress the most drastically.  Firstly, I wanted the dress knee length, but that included re-configuring the peplum to match.  Yet, I also wanted the back peplum to be more 1940s waterfall style (similar to this vintage original featured in Threads magazine) and trickle down to meet the side seam at a much lower point.  I eliminated the center seam to the peplum, as well, for a better drape on the bias.  All of this wasn’t too tricky but it did take a clear head, much forethought, and make for a much bigger pattern piece which required a lot more fabric than the back numbers called for.  Luckily, I had about 5 or 6 yards of my chosen fabric (only because it was on deep clearance…so cheap yet super soft I couldn’t leave any behind) so I felt comfortable doing any alterations.  This doesn’t always happen so well.  Usually I have pre-bought a very specific amount and expect to layout the pattern pieces economically so there is not always room for such license with a design.  This was a fun change!

Going further with the top half of the dress, I also slightly raised the back dip of the V neckline, which meant tweaking the gathers and extending the tab that covers them.  Also, because my body size had changed since I bought the pattern (2010 was before I gave birth to our son), I had a size that was too small and I had to grade up a bit.  Oh, not to forget, everything I changed to the fit and the styling of the skirt and peplum had to be likewise translated over to the full body lining as well.  Ugh.  With all these adjustments, though, I really don’t think the dress looks obviously that much different that the cover original and that is just what I wanted.  I was aiming for a slightly more vintage tweak, yet still adhering to Rachel Comey’s design that attracted me to the pattern in the first place.  As I said, above, it’s the best of both worlds, and all in a soft cotton.  Who knew cotton could be so elegant and fluttery?  I didn’t.  This dress is a winner.

Part of what helps my version of this dress work, I believe, is an interesting situation I concocted with the lining.  Cotton on cotton tends to be ‘sticky’ as I call it, clinging together like Velcro because of the soft, brushed touch to it.  So, I chose the full body lining to be in a half cotton-half polyester blend broadcloth.  The little bit of man-made in the broadcloth really keeps the two layers apart quite nicely.  The nude, skin-toned tan color of the lining keeps the outer printed fashion fabric from both obviously appearing lined as well as being as sheer as a tissue, which it was on its own.  The full body lining really gives the dress its shape because it is a very basic design that counters the gathers and details going on with the outside, good side of the garment (besides nicely covering up all the inner seams).  Both layers to my dress being cotton makes for a breathable dress even though it is not the lightest weight.  What I discovered is that the lining is the first to absorb my sweat on a hot day and generally keeps the outer fashion fabric to the dress appearing so cool and pristine in any heat.  What a sneaky little way to pull off being chic in any weather!  Ladies just ‘glisten’ and not sweat anyway, right?!

Part two of the lining trickery has to do with the back peplum.  I sensed that a tiny hem along the bottom edge of the peplum just wasn’t going to work.  Besides, as I mentioned in the paragraph above, the paisley fabric was sheer and being a lightweight cotton would not drape properly on its own.  It needed to be fully lined.  More of the cotton-poly broadcloth I used to line the body would weigh the peplum down and make the dress too heavy.  So I reached for a scrap I had on hand of a nude-tan color, all-poly, cling-free lining which was luckily in the exact same nude tan color as my broadcloth.  Hooray for saving remnants and knowing what you have (thanks to organizational drawers)!  This lightweight and silky poly was the perfect solution for a soft peplum that hangs softly, becomes a weightless addition to its dress, and has a pretty – yet not flashy and distracting – underside.  I kind of did feel badly (silly, really, I know) for adding a bit of man-made to this lovely cotton frock, but I figure that’s the beauty and attraction striving towards the will-o’-the-wisp ‘perfect’ garment.  One piece of clothing that is engineered to be well thought out, like a finely crafted machine, yet soft enough to recognize and reflect the lovely human being inside of it is worth pounds of store offered, low quality, fast fashion.

The finishing touches I added included little ribbon lingerie straps on the inside of the shoulders.  With such a wide neckline, the snap-closing straps connect the shoulders of the dress to my bra straps for a dress that stays put on my body.  Of course, with the center front and center back having practically the most detailing on the dress, that meant there is a side seam zipper, very much like the traditional 1940s garment.  It is only slightly awkward because of all the material to the skirt, but with the wide neckline this dress is still easier to put on than those WWII ones.

So, I’ll ask for you…am I done with peplums yet? Not at all.  (See my other peplum projects here – a long post WWII one, a shorter 40’s blouse version, a front peplum dress, a pleated hip peplum 50’s style dress, and one on a modern asymmetric top)  Ever since there was one amazing vintage peplum dress that got away from me, this ‘bug’ in my system will take a while to work its way out.  Am I done with blue tones this year’s late summer sewing?  Nope.  Sorry, I’m not sorry.  Maybe it’s the way blue is cool to my eyes and mind, or perhaps it’s the way I feel blue is a versatile transitional color, matching with tan, grey, and other fall tones.  Either way, I now finally have yet a long awaited project to enjoy wearing for years to come, and yet another interpretation of how blue is one of my ways to get ready – mentally and tactility – for cooler weather.  Of course, my opposite hemisphere is looking forward to warmer weather, at this point, so hopefully my wistfulness at our fading season is your inspiration!