A Skirt-Blouse and a Dress-Skirt

The second installment for my 2020 “Alter It August” is a featuring of this crazy but coordinated and happy display of me wearing things in the wrong place.  Ugh – that just sounds like need to relearn how to dress.  No, I just like the sewing success I find when thinking a bit differently when attacking my tucked-away mending pile.

What I started off with were two vintage pieces in their own right.  I’m wearing what had been a skirt from the 1990’s as a newly refashioned blouse of the 40’s WWII style.  Then, I also salvaged what was left of a true vintage 30’s era dress into becoming a skirt which pairs nicely with my new blouse.  Yes, I’m all over the decades and every article of clothing I started with is now something else.  Yet, somehow, what I ultimately ended up with is these wonderful separates that I can wear and enjoy for years to come.  I think I can rock this sort of upside-down dressing!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a soft cotton with a hint of spandex is the fiber content of the skirt that became my blouse, while the true vintage dress that became a skirt is a lovely rayon gabardine finished off with a matching color modern cotton sateen

PATTERN:  Simplicity #4528, a year 1943 vintage original pattern from my personal stash, was used for the blouse

NOTIONS:  some interfacing scraps, thread, two true vintage buttons for the blouse, and a vintage metal zipper for the skirt.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  It only took me about an hour or less to clean up the dress and turn into a skirt.  The blouse was finished on August 1, 2020 in about 4 hours.

THE INSIDES:  The insides of my blouse are cleanly bias bound, while I kept the original (pinked) seams of the vintage dress-turned-skirt and merely finished the waist.

TOTAL COST:  FREE!

My true vintage skirt was more of a salvage than a refashion like my blouse.  I had an acquaintance had passed to me this piece that someone had given her because they knew I am a smaller size and would be capable of restoring this to a wearable state.  The bodice of a cream-colored, rayon gabardine 1930s dress had been roughly cut off midway through, the side zipper ripped out, and the amazing duo of large pockets halfway hanging on.  I can’t help but hopelessly wonder what the full dress looked like originally.  It might have been wonderful to have the chance to save more than just the skirt, but really – I shouldn’t complain!  This was a wonderful gift and an honor of a challenge.

I started off with the basic preliminary tasks – trimming the bodice down to the point where I would sew on a waistband, taking off a handful of belt carriers, re-stitching down the pockets, and setting in a side zipper.  Next I used a cotton sateen from on hand (because hey, it was something I didn’t have to buy and it matched in color) to sew on a waistband and a hook closing.  That was all it needed besides a basic cleaning and pressing.  There still are some very slight stains I need to get out but overall I am very ecstatic to have saved this piece.  I am amazed that for all this dress had went through before it came to me, there were not any obvious stains or even a hole, rip, or tear in the skirt (it is pristine).  A very good vintage find finally all fixed up deserves a great new top to pair with it, right?!

I had a plaid skirt which had hardly ever been worn, even though it has been in my wardrobe since circa 2000.  I had bought it second hand back then, so it must be from at least the 90’s, judging by both the style and how the label inside proudly claimed to be completely “Made in the USA”.  Maybe I should not call it fully vintage…just ‘dated’ for now.  Nevertheless, it became a blouse of a different ‘vintage’!  The skirt’s plaid was cute enough to me that I held onto it for this long, yet the style always screamed too “school girl” for my taste and so was rarely worn.  No doubt the fact the hem ended right above my knees added to that impression.  It has a low-riding hip yoke with a deep-pleated, flared skirt below and was fully lined.

A refashion can feel like a giant uncertainty, so it helps to use a pattern that you’ve used already and which has turned out successfully before.  It gives an extra confidence level.  I used the same pattern that gave me one of my current favorite vintage blouses – this “Australia” movie inspired creation – and merely shortened it to waist length because of the limited amount of fabric I was working with.

There was so much fabric in the pleated section below the hip yoke, all I needed to do was cut that part of the skirt off and it was like having a long 2 yard by 20 inch section to work with.  There was imperfect plaid matching in the skirt to begin with, and I did not have any extra fabric to be as choosy of a perfectionist as I like to be with geometrically printed fabric.  Yet, I do think I made the best of it!  The belt strip to the original skirt became the waist tie attached to the bottom hem of my new blouse.  This tie front feature helps the top stay down on me and is also a nice feature to perk of the pretty, but still a bit plain, ivory gabardine skirt I am wearing with it.

I was sort of aiming for a pre-WWII casual 40’s kind of look here, but I’m happy it ended up looking pretty timeless after all.  The skirt is in a feminine and comfortable bias cut so it is obviously 30’s era, but a well done cut and style like this never goes out of style.  After all, the giant, interesting pockets hold my Android phone just fine with room to spare…how modern is that!?  I personally like large blouse lapels and cannot lie, however, they do rather give the blouse away that it’s vintage.  Yet, crop tops are quite popular now, the tie waist is an unexpected detail, and the plaid is quite fun, so perhaps all this outweighs the collar for a contemporary appeal.  I paired my outfit with my Grandmother’s earrings and my comfy Hotter brand tennis shoes.

Even though “Alter It August” is drawing to a close, it’s always a great time to whip those unusable clothes into shape and make them work for you!  You have the sewing superpowers to create…now use those same gifts to take care of what you already possess on hand and make sure it is something useable that you love.  A refashion from what’s on hand is something new for nothing, with the added happy benefit of knowing you both succeeded at something challenging and helped counteract the global harm of the wasteful fast fashion industry.

I don’t know about you, but at the rate I am going out and about these days, I really don’t need a whole lot of anything new coming in the house besides food in the fridge.  That doesn’t stop me from continuing to be a ‘maker’, though, and this sporty little outfit was just the sensible, thrifty little pick-me-up project to be useful, keep me creative, and clean the house all in one.  Maybe I haven’t been out enough for me to even think of turning a skirt into a blouse, after all, though?

Fuchsia Pleats to Brighten Up the Greys

Winter skies here can be so blasé and I am not at all afraid to use bold color in my choice of sewing plans to counter attack that!  This post will try to be short and sweet about a not so simple 1940s blouse I made to complete a recently acquired vintage suit set of the same era.  This blouse proves that mantra, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!” to be very true and not just words.  I indeed had to struggle to have this blouse turn out successfully and am so glad I persevered for this gem of a garment!

I will confess that I now have a hopeless taste for silk and silk blends recently.  A fine silk cotton is my especial combination of fascination – it can come in so many finishes, levels of opacity and crispness, besides the myriad of colors available.  Add that to its relative affordability, it is a no-brainer to choose for blouses.  Find some for yourself and you’ll thank me later.  Just don’t go and buy it all, now!

If I let myself get technical, I would guiltily admit that I am mislabeling this blouse because if you go by the book “a tuck is stitched down, a pleat is not”.  So this is a tucked front blouse whose detailing is made to look like what we conventionally think of as pleats.  There I said it – I’m admittedly wrong.  Nevertheless, tucks and pleats are frequent and lovely details on vintage blouse designs, and are a fun and relatively easy way to have a blouse that’s a complex, standout piece.  Tucks and pleats are just about cleverly manipulating folds of fabric after all.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 58% silk, 42% cotton blend fabric, opaque and rich in color with a sheen like a satin and a crispness like a shantung

PATTERN:  Hollywood #1165, year 1943, a “Ruth Warrick of RKO-Radio” design

NOTIONS:  All I needed was thread at first, which I happened to have, but then I ran out of thread and I needed a zipper so I had to buy (at the last minute) some of my notions needed for this project.  Otherwise I used up some interfacing scraps for the cuffs, and I used vintage buttons from the stash of hubby’s Grandmother.  The buttons might look like cut glass, but I believe they are Lucite

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This blouse was finished on November 20, 2017 after maybe 20 plus hours invested in it.

THE INSIDES:  So nice I’m tempted to wear the blouse inside out…well, almost!  100% French seams.

TOTAL COST:  I ordered this from a seller on Etsy than imports in from Hong Kong so it’s at a discount.  Two yards cost me only $14 including shipping.

Now, before I get into the details of the blouse, let me gush over the suit details.  From what I have seen in my research, I can date this suit with relative certainty to circa year 1946.  It could be as early as year 1944, but not much later than 1947.  They just do not make suits remotely close to the level of quality and beauty as they did in the past.  This wool, though it is plain grey, has a satin sheen in varying colors that is simply breathtaking.  Pictures just cannot capture that shine, neither can they convey the substantial thickness of the wool and the crepe lining inside.  These kinds of fabrics sadly are not to be found anymore.  This wool is almost like a felt in plushness, and with the lining and complicated, impeccable structuring I can feel is going on inside, this is more like a jacket than just a suit jacket.  If you haven’t ever felt what a 1940’s quality suit is like, you need to experience it.  Put it on your bucket list!  These garments are truly transforming when you put them on.  They make you feel like the best darn good version of yourself you never knew existed.  I feel like I can tackle anything in a killer vintage suit – they’re empowering.  The trick is to take your measurements, know what garment measurements would work well for you, and then wait and check around to find the one that “suits” you!

More often than not, unless you are willing to make a larger monetary investment, a vintage suit will need some upkeep and TLC, with many even missing their matching skirt.  This jacket needed its buttons tacked on and some popped seams closed up, but these are the most common repairs with vintage pieces as cotton thread was frequently used back then and is to the point of disintegrating by now.  Luckily, I had a matching skirt, only it didn’t fit me very well, not like the suit jacket did.  Since someone had obviously tinkered with the skirt before I received it, adding modern-style repairs I wasn’t happy with, I didn’t feel too bad when I refashioned it so I could wear it.  The waistband was unpicked and removed to make a center back panel that gave me about 3 inches more of booty room and better, curved shaping around the waistline.  To finish the waist, I turned under the edge in simple bias tape.  Without the waistband, the skirt does have the tendency to droop now, but at least it is more wearable for me and I was able to fix it using all of the same original material!

With all the effort I put into bringing this vintage suit set up to snuff, I felt that a more detailed and complex blouse was especially worth it here.  Don’t get me wrong – anything anyone makes for oneself is ‘worth it’.  I just mean that a rich looking, detailed blouse that might take more time than my normal project would justly give my suit set the finishing touch I was seeking to have a full outfit that has a bang!  Of course, the right accessories help that, too. My gloves, handbag, and hat are all true vintage, as well as my Grandmother’s jeweled turtle brooch and earrings set.  My two-tone spectator pumps are new reproductions from my favorite vintage-style brand, Chelsea Crew.

Finally, to the blouse!  Not that I don’t have blouses already that work with this suit – of course, white and black tops match here, primarily because of the buttons.  But that is so boring and predictable.  Blouses with collars distracted away from the lovey curved collar (and matching pocket flaps!) on the suit.  My oldie-but-goodie 40’s basic round neck satin blouse works nicely under the suit, so for my new shirt I reached for a rounded neck blouse with interest down the front that would peek out.

I have been wanting to use this Hollywood blouse pattern that I have had for years!  Ever since I saw Emileigh of “Flashback Summer” blog make a Maasai-inspired version for herself using this pattern it has been higher in my sewing project queue.  I had a feeling that a solid color would be the best way to show off the detailing, and I think I was right.  Only, I was wrong when it came to estimating the sizing.  This pattern ran really small!  It was weird.  Emileigh had said that she felt her pattern ran large, and I have made another Hollywood pattern from 1943, the same year, that ran true to size, as well as one which ran very large from the next year.  It’s not that this pleated blouse pattern had weird proportions, for all the pieces were nicely marked and fit together well.  It was just all over small.  Luckily, when I graded the pattern up to my size, I gave myself and extra ½ inch or so just to be on the safe side so I had just enough bonus so that that a small change could fix things.  More on that change in a minute!  The only thing I can think is that this was an anomaly rising from the combo of an unprinted pattern and an off-brand company (meaning something other than the “Big Four”, Simplicity, McCall, Butterick, Vogue).  Many times unprinted patterns are less reliable in accuracy than printed ones due to how they were made in stacks of hundreds of sheets at a time, die-cast stamped with their balance marks and darts.  Also, out of all the vintage patterns I’ve worked with, I do find unpredictable sizing almost always in brand patterns like Du Barry, Hollywood, mail order, and even Advance.

You start with the front, which is in three panels – one side front on the left and right of the center panel that gets pleated.  Except for the center where they spread out towards the shoulders, the pleats are in “blind tuck” style, which has folds that meet each other so no stitching shows.  Then I made all bodice darts, sewed the back panels on, and inserted the sleeves.  Sounds easy, right?  Well, I adapted the sleeve fullness to be pleats rather than gathers as the pattern intended.  It was tricky to get the sleeves looking even and exact together when I was free handing the detailing.  I wanted the pleats on the sleeves to match the trim darts on the sleeve caps and the pleats on the body of the blouse.

That done, then I realized that the neckline add-on piece would make the blouse so high necked I might as well choke myself with it.  No, I was leaving the round neck panel off. So I took what little material I had left and made bias tape facing to cleanly finish off the neckline at the level it was at.  While I was at it, I then also made a bit more bias tape to cleanly hem the bottom of the blouse, too.  I tried it on without the back closing, and realized the bust darts needed to be re-stitched about one inch lower.  With that fixed, the blouse seemed to fit great, so I finished it by stitching in all the buttonholes and buttons in the sleeves and bodice back.  Here came the problem.

The blouse was not all that small of a fit in itself if I just stood with my arms to the side, but add in the back buttons and that was a difficulty.  I found it almost impossible to button the blouse closed on myself, with not enough extra ease room.  Once I did finally do that feat, I saw that when I reached out, the stress on the buttons was making me scared the delicate fabric might possibly rip.  Stitched on and already cut through buttonholes are non-reversible, so I thought, “Why not cover up the buttonholes (my only real option anyway) and add a pleated panel down the back to also cover up a zippered closure?”  This way the back of the blouse compliments the front and now has equally lovely interest, besides that fact that a separating zipper is so much easier to do blind reaching from behind and much stronger than four buttons could be.  Adding the panel with the zipper technically gave me one whole extra inch of space across the back, making my blouse fit me so much better overall.  A crisis was averted that night, and I actually like my method of covering up a sewing “failure” much better than if everything had gone according to plan.  Mistakes are often blessings in disguise, I suppose.

The Hollywood star associated with my blouse’s design, Ruth Warrick, is herself an interesting woman that is not heard about as much as she could, for being in the limelight in as many ways as she was.  First of all, she played the character of the actor Orson Welles’ first wife in the famous 1941 movie “Citizen Kane”.  She worked with Orson Welles on both the screen and the radio on several occasions because he said he was looking for a woman who “was a lady”, not just someone who could “play a lady”.  Mostly she is known for the later career in the television soap dramas.  She was in “As the World Turns” for a number of years after the show debuted in 1956, then she moved to “All My Children”, which she was part of from 1970 to 2005.  She has bonus points in my book for being a gal from my own state of Missouri!  It’s amazing how adding the association of a famous screen star can really add to a pattern’s appeal.  Pattern companies should bring back Hollywood patterns, and I’m not talking about cosplay either.

Speaking of Hollywood, this reminds me of a quote of some fashion advice by Joan Crawford, “Find your happiest colors – the ones that make you feel good.  Care for your clothes, like the good friends they are!”  (Full quote here.)  This is good advice for store bought clothes, even more so for things that you have sewn.  If you have taken the time to think of it, buy the fabric and work with the pattern, you are worth seeing what you have made be a success and not an unwanted failure.  However, Joan Crawford’s quote is especially the case for vintage items.  It would be sad if the general interest in fashion from the past also becomes the cause for it to be more scarce and therefore less attainable.  I don’t mean to get on a soapbox, but really – it’s kind of like what is said about our environment, we should leave vintage the same or better than how we found it, but never worse off.  Those who own a garment piece from the past should make sure to wear it only if it fits (as there will be less chance of it tearing irreparably and more chance they will like wearing it), take care of it, and examine, appreciate, and learn from it.  Without clothes from the past how will we learn and understand our present and future fashion styles?  Anyone who has or does sew vintage and even those who do not should appreciate the value of true authentic pieces in the hands of everyday people.  I hope you agree and enjoy what I have done to add value to this 1940’s suit set.