Tribulations of the 400th

Sometimes the easy patterns really throw me for a loop and make a sewing project surprisingly, mystifyingly challenging.  It’s when I least expect it, of course, and it never makes sense why.  The added pressure of reaching a milestone number for such a project probably didn’t help, too.  This post’s vintage dress was unexpectedly a tough one to reach nicely wearable status as my 400th project since 2012.  I had our last vacation of the summer as my motive and encouragement to power through and finish it, at least.  I do love a new me-made item whenever we take a trip and this bold little tropical hottie is here to show off her grand day out for fun in the sun.

Back in the late summer of that year of 2012, I started sewing again in earnest after a few years’ break and started keeping a log of all the projects I was making both for myself and others.  Mind you this by no means counts the paid-for commissions that I do on the side (which you don’t see) and the countless projects I have been creating before 2012 since my first lessons at seven years of age.  Most of the logged projects do appear on my blog eventually.  Even still, 400 is the last big milestone before I hit the grand number of 500 in the future!  Meanwhile, I have a lovely success story to share here and some wearable proof to my dedication to sewing all these years.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a Hawaiian printed rayon challis

PATTERN:  McCall #5918, year 1944

NOTIONS:  all I needed was thread, a zipper, and a set of shoulder pads

TIME TO COMPLETE:  It was finished on August 22, 2019 after about 30 plus hours of effort put into the dress.

THE INSIDES:  A mix of French and overlocked (serged) seam finishing

TOTAL COST:  This fabric has been in my stash for so long I’m counting it as free, but I know it came from what used to be Hancock Fabrics many years back.  I always got the best deals from them so it probably cost me less than $15 for sure.

The dress pattern has an interesting story to it which I’ll explain first.  Back when I posted about making my mid-1930s lingerie set (post here) I found a random sleeve piece from a completely unrelated pattern with a date about a decade later in the mid-40’s.  It is a very clever self-faced cap sleeve I imitated when refashioning my nightgown (see it here).  Finally sighting the counterpart cover image had me speechless at its amazing details.  I posted about that mystery homeless sleeve tissue piece (here) and the kind seamstress Eszter at “Em Originals” let me know she had an original of the pattern that matched it. We exchanged pattern copies as a trade and now I have the whole dress!  Oh, the wonders of the global reach that the internet makes possible…

It was tough to feel out what fabric to match with the pattern, though.  I wanted something that screams daring and exotic and warm temps.  However, I also realized the lack of complicated seams would be perfect for a bigger print.  Letting go of this hibiscus blue-toned Hawaiian inspired rayon from my long time stash was quite hard to do, however.  It is such a saturated coloring in a print you don’t find but in vintage fabric.  Yet, I felt it was a perfect pairing.  Yes, the rayon provides great draping for the bias grain action and the neither the dress nor the design overwhelm each other, just as I had hoped.  Great fabric is meant for more than just ogling and petting while stuffed in a stash.  I think it deserves to be made into something to enjoy being both worn and appreciated no matter the risk!

The center front bodice completely carries this whole dress with it.  It is such a smart feature because it is not just for aesthetics but actually a really smart way to shape the bodice without a single dart necessary.  It made for a very interesting pattern piece that was good for my technical brain to see and understand.  The bottom of the V neckline ends at a casing that opens up the middle of the bodice.  There are ties that run through the casing and, when tied together, forms a little open spot that is so racy for the 40’s but low-key enough I don’t feel exposed.  The bust gets shaped from the center out this way in the best way possible, especially since the center casing is cut across the bias grain.  At the pattern stage, the front has the casing veer off away from the bodice so it ends up on different grain than the main body.  A double-fold, self-facing to finish the edges is included, too.  This one little detail more than makes up for the simplicity of the rest of the dress and was not as hard to make as it might sound.  I have seen this same kind of detail used on sleeves before (see here) so now that I understand how it works you might just see me try this on other garments in the future!

I had to dramatically grade up to make the pattern wearable for me, adding just over four inches.  While I was at it, I slightly tweaked the pattern.  To avoid breaking up the print even further and simplify the design even more, I joined the bodice and the skirt sections for a waist free back half.  The front has a skirt with the center seam cut on the straight grain to save room on pattern layout.  The darts to the back half met at the waistline anyway so I just turned them into one-piece “cat-eye” (also called “fish-eye”) darts on either side of the long, vertical center seam.  Changing the grainline in the skirt pieces works in favor of the dress I believe because there is now a bias which wraps around my hips for a wonderful shape and subtle flare at the hem.  I lengthened the dress as well to a ‘not very proper for war-time’ longer midi length because I personally liked how it adds to the silhouette.  A mid-length dress is more versatile and makes the most of the slinky rayon!

The main difficulty and frustrations with this dress primarily had to do with a new self-realization stemming from finding out that I had made a dress which was impossibly too small for me in certain areas…and I had absolutely no extra fabric to fill in for my oversight.  Cutting out this dress on just under two yards of fabric – even if it was 60” width – was extreme pattern Tetris.  A few inch wide scraps were all I had left.  I love being so efficient at using fabric but that means I have to be perfect with my cutting.

I do believe a third of my fitting problems with this dress might have been from tweaking the pattern the way I did.  The other third is probably from a dress designed with a very slim skirt – surmised afterwards both from the rather straight lines on the pattern and looking at the cover illustration (those two ladies have absolutely no hips whatsoever).  The last third of this dress’ issues originated from the frequent ill health I have been experiencing this year.  I only realized by making this 400th project that some of my body’s sizing has changed.  My proportions are slightly different now than what I have been for a good number of years.  My body had changed but the sizing I was drafting onto my patterns had not yet caught up because I didn’t know any better.  This kind of thing is never a pleasant pill to swallow and has been very demoralizing.  This 400th make was tough in more way than one.

Somewhere in the back of my consciousness, I had wondering why some of my garments had been fitting me differently just lately.  I’m sure it is the kind of thing only someone like me would ever notice, because I am merely talking about a few inches more in difference, particularly over my hips.  Even still, I hate having to spend my extra time tailoring my garments to accommodate illness aftereffects I don’t want but have no control over at the moment.  Yet, at the same time, I am extremely thankful that I can even do such a thing to ‘save’ my clothes in the first place.  Ready-made and store bought items with their overlocked insides do not provide the leeway for extra room that ¾” or 5/8” uncut seam allowances can give.  This is why I prefer time-honored finishing techniques over using a serger.  Taking out both side seams as well as the center back seam all the way out to ¼” from the waist line down gave me just what I needed for the perfect fit to happily have a wearable dress.

A large part of the success to sewing, I do believe, is all wrapped up in the tricky knowledge of how to fit and adapt clothing.  Granted, getting to that point of a perfect fit was literal hell for me – I hate unpicking, especially when I originally made lovely French finishing inside, like I did for this tropical dress.  This is why the bottom half of the seams to my dress are unfortunately overlocked along their edges…I know, I just preached against it, but I was tired, down in spirits, and desperate.  A French finish on tiny seams is not something I wanted to take time for on what was supposed to be an easy-to-make project.  I was running out of time to finish the dress before the trip, too.  Nevertheless, as disappointed as I am with how this dress came together and failing in my ‘normal’ standards of quality, this dress is a joy to wear.

The colors make me happy, and can pair with so many combinations.  I chose aqua and turquoise accessories for these pictures, but light blue items really soften the tone and navy blends in.  Black heels and a fancy necklace with simple earrings brings this dress up to evening wear standards.  Better yet, the comfort on this is first rate.  It feels like I never took off my nightgown.  I realize, now that I have been sick for an extended time, I find myself tending more towards easy-wear vintage pieces.  Sure, I still love my tailored pieces with cinched waists and perfect darts that require me to wear my old-style lingerie to keep a perfect form and stature.  Yet, something as ‘throw-on-and-go’ as this dress is priceless.  Great details are not neglected, though, thanks to the never failing wonder of fantastic vintage designs.  It’s no wonder I make my own clothes, because I have no idea where to find anything comparable in ready-to-wear, even if such a thing is out there.

“Fruit Salad…Yummy, Yummy…”

Anyone who has had or known a child growing up in the last 10 years might know “The Wiggles” song my title refers to!  I can’t help but think of that quirky tune when looking at or even wearing this fun little vintage crop top.  Only half of a yard of this bright fruit print rayon just had to be redeemed into something more than just a supporting role in a sewing project, in my opinion.  I am so happy to have made the remnant work as this 1950s sun top!  With a bright print like this portraying a yummy cocktail salad how can I not be put in good spirits by my new creation?

My headband and earrings are me-made, and my sandals I had refashioned (yes, I even work on shoes!) but otherwise my skirt is a ready-to-wear standby item.  I can’t wait to see what my new crop top looks like with some vintage style jeans or a bright circle skirt!  The busy print with all the colors help this to match up with all sorts of bottom pieces – yay!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a printed rayon challis on the outside, a bright yellow cotton inside, and poly/cotton blend broadcloth for the straps

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8130, a 2016 reprint of what had original been Simplicity #2532, year 1958

NOTIONS:  I actually had everything I needed on hand, which is amazing because I used some notions which were more complex than what the pattern called for…more about that down later!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was made in about 8 hours (two evenings worth of sewing sessions) and finished on June 1, 2019

THE INSIDES:  Hey – this is fully lined, so the raw edges are incognito…

TOTAL COST:  I was able to pick up the rayon for about $1 but the lining was ‘more expensive’ at $2.50.  I’m not counting the scraps used for the straps and interfacing, or notions from my generous stash of supplies.  My total was about $4 – how awesome is that?

This summer has been so busy that a few hour project is all I can handle if I want a finished project.  Yet, I am all about not sacrificing quality.  Thus, I put in some extra time to make sure this little summer top is comfortable, effortless, nicely tailored, and will last me many more years of warm weather fun!

The most obvious part of construction that took some of the extra time to reach completion was the faulty amount of ease put into this design.  This needs to have a close, tight fit – both to stay up and to look right (not slouchy).  This is not a blouse or shirt.  That means there needs to be about zero to negative amount of wearing ease.   Tasha at “By Gum, By Golly” has an excellent, helpful review going over this same subject.  Looking at the finished garment measurements as compared to the size chart, it’s obvious there is a several inch ease added in for every size.  I myself went down one size to be safe, but even still, I had to bring in the top by over an inch for my first fitting.  I am pretty sure this was not how the original was and something added in when the pattern was re-released.  Vintage re-issues from the Big 4 pattern companies are sometimes really good at tweaking something that was just fine to begin with.  I’m sorry to be negative.  I should be glad for re-issues, though, because they do make vintage sewing something more mainstream, affordable, and attainable for all body sizes.  So, if you reach for this pattern for the first time, just remember this heads up to check the sizing, instead of recalling my crabbing!

Hiding under what might look like a simple little top is many seams and a secret to keeping them straight.  Boned seams further structure the body and combine with (what should be) a snug fit to share amazing tailoring that the 50s are so good at.  Many extant original 1950s evening dresses and summer bra tops have boning in them, too, so I like this true vintage touch.  Yet, I got rid of the boning directly through the bust as directed and instead opted for something a bit more naturally structured.  The side seams and center front alone have boning and there is a bra sewn into the front half in my version.  Boning is still in the back as well, as directed, but only on either side of the center because I added a back zipper.  It’s so much more convenient rather than a

A boned, true vintage piece very much like Simplicity #8130, for sale recently through Instagram

buttoning back, as the pattern directs and true vintage items have.  As I said, for me to fully enjoy this, it was going to have to be easy to wear – lingerie is sewn in already for no bra straps peeking out and no circus trick required lurking behind me either whenever I elect to put it on.  I chose a metal exposed zipper because it was what I had on hand but I do enjoy the funky, modern flair of it.  This might be vintage, but the time is today and I frequently don’t mind a little crossover between the two.

For my first time attempting to make a fully boned garment I am pretty happy. (My first trial at boning was for the back of this 50’s strapless romper I made awhile back, but that was just two little strips I added so I’m not fully counting that!)  I figured this little top was a good piece to go all out and experiment with.  It was no real biggie if I messed up or things didn’t turn out just right, between the busy print and the style itself.  Nevertheless, it wasn’t really that hard to do, just a bit tedious and time consuming, and I can’t think of how I would have done better.

The boning I used was the pre-packaged Dritz brand lightweight kind, already covered in a soft cotton blend sheath.  I had a pack of soft, jelly-like plastic caps to cover the cut ends.   I cut to the measurements provided in the instructions and pushed the caps over both the boning and its fabric cover, then stitched through all layers using the hole in the caps provided to anchor them on the ends.  Since my boning was covered, I top stitched it directly to the inside of the lining along the princess seams, but if it hadn’t been fabric coated I would have used the seam allowances to form a casing channel.

My only complaint is that the packaging of the boning had it all curled up too tightly in a roll and I had a hard time working to straighten the unwanted curving in it.  Even still it tends to want to do its own thing sometimes, working against my body.  That aside, I can’t wait to try boning again.  When I sew it, a boned garment is much more comfortable than I would have thought, especially compared to the scratchy boning in my extant vintage garments, it turned out well, and was fun to do.  I love the confidence and assurance in a great shape that a boned garment lends!

The ‘collar’ has me on the fence.  I like it but would rather have had it not have so much individual personality but stick closer to the main body.  It is cute though and makes this so fun and different.  You know I just had to make things so much harder for myself to squeeze this in on half a yard!  The grain line for the collar piece calls for it to be cut on the bias cross grain.  However, was lucky enough to make things work the way I cut the collar on an off-kilter straight grain.  I rarely go against the grain line so this was a rare deviance for me.  Perhaps this change in the cut and layout of the collar effected the way mine hangs on the finished top.  Sometimes it’s best just to make things work rather than finding perfectionism.  Coming from me this is something (I’m so hard on myself) but I really wanted that extra touch!  For an alternate idea, I can actually picture a big bias ruffle (not in the pattern, I know) coming from the neckline in a white eyelet version of this top.  Oh no, another project to add in my projects queue!  Apparently another version of this top is probably in my future.

Having the little black edging united both the contrast straps and bold back zipper together with the top as a whole – another reason I wanted the neckline collar.  I disregarded the pattern piece for the edging and used pre-made bias tape instead out of convenience.  Mitering the corners is still important whether you use the pattern for the edging or bias tape or ribbon for edging, though.  Perfect points make that overhang really appear as if it is mock-collar.

The instructions call for a lot more interfacing than I committed.  It called for the whole body to be stabilized on top of adding the boning.  To me that doesn’t sound comfy for a summer top…it sounds like sweaty, unbreathable torture to be.  I left out the interfacing through the body and added it instead in shoulder straps.  This makes more sense to me and feels better to wear.  The straps would be even better with an adjustable option like lingerie, but I really didn’t feel like something complicated and they were too wide to even work like that.  I didn’t want to make new skinny ones.  Perfect is being done, sometimes.

Well, I hope this post inspires you to think outside of the box and look at small cuts of fabric, what we consider remnants today, as having great potential.  Our grandmothers were onto something with their depression era practice of making scraps work in more ways than modern minds find imaginable.  Fabric is fabric to me, in any size cut!  It find it so funny how one little half yard turned into one complexly structured vintage top.  The many seams (10 vertically around) were my friend to help my idea along.  Between the bright print and the fun design and the thriftiness of it all, this make of mine really is a cheerful, ‘feel good’ summer piece.  Fruit salad, anyone?  I do love a healthy treat.

Modern Asymmetric Peplum Blouse

I told you a handful of posts ago, in the write-up on my second Easter outfit, that I have been weaning myself off of an obsession with peplums.  Of course, I am biased towards thinking that vintage fashion offers the best peplums, but I just couldn’t resist testing out a new Burda Style one that caught my eye.  Can never have enough of something good, I figured, but this peplum is not a fantastic as I had hoped yet it’s still an awesome casual me-made to reach for over the next several months.  Happily this multi-season (spring, summer, and fall) creation that is loose, comfy, and one of those wardrobe staples which is seeing more wear already than I’ve expected.

Burda really has been offering the best asymmetric patterns over the last several years, and I love such styles.  I enjoy the creativity of asymmetric styles, and generally find them complimentary, yet they are not a commonly seen ready-to-wear design.  Many sewists like me seem to muse that high production manufacturing and the cheap labor such companies employ (so, so sad) does not lend itself to asymmetric styles on account of the single cuts that are necessary and the extra thoughtfulness and care needed to make them.  This is where the benefits of personal sewing come in – you can make things you can’t buy (and make them better)!  Asymmetric styles still take more thought no matter where or how they are made but at least they can be made just the way you like them in your hands!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% rayon challis

PATTERNS:  This top’s design is divided out into two almost identical patterns from March 2019 – Burda Style “Flounce Sleeve Blouse” #111, which has shorter sleeves and a longer hem, while Burda Style “Gathered Paneled Blouse” #112, which has quarter length sleeves and a shorter hem.

NOTIONS:  I used everything I had on hand – black thread, some interfacing scraps, elastic, a hook-n-eye, and one vintage button from hubby’s Grandma’s stash of notions

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This took me only 6 hours to make and was finished on May 9, 2019

TOTAL COST:  As this was half of the fabric ($30 in total cut), my top was only $15

Even though you’d never guess upon appearances, this is really a happy scrap busting project because it is also part two of a really fancy Burda dress I made last year – the Andrew Gn mermaid gown.  Half of the width was the butterfly print I used on the back of that dress…the other half of the width is this blouse now!  It was weird to have fabric leftover in this 29 inch width, and have 3 yards long of it, and the cute and predictable floral print was something rather “meh” for me, so I was excited to use it up on something interesting and experimental sooner than later.  I rather wanted to try a border print for this design like they show on #111, but my border fabrics are too precious to me for trying on something (like this post’s blouse) which I’m not positive from the outset that I’ll like.  There was a slight “border” to the fabric I used, after all – a bright green stripe was the printed division line where the butterfly print and the floral were separated.  I used that stripe as some sort of waist definition.

Ever since the Schiaparelli inspired summer set I made back in 2017, butterfly prints keep catching my eye and popping up in my sewing projects, but the previously posted Burda outfit was made back in 2015 so maybe my fascination with the delicate creature began earlier than I have been thinking.  Anyway, as one small segment of the other half to the fabric was still around, I couldn’t help but incorporate it in some small way!  The right side back that is all one piece (no separate waist seam) has a large butterfly over my booty.  Luckily the waistline was marked on the pattern, otherwise I would not have been able to line up the green stripe in the fabric to make such placement work!

More or less, if I had made this blouse exactly as the pattern directs, it would have been an overwhelming, uncontrolled tent of a top.  I’m not against loose and flowing styles, but I like some distinction to such a top with a whole lotta fabric and the busy floral hid the design lines all too well.  At least I had that green stripe where the peplum meets the waist.  The stripe ends where the peplum panel extends all the way up to the shoulder and gathers asymmetrically into the bodice.  The blouse’s print, as it turns out, goes with my pastel skinny jeans and a few pencil skirts so it’s a win, after all, especially as it pairs perfectly with my grandma’s necklace and earrings, too!

I couldn’t stand just leaving the top as it was, but I didn’t want a permanent solution.  So I had an elastic ‘string’ loop come out from being threaded through the right side seam.  It can bring the asymmetric peplum panel in to a controlled but stretchable and optional fitted look when I take the end of the elastic loop to close it on the matching, indistinguishable button at the end of the front stripe.  Poof!  One little add-on and suddenly I am so much happier with the top, its styling, and fit.  Yet, I can still wear it as it was intended.  No commitment tweaks to fix a ‘problem’ are awesome.  Hubby liked the top as it was, I wanted to change it – so I found a compromise and a great use for a random spare button!  It’s so nice to have to not install a zipper every now and then.

Otherwise than the tweaking the overwhelming peplum, the rest of the top had some slight fitting problems.  The sleeves, that I made basic short style, are slightly restrictive with reach room.  Even the shoulder line is a tad further in than it should be.  The neckline was chokingly close so I opened up by about an inch.  As I said, this was a quick, experimental make that is like a wearable muslin so I’m fine with such little deficiencies that I would never deal with in my regular sewing projects.  Just be warned if you want to try this for yourself to check it out on yourself carefully before cutting.

I did expose the back neckline opening more than directed to counteract the high, fully covered bodice.  The slit opening goes down about 8 ½ inches on my tops back, with a simple hook-n-eye to close the top edge.  I like a little oh-la-la view from the back, even if it’s just a little peek!

This might not be the best peplum I have made but I’m glad to have tried it.  Just when I think my peplum craze is satisfied…nope, something else catches my eye.  It will have to be a really good design to tempt me next…but my defenses for a peplum are still weak apparently, as well as for any asymmetric style.  At least I will have the best peplum collection ever if I keep this up!  I will be posting more of my peplums both here and on Instagram over the next few months.

Mother’s Day Mandalas

Every mom can fully appreciate the amazing benefits of having her own special ‘space’ and quality ‘down time’ to refresh.  This is why my Mother’s Day post will be an elegant, flowing, treat-of-a-1930s dress in a lovely Indian mandala print.  Mandalas are a concentric symbol for balance, harmony, and focus in the Indian religions…and goodness knows, every mother needs as much of all that in her busy, hectic, and multi-tasking life!  I know I do!  Just the action of sewing is enough to put me in my “happy zone”.  Combining that with a fabric allusive of serenity sewn into a feminine vintage dress which is as comfy as my best nightgown and bingo – my Mother’s day cannot be any better than this.

I never have enough reasons or places to wear my fancy 1930’s gowns, and so this dress is my first (and happily successful) attempt at ‘normalizing’ that era’s evening wear.  Just by using rayon challis – a nice yet not-so-upscale yet equally flowing fabric as the satin or crepe the pattern called for – I took a special occasion dress into something which can fit more easily in my daily life.  I am in love with the everyday glamor, slimming silhouette, ease of construction, and interesting neckline of this vintage remake.  I definitely do not want to stop at only one of this design.  However, this version is such a keeper!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  2 ½ yards of a very soft and drapey printed viscose blend rayon with the bodice partially lined in a poly crepe

PATTERN:  Butterick #6410, a 1999 re-issue (now out-of-print) of a year 1935 pattern

NOTIONS:  nothing but some blue thread was needed…

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was whipped up in about 5 hours and finished on April 18, 2019

TOTAL COST:  As the bodice lining was scraps from on hand, the rayon was the only expense and it was only $15. I bought it off of Etsy during a half-price sale at the shop “Fibers To Fabric”.

I cannot say enough good words about the work principles, the ideals put into practice, and the materials offered at Fibers to Fabric.  This is not sponsored – just my honest opinion as a happy customer and a seamstress trying to buy ethically.   They carry authentic, artisan, fair trade fabrics made with honesty and transparency in India.  Their true woven (not printed) Ikat fabric is to die for (I have one slated for an upcoming project)!  This printed rayon is so much silkier and sturdy than any carried by any big box store.  The viscose blended in makes this the perfect substitute for silk charmeuse, in my opinion.  Besides, ordering fabric directly from India is the right way to start off when making a garment with their cultural meaning or influence, no matter how slight, as I did here.

The pattern carries most of its complexity in the bodice along the neckline, but even still, those details were not enough to keep this dress from being a one evening project!  However, to be honest, I did greatly simplify the dress by leaving out the side zipper.  It is very tricky to keep a zipper from visibly restricting a flowing dress anyway, and even still, one that calls for delicate fabrics.  I went up one full size to make sure this would be able to slip over my head.  It is a bit roomy fitting this way, but it just makes this dress feel like some super fancy nightwear I can wear in public – is that wrong to want to stay that comfortable?!

Now what is important to realize with this dress is the skirt pieces are not cut on the bias so this pattern can be made on less yardage than the normal 30’s evening gown.  Here’s yet another reason I love this dress!  The skirt panel’s length is cut along the grainline and only the front bodice pieces are on the bias grain.  In order to make my dress on only 2 ½ yards of fabric, I opened up the fabric from the way it gets folded on the bolt and folded it a different way to still find the same grainline.  It was still a Tetris game, nonetheless, but I squeezed everything in after all (only by shortening the hem, which still ended up really long for my 5’3″ frame)!

The neckline is first rate.  It reminds me of a scarf or shawl that is tucked into a wide neckline.  Sadly the amazing seaming is rather lost in the print.  The bodice is kimono sleeved, but only on the sides because the neckline portion begins halfway out from the neck.  The the center back panels miter down into to a V.  The center front panels seam princess-style through the bust and plunge down to the empire waist.  Fill that wide neckline in with these long panels that reach from the front waistline to the back point between the shoulder blades, and there is one beautiful design to be had.  I love the way it frames the back of the neck and is more than just your usual V-neck or wrap bodice.

The pattern calls for the whole of the bodice to be fully lined, however my casual aesthetic kept only what was needed, which was just the facings to the draped neckline.  They were much skinnier than the neckline pieces of the fashion fabric, therefore only way to make the neckline fall into folds vertically, besides finishing the edges nicely.  I did not interface the neckline lining because you don’t need to add body there, just keep the gathers in.  Lacking the full lining which would’ve also filled in the side bodice panels, simple bright red ¼ inch bias binding finished off the armholes of my version instead.

Any time I have wearing this 30’s dress is instantly glamorous in a very unassuming, easy manner…the best of the 30’s for today!  Even though this dress’ pattern is out of print, there seem to be a good number still for sale out on internet sites so I heartily recommend picking up one for yourself.  This design would be great for scrap busting because a one yard cut could go towards a contrast bodice with a slightly bigger cut (no more than 2 yards, though) going towards the skirt portion.  I’m sorry my post did not even take into account how fabulous the little Mandarin collar crop jacket is in the pattern, as well.  I seriously need to come back and make the short jacket to match this dress in the future.

Whatever your state or position in life this Mother’s Day, we can all appreciate some relaxation and a calming moment.  I hope my mandalas for the day, and my quick-to-make but elegant to wear sewing creation, remind you that taking time for yourself is time well spent!

Mermaid Out of Water

Following up on the heels of my last post, a 1954 qipao, here’s another Mandarin dress inspired by the 1930s era from the modern designer Andrew Gn.  “From the Paris catwalk directly to my wardrobe” thanks to Burda Style, this is home sewing at par with the designer world.

This is much more elegant than my first qipao, definitely meant for evening wear with its train.  The fabrics are much nicer and higher quality, too, than the printed cotton of the last qipao.  It’s also much more sensual and body-conscious, just like the original mine was inspired by – Nicole Kidman’s “Charity Ball” gown from the 2008 movie “Australia”.  It was the year 1939, and Lady Sarah Ashley was auctioning off herself (to dance with, I must clarify) to benefit the Missions for children, the “Forgotten Australians” as they are known, so she definitely dressed the part for that evening to win a large bid.  This is my third (and probably my last for this year) submission to the Unfinished Seamstress’ “Sewing the Scene” Challenge.

This evening dress is my very first mermaid shaped garment, and I am head over heels for what this does to my curves.  Why have I not worn something like this before?  Where has a mermaid gown been all my life?  Whatever – I have one now that I am very happy with…in fact I hate having to take it off once it’s on, especially as the first layer against my skin is lovely silk!

For more about the culture, history, and meaning to a qipao dress, please visit my previous post.  This one is admittedly designer, so it is linked more to the fashion scene than a pure culture garment.  In fact, the designer Tony Ward now appears to be knocking off Andrew Gn’s Burda release with some of the neckline on the gowns in his Spring/Summer 2018 collection (see Look #33 of his Couture garments, and see this look from his ready-to-wear)!  However, the Singapore-born Andrew Gn does have the privilege right to make a fashion qipao more than Tony Ward, and besides Gn did it first with his Fall 2017 Ready-To-Wear collection.  The designer Andrew Gn, as described in the Burda magazine, is a cosmopolitan designer who is heavily influenced by art and antiques.  He respects the worth of a good vintage item and finds creative expression universal.  Personally, he is ¼ Japanese and ¾ Chinese, but studied at London, New York, and Milan before opening under his own label in 1996 after being an assistant in Emanuel Ungaro’s atelier in Paris for just a year.  Ungaro is one of my modern designer icons, so it comes as no surprise to me that I like the work of his pupil Gn!  Traditional meets modern, and East merges with the West under Andrew Gn.

The pattern for this dress is only to be found in the monthly magazine issue and unfortunately not online to buy and download at all.   This edition of the magazine (February 2018) is totally worth buying, though – this is the best Burda month I have seen in a long time, there are so many patterns that are unique, lovely, and attractive.  Besides, nowadays how often do we get a copy to make for ourselves of what is seen is the catwalk?  This outfit counts as my August make to the “Burda Challenge 2018” for which I pledged a garment a month.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a combo of both polyester crinkle chiffon and rayon challis for the dress and true vintage all silk crepe for the under slip

PATTERN:  Burda Style #123 Gown, from the February 2018 magazine for the dress (see it on the runway here) and a vintage year 1942 pattern, Simplicity #4352, used once before, for the slip

NOTIONS:  All I really needed to make this set was really thread – lots of it – and some little scraps of interfacing for the Mandarin collar.  The neckline buttons are modern and were also on hand along with the scrap 6 inches of thread elastic.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress itself took about 15 hours while the slip took maybe 6 hours.  Both were completed on August 20, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  Clean due to the serged (overlocked) seams on both pieces – there were too many very long princess seams between the slip and the dress to do the insides as a French finish!

TOTAL COST:  The vintage silk was part of a trade at a local shop, and the dress’ fabrics came from my local JoAnn’s fabric store, maybe about $60 for 6 yards. 

Coming directly from a designer, I sort of find it oddly ironic that I became my own designer for this dress and slightly adapted the armscye to mirror my inspiration dress from the “Australia” movie.  Of course, looking at the original dress and its line drawing, you can see I left out the sleeves.  I do love them, and would love to make a winter velvet version of this dress just so I can see this design with those sleeves, but they did not fit in with my ideal of a visually obvious “Australia” movie copy, or even just a Mandarin dress for the summer.  It was a very easy adaptation.  I redrew the pattern tissue so that the center front and the center back panels’ curving seam kept going up to graze the outer end of the shoulder line.  The effect is like a pared down cap sleeve all-in-one with the dress. I also dipped the bottom of the armscye under the arm to be lower and more open, ending in a V-shape for both beauty and full movement.  Besides, the sleeve change, I shortened the front third of the hem to the dress so that the hem would graze the top of my feet with heels on.  I left the back and side hem original length.

Now, as for any Burda Style pattern, printing and/or tracing is necessary to have a usable pattern to lay on your desired fabric.  My pattern was traced from the inserts in the magazine issue, and most Burda Style Designer patterns are only in the magazines, but most other patterns are available online as a downloaded PDF that needs to be printed out and assembled together.  What works best for me is to use a roll of thin, see-through medical paper to trace my pieces out.  It’s at this preliminary step that you pick out your proper size.  Some people add in your choice of seam allowance width directly to the pattern while some as they are cutting out the fabric pieces.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a finished pattern prepped.  Sorry to repeat something you might already know, but this is just an “FYI” for those that don’t.

I did find the sizing for this dress to be spot on, very exact.  I made my ‘normal’ size that I choose with Burda patterns, based off of their measurement chart and this finished out perfect for my body.  Granted there is a good amount of shifty give in the dress between the fine crinkled chiffon and random bias.  This is part of the reason I get by with leaving out any closures (except for the neckline, of course).  Yes – there are no zippers, hooks, or anything to the waist of both the dress and slip.  This is a pop-over the head outfit.  I didn’t want a zipper to awkwardly pucker or bubble the fabric out, and with lowering the cut of the neckline by a few extra inches, the dress goes on me just fine with all seams sewn up.  An all silk slip is smooth and slippery, like a weightless second skin, and it has similar seaming so it slides on easily as well with no closure either.

As wonderful as this turned out, it was almost the project that was never made due to the unexpected amount of material needed. Be prepared to have lots and lots of yardage on hand in order to make this dress because I soon realized this is a total fabric hog of a project.  I rather disregarded the instructions in disbelief when they called for 6 whopping yards of fabric, in 60” selvedge width. Really?!  The pattern pieces were very skinny (and very curvy, I must add, for a proper mermaid fit).  The bottom flared out very wide though.  The pattern segments were also unmanageably long as they are all one-piece princess seams from neckline to hem.  I felt that ‘surely if the pieces are staggered, and laid out oppositely I can make the dress work’ out of the 4 yards of chiffon I had on hand.  Four yards is really the most of any fabric I have on hand or generally buy.  There is only one other fabric in my stash that is a cut of 6 yards, and it is a winter brocade saved for a fabric hog 1950s dress pattern.

I really wanted to use this butterfly print as there was something about it that I felt needed to be an Asian influenced, 1930s inspired garment for evening elegance.  I don’t know how that approbation works in my head but some fabrics just naturally get designated to certain patterns without much of a though, like the two are meant to be together.  This time, there was no seeming way to make things work.  Four yards of fabric is only enough for three pattern pieces.  The dress has four pattern pieces in total, so I needed more for one last piece.

My husband is the one that saved this project by finding the exact same print, at the exact same JoAnn’s store where the first fabric was bought, only this time it was in an all rayon challis.  As long as it was the same print I had something to work with…thank goodness for JoAnn’s repeating a print design!  As the rayon would be heavier and also opaque compared to the chiffon. The most obvious pattern piece to designate this for was the two center back panels.

This way the train is weighted down nicely and the sheer effect is tamed by having the front the primary focus while the back is only simple lines without the slip being seen there to distract.  Also the back panels are the longest piece out of the four with the train – the biggest fabric hog.  The hemline is a full almost 10 inches longer than floor length on my 5’ 3” frame.  Two yards was just enough of a cut from the rayon for the center back panel, that’s how long it is!  As it turned out, I am glad to have used two fabrics for this dress.  How often does something like this happen, though – the same print in two different materials?  I love the feeling of how the train floats and flows behind me as I walk if I let it down (see a short video here on my Instagram).  If I hold it up it looks like I have wings, like a butterfly myself, or like a mermaid tail.  However, I wouldn’t have a mermaid tail out of water now would I?!

A little bit of the rayon form of my dress’ butterfly print also went to the Mandarin collar.  I was planning on laying cotton between the sheer to make the collar opaque and not see-through before I realized I had to use the rayon.  This made my work easier.  I doubled up on the interfacing and ironed it to the wrong side of both the outer and inner collars.  This way at least something holds the dress together because the rest of it certainly isn’t going the help.

I realize that most the dresses with this wide open, almond shaped neckline which dips down to Timbuktu do not have anything but skin (and cleavage) showing.  I do not care for how blatantly this sensualizes such a style of dress too much for my taste.  This is an opportunity to make a superior quality slip in a contrast color to fill in that void in the front.  The sweetheart neckline is one of the most universally popular and flattering, and a visible slip is a more discreet yet still tantalizing detail, so I prefer such a gown worn this way, not just because it is like the movie original.  It is really much more wearable this way anyway.

My basic everyday vintage slip pattern got the deluxe makeover here!  The way I made it first using basic rayon challis has it my go-to wardrobe basic.  There was no guesswork sewing this up as I had done it once before and made notes of my grading add-ons, but I took more time on the small details.  First, I added 12 more inches to the hem of last time to end up with an ankle length slip. Then, I hand stitched the self-fabric bias facing down by hand.  Skinny self-fabric bias spaghetti straps are over my shoulders.  I don’t have many long gowns to match but I’m hoping to get good use out of this slip.  After all, I did splurge and use true vintage fabric.  I am not one to use that fact as a reason to completely save this garment – no, I want to totally enjoy it, so maybe this would make a good nightgown too, if I want to wear it but have nowhere to go.

My accessories were carefully curated to make sure this was an outfit all about me – my take on a runway trend, my personal skills to make what else I needed, and some old favorites from on hand to compliment.  Following the trend of Andrew Gn’s Fall 2017 collection where the models mostly wore tassel earrings, I found mine at a local shop, handmade in three layers of gradient colors from out of my butterfly print.  My hair decoration is made by me, with three plastic flower heads attached to a hair comb with floral wire and floral tape.  My florist’s training came in handy here and I am so happy and proud at how this turned out.  My shoes are “Lola” peep toe strap heels from Chelsea Crew, the same as what I wore her for my Grace Kelly dress copy.  My bracelet is actually a hair scrunchie from when I was little, but it always used to pull my hair out so it’s always served me better as a bracelet.

This was a bit of a hard project to handle, as dreamy as it is to wear.  Between the struggle to find enough fabric for the dress, the “sacrifice” of multiple yards of vintage fabric, and all the large scraps which were leftover from the making of this outfit, it was almost painful.  I am very thrifty (as much as can be expected) with my sewing, making use of every scrap, getting only fabric that I have an idea for, and squeezing patterns on cuts too small for an easy layout.  Not too often am I liberal with my sewing, but extravagance is just that – an indulgence, a surrendering of practicality for the ideal of beauty, the effort towards a creative reality.  This is closer to how couture works, or at least designer productions, as well.

The outlook, the artistic vision is priority along the creative process, and then the special someone who gets to wear the finished product, and the resulting feelings upon wearing, are then the pride and crowning glory after the last of the finishing touches have been made.  This is a designer dress, after all, and I’m using my best vintage fabric to complete it as a ‘copy’ of something from Hollywood, inspired by the decadence of the era of elegance itself – the 1930s.  Why was I expecting something sensible here?!  Sometimes making (and wearing) the extravagance of what exactly you want, what you feel great in is intoxicatingly enjoyable.  I am sensible enough to not do this all that often, but with this dress it is so nice deep down.  Can I use the excuse that my birthday is in August?  I may just have to find as many excuses to wear this as I possibly can, too.