Blushed Briar Rose

It mystifies me that something as vigorous, beautiful, and pleasant smelling as the shrub rose, also known for its wild varieties the dog briar or briar rose, can also be designated as a weed.  Yes, I agree a shrub rose can grow out-of-hand, it creates dense vegetation of spiny brambles, and it can be aggressively invasive.  However, many flower shops and high end events desire lab curated roses for arranged displays, yet snub their nose on the humble, steadfast briar rose that was the humble ancestor to all roses back from the time of the dinosaurs.  After all, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” is the popular quote from Shakespeare.    Did you know that most of our important crop plants are in the “Rose” family?  A pretentious pedigree should not matter for a plant. 

It’s cooling down now that September is here, yet in our city’s Botanical Garden there are still plenty of shrub roses blooming untamed next to some single oversized hybrid.  A desire for overly curated cultivation has grown a skewed perspective.  I think a plant such as a briar rose that perseveres through the ages, with healthy benefits to boot, while still having loveliness to share despite their alleged flaws is the diamond in the rough that deserves more respect – ‘weed’ or not.

The hidden beauty with a hopeful heart, Princess Aurora, of Disney’s 1959 animated film “Sleeping Beauty”, was also called Briar Rose.  This was a term for the fairytale princess which comes from the German version of her story as told through the Brothers Grimm.  I can deduce that this genus of plant was specifically what grew into an impenetrable barrier to enclose the sleeping princess.  This is what I’m channeling today – the wild and prickly beauty of the briar rose as inspired by the Princess Aurora.  Here is a delicate combo of a blouse in sheer white chiffon similar to Aurora’s forest outfit and flowing rayon trousers in a soft rosy hue…because briar roses are almost always pink, you know! 

Here is a rare example of me mixing decades, I would like to think to great effect.  These pants are from the 1990s, yet my old-fashioned ways I keep calling them trousers by default because they are high-waisted and wide-legged as if from the WWII era.  The blouse is 1940’s, a piece from an old dirndl pattern because it has been suggested that there is a Germanic influence to Briar Rose’s forest attire (no doubt coming from the story being derived from the Brothers Grimm).   The fabric I chose and the way I’ve worn it here keeps the blouse more of agelessly romantic in aura than pure vintage.  I been having a lot of fun with my style recently.  I find the eras that revived older fashions so very interesting, but now especially so when it comes to the 90’s, a decade peppered with the influences of the past 20th century, all of which I already sew, wear, and love.  Besides, the 1940s era came up with some of the best classic pieces, particularly for separates.  Put all this together and I can’t go wrong, right?

Before I go on with my post, can we all take just a moment to appreciate the skills and patience of my 9 year old to take these blog pictures of me?  Let’s give him a hand for being my photographer for a day!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Blouse – a poly chiffon with the ‘interfacing’ of the cuffs being a sheer white stiff organza; Trousers – 100% rayon twill

PATTERN:  Blouse – Simplicity #4230, year 1942, from my stash; Trousers – McCall’s NY NY “The Collection” pattern #5718, year 1991

NOTIONS NEEDED:  one 7” invisible zipper for the pants and lots of hook-n-eyes together with one vintage covered button for the blouse, but otherwise lots of thread, some bias tape, with a little interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse was made in about 8 hours and finished on January 6, 2020.  The bottoms were done on April 3, 2021 in 4 hours.

THE INSIDES:  The blouse is a combo of French seams and serged (overlocked) seam allowances.  The trousers’ raw edges are bias bound.

TOTAL COST:  All supplies came from my local JoAnn Fabric store.  Two yards for the pants and 2 yards for the blouse came to about $30 in total.

Similar to the way I successfully used a bedsheet to sew a couture dress (in my previous post here), this outfit was also started with materials not what I intended, but what struck my immediate fancy.  It just goes to prove that the final look of any and every sewing project is entirely dependent on the execution of every step along the way towards the finish.  It doesn’t take fancy supplies to end up with something amazing to wear, and trying something new might just end up better than you originally thought.  “A rose by any other name…” comes to play here, too.  If you can make the most of what you have it doesn’t really matter if it’s a bedsheet or a polyester in the end if you’re happy with what you’ve created and think it is fantastic!

I would have preferred a silk chiffon for my blouse but after getting tired of internet searching, I instead took advantage of a fine polyester option that was both convenient to find and reasonably priced.  I was doubtful that a slinky rayon would be substantial enough for what was supposed to be a structured pants pattern, but I wanted to try something experimental and it was in most enchanting pink tone…I couldn’t resist.  Together, this outfit ended up way better than I imagined.  I love these results!  Luckily, I avoided being snagged by all the thorns around me while wearing my delicate fabrics.  I took the risk, as you see, to folic like a modernized, dreamy version of a princess, spend time touring a lovely rose garden for an afternoon, smelling all the flowers.

These two pieces were really a lot easier to construct than they may look.  The pants pattern fit me straight out of the envelope like it were drafted just for me, a trend I find with this 90’s line of NY NY “The Collection” McCall’s patterns.  There was a front piece, a back piece, and two facings, all with just the right curves for my hips, so it was pretty simple to make and match the very geometric windowpane plaid. 

I took a shortcut from the French seams I started in the blouse to do the rest in serging (I rarely use overlocking) because it was a poly after all, not a silk like I wanted!  It has a loose and flowing fit, but as I already used the rest of the pattern before for a dirndl vest (posted here) I knew what sizing to expect and graded accordingly.  A little before-hand knowledge is not always something available when working with vintage patterns, and I definitely appreciated it here.

As the pants and blouse were easy otherwise, I spent a bit of extra time on the details.  For my bottoms, I made sure to have impeccable inside edges and a center back invisible zipper.  I sewed in a hook-n-eye placket to close the blouse along the side seam, just like a proper vintage garment might have.  A fluid, sheer, light-as-a-feather blouse deserved something other than a harsh and rigid zipper!  This type of closure was the fiddliest part of the blouse, next to the neckline, but elevates it closer to the quality I’d hoped to end up with for a silk version. 

Of course the resemblance of my blouse to Princess Aurora’s “Briar Rose” peasant blouse was made all the more similar thanks to a little piece of vintage lingerie in my collection.  I wore an authentic 1940s boned long-line satin foundation undergarment beneath which gave my blouse an illusion similar to the sweetheart neckline of Aurora’s black overblouse corset.  I acquired this amazing garment in the first place because not only was it my size, and something I did not have, but I also felt sorry for it.  The brassiere needed some TLC to bring back up to a wearable status. 

All the boning channels had been torn through but otherwise it was in impeccable condition, with elastic that was still very intact.  To do the mend, I merely used some old vintage twill tape from on hand and re-sewed down the channels, closing in the spiral steel boning strips once more.  This repair took me only 30 minutes!  It is pretty enough of a piece to be seen in it floral damask satin, but I remember it is still lingerie, so I loved being able to fulfill both aspirations by wearing the brassiere with my sheer 40’s blouse.  At this point, it rather looks like a mere strapless top underneath anyways, and highlights more of the gauzy goodness to my blouse than anything else.  If anyone but my husband notices anything otherwise, shame on them!

I would be remiss if I failed to also highlight the unusual choice of footwear I chose for my outfit.  As I was going both romantic old-timey but also experimental, I felt it was time to enjoy my new purchase of a pair of American Duchess’ “Kensington” 18th century leather shoes in ivory with “Cavendish” 18th century brass shoe buckles.  To be inspired by “Sleeping Beauty” meant I had all sorts of historical references in my mind for this outfit, and these pretty – if a bit unusual – shoes made me happy with their finery.  It was all about creating an aura for this mashed-up outfit.  Yet, after all, I was also being practical.  There was an 18th century reenactment to attend the coming weekend, and all American Duchess shoes need time to be “broken in” before they really start forming to your foot and becoming more comfortable.  A walk through the soft ground of the Botanical Garden did just the trick!   

The way you see these pieces worn and accessorized in this blog post is merely one out of the many other ways I pair them with other separates from my wardrobe.  You can see this post here where my sheer blouse is being worn with my scuba knit sundress like a jumper!  As pretty as these pieces are on their own, they really are being enjoyed much more than I had hoped – which is a very good thing! 

After all, ever since the pandemic of 2020 started, I no longer ‘save’ my nice stuff for just nice functions, otherwise much of my wardrobe would never be worn.  I really do think people appreciate it when they see there was thought and enjoyment behind putting myself together – no matter the occasion.  You know, after these pictures at the Botanical Garden, I wore this outfit to do some practical grocery shopping, and received the most unexpected amount of compliments.  Public appreciation or not, pulling cans off the shelves with sleeves like these suddenly felt much more elegant than hum-drum.  Pushing the shopping cart around in 18th century heels feels empowering instead of droll.  It was fantastic!  I highly recommend it.   

It’s just a parody to my earlier reflection of appreciating a ‘weed’ of a rose as something to be valued in one’s personal estimation.  If I can’t avoid the weeds of life – like droll errands – I will find a way to see them as palatable by also doing something I enjoy at the same time…like wearing my me-made clothes.  I will not let the lack of events to attend get in the way of an outfit like this not having an opportunity to be worn!

Staunch in Scarlet

I am normally not in the mood for wearing red unless I want to channel Agent Peggy Carter. That is just me.  It is such a strong statement color, and it is the one bright tone I am truly still not accustomed to yet!  A classic red I reserve for her, my stalwart heroine, in my way of thinking.  Christmas and Valentine’s Day are my only exceptions, as well as any patriotic occasion…which in its own way is related to Peggy Carter via her beau Captain America.  It’s cool that there is a holiday in February (for the United States) where I can tick more than one of my ‘stipulations for me wearing red’ boxes.  President’s Day comes in February on the heels of Valentine’s Day and is close to the anniversary of the first release of the Agent Carter television show.  So here’s a post about a great ‘new’ me-made WWII era dress, sprinkled with a bit of blue and white for good patriotic measure, in an unusual red tone that works for many seasons and celebrations!

My accessories really carry this outfit, I think, and I am very happy how they complement my dress together.  I am proud the hat is me-made at the last hour before these photos.  Understand it’s not a proper ‘sewn’ kind of hat, but neither is it a permanent creation either.  It’s whipped together in a sort of very resourceful 40’s era ‘make-do’ idealology.  I will talk more about it later on in this post.  My shoes are a fabulous true vintage find I bought for only $5 (yes, you read that right).  I have been able to pin their style down to the late 1930s or very early pre-WWII 40’s, due to the heel shape, materials used (woolen fabric and leather), and the high vamp (where it cuts across your foot at the front).  My gloves as well are a true vintage late 30’s or early 40’s cotton twill pair. 

All these items tweak the year on the pattern I used to make it seem (from a historical standpoint) as if this is a style of dress earlier than what it really is for a 30’s spin on a 40’s pattern.  By adding inches to lengthen the dress, as well, I ended out with an overall late 1930’s look, instead.  Usually historical vintage fashion anticipates the upcoming era during decade transitions, but not too often can styles go back in time.  This is an interesting and successful experiment!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a rayon challis for the dress and a sheer chiffon for the hat

PATTERN:  Simplicity #4949, year 1943, from my pattern stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  All I needed was what was on hand – thread, a 22” zipper, and a bit of bias tape

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was made in 8 to 10 hours and finished in September 2019

TOTAL COST:  I bought the under two yards cut of my dress’ material on clearance in my local JoAnn store for only $7.00.  The blue contrast is from remnants leftover from this Burda Style 50’s dress.  The hat’s chiffon was on hand, bought years back for another project not yet made.  I’m counting the scraps and the chiffon remnant as free.

Before I go any further, I need to point out that this dress is so wonderful it is my ultimate go-to 40’s dress.  I actually had to put it downstairs for the time being because I need to give my other dresses some love by wearing them, too!  The lack of a set waist (with a seam) is somewhat unusual and oh-so-comfortable.  The dress is one piece from shoulder to hem.  Added to that is the stretchy side panels cut from a knit.  Combined with the swishy rayon and midi length, this dress feels and wears like the loveliest nightgown.  I added a center back zipper to keep this dress easy and stress-free to put on, as well.  With the side panels in a knit, I didn’t really have a choice but to move the placement of the zipper anyway.  Sneaky loungewear which can also be dressy enough to wear out and about is a gem, especially today.  The colors work for all seasons too, as my grey, navy, or dusty blue blazers and sweaters pair well over this dress.  For only $7 spent and some easy sewing, I really received the most bang for my buck with this project.

Besides changing up to a back zipper and adding length to the hem, I slightly altered the pattern to both make it work for my under 2 yard cut of material and also not break up the floral print on the dress’ front.  There were only four main pattern pieces for this dress so I took the easy way to grade in an extra inch or two anyway and changed up the layout of the tissue pieces.  I didn’t even bother with cutting out the fussy neckline facings, either, opting for simple bias tape finishing.  My fabric was restricting me at only 45” wide.  Luckily, the dress is not bias cut but straight along the grainline.

Instead of having a seam down the front, I cut that on the on the fold.  Yes this eliminated the curvy shaping, but kept the print undisturbed.  In lieu of the original lines, I added a “fish eye” style dart vertically down the front center from the bottom dip of the neckline to taper off into the skirt body at the waistline.  The dart also nicely raised up the originally very low V neck.  The back half was cut as the pattern wanted, and was laid out on the fabric with the wide skirt portion at the opposite end as that of the front.  The short sleeves were barely squeezed out of the portion in between the side seams to the front and the back dress pieces.  There were scraps left which were no bigger than 4 inches.  As I have done time and again, I just made my project idea work out with an inventive tissue piece layout. 

Speaking of pattern layout, I also went rogue when it came to cutting out the side triangular panels.  I barely had scraps of my chosen fabric leftover big enough for the two side waist panels.  It was all that I could manage to cut out the side panels on the bias.  Not that it matters all too much as I was using a 4 way knit, yet it is always important to follow grainlines.  Oh well.  The fact that I kept the seam though the center actually helps keep the knit from stretching overmuch.  I stabilized the seam with a three solid rows of straight stitching while not letting the knit distend under my machine.  Furthermore, I did some small, decorative hand stitching along the seam to help the inside allowance lie flat but still add some subtle beauty.  

The knit panels help this dress hug my curves in a way I adore.  When I was looking through what scraps I had on hand to use which would be the nicest contrast to the rayon print, this dusty blue knit was really the best, most versatile match I came across.  The fact it was a knit was secondary to my choice of color, but I figured that it may help shape this dress into a body-hugging, comfortable, slinky little number.  I was spot on, apparently.  The fact the side panels are in a contrast really do so much to make this a dress which slenderizes a figure.  Seriously, if you want a dress that automatically makes you look like you lost weight, this is the one.  Just imagine if this was in a solid tone for some color blocking.  It deceives the eye to see an hourglass figure smaller than what is really there.  You see the side panels, but the mind centers on the main body of the dress, which at its smallest point, is only a third of what the true waist of the wearer is.  It’s a deviously simple successful design and incredibly fun to sew – the perfect detail to make use of fabric scraps, too!

Now, this style of dress seems to be relatively easy to find.  Since both before and after I have sewn my dress, I have found similar styles both in Hollywood costumes, designer styles, extant vintage garments, as well as through several sewing patterns, some of which are available to buy as reprints today.  If you like this post’s dress, particularly, than you’re in luck because the pattern I used for my own dress can be bought through Eva Dress (see page for it here).  

Yet, the 40’s era side panel dress pattern of the moment through the vintage sewing community seems to be Folkwear Company’s #233 “Glamour Girl Dress”.  However, I just do not see it having the same size-reducing effect as the Simplicity #4949 I used.  Perhaps it’s because of the way the panels connect in the middle into a tie.  I do not have this pattern myself and do not intend to, but the tie front seems to cause too much bulk and excess of material around the waist.  It is lacking the thin, smooth band of material through the middle of my dress which fools the eye into seeing an impossibly tiny waist.  Besides, so many ladies seem to have both fitting and sewing issues with the Folkwear dress, from what I have read and heard first hand from others.  The midsection to the Folkwear dress becomes more of a belt-like feature for ease of wearing rather than a flattering design element as on the Simplicity dress I made.  I will stick with something I have tried already and know I like.  I hope to revisit this post’s pattern in the future to make it in a different way, inspired by the many varieties you see in my collage image.

My hat is actually something I whipped up after seeing some tutorials for such a thing on social media several years back (which is why I no longer remember where it originally came from).  It is only a one-something yard length of sheer chiffon wrapped around two foam styling rolls (like a modern version of a vintage hair “rat”).  I used my “Hot Buns” hair tool, since I had it on hand.  Then I connected the two of them together to form a circle (there are snaps built into the ends so this was easy to do).  I was tempted to buy something a bit more defined in shape such as a Styrofoam ring (used for wreath making).  However, the Velcro-like outside to the “Hot Buns” grabbed a hold of the fabric nicely, just the same as it does to my hair, to help this impromptu hat idea work better than I expected.  I left enough of a ‘tail’ on each side of the ring for this to tie around my hair much like headband.  Otherwise I wrapped the rest of the fabric closely around the “Hot Buns” ring with no pinning or tacking needed to keep in place. 

I think a knit would have worked better than the chiffon for this accessory project, but I’m just happy to have a new, era authentic hat for no cost and no effort, using things from on hand.  I’m practical enough to know I don’t currently have any more room in my hat boxes, so this little head decoration suits me perfectly.  This is a very late 30’s to early 40’s style of hat that can be seen everywhere between that time – from Hollywood, such as the head of actress Ida Lupino in the 1939 “Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” movie, to a home fashions, like this page out of a Sears Catalog from 1940 (see bottom right).  It seems as if such a hat can be also termed as a turban, especially if it was knitted or a soft velvet.  With that in mind, it makes total sense now that it would come together quite easily, not be a permanent millinery piece, and be comfortable, practical glamor to wear. 

Now I suppose it is time to ease off of the fascination for red that the February holidays have brought upon me…at least for now.  Although scarlet tones are not seasonal (I do realize), it’s time to catch up on some more of my Disney inspired “Pandemic Princess” outfits next!  I will return to something more appropriate for the chilly weather we are currently having.  I’ll meet you ‘just around the river bend’…and let me know if you catch the hint!

Light in the Dark

We just recently had the first day of winter in what has already seemed like a very bleak year. Bleh. Yet, with the arrival of this 2020 solstice I am reminded there will only be more daylight from here on out up to the coming of summer.  It’s so close to the end of this miserable year that this fact in itself bestows a great hope, as well.  Holding onto the light in the dark is the only thing that can help us make it through the tough times.  The way the Indian festival of Diwali (of a few weeks ago) is always a close prequel to the date of Christmas became more symbolical than normal this year with the pandemic.  Thus, I went all out and sewed a special kurta tunic dress for both occasions, something which plays on the whole idea of radiance in a season of gloom to bring out the happiness to such holidays.  The gold touches, the pretty bright colors, and especially the shiny ethnic “mirror work” added to my project all combine to make this the most fun and unusually festive outfit I have made yet!  

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  the kurta tunic dress is a block printed viscose, rayon, and cotton blend challis in the palest yellow background with a red trefoil bead print

PATTERN:  McCall’s #7254, year 1994, from my pattern stash

NOTIONS:  Lots of thread and one 22” back zipper…that’s it!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Hand stitching down the trim took me so much longer than the making of the dress itself!  The garment was sewn together in November 20, 2020, and sewn together in 4 hours.  Hand applying the neckline and wrist trimming took me another 5 hours.

TOTAL COST:  Three yards were $30, ordering it direct from India from the Etsy shop “Fibers To Fabric”.  The trim was $4 for 1 yard, from the same shop. Altogether, my kurta cost me under $40.

This Christmas I will be as decked out as our tree with all the symbolism I annually associate for this lovely holiday!  I mostly just want to end the year looking and feeling my best without trying too hard.  This outfit does that for me.  It is in the Indian ethnic style that brings me so much joy and fascination.  Here I am both dressed up yet quite comfy, fancy but covered up to stay warm in the cold, and uniquely dressed in a style that honors India’s traditions as well as my own.  I do always love a slinky 30’s era gown or a strapless 50’s cocktail dress, but this year I was only in the mood for something much more wearable.  I am not yet acclimated to the cold and have no desire to freeze for the sake of fashion.  It is possible to be covered up and warm in winter yet still be jazzed up, too.  I can ‘have it all’ sometimes.

Take some tips from the culture of India when it comes to alternative colors to wear for colder seasons.  Cheerful and bright or even light toned colors are worn for all seasons in (especially Northern) India especially for formal wear, ritual occasions, and by the upper castes.  The beautiful diversity of religions which have existed in India for centuries – Islam, Jain, Sikh, Buddhism, Bahai, Christianity, and more – have provided a collective influence on the general fashion traditions of the greater Hindu impact to the country.  Thus, where Northern India has a greater Muslim influence through Punjab and the Rajput princes, as well as Jains in Gujarat, you’ll often find the colors of orange, red, yellow, and green in their garments.  I welcome this tradition. 

My country often only associates pretty pale tints, pastels, and other bright colors with warm weather.  Climate does not dictate clothing colors in India as in America.  In the darkness of winter, I do find soothing and festive tones can be more uplifting than black for some holiday glad rags. I personally need to be cheered up by what I am wearing in winter more than summer, anyways.  Otherwise it is way too easy to become uninterested, bored, and apathetic at bundling up to stay warm and dressing to deal with inclement weather.  Covering up my clothes with a coat is never exciting, but neither do I like my summer wardrobe to have all the fun.  Channeling, yet all the while understanding, the traditions of India is my happy answer for lovely winter attire.

I am all around festive when you just focus on the general outfit details.  There is bright scarlet hue on the print – and red is just about THE quintessential Christmas color.  It is also the color reserved for those extra special occasions in life for the tradition of India – this years’ Christmas is rather in that place for me.  I need to celebrate the fact I made it through the year this far!  The pale yellow reminds me of the warm glow of my favorite clear lights to decorate a tree.  Added touches of gold fancywork honors the story of the Magi who were guided by the glistening star of Bethlehem to present gifts to a king.  The mirrors around my neck reflect every little ray of light around me just the way I hope to do as a person.  See – it really is a special outfit for me!

In this most recent post, I address the terminology of what a kurta tunic is, and how such is worn and can be styled, so I will not refresh all of that information here.  This time, I merely want to show how such an item is not hard to make for yourself and how it can easily be worn as a modern midi dress, too!  So many patterns you probably have in your own pattern stash would likely work to become an Indian-style kurta tunic dress.  Something with form complimentary lines (such as the princess seamed panels on this project, or merely a tailored fit) and a non-confining skirt are preferred.  This kurta’s full, flared skirt hem makes it especially festive compared to my last kurta with its slim-line silhouette.  This one’s cotton and rayon blended material is certainly not as formal as my last kurta either, with its gold “zardozi” embroidery and silk sari material.  Kurtas come in such a variety for every person’s taste and life occasion.  They are sensible yet beautiful, not over-the-top yet finely decorated, feminine yet simple.  They are so wearable I must share my love for them with you!

The decade of the 1990s especially had a burgeoning plethora of dress and tunic designs which could be easily given a directly appropriate Indian ethnicity.  Why is this the case?  Since the 70’s “hippie” era, fashion has been using as the grossly loose slang term “Bohemian style”. The highly publicized visit of the Beatles to India in the late 60’s for meditation with the Maharishi is well documented to have had a powerful influence of bringing the East’s culture into a new awakening for the West. It took off again in the 90’s as “Boho” – think of Lisa Bonet and Winona Ryder or Gwen Stefani (wearing an Indian “bindi” forehead dot in the video of the 1995 song “Don’t Speak”).  Often that era’s “Bohemian” style has its roots or inspiration coming from the “Fabulous East”, after all, and not truly Czech as it might sound.  “Bohemian” now is often used as a blanket term for not understanding proper ethnicity for loosely Indian referenced clothing under the guise of being “artistic”.  Using the term in that way absolutely repels me. 

Interpreting ethnic styles for yourself is not wicked but it is important to still honor and understand cultural interpretation properly.  Do not throw on tassels, flashy mirror trim, or whatever comes to mind just because you want to follow a fad…and then still call it ethnic, though – that is the not-very-respectful common ideal of “Boho” fashion.  There is a balancing act that needs to be done.  It is always the best idea to error on the side of understanding and consideration than to not do so.

Admittedly, without the trousers or even a longer skirt layered underneath, this kind of kurta could look like your basic western world dress on steroids.  However, I do want the proper ethnic way to wear it which also coincidentally keeps me warmer in the cold, anyway.  The red skinny pants I wore in my day pictures match my jacquard dupatta shawl as well as bring out the color of the block print (which sadly somewhat faded in the first trip through the wash cycle).  The pants are now an older project of mine – these 1950s era jeans I made back in 2018 (posted here).   They do keep my ensemble a very subdued kind of finery.  I did attempt to make a pair of much more posh skinny trousers to bring my look up to the next level (you can barely see them in my night time pictures).  I chose a gold foiled pleather material using a newer Burda Style pattern…and the project turned out to not be the rousing success I had hoped.  They do complement the gold trimming on my dress!  Those gold pants will be posted in a separate post coming soon enough.

My ‘necklace’ and my ‘bracelet’ are both parts of a separate trim applique bought direct from India and sewn directly onto my garment as embellishment.  This makes for ease of dressing.  Yet, adding such mirror work around the neckline or chest is one or the popular ways in India to place such a decoration on a kurta.   I definitely bring a whole disco ball kind of party with me by just the neckline trimming alone!  Little holograms float onto the walls around me while I wear this inside anywhere, bringing a smile to my face which starts from the inside of me.  How many garments can do that?!  No wonder the Jain religion firmly believes wearing such mirror work wards off the “evil eye” and mischievous spirits. 

Mirror work, properly termed as “Sheesha” or “Shisha”, originated in 17th century Iran and means “glass” in Persian.  It is said to have been brought to India through various travelers during the Mughal era.  It is a type of embroidery which attaches small pieces of reflective metal to fabric.  In recent times, mirrors are used but traditionally flakes of mica, beetle wings, polished tin, cut silver slivers or coins of money have been chosen for this purpose.  Different shapes and sizes are chosen to be affixed on to the fabric by special cross stitch embroidery that encloses the mirror, and provides it a casing.  My post’s project makes use of an imported trim that had the mirror work embroidery done on a stiff mesh jute backing, with beading and decorative gold yarns in between.  I merely had to hand stitch around the trim to attach it to my garment’s neck and cuffs for an instant look of the real “Shisha” embroidery.  I realize the 5 hours it took to sew the trim down is nothing compared to what it would have taken me (or another more experienced embroiderer) to work the real thing directly onto what I made.

Mirror work is used to embellish and decorate a variety of items such as saris, dresses, skirts, bags, cushion covers, bedspreads, wall hangings, religious offerings, and more. Mirror work is most common in the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Haryana, hence these three states form the major hubs for mirror work.  In fact, it is a significant enough local craft to Gujarat that it has its own term – “Abhala Bharat’.  Nevertheless, this type of embroidery is widespread in India, but the usage and placement designates the origin.  The Jats of Banni make use of mirrors of varying sizes and shapes to embellish their entire fabric. The Garari Jat community on the other hand, make use of tiny mirrors embroidered on to the yoke of the dress with multicolored threads. The Kathi embroidery of Gujarat makes use of mirrors by stitching them onto either the portion of the eyes in a print of animal faces or the center of a flower.  “Shisha” is probably one of the most flashy and distinctive of Indian decorations and a tradition loved worldwide.

It’s amazing how the trim adds so much ‘wow’ factor to such a simple design!  From the beginning, this was a really an easy-to-make project that became elegant by its lovely fabric and excellent fit.  I didn’t need to do any extra tailoring – it fit me perfectly as-is straight out of the envelope!  So then I go and add the trim and suddenly…bam!  I have a wonderful kurta.  I am tickled at how this looks so much more ‘extra’ than it really felt creating it.  Using both fabric and trim sourced from India to come up with something to properly honor the ethnicity made this a very satisfying project, too, just the same as every one of my Indian inspired makes.

Out of all the traditional holiday attire in red, green, or black that I have sewn before, this one unexpectedly embodies all that I associate and love with the precious end-of-the-year holidays.  For 2020, I needed as strong a reminder as possible to bring me up to remembering everything special to me about such festivities.  The process of creating this was almost like relaxing therapy at the same time because this year had been so different – and the holidays for us a bit altered and low-key – so I might as well go along with everything.  I have been secretly sewing many frothy, princess-inspired, and over-the-top dresses behind the scenes as my ‘quarantine escape’ for most this year, so it was time to slow down, make a change, and make an unconventional low-key holiday outfit which is 100% exactly what I needed at the moment.  I am just plain wiped out at this point in the year – but what a way to end my year of sewing!  Not that one project remotely makes up for what 2020 put me through, but if I end the year with the perfect sewing project for the moment maybe I can feel like something ended on the right note…no?

Here’s to 2021!  Wishing you and those you love a year of happiness and health, with a strong beacon of light in every dark time which may come your way.  See you here next week – next year!

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.