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?!

“Retro Forward” Burda Style: Kimono Jacket

Why is it that the nicer or the more unusual the fabric is, the more pressure there is to choose the perfect pattern to make something of it?  Sometimes this pressure can sadly prevent me from getting around to sewing projects I would want to pick up immediately!  At the same time, I do try (unsuccessfully at times) to avoid the stereotype pitfalls (such as copying the envelope cover, for one) and stay creative with my makes…true to my own tastes and ideas.  However, I cannot resist some killer vintage inspiration!  This perhaps sort of explains why I made the quick and sudden decision to use a very special and unusual rayon fabric to make a somewhat simple, unfitted, unlined jacket.  Sewing this had went against my normal practices for my sewing, but I love the outcome.

This jacket amazes me by the way I went from each end of the emotional perspective from its beginning being sewn to the final photo shoot.  I started out as very skeptical of the pattern and rather dismissive to the fact that it vaguely appealed to me, only because the sizing was for tall women (which is definitely not me).  Then, finding a Burda Style contest became the other enticement to try this pattern.

After the jacket was done (in one evening, mind you!), however, I was disappointed when trying it on.  Not that it didn’t fit and turn out great – I was tired, it was a late night, and didn’t know what to pair it with, nor did I know if it looked complimentary on me.  After a good night’s rest and a new perspective the next day, I happily found several neat combinations my jacket can be paired with (in this post, a “White House, Black Market” strapless brocade dress is worn underneath).  I finally felt justified for my time, effort, and sacrificing of my precious fabric with my going out on a ledge here.  Besides, I am still trying to have a good relationship in completely liking and understanding peplums, and how they do work on me.  This was like an “I’m getting to know you, peplum” project.  Now, I am actually a bit frustrated in a good way because I love my new jacket and want to find occasions and opportunities to wear it.  This is a good problem, though, I suppose!  Can’t let a new favorite just hang lonely in my closet, now can I?!  Especially not when it’s made of fabric like this!  (Pictures don’t do it justice, by the way.)

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  A 100% rayon, with a slight, soft, crushed wrinkle throughout.  It also has a dull metallic (like an oil slick kind of sheen) finish on one side with a crepe-like matte finish on the other.

NOTIONS:  I had the thread, elastic, and hook-and eyes needed on hand already.

PATTERN:  Burda Style “Short Sleeve Jacket with Plunging Neckline, #107, 04/2015“

TIME TO COMPLETE:  I only spent about 4 hours to whip this jacket together, not counting taking care of the pattern (tracing and re-grading).  It was finished on July 29, 2015.

TOTAL COST:  This fabric was bought on deep clearance when my favorite Hancock Fabric store was closing.  I bought 2 yards of this fine specialty fabric for only about $5.

The pattern for this jacket can be found in their May 2015 magazine, on the insert page for tracing out or at their online store as a buy-and-download printable PDF file.   It was originally part of the “Design Academy“ Collection” (one of my favorite Burda pattern collections! I have made 4 of them…), but then it was up for everyone to try and make to have a chance to be the new “cover” in their “2nd Ultimate Member Model Challenge”.  If you visit the page for the jacket pattern, you can see that I didn’t win.  Nevertheless, I have my own prize…I was prompted to make something I would definitely not have tried on my own gumption, something that I am glad I have to wear after all is stitched and written!

It is a pattern made in tall sizing, which is one reason why I dismissed it at first as I mentioned above.  However, I figured out the proportions for tall as compared to myself looking over their measurements chart and suddenly the sizing made sense.  What I needed to do was the opposite of the up-grading I’ve done for juniors’ designs – I add in 2 inches between the shoulders and waist for petite and juniors’ patterns so this tall ladies’ pattern needed 2 inches taken out instead, between the same spots.  Folding out one inch at a time in two different horizontal segments did the trick, at the chest and just above the waist.  I did also lengthen the peplum by about two inches as well so I would avoid having it too short to completely cover my hips.  I didn’t want the peplum to pouf out awkwardly, but it’s still so gathered, in the back of my mind, I secretly wonder if it really sticks out like some sort of ballet tutu anyway (so I think in the back of my mind).

Styling can be deceiving, but this is a ridiculously simple and easy to make jacket.  It is unlined, and there are only 4 major pieces to use.  The lapels are all-in-one with the front and only an easy facing finishes it off (I used the matte side for a cool contrast).  There is no expert tailoring needed.  It is comfy, loose and unstuffy yet looks put together and fancy in a nice everyday sort of way (meaning, it can look just as good paired with jeans and a tank or over a good dress)!  This is why I feel this pattern is a good opportunity to use a really nice fabric.  As much as I try to save those complex or even stunning designs for equally killer fabric, this jacket has convinced me there is another option.  Choose versatile and easy-to-make patterns which both will let the fabric shine and will see more use than that special-occasion-only jacket.  Besides, using a simple design makes things more fail-proof, somewhat…or so we can hope, right?!

Kimono sleeves always make for such an easy bodice assembly, great reach room, and complimentary curving for the shoulders.  Kimono sleeves in the fashion world necessarily have no direct association anymore to the traditional Japanese garment that it uses in its label.  Now a kimono sleeve is commonly meant to designate a sleeve that is drafted as one with the bodice, with no armscye, and a deep taper under the arm that usually ends at the waist.  This double interpretation is so ironic especially since the word “kimono” literally means thing to wear” or “clothing”!  As Kimono sleeves do offer a looser arm and bodice silhouette, they were a frequent feature used in many women’s garments of the 1950s.  This is why a 50’s suit jacket in a strikingly similar green was my main inspiration (as seen on the far left, below) which gave me the gumption to use my precious fabric.  It wasn’t the only one, however, the many other wide lapel, waist closure, kimono jackets and blouse-like wraps of the 50’s I was finding gave me the strong feeling that this is very vintage-inspired, which is why I am including this project in my ongoing blog series “Retro Forward with Burda Style”.  Peplums, too, were a preferred feature to the 1950’s when exaggerated hips were wanted to contrast visually with the tiny wasp waists women were expected to have.

However, at the same time, as I said, there is a blousiness to this Burda Jacket – a lack of the impeccable body fit that much of the 1950’s was all about.  So – I also see an influence of the 1980s and early 1990s on its style.  Technically, these eras are now over 25 years old, thus as weird as this feels to me, they are vintage now!  Peplums were also a feature of these two eras, most especially the 80’s, but the clothes in general were a lot baggier…even when they were generally fitted.  Suits of that time were not the impeccable outfit that you were supposed to sit pretty in.  They were unassuming and meant to move with you…the feeling I get when wearing this Burda Kimono jacket.  My preliminary inspiration might have been 50’s, but I think the 80’s and 90’s influence wins out here with the shiny, bright, almost neon green of my jacket.

The most challenging part of the jacket was figuring out the closure method for the double-breasted wrap-front waist.  Not that it was really that hard, either.  It’s just that the elastic gathered waist added an element of difficulty.  The waist seam made its own casing for the elastic when you sew it down, so luckily there wasn’t any more bulk than there needed to be and that was pretty simple.  I didn’t want buttonholes to pull on buttons, or snaps that could pop apart, so I used the most basic hook-and-eyes that I had (about ½ inch, large size 3) to make sure the closures wouldn’t get buried among the gathers.  I used the spring of the elastic to work in my favor here, because hook merely has to find the eye and I let go – the elastic pulls it closed for me!  The first inner hooking was easy because I just had to find a comfy fit around my waist, but with the overlapping second hook it was much trickier.  You need to keep a certain amount of the elastic to still stretch between the two closures to make the waistline seem evenly gathered.

I stuck to the casual feel of the jacket and left the inside edges raw and free, to do their own ‘thing’.  My reason for doing so at first was because I decided to add one more project to the sewing contest as well and I only had one more night to get it done.  Nevertheless, the fabric really doesn’t fray that much but for some weird reason, I – the perfectionist herself – actually like the soft, imperfect, and handmade feel of seeing and knowing those seams are left as they are.  Yes, as I said up at the top of my post…this totally is not my normal sewing practices.  You know, though, it feels good to change things up and gain a new perspective!

Making a style you’re unsure towards is hard enough, then to turn it around and actually find a way to have it work for you is a difficult and satisfying thing to achieve.  For a seamstress, taking the time to make a new style, especially when it needs a tricky size adjustment, or using a special fabric which would not be seen otherwise, is both a perk of sewing one’s own wardrobe and a scary challenge because it opens you up to the possibility of either failure or success.  Luckily this project was a victory, but if it wasn’t, I would have worked my way through it because an idea (and a good fabric) is worth it.  Keep those ideas coming everyone and don’t be afraid to make something out of that notion that popped into your head!  Nothing in the sewing world is off limits to have a crack at if you put your mind to trying and succeeding.

Autumn Maize

The thing that many downward spiraling leaves and a dizzying corn maze have in common in the season of fall is a golden rich hue.  I’m talking about the color called “saffron” that has been popularly seen everywhere beginning in the early fall of this year…it’s also called mustard, goldenrod, and harvest gold among other things.  However, I love word puns, so I’d like to associate my dress as being more the color of the traditional grain maize, with a title that calls to mind one of the joys of autumn that a field of corn can provide!

This dress is so comfy, the skirt is so swishy, and the details are so unique I can’t help but love it, although I’ll admit it was a bit hard to like at first because it is so quaint and more blatantly dated in style than much of what I make.  This dress does have rick-rack and an obvious vintage metal zipper in the side closing, after all.  Nevertheless, I enjoy trying novel things, and that includes new styles, new colors, new sewing pattern companies, and new techniques.  This dress has all of that in one project…so hooray for a feminine and fun vintage dress in the latest color for those warm “Indian Summer” days of fall!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% rayon challis

PATTERN:  American Weekly No. 3545, circa year 1941

NOTIONS:  I had all the thread I needed, and the oversized rick-rack and vintage metal zipper I used were from my existing stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Even with the tricky paneling and added rick rack, this dress was still relatively easy, made in 8 to 10 hours and finished on September 10, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  All the seams are either enclosed in bias tape or French finished, with just the armholes left raw edged. 

TOTAL COST:  This was bought at Jo Ann’s Fabric store within the last few months, for a total of about $10 to $12.

That American Weekly dress pattern has been stumping me for the last few years since I bought it.  As much as I liked the design and wanted to make a garment of it, I could not figure out how to picture myself in the dress or get past the example drawing to see my own interpretation.  On a completely different strain yet a similar situation, when I bought the golden floral rayon, I loved it and knew what era of vintage it would be perfect for – the late 30’s to early 40’s.  Yet once it was brought home, I realized I was stumped with how or what to make of it.  Both the pattern and the fabric were dually stumping me in their own ways.  Maybe this is why the two of them felt right for one another in some vague way when I was sorting through my pattern stash for ideas!  I am so glad I have found a way to conquer the rut I was in and make something I love wearing!  For me, pairing a pattern with fabric and notions is something deep down inside I can’t always pin down, a sort of creative intuition.  No matter what I want to do, sometimes I need to wait for right moment of inner approval for me to sense that I have made the perfect match.  Many times the process of a project coming together is different, such as pairing fabric off first, or being inspired by the notions or merely a picture, but it all feeds my creative intuition that keeps cranking out ideas which keep me going.

Although I see it mentioned nowhere at all on the pattern, when I was doing my preliminary fitting of the tissue pieces I realized this was a petite Junior miss pattern, not in adult proportions in other words.  I can’t help mentally pat myself on the back for finding this out ahead of time and not just whipping it up.  Never assume too much when it comes to vintage patterns!  Check them out fully and figure them out before you reach for those cutting scissors, especially with old mail order patterns…I’ve made enough to know by now you can’t exactly know what to expect.  I retraced the pieces out onto my roll of sheer medical paper so I could then cut, tape, and otherwise re-size the pattern.  I suppose this time I had an obligation to preserve this pattern by being ‘forced’ to make a copy if I wanted to sew a dress out of it!

The sizing read as a nicely “normal” bust-waist-hips combo for me, and it should have technically been a tad big.  Just to be safe, however, as well as to have bigger seam allowances than the given ½ inch, I did add some ease to the side seams.  Good thing I did this!  Even with the extra width, the pattern still ran small enough to fit perfectly…I would not want it any more snug, especially in the hips.  Apparently not only is their sizing chart off when it comes to the finished dress but there was not a designation for body height sizing either.  McCall’s and Simplicity would use the term “junior’s” on their patterns and generally would be in the small sizes like a 30” bust.  My pattern was a size 16, for a 34”-28”-37” body, so it was not a small size by vintage standards.  Although there have been other mail order patterns I have come across which had some mysterious, slightly shortened proportions, this pattern was so short…it made it look so tiny!  It needed over two inches added to bring the bust, waist, and hips down to where they needed to be.  Just how many American Weekly patterns are actually in a junior’s size and no one would know the better until the tissue pieces get fitted on someone?

Sizing complaints aside, American Weekly patterns were offered through a Sunday supplemental magazine of the same name produced by Hearst for inclusion in their newspapers – kind of like the modern day “Parade” leaflet.  At one point, it was billed as having a circulation of over 50,000,000 readers!  Apparently this magazine only offered patterns from circa 1940 through the 1950s.  As I can find proof of one of the first American Weekly patterns, dated to year 1940 with a number that slightly precedes the numbers on this post’s pattern, I am pretty certain at dating my dress as year 1941, when the patterns just started being offered (besides basing the date on the style).  My instruction sheet says that their patterns only come in 5 sizes for anyone between a 30” to 38” bust, so that is not a whole lot of variety!  The actual construction directions were some small line drawn pictures and several brief paragraphs of text – not much for those you who would need assistance.  American Weekly patterns do have some really lovely styles, nevertheless!  Nothing I’ve seen is really is jaw-dropping, but they strike me as subtly complex and harmoniously designed.

Enough facts…look at the dress’ lovely details!  It has mock tabs on the hem of the gathered-top sleeves, and a mock-jacket look to the body.  The curving to the bodice panels was amazing on the pattern and really make for an interesting, unusual, yet quite complimentary fit.  The dress elongates the bodice and puts emphasis on the hips, yet the full skirt and wide, strong shoulders (thanks to the sleeve tabs) balance it out.  The bodice dips lower in the back than in the front, but as the hips turned out snug, this feature is not as obvious as I’d liked.  The skirt is 6-gored for a very pre-WWII fullness, with each of the skirt seams perfectly lining up with the bodice darts in the back and the two bottom points to the bodice angles in the front…simply marvelous symmetry of design.

This sure gave me an opportunity to use up a pack of giant rick-rack from my stash of never-touched notions in order to make sure the lines of the panels didn’t get lost!  The points, curves, and corners of the dress sections were tricky already, made trickier by the rick-rack, but I just love the interest the exposed notches create.  I probably could have achieved sharper points had I not included the rick-rack but – oh – how it brings this dress to a whole different level I’ve never had before!

Previously, I always had this idea that rick-rack was very home-sewn distinguishable, and for feedback dresses or aprons, even though I do have a generous stash of it.  I tested rick-rack out on this 1945 top, loving the results, and the more I’ve recently looked at really creative uses of the stuff, the more I felt I need to dive in with a major project, and that this was the one.  Similar dress designs from about the same time frame use the “half-rick-rack” method on the edges (see Marion Martin #9547 and my fabric inspiration dress New York #1368 from the late 30’s/early 40’s), so it seemed like the proper thing to do for a style like this anyway!  Adding the rick-rack was really time consuming, especially as I went to the extra trouble to tack the points down to the fabric so they would lay flat nicely.  I realized after the dress was done that the rick-rack actually does much to stabilize the bodice seams of shifty rayon, thinking practically.  Going out on a limb can be so amazing when it’s this successful.

“Three inch hem” according to the instructions, my eye – the dress, unhemmed, came down to my ankles!  I ended up doing a hand-sewn hem that was actually 8 ½ inches deep (see picture above at “The Facts”)!  Initially it was because I didn’t want to cut that much off my dress, but then I realized by making the wide hem it actually helped the dress immensely.  Firstly, the wide hem weighs down the otherwise very full and floaty skirt.  It keeps me from having a “Marilyn Monroe” moment of my skirt coming up on me and gives it a very feminine swish when I walk and especially twirl!  Secondly it makes my skirt opaque, much like a self-lining, so my lingerie slip doesn’t always have to be the perfect length.  Lastly, I didn’t have to commit permanently to a certain length.  I like my clothes to have the versatility to be tailored and changed if need be so that they’ll be something I’ll be happy with and fit into for many years.

One of the good surprises to this dress is actually how versatile it is to accessorize.  In these photos, I went for the brown and snow white tones, but is also works well with black shoes and earrings, as well as dusty greys as well as maroon brown-reds or orange tones.  My two-tone, brown and cream, slingback spectator heels are actually a good example of how the 1970’s era can imitate the 1940s era so closely the difference is almost indistinguishable.  What I like about 70’s-does-40’s shoes are the chance of finding them in a much more wearable state, as well as cheaper prices!  The rest of my accessories are true older-era vintage, however.  My gloves, my earrings, and the little beetle brooch are all from my Grandmother, while the 40’s hat is my very first vintage piece of headwear I acquired from a second-hand shop so many years back now.  It’s so hard to find brimmed hats from the 40’s and earlier in decent condition, and this one is a winner that has some stunning petersham ribbon decoration to boot!  In fall weather my allergy sensitive nose needs attention too, so I couldn’t resist grabbing this lovely seasonal handkerchief from my collection to pair it with my outfit for the day!

Yellow does have the connotation (at least so I’ve heard) that it does not “work” for many people, but I think this stylish golden hue is a bit more promising than other ochre shades!  Granted, I suppose I am a bit biased…I have made a hat in this shade already!  Besides, I know that just because something is pushed as a style ‘trend’ or ‘fad’ doesn’t mean people really like it on their own terms, after all.  My hope is that I have presented an attractive way to style and accessorize this golden maize color, though.  I have taken what is on trend, and interpreted it for myself using the way the past had done it before.  What goes around comes around and fashion is persistently resurfacing in surprising ways.  In the hands of someone who sews, fashion is whatever you make it!  Are you or have you worn a similar golden tone, or have you used your sewing talents to find a way to better like a style or shade of color?

1941 Convertible “Pinny”

Sorry, but this is not a name for an unusual kind of motor vehicle, it’s just referring to an unusual, yet very useful and attractive kind of garment which I have made!  I now have a pinafore dress whose “top can come down”.

Don’t take that the wrong way – all I mean is that this 40’s pinafore has been made so that it can come apart to be two separate wearing pieces if I so desire.  After all, as much as I unabashedly wear this pinafore set out and about, I’ll admit it’s not something I’d want to wear in its entirety in every social setting.  This way, I really don’t have to change completely…just change tops for a new and updated look.  Such a dress, made the ‘convertible’ way, completely transcends the almost 80 year time gap, making it truly something that is ultimately useful and sensible…the goal of a pinafore anyway.  I believe I have nailed a way to bring the pinafore to the modern wearer.  I managed this outfit all on 2 measly yards, too.

Guess what makes this even more up-to-date?  There is a hidden division to this pinafore where the top and the skirt attach at the waistline – above it is authentic to year 1941, below it is a modern Burda Style pattern.  Together, they both complement one another to the point that they even the other out, like a good marriage.  I see the modern bottom making the vintage top more like a trendy “Shabby Chic”, and the ’41 pinafore top bringing out subtle past references from the current design.  Separate, each of the two pieces work well with others (in my wardrobe I mean) making sure one or the other sees the light of day more frequently than not.  As much as I make what I like, I do always try to make garments that are still practical on some level to keep things from just hanging in my closet.  After all, there’s no use in making something to wear if you won’t wear it, right?  And remember – having the gift of sewing open up the opportunity for limitless ideas and customization.

If you haven’t seen my previous post, or if you haven’t encountered this weird ‘thing’ I’m calling a “pinny” (which is short for pinafore), I’d recommend you head on over a read it, please, for an explanation. Face it, a pinafore is smarter than modern clothes anyway, because at least it has giant pockets that really do fit a smartphone (little would a woman of the 1940’’s have guessed such a use)!  It’s every bit just as comfy, probably more so in my estimation, and a lot more fun!  Finally, the way I made it, all I can say is thank you to the person who invented snaps and hook-and-eyes, however, because otherwise this two-piece dress would not have been possible!

In most pictures, I am pairing the pinafore with a vintage rayon scarf to keep my hair in place, and a vintage necklace of mother-of-pearl oblong beads with matching mother-of-pearl carved earrings from my Grandmother.  My newest favorite shoes, lovely Re-Mix “Dara” 40’s style wedge sandals in burgundy red, are a comfy and colorful option for casual class!  I am also sharing some other photos of just a few of the endless outfits that match with my new favorite me-made – this pinafore!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  2 yards of 100% rayon challis floral in rose garden print, with a solid navy 100% cotton broadcloth for lining the skirt pockets and underside of the pinafore top body

PATTERNS:  Advance #3152, year 1941, for the top pinafore bib half, and then Burda Style’s “Pocket Skirt” #105, from February 2017, for the bottom half

NOTIONS:  I used a card of size 2 snaps as well as 4 of those flat, slide-closed, waistband-style hook-and-eyes around the waist.  I used PLENTY of navy thread, and a little interfacing along with some mesh netting as another kind of stabilizer (more on this down later).  There is a vintage metal zipper for the pinny bodice, and a modern zipper for the skirt (even my zipper choices attest to the fact of which part of my dress is vintage and which is not).  Everything I used was extras on hand and came from my stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was made in July 2017 in about 15 to 20, which is not bad at all for all the gathering and extra trouble to make this into two separate garments.  This sound cliché, but to tell you the truth I wasn’t really counting time because I was enjoying myself…until it came to the snaps and hooks…ugh!

THE INSIDES:  So nice and clean!  All seams to the whole dress are either covered by fabric facings or in bright, rich burgundy red bias tape.  I do love the flash of color the bias tape gives when my tiny hem is seem as my skirt blows or I sit and bend over.  Surprise!

TOTAL COST:  This fabric was bought from Jo Ann’s store for about $12 and the cotton was just a few dollars more.

After my recent jumpsuit that I divided up into two pieces, I kind of knew the premise of how to make my pinafore a two-in-one.  The biggest complications were the facts that both top and skirt of my pinafore needed zippers, and the droopy challis wasn’t going to cut it as stand-alone ruffles without a supple support.  The skirt was whipped up first – practically a few hours in one afternoon – and then the pinny came in second.  As I was making this pinafore, I was severely doubting whether this was a total waste of time.  I’ve never really made a pinny before, unless you count my Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz” apron, so how did I know that I would love it once it was done, tried on, and accessorized?

The pinafore pattern I used was in a size too big for me, and, from my experience, smaller brands like Advance run on the large size.  However, as this should also have the capability to be worn over a blouse and be loose and comfy anyway, I only cut off 3/8 inch (the seam allowance amount) from the side seams and it still ran roomy with my sewing in ½ inch allowances.  I went a size up than my “normal” Burda Style skirt size, to match with the roomy waist of the pinafore top.  The generous waist pulls in nicely with a belt when worn alone, and doesn’t need pulling in when it’s attached as part of the whole pinny.  The awesome belt loops save the middle of my divided pinafore.

Technically I could count this as part of my ongoing “Retro Forward with Burda Style” blog series because the skirt’s lovely arched pockets have continuous cut-on belt loops for the waistband much like several 40’s patterns I have come across.  Advance 4344 or Vogue 7519 have very similar pockets.  I faced the entire wrong side of the pocket in the navy lining cotton, and it’s a good thing because the pockets have a wonderful flare out to add shape to the skirt silhouette besides also making sure they don’t get lost amid the rest of the busy print.  I added a center back belt tab to the waistband as well, to make sure wearing a belt actually keeps things in place.

Those awesome ruffles are hiding a neat trick I tried out for a new kind of interfacing.  In order to make the rayon challis keep its shape without the stiffness or fuss of applying interfacing, I used wide mesh tulle netting.  I’m talking about that see through stuff that is in a million different colors, and is formed in honeycomb design.  I bought some already to use as crinoline for another project, and it worked well.  For the pinafore, navy tulle is in the front center and back center panels of the bodice, sandwiched in between the rayon and the navy cotton lining, giving the body a nice semi-firm bib fit which would gently keep its squared off shaping.

There is a layer of tulle in each of the over the shoulder bodice ruffles, as well, in between the lining and fashion fabric similar to how I did it for the body panels.  Because I under stitched the ruffles’ outer seam allowances to the lining cotton, the outer edges are thread free, clean edges.  I was initially worried at how the tulle would gather along with all the layers in the ruffles, but sewing them was no harder than any other gathering I’ve done.  The trick to having the ruffles lay perfectly over my shoulder, away from my head, was to direct the seam allowances the right way for this on the inside and then invisibly “stitch in the ditch”, through all layers – floral rayon, tulle, and cotton lining – at the base of the ruffles to keep everything in place.  Keep in mind the pattern never said to do most all of these steps that I’m explaining – the tulle interfacing, lining the ruffles and bodice, and even stitching through the seam lines – but my pinafore top is so much better for it.  Sometimes overthinking can get me into trouble, but this was a case of merely thinking a project through, I believe, from how well my ideas worked to improve some potential ‘problems’ with my fabric choice.  Sometimes, I do believe sewing is truly a branch of engineering.

I can find no clear explanation for the very frequent use of ruffles on pinafores, other than the fact that it probably comes from their relation to both the child’s garment as well as the folk-influenced fashion of the dirndl.  1940s pinafores, peasant styles, and dirndls all can employ ribbons, lace, rick-rack, felt appliques, or embroidery for optional decoration so ruffles on a pinny were probably added for the same reasons as the rest of the embellishments.  Remember that even though a fashion dirndl is officially a skirt, the Germanic form does include a bib-suspender combination which unifies the whole thing, and the blouses to be worn under them could have the frills instead.  Peasant blouses and dresses can be somewhat obnoxious, oversized, and frilly like a pinafore, too, besides the shared fact that the adolescent crowd made them popular.  Even if adults wore these fashions they were supposed to bring on a ‘youthful’ connotation.  The cross-over is unexpected perhaps, but worth consideration, I believe. I’m guessing, though, the use of these embellishments for a pinny could merely stem from the simple desire to jazz up a basic garment meant for work and maybe play.

The system I devised to close and connect the waists of the two-individual pieces into one might look and sound like a convoluted mess – but really it’s not!  Both the top and the skirt each have their own side zippers, with a hook closing tab at the end like any garment.  The bodice closes on the right while the skirt closes up the left so that the two zipper wouldn’t end up overlapping each other.  In between the two sides of my waist, is a predictable pattern of two snaps and two hooks as well for each front and back, with one extra under the center back skirt belt tab.  That’s about 9 extra closures!  All of this hand sewing and measuring needed for this finishing of the horizontal waist band connections was such a pain in the neck, I really was gritting my teeth not to give up on my idea completely.  Finished now, I’m in no hurry to do this again but as much as I love the versatility of this divided set, my guess is that I’ll do this kind of thing again soon enough.  Many bib-style pinafores were button on and off in the 1940’s, but I wanted something that would give a stronger hold like the combined effort of hooks and snaps.

You might be wondering, “How does she get this thing on like that?”  Quite simply, much like any dress, except that the front waists are hanging separate and the back waist is still connected as one.  Once on me, the bodice is zipped up, the front waists are connected together around over to the other side of me where the side skirt zip is then closed.  Nothing quick, but it’s not complicated or fiddly – just methodical and definitely sort of a unique experience.

If you follow my Instagram account, you might have seen back on March 14, I posted a picture crushing over this dress’ fabric right after I bought it.  Then, I planned on pairing it with an orange/peach coral toned polka dot cotton for a matching blouse.  Yes, I still am holding to my plan – it’s just that with so much else to pair this dress and its separate pieces with, I’m in no hurry now to make the polka dot blouse.  When I do sew it up, which I plan on that being no later than spring of next year, it will be made using a vintage Simplicity #4734, year 1963 “action-back” bowling blouse, to totally see how far this set can work with any decade of fashion.  I have high expectations it will work…this set keeps amazing me.  It literally works with just about anything and has unlimited styling capabilities.

Hollywood has not shied away from using pinafores on their best actresses with amazing, complimentary success.  The 1940’s seems to have the most instances so I will focus on actresses and films from this era, with half of my inspiration in this pinny post, and the other half in my next.  First, the cheery and beautiful Donna Reed can be seen in a 1940’s picture wearing a pinafore dress very similar in style to my own.  Next, there is a lovely Loretta Young who wore a classy and dignified long length pinafore in the political version of a Cinderella-story movie, “The Farmer’s Daughter” from 1947.

Finally, the best I saved for last – the 1942 movie “The Major and the Minor” with Ray Milland and Ginger Rogers.  This hilarious film has the best and the most examples of pinafore wearing in any movie I’ve seen yet – I counted at least 5!  What I appreciate about the pinafores in this movie is the persona Ginger Rogers puts on with the pinafores she wears.  Most of the time her pinnys are worn when she attempts to be mistaken for a 12 year old, but towards the end of the movie she dons a pinafore smock to be mistaken for her own mother!  Being an awkward, no-makeup wearing pre-teen is not something anyone can think of as being the elegant Ginger Rogers, but her talent is supreme, so her pinafores ended up giving me a good idea of how a pinny is youthful, but still can be styled well enough for an adult woman to be charmingly complimentary.  I see the sheer plethora of pinafore styles (each of them is different) as a tribute to her face and figure, the costume designer, and the fun, playful theme of the movie.  I am amused at how a slightly different style of pinafore is used to designate her as being dignified, comfortable, and respectable older woman – different pinafores for different duties and different places in life.  How interesting – I wonder if this was the case in real people’s social world, too!  Either way, thank you, Hollywood for helping my inspiration!

For some modern options, Simplicity Pattern Company has recently been offering pinafores, smock dresses, and apron-style garments with the Dottie Angel patterns, such as #8186, #8230, #8438, and #1080.  Even Burda Style has an apron-style top – Pattern #132.  For more pinafore inspiration throughout the past decades, please visit my Pinterest board.  Until then, my next pinafore post will be following soon!

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