Hawaii of ’59

Riding on the heels of my last post, a play set inspired by the Disney Polynesian princess Moana, here’s a quick little post on yet another tropical outfit – one that is much more elegant, but simpler, yet just a fun and versatile as the last.  I just finished these pieces after being further motivated by my diving into the history of Hawaii, particularly what led up to the year when it became America’s 50th state.  That specific history is sadly rife with colonialism, division, greed, and cultural identity issues.  Yet, Hawaii finally becoming part of the Union in the year 1959 is something to celebrate that deserves its own fantastic outfit here on my blog, especially when I had some amazing fabric a friend brought back for me her trip to the island!  This is my outfit for my pretend getaway while still comfortably staying in my hometown, he he.

My new crop top dates to 1959, but my skirt is my own self-draped design using the Hawaiian fabric from my friend.  She has family ties to the island herself and was excited to see what I would make of it after discussing my ideas for the skirt with her.  This is not a cultural outfit, nor is it trying to be.  This is merely a vintage top infused with a bit of a Hawaiian flair because of the skirt.  Yet, it is enough of a cultural nod with the traditional hibiscus print on the skirt that I wanted to clarify myself.  For these pictures, the local Botanical Gardens’ greenhouse conservatory, the “Climatron”, was my background setting – it was opened in 1960, the year after my top’s pattern, and houses many tropical vegetation. 

Inside the “Climatron”

I have never been to Hawaii myself, so I don’t know anything to compare to location-wise, but at least my fabric is properly sourced.  Even for my last Hawaiian inspired sewing creation (an Ana Jarvis from Agent Carter outfit), I also ordered that fabric direct from a Hawaii barkcloth shop via online.  I always try to make sure a cultural fabric I’m using comes directly from the ethnicity which is my inspiration – it helps the artisans, promotes their craft, and gives proper respect to the heritage.   This is especially important to recognize in light of the fact that yesterday was “Discoverer’s Day” in Hawaii, celebrated on the second Monday in October since 1971 “to honor all discoverers, including Pacific and Polynesian navigators”.  Many experts now believe that the Polynesians ‘discovered’ both North and South America hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus, anyway!  It is important to remember that Hawaii has been annexed as a U.S. territory since 1898, but America has had an interest in the island since the 1840s, so the native cultures have had a long struggle to keep their own traditions and identity alive.  Let’s honor the Polynesian culture as well as Indigenous people!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% rayon for the Hawaiian skirt fabric and a 100% linen (leftover from this 40’s jumper) for the top

PATTERN:  for the top, Simplicity #8460, a year 1959 design reissued in 2017, originally Simplicity #3062

NOTIONS NEEDED:  two 9 inch zippers and lots of thread

THE INSIDES:  The top is all French seamed (even the armscye) and the skirt only has one seam, and that was closely zig-zagged along the edge for a faux serged (overlocked) clean edge

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse was finished on October 4, 2021 and took only about 4 hours from start to finish.  The skirt took me longer, as I didn’t use a pattern – maybe 6 hours altogether – and was finished a few days after the top.

TOTAL COST:  The skirt was reasonably priced for the two yards I had my friend pick up for me (yes, I paid her later) and the linen had been in my stash so long it’s free in my mind!

I am further tying this outfit in with my previous Moana inspired outfit on a basic level because I used the same fabric for part of both sets.  Yes, that is correct!!  That brown jumper I made was originally bright orange like my top because this is what I sewed out of the one yard (plus scraps) that was leftover before dyeing that project a new color.  However, this is much more culturally influenced that that previous set.  Even still, as much as Moana has been the starting point of interest to whatever recent historical inquiries or research I have carried out on the Pacific Islands, she is actually the second protagonist of Polynesian descent in a Disney animated feature.  The first was Lilo with her older sister Nani from Lilo & Stitch.   

These pieces were a refreshing project because I was both going rouge and being inventive.  I have been doing this a lot with my sewing lately.  It keeps my creative juices flowing to draft something myself, or at least interpret a pattern in an unexpected manner.  I went through a bout of no-sewing in July through the end of August, although you wouldn’t have guessed it on my blog.  I have such a backlog of good things I’ve made but haven’t posted so my blog’s supply of material seems endless sometimes!  Anyways, these creative projects that are just what I want to make at the moment are giving me life.  I don’t care if it is October, this is exactly what I wanted to sew and wear.  Luckily, the combo of the orange and the purple here gives me an opportunity to still wear this for the last throes of summer warmth that we often have in October.  I hope to be wearing this set much more again as soon as it gets warm again next year.  For now I plan on wearing the orange top with all my fall season skirts the next month! 

Along that vein, I guess I will dive into the details about my little vintage linen crop top.  The original pattern calls this an “unlined, sheer, short jacket” actually because it is shown sewn in a lace and meant to be worn as a cover up to the included “sleeveless sheath dress” (the base item to this set).  I am surprised the ’59 pattern calls it a jacket.  After all, it is sheer and designed to have an open back with no closures, other than hem and neckline bindings which extend into ties.  I guess this is not much different from a short cropped, no-closure bolero jacket, however looking at the line drawing alone gave me a different idea.  Line drawing are such a basic starting point, devoid of any influence, it always helps me come up with original thoughts.  I chose to see this garment reinvented as a wear-alone top, aka blouse. 

I cut it out with no changes, and sewed it up just the same as I would have if it was sheer lace – French seams inside.  Down the center back, though, I installed a 9 inch zipper which opens up only to the middle of the shoulders and closes at the bottom hem.  Above that zipper, I sewed the center back together just for a few inches only to open up again into a neckline keyhole opening.  This is a top that has a close fitting neckline and the back keyhole vent is just enough for me to slip this over my head.  Only then did I finish the neckline as the pattern directs, with the back neck closing in extended ties that are one with the binding (cut from the same fabric as the top).  I could finally try on the top at this point…only to discover it was terribly boxy and oversized.  It was also much more of a ‘belly top’ than I had realized it would be, only because of the way it was pulled up when I reached up to fix my hair.  The only place it fit was in the shoulders.  I was glad I had saved the hem binding for the last step.

I am wearing my Grandmother’s vintage jewelry set here!

I started fitting it to myself at the side seams, which had originally been very vertical, by tapering in a large 1 inch chunk which started at the hem and ended in the armpit at my original French seam on each side.  Then, I added in under bust darts which come up from the hem and called it done, finishing the edge with similar binding as the neck.  I knew a snug fit would not be ideal here with a tight woven linen and after the way the shoulders fit so comfortably as-is.  So I have my top tailored with a relaxed fit that does its proper job by not flashing others my lingerie…only some of my midsection skin, which I really don’t mind.  As long as my high-waisted bottoms are on, whether a skirt or pants, I am fine!  I love this fun little number.

The skirt is definitely my favorite of the two, nevertheless.  It is so elegant and, best of all, a custom one-of-a-kind design made by me.  This is even better than my self-drafted items because this was draped with myself as the mannequin.  This was tricky, as I was draping in an unconventional manner, but well worth it.  Draping is different than drafting – patterning is optional if you start with a good fashion fabric and very little goes to waste.  Drafting produces a technical design base from which to pattern and cut material to turn it from 2D to something 3D that fits the curves of a human figure.  Draping is a very ‘organic’ way of approaching design because there is no pattern needed and one only has to work with the fabric, and pinch, pin, tuck, dart, or otherwise shape the material as inspired to then fit the body form (in my case, myself).    

What I love about draping is the way the fabric can dictate the design, as was the case for this Hawaiian skirt.  I worked around what would let the print of the pattern shine to its optimum level while still becoming a pleasing and elegant design.  When a fabric is really good – and this Hawaiian rayon is absolutely luxurious – it is best to be attuned to its own “personality” and let it dictate of what it wants to be.  Sometimes, as is often the case for one-off couture creations for famous people, the occasion they have to attend or even the personality of the wearer (think of the MET gala) can be the driving force behind the crafting of a custom draped design.  In this case, a pattern is often made from the designer’s original draping creation, to be patterned up and re-made out of the final fashion fabric by employees.  In my case, I had enough confidence to dive right into my good fabric because I had a general idea of what – hopefully – my final result was to be. 

Two different views of the same front closure – because a zipper in a dart is confusing to show!

I aimed for a design that needed as few as possible seams.  I had two yards of a 35 inch width fabric and wanted to leave it as “untouched” and natural as possible.  I experimented in front of a mirror wrapping and pinching the fabric on myself to estimate what design might work best and also figure out how much (and where) to take out the excess material.  As it turned out, with only four tapered darts, 6 inches wide for a few inches below the waist tapering to nothing for the length of 20 inches, were placed in between the blank spaces left by the upward trailing border print.  The two center darts were turned outward away from one another to create a kind of “sack-back gown” effect.  The next two were turned to run the same direction, thus creating another layer of the “sack-back gown” effect along each side of my hips.  The only other seam, running the full length of the width, was created by stitching the two cut edges together.  This became the center front seam. The zipper was installed into the dart that was also put into the center front, just the same depth and length as the other previous four darts.  As the final step, I turned both selvedges inside by 2 inches and this was both the finished bottom hem and upper waistband.  I was able to fulfill my goal AND fit an aesthetically pleasing layout to my body. 

As I clarified above, I was not trying to make this a cultural garment, but as I was experimenting with draping placement there may have been subconscious inspiration from the vintage early 60’s Polynesian line of sewing patterns.  Many of their dresses have a slight nod to 18th century garments with their frequency of either a gathered or pleated sack-back to their Hawaiian muu-muu dresses.  Check out pattern no. 150, pattern no. 183, or the popular no. 121 (as modeled on the fantastic Tanya Maile) for just a few examples.  I will admit, I have the 18th century on my mind…I just finished a 1780s gown and just planned out a pattern for a shorter hip length sack-back gown (called in French a “pet-en-l’air”; see picture below at right).  A ‘watteau back’ is formed by wide box pleats hanging from a high shoulder yoke and extending to the hem in an unbroken line.  I translated this into a skirt form, unintentional at first then only realizing it as my skirt was coming along. 

Wide watteau pleating really makes the fabric print look like it was meant for this design, I think, but the true effect comes to play when I walk in this skirt.  It has a controlled flow around me in a way that makes me feel like a queen and silently, happily squeal inside.  The visual impression is still slimming because of the straight, tapered, and columnar effect of the front half of the skirt that the side pleats form.  There is something so indescribably graceful to authentic hula, and that was the elegance I wanted to translate into my Hawaiian fabric skirt.

I hope you enjoyed this tropical foray for these last two posts, and that whatever the weather you may have where you live, your day was uplifted for a few moments.  I will be continuing the rest of October with more posts related to the stereotypical seasonal celebrations of the month – such as fall, Halloween, and princesses with Germanic heritage to their stories.  I hate to see summer go, every dang year, though.  I always make sure to send out the warm weather with some grand finale outfits, and this year’s creations were especially delightful in more ways than one. 

Thanks, as always, for reading and following along! 

Meet Ana Jarvis

There is perhaps no individual so enjoyable and immediately likeable in the television series “Agent Carter” as Ana Jarvis.  (I’m not counting Peggy Carter or the delightful Mr. Edwin Jarvis, the two headliners for the show, in this comparison…they are of course fantastic in their own right!)  Ana was the devoted wife of Mr. Jarvis, the butler and all around assistant to the inventor Howard Stark.  Her escape from the Nazis in Hungary at the outset of WWII is a tear-jerker.  The character of the sweet, compassionate, and spunky Ana Jarvis really captured the show even when she was just a mention in Season One before we saw her in person for Season Two.  The very first moment we meet her on screen (played by the Dutch actress Lotte Verbeek) she is so full of life…and her bright and fun wardrobe choices reflect her personality.  Anyone who has a garter that doubles as a gun holster is definitely quite the character!  Check out the colorful recreations of Ana’s clothing choices that I have already made – my first, my second, and my third.

For that first sighting of Ana in “The Lady of the Lake” episode, she was wearing “Green Kimono” print rayon crepe blouse from fall 2014 made by the vintage reproduction clothing company Trashy Diva.  It was paired with a 1940s style box pleated pencil skirt in a complimentary green tone.  Her curly hair was twisted up to the top of her head, with hoop earrings and a simple necklace.  After years of searching, I am happy to have recently acquired a copy of the same Trashy Diva blouse Ana wears on screen (much thanks to a hot tip from a good friend) in both my size and preferred price range.  Then, just last week, I made my own matching green skirt to match.  Now I have a true-to-screen outfit of my very own!  This is so exciting!!  Most of all, it was simple to come together once I had the perfect Agent Carter RTW garment to come my way.  I can make a skirt – no problem!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  one yard of an all-rayon twill with a satin finish

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8508, a reprint from the year 1948, originally Simplicity #2323

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The skirt took me about 4 hours to cut and make, and it was finished on September 20, 2021

THE INSIDES:  clean as could be – bias tape covers the seams and vintage rayon binding covers the hem

TOTAL COST:  The fabric was bought at a rummage sale where material is sold by the pound, so this was probably only $1.00!

First off, I want to point out a few important things.  I have already harped on the pattern I used for the skirt in this post here, although most of my critique was directed at the suit jacket.  I have not used this pattern before now – in that post I was merely comparing the reprint with the original design and pointing out ‘flaws’ in its modern implementation.  Yet, at the same time, I heavily changed up the skirt pattern and rather used it as a guide for me to draft my own similar pencil skirt.  Thus, do not look at this as a true review of the pattern.  I was working with only one yard of material, when the envelope back calls for just shy of two whole yards!  Yeah, I was really stretching my ability to reduce a pattern’s fabric need here.  This was a case of finding the perfect fabric which also happens to be in the wrong amount (too little), and I was determined to make things work.  Also, I just love drafting skirts!

I only used the pattern as a guide to the general shape and fit I needed.  I layered the front and back pattern pieces together at the sides, matching up the seam lines but also eliminating the side seams.  Instead I traced out two side darts instead for shaping the hips – the space left open from matching together the side seams needed to be brought in somehow.  A small 7 inch zipper was hand stitched into the left side dart.  I also then laid out the center back on the fold rather than have a seam.  It has a straight seam anyways, as most 40’s skirts do, since all of the shaping is in the side seams and the over-the-booty darts which come out of the waistline.   Even if I wasn’t on a crunch to make this idea work on one yard I love the smoothness of paring down seams on such a luxurious fabric that is this rayon twill.  This is the way that the pencil skirts of the 1950s and early 1960s work – as few major seams as possible.

Finally, the center front box-style pleat had originally been mostly incorporated into the main body of the skirt but I did not have enough room on my fabric layout for that.  Instead, I cut the pleat to be its own panel.  It is seamed into the skirt down each side of the center front cut down the main body (so there are no seams within the pleat itself).   I based my new panel off of the small add-in piece given for the lower half of the pleat, extending it to run the full length of the skirt (from waist to hem).  This piece was cut out of the top half of the fabric leftover from cutting the main body – the benefits of working with a wider 60” selvedge.  My pleat panel was 22” wide at the hem, tapering to 18” wide at the waist, by about 27” long, the length of the skirt.  My new extended panel worked out better for the way I wanted my skirt’s pleat to open up at a much higher point, 7 inches down at the level of my hips, rather than the pattern’s markings for the pleat to open up lower mid-thigh, 7 inches above the hem.  I still kept the original pattern’s below-the-knee length, which is too short to truly be from 1948, yet perfect for Ana Jarvis’ early 1940’s aesthetic.  After all, Ana’s Trashy Diva blouse is listed as “modeled after a year 1937 vintage pattern”.

I was literally left with almost nothing left at this point, so I had to do multiple piecing to end up with a waistband.  The rayon is buttery soft, so with a bit of ironing out of the seams, and with interfacing attached to the backside, you’d never guess how I cobbled a waistband together.  This was practically a zero-waste project.  It also happens to go with SO many other blouses and tops in my wardrobe.  I’m wondering how I ever got by without this skirt before now.

The final silhouette of my skirt has a bit more of a ‘tapered hem’ than what the original would have been if I followed the pattern faithfully.  The center front pleat is much softer of a look – no matter how much pressing and steaming I did – than the seamed two-piece pleat the original pattern designed.  Nevertheless, I made this work on one yard and I adore the slimming, curve-hugging, comfortable and cute skirt I ended up with, even if it is different from the pattern.  Whenever I invest more than the norm of my own creativity into something, I enjoy it all the more…especially when it is Agent Carter themed!

To keep up the Agent Carter theme, I am wearing Peggy’s color of lipstick #104 “Always Be True”, the bright “Red Hot Red” by Besame Cosmetics.  This was a color which was part of the special “Field Agent” lip kit box offered through Besame several years back now.  In the series’ episodes, Ana shared her dress ideas with Agent Carter when she had events to attend and missions to accomplish.  I can completely see Ana being influenced by Peggy in turn with something like a lip color!  I am also wearing vintage mid-century hoop earrings and my reproduction Chelsea Crew brand double strap mustard yellow heels. 

I am happily surprised at how lovely the Trashy Diva blouse is – this is my first item from this brand.  The rayon crepe de chine is absolutely lovely, and the details are very nicely done.  The label says to dry clean it, but I washed this by hand in cold water with a gentle detergent (no long soaking) and it turned out just fine after drying it flat.  Although the insides are modernly overlocked (serged), I am pleased enough to feel like they are a good option to my own vintage sewing…and this is saying a lot!  They seem to either hold or gain in monetary value over the years so they are a worthwhile investment for your closet.  Rarely do I feature a ready-to-wear item along with my sewing creations in my blog’s posts, but there is a very good reason for doing so this time – because of Ana Jarvis – not just because I am absolutely thrilled with it!

It’s funny how a well-written, well-played fictional character can become seemingly real and larger than life.  Agent Carter as a series is the best example of this occurrence as a whole, speaking from my limited experience with television shows.  The helpful Ana Jarvis is a grounded, more pragmatic temper for many of the spirited personalities around her, especially when there are dangerous missions to undertake.  Even still, for all her practicality, she is wonderfully artistic and creative in her tastes and appreciation of culture.  Mr. Jarvis did a world of good saving her life and giving her his wholehearted love, and Ana in turn shares with so many others such admirable understanding and affection. Peggy might be the heroine of the series but Ana is a wonderfully relatable character.  I find it an honor to step into her place for a while through the wearing of her wardrobe.