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!

Merry Mary…Quite the Contrary!

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Well, for Merry Mary, who has been passed over, forgotten, and unwanted for her 30 something years of existence, that is a tough pill to swallow.  Sure – she might be a bit gloomy and not the most striking upon first sight.  It hurts to be called ugly, though.  However, Merry Mary had faith that just the right ‘beholder’ would eventually come across her lonely life and see her inner potential…make her feel beautiful…wanted…fulfilled.  She was waiting for someone to tell her, “You are special to me…let’s make memories together.”  Ah, happy endings do and can happen.  Otherwise, Merry Mary would not be having her glorious feature story here on my blog!

You have just read the true yet dramatic story…of a fabric.  Call me crazy (don’t let me hear you say it, though) however anyone who has sewn long enough can understand that fabric can speak to you in curious ways.  This vintage fabric is copyrighted to 1988, carrying the name “Merry Mary” along the selvedge, and was a practically free find in a rummage sale.  It was too good of a deal to pass up – especially being a soft and harder-to-find rayon poplin weave.

Between the unusual print (looking so 90’s in 1988!) and the very useful two yards length, I soon found I was actually excited to sew something of it right away.  A general idea came quite effortlessly.  Of course it was much too tempting, but I paired the fabric with a year 1988 sewing pattern to end up with a project very specifically tied to a certain moment in time.  My first public wearing of the completed modern-vintage dress I made of the fabric completed in my mind the general emotions and background to such a long forgotten material.  Merry Mary’s story until now might be as drab as her muted colors, yet even if I’m the only one who likes it, that’s all that matters!  Beauty is in the eye of beholder and we should not judge others.

Of all the unusual and vintage styles I make and wear, I happily generally garner a pleasant, friendly, or at least curious response and attitude from those who see me.  It’s not that the feedback is what I am seeking when I choose to make what I sew.  I march to the beat of my own drum and create my own clothes to be true to myself and inner creativity.  However, the positive vibes I receive back certainly do help matters.  This 80’s dress is the first garment I have made which is obviously polarizing to passersbys.  Apparently, Merry Mary does not rub off the same way to others as she had for me.  ‘Too bad, so sad’ I independently think, because it is such a comfy dress that has just the right amount of a hot low neckline and a satisfying use of scraps.  Yeah, the gaudy 80s jewelry from my wonderful Grandma might be appropriate to the dress, but doesn’t help people love my look any better.  What can I say…I like to live big!  Nevertheless, it is quite interesting to try and figure out why those sour reactions are the case.  Revisiting the 80’s seems to be so polarizing.

Related to that, I’ll just come out with some personal info for sake of context.  In 1988, I was only just coming into the age when you start to remember life’s big events and exciting occasions.  Looking back at old pictures recently, I never realized my mother wore really classic 80’s fashions back then!  She sported all those wide and padded shouldered looks with the skinny skirts, power sets, and occasionally a wide collared dress.  Of course I am partial, but I think she rocked them quite well from my perspective today.  I do remember, coming from a non-judgmental child’s perspective, all I thought of back then was ‘how pretty my mom is’…no realization of what she was wearing (other than learning from and admiring her ability to fix herself up and put together an outfit!).  Perhaps we need to look at more of the 80’s fashion through more of that innocent perspective and stick to re-imagining it for the people we are today.

I know there are many right now who are all grown up and were children in the 80’s (like me).  I sense that the era is too ‘new’ for that bunch to do anything but find a gag reflex to those styles.  It is common to hate the era you feel is associated with your childhood or awkward teen years!  There were some bad fashion decisions then, I know, I’ll be the first to admit it, and yet I like to keep an open mind.  Check out what the great designers were creating.  Take a fresh outlook on it like I do, interpret it how you would like to have it instead, and own it for our current times.  Look out for the details in 80’s clothing which originated from past decades you do like (such as the 40’s or 50’s).  Realistically, it’s now 40 years since the 80’s and it is due for a refresh to be popping up at some point of this 2020 decade’s ‘fads’.  I’m just sayin’!  Nowadays, what comes ‘in style’ isn’t always what people want – things become popular out of social circumstance and Hollywood influence.  When that does happen, I’m already here for it.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% rayon twill for the floral and poly faux suede remnants (leftover from making this 70’s jacket and sweater vest) for the front and back middle contrast (I used the satin side out)

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8736, year 1988

NOTIONS:  I had all I needed, which was nothing special – thread, interfacing, a 22” zipper, and bias tape

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was finished on December 18, 2019 after spending a total of about 8 to 10 hours to make it.

THE INSIDES:  all cleanly finished in bias tape

TOTAL COST:  A total of only $2                                                                             

This was a total experiment kind of project that I’ve ended up liking because it’s different, it’s comfy, doesn’t look at all as terrible as I was worried it might be on me, and also on account that I took the time and thought to make it in the first place.  If I saw such a dress on the rack of a vintage store, I confess, I probably would not be appealed by it, as it really only comes to life once on a body and fully accessorized.  I took the dive for this design mostly on account of knowing a plastron works on my body and is yet another feature of the 1940s which the 80’s refreshed.  My curiosity of fashion history frequently can only be appeased and sorted out if I create the object in question.

Making my dress was so unexpectedly easy.  It helped this experimental project not place too much stress on being a big success because the time investment was low.  There is no lining, minimal facing, and it is loosely fitting so no precise tailoring was needed.  Also, I was somehow able to make this out of two yards when the envelope back grid suggests to use 3 yards!  Every single piece was butted up against the other, with no room for error, but I did not have to compromise on grain lines at all, luckily.  I only had to shorten the hem line by a few inches.  The front contrast just barely made it out of the remnants I had from using the faux suede twice before, which was very lucky.  Many times I think ahead and plan to leave space around my cuttings for what I might be using in the future…such foresight was not here.  There was nothing but inconsequential shreds left over of both fabrics after some extreme pattern Tetris.  I do love it when a project I don’t hope to revisit doesn’t add to my scrap bin at all!

Due to the loose fitting design (such as those ah-mazing batwing sleeves!), I made a straight size, despite usually grading between sizes for the bust-waist-hips for most other patterns.  The only thing there is to fit is to make sure the hips were no too tight and find a comfortable elastic waist length.  Yes – it has an elastic waist…eww, right?!  That’s what I thought, too, until I realized it is not seen, only covered by the attached waist band which comes out of each side to the pointed bottom of the plastron.  I can deal with that!

It was quite tricky to make sharp, cornered points at the bottom of the plastron because the waistband, the front skirt pleats, and the elastic casing all ends at the same spot on either side, as well…so there was a lot going on there!  I had to do some stitching of those spots by hand to be precise and avoid frustration from trying to lay my dress under the machine just perfectly.  If the rest of the dress came together in the blink of an eye, I don’t mind spending a bit more time on the only detailed spot to the dress.  I didn’t have to deal with a installing a zipper, after all, as this a pop-over-the-head dress.

I found a photo shoot location setting which calls to mind the American suburban shopping malls.  They sure saw their heyday in the 80’s.  Those were the days when you could do more than clothes shopping there – does anybody remember the game rooms, toy stores, pet shops, very Punk-Goth looking “Hot Topic” stores, and “Glamor Shots” photography studios which were in malls during that decade?  Don’t forget the hanging out with friends, and the great people watching!  Ah, those were the days.  That is what I love about re-making the clothes of the 1980s, it brings back good childhood memories I can reminisce in.  I can image myself back in the 30’s, 40’s, or 50’s wearing my older vintage outfits based on what I know and have learned, but I personally did not relive those decades like I did the 80’s and 90’s.  First-hand experience is everything.

I hope I’m re-creating the 80’s in such a way that makes it more appealing than the initial go-around of the decade.  This was a project which stays true to its original date more so than many of my projects, and yet by making it – in what felt like a flash, too – I felt that I owned it in my own way.  I loved letting my full head of hair and dated accessories go towards my advantage to channel the full 80’s effect!  This is probably only a late fall or winter dress due to the colors and suede material, which is good because my cold weather wardrobe is significantly smaller than my current amount of warm weather clothes.  I want to fill up the yearly slots on my decade page for the 1980s anyway!

Stay tuned for a look-alike outfit to follow on the heels of this post’s dress.  As I mentioned above, this style calls back to the 1940’s, so I will be sharing a WWII era twist soon!

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!

…At The River’s Edge

There is something so relaxing to me about being near where I can hear the movement of water.  Of course, as a city dweller I am never really that close to much water.  Maybe that why I appreciate it so much whether it’s a local rambling creek, a man-made fountain jumping enticingly in the summertime, the beaches of Florida (of which I’m a big fan), or the one man-made ‘river’ we have traveling through the heart of south city.  This ‘river’ was the perfect place to go relax, cool down, enjoy myself, and take a few pictures of my most recent sewing treat – a year 1951 dress with interesting seam lines, sewn using a true vintage rayon border print.

The flowers in the border print remind of some sort of tropical, lush beauties.  I like what the color of pink does for my complexion so I wanted this to be on the bodice, which wraps around me in a U-shaped fashion due to the cross-diagonal seaming.  Yet, the directional lines to the rest of the print first struck me as very animal-referenced, but maybe it is more like leaves on plant stems when I think differently.  The animal/stems lend a very proper post-WWII preferred-silhouette of a slenderizing, long and skinny skirt.

Whatever it is printed there, this slightly tropical dress is my new perfect summer dress, which is very ironic.  Usually rayon challis does not hold up well in our hot and steamy summers here – it sucks up too much moisture both from the air and off of me to become limp, wrinkly, and clingy.  Thus, my splurging on myself to use a true vintage fabric was one of my best, yet very wary, idea for trying something new for summer.  I don’t know what era this is from but it doesn’t wrinkle!  It is also a denser weave, and quite tightly stable yet so cool to the touch.  This is unlike any other modern rayon challis I have ever found.  I prefer past styles over newer ones generally already, but now you mean to tell me that old fabrics are much better too?!  I am glad to have this dress in my wardrobe and finally find out the benefits of old-style rayon.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% rayon challis, with a remnant of a modern poly lining for the bodice facing

PATTERN:  McCall #8376, year 1951

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed to make this on hand already – interfacing scraps, thread, bias tapes, buttons, and a vintage zipper from my Grandma’s stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Making this took me about 15 hours and it was finished on May 11, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  This dress has a clean and complimentary interior in pink and blue tiny ¼ inch bias tape along all the raw edges.

TOTAL COST:  Two yards cost me only $7…pretty awesome!

I felt extra pressure to be “perfect” with this make because of the vintage fabric I was using.  I found it at a reasonable price, and it is in very good shape so I don’t feel as if I have to be more careful wearing my dress. No – the pressure came from my respect for vintage and my knowledge that I had no back-up fabric to buy more of if I messed up.  Border prints are a specialty not to be found everywhere as it is, so finding a vintage fabric border print gave me even more of an expectation to find the right match of a pattern, too.  I had plenty of inspiration to go on which you can see for yourself as well here at my “Border Prints” Pinterest board.  The bodice of this earlier vintage year 1943 McCall’s pattern was my main inspiration, what I was going for with this year 1951 make.  Here, as my dress turned out, the floral border was too loose, oversized and not directional enough to make the U-shaped bodice all that obvious, as I wanted.  Oh well, it’s still just as pretty either way.  On the back, the border print runs along the bottom of the bottom of the bodice where it joins to the skirt.

The sizing on this pattern was weird.  Vintage McCall’s patterns are normally always so dependable, well instructed, with fine designs, and can be counted on to turn out great for me, but this one was one of the very few which I have found to run quite small.  I even sized up just to have a safety cushion “in case”.  Luckily, there were 5/8 inch seam allowances which I let out.

My dress’ pattern overall length also ran long, which I left as-is.  I think the longer length is most elegant and very befitting to the transitional 1948 to 1952 period when hemlines were a length they had not been since the early to mid-1930s.  A “several inches above the ankles” mid-calf length hemline like this now seems to be labelled as a “midi” dress nowadays.  It can be awkward on some garment designs, and it seems especially weird from a wearer’s perspective looking down, but generally I think this length is very flattering.  The triple pleats flaring out on each side of the center front skirt give a very gentle hip emphasis to keep the longer skirt from seeming like a straight pencil shape.

I’m guessing the major change I made to the dress pattern is pretty obvious already.  I eliminated the full button-up front closing to instead have a bodice only half-button front (with a zipper in the side, as well).  It wasn’t just because I was a tad lazy and didn’t want to do all those buttonholes and buttons.  I really didn’t want extra busyness to the print and besides – I actually didn’t have enough fabric for a button front!  Two yards was cutting it so close for this pattern…most of the tissue pieces were touching one another laid out on the fabric.  As much as I LOVE pockets, I also had to leave them out for the same reasons as for adapting the skirt.  Luckily I didn’t have to compromise anything else major (especially grainline!).

Eliminating a button placket is pretty easy for being such a visually evident modification to a design.  Most patterns have a vertical line that marks out the center front, the ‘middle ground’ where the two sides lap over and under one another.  It’s normally where the buttons would line up with the buttonholes.  The center front line is the line I placed on the fold, so that I would have one, large continuous front piece.  If you would ever like a seam line in place of a button placket instead, the center front would be the stitching line and a seam allowance would have to be added on.  Many pattern adapting techniques are a lot easier than they look once they are done, and this change-up is no exception.

The minor alteration I made to the overall dress was to add some slight “sleeves”.  Well, technically they’re not full sleeves, the shoulder line was merely extended slightly and the armscye adapted into a rectangle so that my arms would feel a bit more covered.  My upper arms are on the larger side and this seemed to be a feminine dress, so since I had the little bit of extra fabric I would need to make the change, I made easy half-cap-sleeves onto the garment.  This way I also used up every spare square inch of my lovely fabric, too, he he.

With the nice fabric I was using, I took my time with this dress to do only invisible hand work when top-stitching was needed.  This was worth it!  Finding the perfect color thread was not working out, and having a harsh, obvious stitching line was I felt not at all proper for this dress.  I had stitched all along the neckline and buttoning fronts to tack down the facing underneath.  This was the true test of how invisible yet regular I could make my needle do its job!  Also, I hand stitched under to the wrong side the skinny bias tape edge finishing along the armholes.  This was really quite challenging because there were sharp corners and right angles to the opening for the arms very much like another year 1951 dress I made before.

After all the attention I spent hand working on the bodice, I felt I would have been terribly remiss not to spend the same care on the rest – the bottom hem and the side zipper.   I am so ‘sold’ on stitching on hand picked zippers (except when it comes to the ‘invisible’ kind).  I discovered this ever since doing all the “labor of love” intensive work put into this 50’s dress. Such zipper installations turn out so much cleaner, and less bumpy than machine finished ones.  They are less noticeable so that they blend in with the garment as much as possible (unless it’s an exposed zipper!).  One can be so precise with getting a hand-picked zipper to turn out looking every bit as good as it’s intended, it’s worth the extra time every time I finish sewing one.  A bonus on the side is that it gives my machine a break, anyways!

This dress is a continuance of a segment of vintage fashion I suddenly feel I don’t have enough of to wear.  The early 1950s and late 40’s are my current fashion fascination in my sewing.  I love the in-between periods when styles where trying to find the right balance of details and not quite looking like the stereotypical silhouette.  One of my favorite ways of understanding history is to sew.  As I do have a plethora of killer patterns from this time, look out for more of circa 1951 here on the blog (although I must say this is one of the best I think I have yet made from this time period!).  How could I go wrong anyway with a wonderful vintage fabric…in a border print, to boot…sewn with my favorite vintage McCall’s patterns?!