Kelly’s Button Bonanza

A ground level view of my version of a Patrick Kelly dress…

Anyone who shares my name of Kelly is of course going to immediately pique my curiosity.  I have already channeled the royal actress Grace Kelly a few times (both here and here), so it was high time to dive into the history of another famous namesake.  Patrick Kelly has already been a designer I have greatly respected, admired, and been interested in.  Then, press for the current costume exhibit “Runway of Love”, presenting his life and designs, has recently brought him anew into my thoughts.  However, it was also my desire to do something worthwhile with an old dress of mine that ultimately drove me deeper in a renewed understanding of just how deserved is the renown given to Patrick Kelly. 

In his honor, I gravitated towards Patrick Kelly’s penchant for using a plethora of buttons to up-cycle a ready-to-wear black knit dress that has been sitting in my wardrobe, unloved and unworn for over a decade.  One way to understand someone is to actively put yourself in their place.  I tried to do that (in a lesser degree) by working with over 100 varied buttons to find a taste of Patrick Kelly’s joy and creativity, as well as comprehend his talent.  The resulting “new-and-improved” little black dress is my own interpretation of his vision, nevertheless, not a copy of anything Patrick Kelly made.

It’s raining down buttons on the designer Patrick Kelly in this picture!

Patrick Kelly was born on September 24, 1954 in Vicksburg, Mississippi.  As a black man growing up in the Southern states of America, he fought through his life’s setbacks, his surrounding society’s prejudices, and the partiality practiced in the fashion design world.  Eventually, he made his way to Paris with the help of his friendship with the supermodel Pat Cleveland.  In 1988, he became the 1st American inducted to the “Chambre Syndicale”, a prestigious governing body of the French ready-to-wear industry that determines which fashion design houses are eligible to be true haute couture houses.  Most people know the names of other members to the Syndicale – Chanel, Dior, and Givenchy to list just a few.  However, as an American myself, I am painfully aware of the fact that Patrick Kelly is not as collectively well-known as his fellow designer counterparts, so I am personally doing something here to help make up for that!  I love that he succeeded by being determined and dedicated to his creative vision.  It is commendable how he stayed true to himself and his simple upbringing at the same time, not changing for the sake of climbing that ladder of fame.  Patrick Kelly had a uniquely joyous personality that shines through to his exuberant designs.  He epitomizes the garish fashions of the 1980s, but in the best way possible because he was celebrating his roots, the beauty of all women, and the happiness of living.  He died young at age 35 on New Year’s Day 1990.    

Fall-Winter 1986-1987, Patrick Kelly collection, from “Runway of Love” exhibit at the de Young museum in San Francisco

Patrick Kelly helps me see what it means “to sew” in a whole new light.  He personally was not skilled at garment construction, and struggled with a sewing machine to the point that he threw his appliance out his apartment window in frustration one day.  Yet, from a young age, Kelly’s aunt instilled in him the basic hand sewing skills he needed to mend, repair, and provide basic garment upkeep.  His Grandma, who helped raise him after his father died, inspired him by the way she would always replace his missing shirt buttons with mismatched, multicolored buttons from her notions box.  He never forgot to appreciate his childhood memories.  After moving to Atlanta, Georgia through the 1970s to attend fashion design school, Kelly supported himself by working at an AMVETS thrift shop.  He soon began selling his first creations which were vintage and secondhand garments from the store that he upcycled, refashioned, or added decorative notions (found lost on the floors at the thrift shop) to transform into something uniquely one-of-a-kind.  

1986 – Patrick Kelly, sleeveless black knit dress with button bustier

Why is it that the sewing culture of today acts as if this practice of re-working existing items is merely an on-trend thing to do for thriftiness, personal enjoyment, or social consciousness?  Why isn’t it expressly clear to the general mainstream public that such a practice reached the level of official French couture only 40 years ago and therefore deserves a higher level of regard than it currently has?!  This isn’t even addressing the fact that you don’t even need a machine or anything other than basic mending skills to do a Patrick Kelly dress, thus challenging the very ideas of sewing stereotypes.  Yes, sewing is more than just a skill, he has shown how it is also self-confidence, perseverance, ingenuity, and (most importantly) joy in the process.

Thus, to create his preliminary ‘brand’ image in the 80’s, Patrick Kelly utilized what he could do, what inspired him, and what was immediately available to create something amazing.  Using knit tube dresses as his canvas blanks, he worked with something that is so commonplace – buttons – people can all immediately relate to his designs more than most other pieces from couture houses.  Yet, at the same time he elevated buttons on garments into an awe inspiring art form.  Such a technique may look simple to replicate, but like most really good garments, there is a highly challenging level of execution hiding under the guise of effortlessness.  I can vouch for this truth, just from the small scale button project that I attempted for myself!

To start with, my dress is more complicated than the seamless knit tubes that Patrick Kelly would work with, so I had to be adaptive enough to make my button placement different.  Every time I attempt to imitate something that has been made by a designer, my version has to be my own twist out of respect to the unique genius of each one of us.  I am not convinced by the “imitation is a form of flattery” phrase and rather prefer to believe that tapping into one’s individuality is the best tribute.  The design lines to my dress prevented the possibility of any buttons being added across the entire dress body, as many Patrick Kelly designs have.  Thus, I internalized my inner artist to feel out a way to display the buttons on my dress in a way that makes my own imaginative statement…but more on that later.  Right now, let’s dive into the how to sew on 130 individual buttons, and not the why!

My dress has a basic bodice, which joins to a wiggle skirt, pleated in at the high waistline.  It is a comfy piece that still fit me perfectly (and had pockets, too) so I felt it was worth saving.  Just the very fact I was looking for something to do with my black dress, immediately led me to think of Patrick Kelly…and there was a mixed mega bag of assorted buttons at my local fabric store which has been calling to me like a siren’s call ever since I noticed it there.  Yes, I felt bad that I was buying a new bag of buttons when there are so many large canning jars full of various vintage buttons at all the local thrift and antique stores.  I felt guilty that I was not approaching this refashion the way Patrick Kelly would have.  However, none of the button jars I came across were a colorful enough assortment for my creative vision.   

A close-up to the front neckline of my dress. See how I changed up the ways of sewing down a button?

To channel the spirit of Patrick Kelly’s works, it is important to go big and bold, choosing the brightest shades to create a true statement piece. Thus, I chose to buy two “Big Bag of Buttons” packs from “Favorite Findings”, which has an assorted mix of sizes, opacity, finish, and colors to offer.  I chose the color way that struck me as an almost neon blend of a lime green, sunshine yellow, hot pink, fresh orange, and a bright blue.  To have this burst of lively color pop off of a dark inky black background reminds me of the way Patrick Kelly wanted to be someone who could make people smile through their troubles.  He once said “There’s so much sadness in the world. And if you can stick a button on something or funny hat, I’m the one for you. I hope when they (people) think about me, they think of being happy.”    

I can’t get enough of the beautiful array of buttons I added on my dress!

Finding and choosing just one layout to settle on for decorating my dress with the plethora of buttons was an agonizing process.  I had so many different ideas I wanted to commit to, at this rate I could do plenty more Patrick Kelly inspired button dresses of my own!  Anyways, once I settled upon one idea, I laid out as many buttons as I could the way I wanted them, traced around them with tailors chalk, an then moved them out onto the floor next to my dress in the exact same lay out.  Sounds easy, right?  Not really.  It is easy to get confused when trying to match what is on the floor back onto my dress.  I took lots of quick phone pictures to help me remember the button placement along the way and sew in a way close to my original idea.  The whole process was so time consuming, needing complete mental focus. 

I quickly discovered that I had to sew one button on at a time.  At first I thought I could interlace the buttons to make the process smoother.  However, I quickly realized I had to tie each one off separately because the fabric is a knit, thus needing to stretch unconfined in between all the buttons.  Trying to remember to keep the spacing and the layout, see the chalk marks that faded with every touch, and figure out placement in between sewing every button was exhausting.  Then, keeping the entire household away from the area of the floor where I was working was stressful…if anyone kicked the buttons around, I was ruined.  This dress has definitely been the top craziest thing I have done amongst my sewing projects.  I am really curious how Patrick Kelly dresses’ insides look because I wonder if he had a better way to do this, or had some quick trick that I haven’t thought of.  Slowly seeing the design come together with every button group I sewed on was the only saving grace that gave me both hope and patience to finish this project idea. 

The buttons on the front and back skirt took me a total of 8 hours to sew onto the dress, while the neckline buttons took me almost 4 hours, for an overall total of almost 13 hours.  Whew!  This is what I was talking about when I said (above) that it may look like these kind of dresses are easy, but it’s a real eye opener to try one out for yourself.  “Don’t judge a book by its cover” or “There is more than meets the eye” are some adages that can apply perfectly to a Patrick Kelly dress, even if only talking about a paltry imitation by a home sewist like myself! 

As interesting as this dress was to refashion, it is also very interesting to wear.  Having that many buttons, even if only lightweight plastic, really does add substantial weight to the dress.  Each button pack was almost 4 ounces alone, and I used two packs.  That is half of a pound in added button weight!  I am really thankful that my base dress’ knit fabric was a thick, stable knit.  I half-heartedly thought to myself, at the outset of this project idea, that the hefty weight of the knit would hold the buttons well, but I did not realize how important having a thicker knit would be until all the buttons were sewn on.  Also, I was surprised to discover that all the knots inside the dress from where I tied off all the buttons can become slightly bothersome the longer the dress is worn.  I now wish I would have tied off the ends from the right side of the dress, under the buttons.  This issue is mostly resolved by wearing a full slip underneath the dress, but it is a point worth noting.  Finally, to hear how the buttons click together and jangle when I wear the dress is entertaining enough to make me chuckle under my breath.  It is almost like a dull chiming music for me to move, sit, or walk in my dress.  This is the most surprising effect, and one that I really enjoy.  In all this dress, has been a project chock full of surprises and curious discoveries.

Patrick Kelly designs – Woman’s Ensemble Coat and Dresses, fall-winter 1986

I wonder if these interesting ‘side effects’ are not unique to my imitation dress but also something shared by a true Patrick Kelly button garment.  Since he often worked with older vintage buttons, many of which are metal or shell, I can imagine that his dresses were even heavier than my plastic button dress.  I expect his button dresses (as he was an official couture house) to not have the harsh knots inside, as mine does…but who knows, though!  The insides of a garment tell its full story, and couture of the past often is relegated to museum collections, thus it is hard to actually be able for a curious sewist like me to discover the details found in the guts at an up-close, personal setting.  I have been looking for pictures online from listings of Patrick Kelly dresses for sale, but not many of his button creations seem to be found for sale, and neither do those listings have images of the inner garment workings.  Some things from the designer world are best left a mystery, after all, I suppose.

The artistic vision behind the placement and color choice of the buttons on my dress is supposed to call to mind the life giving symbiotic relationship of the sun and the rain.  My neckline has the ‘water’ in the blue color that trickles down in drips that fade from green to clear yellow by being touched by the sun.  The rays which stretch out from my bottom left skirt hem corner reach out towards the rain, and filter between the classic colors chosen to represent the sun – orange and yellow – and the pink…like a beautiful early morning sunrise.  Is there anything more enlivening than watching the dawn of a new day touch the wet morning dew? 

My photo location’s wall mural is a tribute to the 1980s culture.  It is has classic mid 80s computer gaming references that only those in the know will recognize.  I love that here is a giant figure of Link, the protagonist of Nintendo‘s video game franchise The Legend of Zelda.  The game dates to 1986, the same year for the Patrick Kelly button dress that were my primary inspiration!  I love how the wall mural brings out the colors in my dress, as well as referencing the way Patrick Kelly was a mixed media artist on the side.  He always began a runway show with a can of paint to spray a quick little artistic message on the back wall.

National Sewing Month (September) may be over now, but I have not yet moved on from the reflections and revelations I had in the spirit of such a dedication.  If speaking about physical project production, September is never really anything different for me because sewing is a part of my life on a regular basis.  However, celebrating such a dedication for the month prompts me to at least think back on what I have made and celebrate my achievements.  Most importantly, however, I like to reconsider the why, the what, and the ideology behind sewing.  In this quest, I have happily discovered a new appreciation for a designer I have known of but never previously thoroughly educated myself on – the great Patrick Kelly.  To me, his life and his triumphs are not just inspirational on their own apart from the fashion world, but they are also the epitome of what sewing is all about.  Please look through the pictures and explore the site links to be found on my “Patrick Kelly” Pinterest page for more on his life and his work!   

Refashioning My Own 60’s Style Babydoll Blouse

When the items I sew for myself no longer fit or work for me in some way, they are not given up on but treated just the same as – if not better – anything else in my wardrobe.  They either get refitted, resized, or mended.  If any of those three actions are not possible for one reason or another, they get refashioned.  This has especially been an important task for me to tackle since 2020.  Ever since that year, the reasons and occasions for which I leave the house has decreased, so I sensibly expend my sewing efforts on the wardrobe I do have versus only adding more new (me-made) pieces.  Just recently I refashioned a project I made almost a decade ago, and this has now turned out to be a much more appealing creation for me than when I completed its first iteration! 

I sewed up the original blouse in 2013, and it was a success, but never as interesting to begin with as I have turned it into today.  As I said in that original post, I struggle to like myself in peter pan collars, and overly sweet styles.  I liked it, to be sure, but never felt ecstatic over how it turned out enough to be ranked as a ‘favorite’.  I wore the blouse for only a few years after it was made since it quickly became too snug to be comfortable.  To be fair, I originally cut it out in a smaller size – I was severely short on fabric.  Long story short, I haven’t worn this for the last 8-something years and now that problem has been amended in the most fantastic way I could have ever hoped for! 

This is the old original top, for comparison.

Measuring the old top as compared to my current body, I realized I needed to add in about 3 inches widthwise to have this fit me comfortably again.  My main focus was on adjusting for my shoulders, and I (correctly) figured that a good fit for the bust of the blouse (which had been snug, too) would then follow, as well.  Aiming for about 3 inches was ideal because I had no scraps of any worth to use and needed to cannibalize from the current blouse itself.  Cutting off that much from the hem meant that the new blouse’s length would be just below my natural waistline…perfect!  The puffed sleeves do give a bit of leeway over the shoulders so I didn’t worry about an exact re-fitting.  If I would have added in much more than 3 inches my refashion would have been too dramatic and obvious of an addition, anyways.     

Most of the original blouse was left untouched, but the little bit I did do made such a bit difference!  My first step for this refashion was to cut 4 inches horizontally off of the bottom hem (the 3 inches I needed plus enough for two ½ inch seam allowances).  The side seams were cut off to make two rectangular panels.  Then I cut vertically down the center front and the center back, separating up the collar.  One of the two panels cut from the bottom hem went right away into the center back.  With this step, I was able to get my first taste of how my refashion would fit and look and I was so excited!  I realized ahead of time that the tiny polka dot print of the back’s added panel would be running oppositely of the main body.  The print is so small, I didn’t really care nor did I have much of a choice with what to work with.  I rather like the interest it adds to have the print contrast itself ever so slightly.  According to my idea, the front was going to have most of the attention so I like how the back is low-key appealing, too.

The front panel required a bit more effort than the back, since I had a grand idea for ramping up the femininity and eclectic detailing to this new version of my old blouse.  Luckily, I am quite organized when it comes to my sewing notions (not to brag, but I am proud of this fact).  Thus, I was happily able to find the little bit of aqua bias tape leftover from what I used to make the elastic casing on my blouse’s puff sleeved hems.  The bias tape was extra wide and double fold, so I found that opening it up fully made it just about 3 inches wide…I suppose you can guess how thrilled I was to discover this!  The solid toned bias tape, which was opened up and ironed out as if it was a cut of fabric, was layered over the remaining blouse fabric panel.  Doubling up here both used up all of my fabric cut off from the hem and kept the front from being see-through (the bias tape was tissue thin), besides lending some wonderful continuity to the overall look of the blouse. 

With the idea that “more is more”, I also sandwiched some vintage cotton lace into the seam when stitching on the front panel.  The lace is a slight ivory tone to complement the yellows and greys in the collar.  Then, I found a half a dozen vintage ivory pearled ball buttons from my paternal grandmother’s notions stash.  The buttons really filled in the big empty front panel and matched with the lace bordering the front.  It seemed to be a popular design element to have a decorative-only contrast chest panel to blouses and dresses of the 1960s.  I suppose I was kind of vaguely inspired by seeing such patterns in my own stash (such as Simplicity #6801) or through perusing online (see Simplicity 7736).  Honestly, though, my refashion was merely the best I could do with what I had available…which wasn’t much to begin with!  I wanted to add pintucks or some other sort of extra details to the front panel but I felt lucky to get by the way it was.  My blouse is immensely more appealing to me than how it first was, so good enough is as good as done for this refashion project.  

I wanted to keep the popover simplicity of getting dressed in this blouse, for all its extra elements it now had.  However, it turned so very boxy in shape with the new panels added!  I had to sew in four deep, curved, vertical darts to the bust of the front and shoulder line of the back for shaping the blouse.  I made sure to not take in enough to necessitate a side zipper.  I was trying to ride a fine line of having it fitted yet still staying as a popover-the-head top.  I never mind installing zippers (I half enjoy the process, really) yet if I can avoid doing so, I will in no way turn down the opportunity.

Not only is my refashion an improvement on the overall blouse, but I am thrilled over the way I love the collar so much better by it having a wide open neck.  Most babydoll style blouses (and dresses) have a peter pan collar that closely hugs the neckline.  It takes a very specific interpretation (such as the 1930s; see my “Snow White” dress) in a select few colors (see this 40’s “Candy Stripe” blouse I made) for me to like what a peter pan collar does for my face.   I can afford to be picky when I sew my own wardrobe!  Then again, taking such an approach helps me hone my taste in fashion and cater to my personality unlike a dependency on ready-to-wear could ever offer. 

Re-working something your own hands have already made not only is sensible, eco-friendly, and responsible, but also it requires a greater amount of creativity and determination.  I will not deny, there is a dopamine rush from the amazing process of starting a sewing project from scratch and seeing it go from paper laid out on fabric to a wearable garment.  Sure, it would be much easier to merely donate and move on, but landfills do not need a single more item added to them when a few extra hours of my time can give me back a new and improved version of my own makes.  

I find a more innate sense of personal pride in my every effort to alter, tailor, or otherwise extend the life of the wardrobe I already have.  For me, doing such actions also shows me just how far I have come with my sewing skills to be able to add significance and worth to what I have made in the past.  I am constantly mending, letting seams out and taking them in, darning sweaters, dyeing, patching or doing some other sort of garment care for me and my immediate family (even for my parents, too, on occasion).  This blouse’s refashion is merely the most visually stunning recent example of all the mundane clothing care that I do behind the scenes of my blog!  I hope this post has inspired you to “give a darn and mend”!   

Tennis Top

In the quest for more sportswear that is also part of my handmade wardrobe, I have branched out to make something perfect for playing one of my favorite games – tennis!  This top had been part of a previous project back from 2016, only to be left unfinished when my ideas changed.  However, I detest sewing items lurking on the backburner and am a stickler for needing the projects I start to be fully finished.  At last I have conquered this little odd dress bodice to make it a top that does the job of a sports bra but with a fashionable, fun, me-made flair! 

This is a totally different side of me that is uniquely lacking in my normal glamour to show here on my blog.  Thus I am a bit unsure about sharing it yet too happy with what I’ve made to hold it back.  I felt it tied in nicely with my previous post of 1940s sporty, bibbed “short-alls” so I am sharing this now versus waiting until it is officially summer.  This is not a vintage piece, coming from a Burda Style pattern from 2016, but it does incorporate one of my favorite things – color blocking.  All of my favorite tones are here present – rich purple, bright pink, and a royal blue – all in a way that calls to mind a lovely stained glass window.  The black piping becomes likened to the “cames” of grooved lead which hold together the panels of color in a glass window.  I love the irony of recalling delicate stained glass for an item used for an activity that is quite the opposite – slamming of balls and full body movements.  Tennis is not listed as a high impact sport but it is the way I play it!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a shirting basics stretch cotton sateen

PATTERN:  Burda Style’s ‘A-Line Cocktail Dress’ #122, from 03/2016 (see the German Burda Style page for actual pictures of the pattern, though)

NOTIONS NEEDED:  I had to buy an extra pack of piping to finish this, as well as the back separating zipper, but other than that all I needed was lots of thread, which I always have on hand

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The original piped bodice took me about 5 hours back in 2016, but then for the recent fitting and finishing I spent another 4 hours

THE INSIDES:  left raw…the stretch in the cotton keeps the fraying of the fabric in check

TOTAL COST:  I no longer remember because the fabrics had been on hand from before 2016!

The sizing definitely ran small and quite wonky for the original Burda dress pattern that my top came from.  See a full recap on this post here. Such a sizing discrepancy luckily didn’t extend to the skirt portion of the dress, but the top half was another story.  Neither did I have any more fabric to recut anything.  All the vertical seams together with the fact I added in piping to them set up any fitting adjustments to be a major headache.  I definitely had to come back to adjust such an unfinished object when I was fully ready and equipped with a definite purpose and incentive to complete this.

It was a sewing project I truly wrestled with to just barely make it fit enough to be salvageable.  Letting out the 5/8 inch seams to 3/8 inch in some places was barely just enough to have this squeeze on my body as well as get the piping back in again.  The piping makes the color gradient panels pop with the definition but definitely restrains the stretch of the fabric in between.  It restricts the curvy seams significantly yet I loved the overall effect too much to give up on the idea.  Now that it is done, I feel that the piping makes sure the fabric doesn’t over-extend its elasticity and also helps this have such a snug fit, which I normally wouldn’t like but found a purpose for this time.   

I took advantage of the fact this top has wonderful stretch and is skin tight to wear this as my sports bra.  I have only worn loose tee shirts for tennis before and have never been happy with how I move and feel sloppily clammy while wearing them.  This top is like a second skin, and keeps my assets securely in place.  The top itself stays in place on my body, is fuss-free, and does not get in the way of my movement at all like my loose tee shirts were doing.  Plus, the sateen doesn’t show sweat, keeps me cool while wicking any moisture away, and still looks nice.  I never knew what to do with it before now since I formerly saw it only as a failure left behind from an unfinished project.  Now that this top is not only finished but also useful with a purpose, I am so taken by it.  I have something I always needed but never knew I wanted…and I made it myself, which is even better! 

In lieu of the side seam zipper I originally planned for when this top was to be part of a dress, I changed to a center back separating sports zipper.  A sports zipper is more heavy duty, with chunkier teeth, and the fact it opened up at both ends makes this top very easy to put on.  I left the zipper exposed to not only save every little bit of room I could spare but also because it visually gives a black line in the seam similar to the piping in all the other seams.  The black back zipper gave me the ideal combo of functionality and aesthetics in one easy step.

Not that I would highly recommend this pattern, but this is the perfect stash busting project.  The pattern pieces for this top could probably even fit on some cotton “fat quarters”.  When I was originally making this, I happened upon three colors of the same fabric in my stash, all in a stretch cotton shirting, in colors which complimented each other.  They just had to be made into a garment together! 

The pink is a whole 2-something bolt, still in my stash meant for a future project, while the other two colors were under ¼ yard scraps.  I just gleaned a small amount off of the total cut of pink, not enough to dent my greater plans for it.  With some recent re-organizing of my fabric bins I happened to come across this pink fabric again, and so I took the opportunity to shave off a tad more to cut bias strips to finish the armhole openings.  At the same time, I also happened to find some scraps of black stretch cotton sateen on hand, leftover from a store bought dress I had re-fashioned years back.  I then used this to finish off the neck and bottom hem edges.  I was left with the feeling my top was very barely cobbled together but also amazed that such little amounts were all I needed.  The stash busting redemption of this top has left me further satisfied with it even though the fit of the design is much lacking.

You see on my blog what kind of styles I stitch together for everything else in my life.  Now that I’ve finished making this tennis top you see what I wear for sporting exercise fun!  Have you made some athletic wear pieces for yourself?  What is your favorite sport?

White, Orange and Green

There is nothing 100% “from scratch” in the outfit that I’m posting this time, as this is (mostly) about a current refashion of a 1940s blouse I’ve already made back in 2013. Yet, I have paired it with a “new” woolen skirt that I refashioned after finding it chewed up during storage in our cedar closet.  Together, this is a fresh take on two existing items in my closet which needed some care and attention…and that deserves its own post, right?!  After my previous post on my Victorian skating ensemble, I thought I’d keep things simple and mix things up by showing how I keep up pieces in my wardrobe.  In order to earn its keep in my closet, each item needs to be something that fits as well as something I love.  I have no qualms about putting something I’ve sewn through a scissor and under the sewing machine to have that happen!  I made it, I can fix it up, too.  Beyond that, though, this set is the perfect colors to wear for St. Patrick’s Day – the white, orange, and green of their national flag!

I couldn’t help but title my post after the song that this outfit calls to my mind.  It is an Irish folk song which supposedly rose out of the 1919 to 1921 War of Independence but got a popular revival in 1989 from the album “Home to Ireland” by Spailpin (listen to the song here).  It is almost my favorite Irish song album – I have loved it since my childhood!  “The Rising of the Moon” song is not to be missed and “Three Young Ladies Drinking Whiskey Before Breakfast” will get your toes tapping.  I am proudly very Irish through both sides of my family as well as my husband’s side, so this is not just celebrating a holiday which is alien to me but happily honoring my heritage!  Although some of my Irish ancestors may have preferred to sport orange for today, I align more with the wearing of green, so I love how this outfit unites all the colors just as the flag does.  (If you know your Irish history, you’ll understand this one without looking it up!)

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The fabric for the blouse is from a seasonal collection of soft 100% cotton quilting fabric, lined in a matching rust orange color 100% cotton broadcloth

PATTERN:   Simplicity #1692, a 40s era re-release from 2013 (it’s one of their 85th Anniversary patterns), originally Simplicity #1093 from year 1944

NOTIONS:  I really had everything I needed on hand – thread, zipper, and bias tape.  The single button at the back neck closure is probably close to being the correct era for my vintage blouse, and comes from my special familial vintage button stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My blouse originally (first incarnation) took me about 10 hours to be done back in October 2013.  In the fall of 2021, I spent another 5 hours to renew the blouse into its latest version. 

Both pieces have recently been discovered to be too small on me, but the skirt also had damage so I had more than one incentive for altering them.  Now that we are coming out of two years of isolating and staying at home, I have to get to know the full potential of my closet again.  A good amount of my pieces have not been touched in a while because of the pandemic, and although my body has mostly either stayed the same or lost weight through it, the same cannot be said for my upper arms and hips. In some of the cases, letting out my 5/8 inch seam allowances is enough.  In other garments I find that I will need to add in gussets, side panels, or re-work the bodice.  These have now gone to my “need to alter, fit, or refashion” drawer. 

I still like these items enough to want to give them TLC or perhaps a whole new spin in the future.  After all, I invest myself in everything I make and probably 90% (or more) of my wardrobe is self-crafted at this point.  I am happy with what I have and don’t need to start a project from scratch to use my sewing capabilities.  Taking care of what I have is sustainable and responsible, I feel.  I am just sad to see how my body changes add to my already large enough make-do-and-mend pile.  How have the last two years affected your wardrobe?  Do you find things fitting you differently or have your style tastes just changed…maybe both?  Do you enjoy altering and mending or is it pure drudgery for you? 

What was wrong with the blouse in the first place?  You may be wondering this because the blouse has ended up looking close to the same way as when I originally made it – just short sleeved.  Well, I wasn’t going for a different spin, just the same look in a bigger size.  The armscye was already close fitting when I first made the blouse.  Its sleeves were now uncomfortable, losing any ‘reach room’ and the hips were too snug to zip down past the waistline.  Also, at this point – since my sewing skills have improved – I was quite embarrassed by my beginner’s efforts at making a buttoned cuff on long sleeves.  Thus, the long sleeves were sacrificed to become side panels to add room.  It was easier than digging through my containers of scraps in the unlikely hope that there would be a remnant large enough to help my need for a refashion!  One sleeve was divided in half to make two panels for the bodice sides, while the other sleeve went towards the neckline (see next paragraph).  The original zipper was unpicked out of the blouse and re-inserted in between the front main body and the left side panel.

Just adding in width was not enough to fully open up the sleeves for more shoulder room.  I also unpicked the sleeves from the bodice and re-sewed them in at ¼ inch seam allowance (the original blouse had 5/8 inch seam allowance).  That was better but my big arms were still pulling at the neckline.  So I opened up the neckline, loosened up the center front gathers, cut the neck more open by ½ inch, and sewed over the edge a brand new bias band (cut from the second sleeve, as mentioned above).  This time I left lots of excess length at the back closure to the neckline’s finishing bias band so I can button it in a way that is more open.  This assuages my claustrophobia over tightly necked garments, and widens out the shoulders a bit.  I was able to cut two more small bias strips for finishing the two sleeve’s hem ends.

The brown all-wool skirt was something I have had since my late teen years.  I had forgotten about it in our cedar closet for the last decade and it was not properly stored.  I believe it was carpet beetles which found it, because moths make bigger chews holes.  Nevertheless, the skirt had most of its significant chews from the hipline up to the waist.  Being a long ankle length to begin with, I merely cut off the top 1/3 of the skirt (keeping the side zipper, albeit short now), newly tapered in the side seams, added darts to fit, and finished the waistline with bias tape.  Any tiny holes left can be patched up easily since the wool is lofty and loosely woven. This was super easy refashion.

Much better than buying raw supplies, I use garments I already have as material for my sewing ideas.  This time, these two items were more of a refitting I suppose versus a total re-fashion.  Both my skirt and blouse are much more versatile and wearable now more than they ever were, so this is not just about ‘saving’ them, I feel.  A mid-length skirt is more all-weather, just the same as making short sleeves on my blouse.  My blouse is double layered (lined in all cotton) and the wool skirt is cozy so shortening their length has turned them into something I can wear for cooler days in the spring and fall, not just for the cold of winter.   This way I have the opportunity to layer them.  Paired over my blouse to bring out the green is an old favorite store bought corduroy blazer back from my teen years. 

To conclude, I wish a happy St. Patrick’s Day to all who celebrate!  To read more on some of the ways I celebrate this holiday, as well as the fancy green-themed vintage dress I may pick to wear today, please visit this Instagram post (linked here).  The fact that St. Patrick’s Day is always immediately followed by the first day of the verdant season of spring always gives me an excellent reason to be on a spell of fascination for anything green.  Here’s your tip off as to what may be featured in my next blog post!