Inverted Floral Wrap Dress

Just as a mirror has two faces or a coin has two sides, so is there symmetrical inversion in botany.  I have channeled this natural state of balance into a vintage wrap dress for the ultimate challenge in forethought and clear-headed pattern planning.  I do normally gravitate towards asymmetrical designs. 

However, I was directly inspired by the dual personality of the Marvel villain Madame Masque, as seen in my favorite television series Agent Carter (Season two of 2016) as the stylish Hollywood starlet Whitney Frost, set back in the time of the 1950s era.  The last scene for Whitney sets her up for the future villain she becomes.  Watch it for yourself here on YouTube. She is shown as unhinged, delusional, and desperate to live her old life even as she is disfigured from the power she found searching for a new way of existence.  However, we are viewing her situation through the lens of a mirror image which distorts her reality. 

Whitney Frost, Season Two, episode 10 of the Agent Carter show

Her dress was appropriately two-faced, with a pleasing feminine floral on one side for her Hollywood alter-ego and a deep purple on the other side to reference the Dark Matter which resided in her.  This beautiful ruse is the scene that I sought to imitate.  As short as it is (only 1 minute) the clip is very telling – Whitney Frost’s sadistic and selfish ways left her with the opposite of everything good that her gifted intelligence could have achieved.    

THE FACTS: 

FABRIC:  The solid portions are a cotton and poly blend broadcloth, while the other half is an all-cotton handmade block print direct from India, fully lined in a thin bleached muslin cotton for opacity

PATTERN:  Anne Adams #4803, from the year 1952, labeled as a “Wrapron” jumper-dress-apron, vintage original pattern from my personal stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread and some bias tape for finishing the edges…that is it!  No zippers or interfacing, or buttons – pretty simple!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was made in about 30 hours and finished on June 13, 2021

TOTAL COST:  Two yards of the floral block print was ordered from DesiFabrics on Etsy for $26.  The rest of the fabrics came from my local JoAnn Fabric shop – 2 yards for the purple and 3 yards for the muslin.  My total is about $45.

There has been a semi-intentional year 1952 spell lately on my blog.  This is the third post in a row to feature something I have made dating to that year in fashion history!  1952 saw the full transition of women’s’ fashions away from the last vestiges of late 1940s influence and took on the styles which would be the classic silhouettes and design lines for the rest of the era.  This third consecutive post of a 1952 dress combines a sample of the predominant fashion trends for that year (mentioned previously) into one project.  I will explain!

My last post – a Cinderella inspired dress – had a simpler version of the same inverted floral look as this post’s frock.  The latter was my test project for gearing up for a full interpretation as the one in this post and diving all in to the challenge of trying out some tricky mirror image paneling.  What I learned along the way is that there is no secret technique to help make the process easier.  Everything is in terms of opposites and cut single layer.  This kind of inverted paneling of two fabrics is just plain craziness to sew and plan.  My best advice is to work on such a project when you have a clear head and limited distractions.  Write out ahead of time which pattern piece will go to which fabric so as to have a visual guide.  Also, have some extra fabric as a little ‘wiggle room’ in case you mess up figuring which pattern piece to cut from which fabric.  Trying to create a two-fabric dress was easier for my Cinderella dress as the McCall’s pattern I used was clearly printed.  Unless you’re looking to make things harder for yourself, do not try such a style when working with an unprinted tissue pieces, which was the case for the mail order pattern I used for this Whitney Frost dress.

In the princess-themed post mentioned above, I spoke of how 1952 had some definitive fashion trends that are easy to spot, but I’ll now add wrapped dresses to the list.  Before Diane Von Fustenburg got credit for popularizing wrap dresses in the 1970s, they had been a creative “craze” in the 1950s.  Notice how this post and the former of my last three (my Charles James look-alike) both are 1952 dresses that wrap closed in some such way! 

1952 was definitely a benchmark date to the prevailing wrap trend, as evidenced by an overwhelming amount of that particular style for that year.  Butterick even had a specific tag line for their popular wrap pattern #6015 of 1952, calling it the “Walk-Away Dress” (reprinted as Butterick 4790), but all the other pattern companies of the time came up with their own version over the following few years afterwards.  It seems rather clever to me that Anne Adams took the “it can be a full body apron or a dress” creative approach to tagline and market their wrap dress and keep if different from Butterick’s offerings.  Advance also came out with another apron-dress wrap in #7811 (see it here).  McCall’s had rather fashionable wrap dresses for the time, but they did offer their “Instant” wrap-around apron dress in pattern #2104.  Simplicity Company even came out with their wrap dress in #2466 which was tag lined as the “Answer” dress so you can look presentable enough to answer the door in a matter of seconds.  Simplicity’s “Answer” dress is surprisingly similar to my Whitney Frost dress in the way it has both a print and a solid at contrasting sides.

The first reason I chose the Anne Adams “wrapron” dress pattern for Whitney Frost’s inverted floral dress was for its basic design lines.  It was the only early 1950s dress pattern in my stash that had center seams both front and back and a similar overall style.  Sure, I realize I could have just thrown in extra seams but I wanted my base pattern to be just what I wanted from the start.  With so much figuring to account for already, I didn’t need to add one more alteration for me to think about.  I have also been aching to try one of the many early 1950s wrap dresses, and this one seemed to me to have the best chance for success.  It seems as if every vintage sewist has tried Butterick’s classic “Walk-Away Dress” and been deeply underwhelmed – I was not going to walk into that trap.  Even still, every wrap dress – including the most successful – is a frustrating beast to sew.  They are shifty things that do not have one set way of fitting and tend to have a mind of their own.  Their adjustability is to their benefit at the same time.  Bodies are not static and fluctuate quickly – even from the morning to the evening my body has different measurements.  A wrap dress accommodates all of those changes! 

I was hoping for a rousing victory out of this project, of course, and inspiration from the Agent Carter show has not once let me down, always spurring me to create my wardrobe’s best pieces.  I have found that this specific wrap dress turned out to be perhaps my best fitting wrap and amongst my all-time favorite dresses.  It was quite an experience to sew (as expected) but most of that was simply the combination of mirror imaging the two fabrics and the fact that vintage mail order patterns run roomy.  If you want the same look as my dress without dealing with an unprinted, fickle sized, true vintage original like what I used, I have noticed that the modern reprint Simplicity #8085 is a strikingly similar pattern.  However, I have not tried this reprint for myself.  Using that pattern, nevertheless, you would need to draft in a front V neckline and a center front seam.  Then, you could add in some sleeves, just as I did. 

For some reason it seems as if most of the 50’s wrap dresses do not have sleeves.  They are easy to add on where sleeves are wanted but missing and help keep the garment anchored nicely on the body.  Depending on the design, make sure to add in at least an extra inch to the inner armhole edges to a sleeveless frock if you are going to sew in sleeves.  I drafted my very own sleeve pattern here because I wanted exactly what was on the original Whitney Frost dress which was my inspiration.  They have pleated top caps which almost give the illusion of a puff sleeve from a decade or two previous to 1952.  The hem is also pleated in but with half the number as on the cap.  I love how cute and comfy these sleeves turned out to be, and how they enhance the overall dress and level up its elegance.  The dress looked very casual and was clearly an apron-derived style before sleeves.  With them, it is 100% Whitney Frost’s class and suddenly a refined dress that is low-key hiding the fact it is a wrap.  I love the little epiphany moments that every step of making a garment reveals.

The scene of Whitney Frost hallucinating at a vanity dresser’s mirror only lets us see her dress from the chest up, so it left me a lot of creative license to imagine the full frock for my imitation.  I ended up primarily basing my dress off of similar extant dresses, content with only a strong reference my inspiration garment.  However, I found an interview of the actress Wynn Everett off screen (click here to watch it for yourself) which gives a waist up view of the inverted floral dress she wears in that last scene for her character.  In the interview, the shine off her dress and semi-transparency of the fabric tells me it is a lightweight satin, perhaps silk in content.  Finding a remotely matching satin print was exhausting and fruitless after several years of intermittent searching, so I went for something that would guarantee to bring me joy – an Indian cotton “buti” block print

These fabrics always have the most beautiful floral stamps and are the most luxurious cotton to be had.  Through this route, I easily found more than one option that would easily mimic the print on Whitney’s two-faced dress.  Looking at the extant 1950s dresses that encouraged my inspiration, they were all cotton, and using such a material would keep this dress practical and wearable for many occasions, after all.  Summertime is much more pleasant when one is wearing Indian cotton…and India’s Independence Day is coming up August 15th!   

In the understanding that Whitney Frost and Agent Carter are very much alike in many ways despite being each other’s nemesis, I have merged a hair accessory that matches with a Peggy dress into this outfit.  Season Two occasionally has Agent Carter vested in purple, Whitney’s trademark color, depending on where she stands in the plot or how her actions have affected others.  There is scene in episode 2, called “A View in the Dark”, where Peggy is glamorous and acting according to her own designs (both of which is tied to Whitney’s character).  This is also when Peggy is garbed in all purple.  I made my own copy of her jeweled, floral purple hair comb to complete my copy of that dress from the episode.  To get a good view of Peggy’s hair comb, please go watch this short clip for yourself here.  More details about this yet to come, though!  That hair comb really seemed to fit in all too well to the character development I see tied into both leading ladies.  It fancies up the dress, too, since I had to go with a string of pearls as my necklace – pearls are Whitney’s most common jewelry choice.

Peggy always wore her Nana’s 1940s watch, just as I do, but she gravitated more towards a gold tone whereas Whitney wore silver metals.  I again blended in both characters by wearing one of my Grandmother’s special watches, her only one in a silver tone.  I have done what research I can and estimate it to be from circa 1952 – how perfect, right?!  It is in a 14 carat gold with tiny diamonds set into the sides of the face, so I wonder if this was a wedding gift piece, as she was married about that time.  As you can see, this was indeed a special outfit for me to bring out such special accessories.

For starting off with a basic looking wrap-apron design and some cotton fabrics, I think I really pulled off this idea better than I ever expected and turned into a very fun and appealing dress.  Wherever I go in this dress, I always get a number of compliments and positive comments, so apparently it is something which others would like to have as well, if ready-to-wear offered such a thing.  Please go view my Pinterest board on “Wrap-on Dresses and Tops” for a plethora of inspiration.      

I hope I have given you some encouragement to give wrap dresses a try or maybe try them anew if you have been disappointed in them before.  This mirrored paneling of two different prints is a great way to use up two smaller cuts of fabric and makes it seems creatively intentional.  I find it unexpected that wrap dresses seem to have been a popular medium for such a dual fabric style in the 1950s.  I hope you agree that the character of Whitney Frost was a good choice for me to channel for this project idea because I feel wonderful wearing my finished dress…every bit as pretty as a summer flower! 

“A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes”

Something that is in high demand in the world today can be in high supply since it stems from an infinitely renewable source.  I am speaking of kindness – a gift that can be so hard to share but costs nothing to give.  It is a universal language of communal understanding.  A plentitude of kindness is sorely indispensable.  Even if I fail all too often, I do try my best to fill the need, even though the effort is often disheartening.  “Be the change you wish to see in the world” is a cliché phrase but kindness is infectious and the key to someone’s good day can really begin with just one person.  Being kind in heart is a very beautiful, strong, and attractive personal quality to find in people, too.  This is why I would like to pick up (a year later) where I left off posting my “Pandemic Princess” blog series by featuring the most famous fairytale princess – Cinderella.  

Cinderella is the fictional rags-to-riches princess who practices indiscriminate benevolence, patience, perseverance, and understanding.  Her story is ancient enough to span many centuries, ethnicities, and interpretations but in all of them her honest beauty, radiating from the heart within, saves the day so goodness can prevail.  I love with a passion the Disney interpretation of 1950 (the animated film) as well as the live action retelling from 2015.  However, I am a sucker for a creative spoof on the story – my especial favorites are Ella Enchanted from 2004 and Ever After from 1998.  The catchy songs and the strong sewing references to the original 1950 animated film have me hopelessly hooked, nevertheless, and the live action interpretation from 2015 is a glorious treat for me.  “Have courage and be kind. For where there is kindness there is goodness and where there is goodness there is magic.” These are the best words ever to summarize Cinderella’s story and can be found in the 2015 live action film. 

1950 cover for a child’s book

I never fully finished sharing all of my Princess inspired vintage creations after launching my “Pandemic Princess” blog series at the beginning of 2021.  I would like to revisit it to wrap up the last remaining themed projects within the next few months.  As I said in that post which launched the series, I mostly interpreted my Disney princess inspired sewing in relation to the year that their original animated movies were released, and my Cinderella dress follows suit as the early 1950s fashion works perfectly for a full, swishy skirted dress, headbanded updo for my hair, and a pretty pastel blue tone.  Yes, I was inspired by the fairy godmothers magic dress for Cinderella since my Snow White interpretation was a similar looking work dress

Promotional image of actress Lily James for the live action 2015 Cinderella

I wanted something wearable and not a costume though, so this merely carries the spirit of and references to the associated heroine. I did not make these princess dresses because I had someplace to wear them – each was truly a splurge project in the truest sense.  Disney bounding, as is the frequent term for an adult whose assembles an outfit loosely inspired by a fictional character, doesn’t have to revolve around whether or not one is capable of actually showing up at a theme park.  It relies on the ability to dream, have a bit of fun, and appreciate a bit of fantasy…all from right where you are.  Cinderella says that “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” in her first song for the 1950 animated film.  This post’s sweet and calming floral blue dress reminds me that it is important to keep one’s dreams alive, hold onto hope, and stay kind like Cinderella.  Sewing helps me make some of my dreams a reality, and keeps me creative enough to continue making magic with fabric and thread.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% cotton for both the solid blue, the print, as well as the lining layer underneath

PATTERN:  McCall’s 8898, year 1952, original pattern from my personal stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  This was a fussy project that needed lots of thread, one zipper, 10 covered button blank sets, yards of binding, and a good amount of interfacing.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress took 15 to 20 hours to finish in July 2019

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound

TOTAL COST:  The printed fabric was $12 for two yards ordered through “Simply Fabric” of Oakland, California on Etsy.  The solid blue cotton was from my local JoAnn Fabric shop, again two yards for about $12.  Then I had to buy a solid white cotton muslin for lining the whole dress – 6 yards for about $18.  All the notions added up, especially the buttons.  The total for this dress is about $50.

This was my first princess inspired dress even before I thought of making a slew of them and turning it into a theme.  Less than month later, I whipped up my 1992 Beauty and the Beast animated film inspired dress (posted here) as a treat to myself for my birthday.  It was then I realized I wanted to keep going with this good thing I had started.  The blue is for Cinderella’s ball dress, while the climbing floral print is for both her sweetness to nature and the garden plants that were magically turned into everything needed to take her to the ball.  My embroidered headband further calls to mind Cinderella’s ball outfit, but mine has sparkly crystals to add just a touch of finery.  A jeweled butterfly brooch from my Grandmother refers to all the butterflies which rested on Cinderella’s gown in the 2015 live action movie.

Beyond any princess reference to my outfit, I had been aching to try out a dress that contrasts its print with large panels of matching solid color, anyways.  It is almost like color-blocking, but with half of the contrast being a complimentary toned fabric print.  Add in the fact that the front closure is asymmetric, which I am a complete sucker for, and this dress becomes the best way for me to dive into this style.  For a few years beforehand, I had kept a whole folder of similar 1950s dresses to encourage what I felt may have been a crazy idea.  It is interesting how mixing up prints with solids in paneled dresses has become a popular trend in both the sewing realm and also the sphere of true vintage sellers since last year.  I was ahead of things in 2019, apparently! 

Besides the interesting way I took advantage of the paneling in the dress, there is another neat detail that was added to this pattern.  There are V-notches cut into the sides of the neckline, the hem to both sleeves, and the center back neck.  These spots were tricky but fun to sew and require nothing more than firm interfacing, precise stitching, and the clipping of the seam allowances.  This small V notching along hem edges of a bodice is a feature I love to see because it is unmistakably tied to early 1950s designs.  See Butterick 5739 from 1951, Butterick 6091 from ‘52, Butterick 6960 from ‘54, and McCall’s 3235 from 1955 for some examples from sewing patterns.  Now you can understand why I attributed this vintage Martha Manning suit in my wardrobe, with its notched neckline, (see it here on my Instagram) to be from the exact same time frame, as well.  Asymmetry was likewise a popular element on dresses and bodices of the early 1950s, as well, so this dress pattern combines both into one fantastic design, similar to what both Vintage Vogue 1043 from 1953 (see my version here) as well as Vogue 9105 from 1954 have going for them.  This post’s dress pattern is from 1952, and has more little V notches along the edges than any pattern I have seen elsewhere…I love it!

Was this ever a complex project and a fabric hog, though!  The asymmetry meant I needed to pay attention to the right side of the front pattern pieces and cut them single layer.  The cottons – both printed and solid – being slightly sheer meant I needed to cut every pattern piece twice to interline individually.  There is 10 yards in total fabric here!  So much fabric means it is a heavy dress for summer, even though that is the season it is for being in a bright white print.  Making 10 fabric covered buttons became overwhelming pretty quickly, too. 

The fit was really funky making it as-is and turned out to be an ill-fitting dress that needed all sorts of adjustments.  Even the length before hemming was down to the ankles on me!  To counter all this bother, I cheated with the asymmetric front and installed a side seam zipper.  The entire button front is for looks only at this point and not a working closure.  After everything the dress put me through to reach a point where it was wearable, there was no way I had enough energy to sew in and cut open 10 buttonholes.  Even with sewing down the asymmetric front, the neckline is rather fussy to keep closed.  I am so glad I opted for ‘cheating’ on the front closing.  Even still, I had to add some tiny hook and eyes to keep the perfect V of the neckline over my chest. 

I am not as naturally gifted as Cinderella, and so the birds you see in some of my pictures are actually vintage plastic bird models that I and my dad built when I was kid.  Search up Bachmann’s “Birds of the World” and you’ll see what they are.  The scarlet tanager was a model my dad did as a kid himself (in the early 1960s) but the barn swallow in my hands for the first picture was one I made as a teen.  The birds were packaged in pieces like a plane or a car model and needed to be painted and glued together.  When they were finished, the scale was the same as the real life birds they were portraying.  I came face to face with a hummingbird once when she thought I was a flower, and I did some bird banding with the local Conservation Department as a teen, but otherwise these models are as close as I will get to my favorite songbirds.  I just had to include the models in my pictures because Disney-bounding Cinderella is about having a sense of fantasy…so why not pretend I do have feathered friend?!  After all, “be kind to every kind, not just mankind” as the phrase goes.

The print struck me as perfect for channeling her in a Disney-bounding dress for a very good reason.  It was similar to a cotton floral I picked out as a young teen to make myself a wearable Cinderella skirt for my birthday.  Looking back, I am proud at how I made exactly what I had hoped for but repulsed by the fact I actually wore that.  It was a long full skirt in a sheer floral cotton, lined in blue for a soft tint, and draped with swagged bows just like Cinderella’s first ball dress (the one the sewing mice made and her stepsisters destroyed).  A two yard cut on its own is not enough for a full skirted 1950s dress but I really had to make this fabric work for my idea.  Besides, I felt that the floral was too quaint and overall busy looking on its own without a solid tone to calm it down.  Cinderella only wore solid colors, so incorporating a large swath of blue to the print was merely properly following the call of crazy creativity.   I have properly reinvented something I wanted to do as a teen, and done it in a much better manner. 

I suppose I need to learn how to practice kindness towards myself, particularly when looking back on some dubious fashion choices of my past!  Being easy on yourself is especially hard to do, from a maker’s standpoint, and takes real effort and courage.  “I could have done this better” or “this is far from flawless” is frequent to think or say for sewists.  I know my perfectionism is too strong more often than not.  While it is admirable to set such high standards, such an attitude merely ends up with you being harsh on yourself and often setting unrealistic goals.  Cinderella’s kindness is often misunderstood as a doormat for others but if you look closer – as this article does – you can see how she was so busy being kind towards others she ‘forgets’ to be kind to herself.  Try to take one special step today to be understanding and gentle on yourself in the spirit of Cinderella, but especially in regards to whatever aspirations or dreams you cherish!

A Versatile Wrap-on Evening Gown

I realize it has now been 7 months since I promised to share “soon” the so-called skirt portion to my Charles James designer inspired project, my great and final clincher for the end of 2021.  Life’s ebb and flow carries me away in unintended directions more often than not!  As I mentioned without too much detail in the post for that Charles James outfit, my skirt was really an evening dress.  It happily turned out to be an amazing chameleon of a garment, thus guaranteeing me years of wear and enjoyment. 

I don’t know about you, but I really haven’t ever thought of an evening gown as being something very wearable, much less something versatile and extremely useful.  From a maker’s perspective, I love sewing evening wear but hate that there are so few occasions to wear such things.  It causes consternation that such pretty clothes hang unused and lonely in my closet.  This post’s evening dress is the answer to all such problems.  Leave it to a vintage 1950s era design to offer a smart but glamorous evening dress that is adaptable in both the way it fits and the way it gets worn!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  an ivory polyester shantung, contrasted by a burnt orange poly chiffon

PATTERN:  Butterick #4919, a year 2006 reprint of a 1952 pattern, originally Butterick #6338

NOTIONS NEEDED:  one long 22” zipper, and lots of thread

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was relatively quick and easy – about 15 hours for the dress and an extra hour to make the chiffon scarf.  Both were finished on April 9, 2021

THE INSIDES:  left mostly raw and merely loosely zig-zag stitched over to prevent fraying

TOTAL COST:  I no longer remember what I paid for it, but I do recall it was a good deal for the 6 yards I bought – about $50 perhaps.

This dress has been a long time coming!  I bought the shantung and picked out the pattern to match with it – even cut all the fabric pieces out – back in 2013.  Originally, I was inspired by one of my favorite old movies, An Affair to Remember from 1957, to try and sew my own imitation of the actress Deborah Kerr’s ivory evening gown from the beginning of the movie.  I had planned on this being my entry for the “Butterick to the Big Screen” contest that the pattern Company was hosting in honor of their 150th Anniversary.  I made a Doris Day inspired blouse instead (and became the winner, after all).  The pattern and fabric pieces to this project were then bagged up together and mostly forgotten all these years…until now! 

When I laid out my “Affair to Remember” undertaking anew, I no longer felt like fully committing to reworking the pattern.  Nor was I enthusiastic about adding on chiffon scarf panels to make it closer to the movie dress, as originally planned.  Suddenly I was merely content with making it as-is out of the envelope and having a mere reference to my original inspiration.  One simple, 120” long, separate scarf was still made out of sheer chiffon, as I had bought the proper fabric anyway for this intention.  Nevertheless, I didn’t go over the top or try too hard to imitate Deborah Kerr’s gown.  I love this dress too much to wish I had deviated at all from the original pattern’s design.  It is fantastic just the way it is.  Having a subtle reference to my original inspiration gown is enough to make me happy.

Now, I am aware that all gowns are dresses, but not all dresses are gowns…except in the case of Butterick 4919.  The pattern is even more versatile than my own gown by showing it in a shorter “day” length, and recommending it to be sewn up in a cotton, jersey knit, or lightweight faille.  A gown is a long lined formal dress, while a dress is more general term for an everyday one-piece garment of both top and skirt combined.  Butterick 4919 is so versatile, and it is unlined (being simple to make), so it is really both a gown and a dress, as well as an excellent skirt, too! 

You see, the sides of the bodice are completely open, and the skirt is the only part of this gown that has closed side seams.  The skirt is a full circle skirt, which between that and the cut-on ties which close up the bodice front, is why the pattern calls for at least 5 yards of fabric, whether you are using a 60” or 45” width material.  The short straps attached to the front bodice are hooked together under the back bodice at the waistline.  Then, there is a center back zipper which closes up both the skirt and the bodice.  The front and back are attached at the shoulders, still, after all.  There is a slight halter- style taper in to the high cut shoulders.  They are gathered in at the front half and plain in the back, which was a trick to sew.

Yet, in order to fully get dressed in this garment, you need to have fun with the ties.  They are a yard and a half in length each coming out from being cut-on with the back bodice.  They can be twisted, tied, and wrapped in all sorts of ways.  I even successfully tied it halter style.  For an even cleaner, simpler look, I can go rogue and tuck the long ties into the dress and hook the shorter ties on the outside of the dress.  I wore it has a skirt by letting the entire bodice hang into the skirt portion of the dress and zipping up the back as far as the waistline – easy peasy!  The way the ivory is such basic color helps along the fact that this is one of my wardrobe’s most versatile dresses.

I did do a small adaptation to the ties.  I couldn’t bear to just skinny hem the edges to the ties, not only because I hate doing such a finish on long seams but also since the satin underside of the shantung would show.  Thus, I faced the ties with more fabric by double layering the entire back bodice.  This way there are no raw edges and two ‘right’ sides (with the nubby matte finish facing out) to the shantung.  Having double thickness to the ties might not have been the best idea – it sure makes them much more bulky around the waist.  Yet, there is no wrong side to ‘hide’ this way and less opportunity for the ties to stretch out of shape, as the ties end up being cut on the cross grain bias.  I’m conflicted as to what is the best way to really finish the ties…I feel there has to be a better way to streamline them.  For now though, all is well that ends well!

This is the only Butterick reissue that I am entirely pleased with.  So many of the other vintage or retro reprints have obviously been tinkered with by the company and seem to have wonky fitting, modernized details, and unpredictable amounts of wearing ease.  The back bodice did seem to run long, but that is normal for me to find on both reprints and originals from that era as I have a deep sway back.  The size chart given was spot on with the finished garment.  I ended up with the same as what is shown and it is even better than I expected.  What’s not to like here?  The only downside may be the amount of fabric the long dress calls for, but a discount or second-hand bed sheet set would be the perfect way to cheaply try this pattern out on a budget.  I have a feeling this dress would be utterly fantastic and dreamy in a soft cotton or lightweight linen print. 

For something so elegant to also be easy-to-make as well as comfortable is a big enough draw, but the fact that it is a vintage design still timelessly in style makes for a happy win in my estimation.  Even though this pattern is out of print, if you would like to try it for yourself there still seems to be many readily available and rather reasonably priced through sources over the internet.  The sheer amount of fabric you have to work with and the unusual construction presents a few tricky challenges, yet this wrapped gown is immensely worth the effort to sew, believe me.  It is Hollywood glam for every day.  If this dress was made in a white crepe, it could be reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe’s 1955 halter dress.  In a bright pink, it would imitate Betty Draper’s taffeta gown in Season two’s “The Benefactor” episode 3 of Mad Men television show.  In a cotton polka dot print, it could reference what Jane Russell wore in 1953 for an “imprint” ceremony in the courtyard at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard as publicity for the film ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’.  I could go on with my ideas but I want you to add in your own thoughts, before I get carried away.  Granted, this Butterick gown is not a true halter dress as the back and shoulders not exposed.  However, it still looks the part as a classic 50’s halter dress, and that is part of the clever practicality to this gown.  You don’t need to adapt your normal lingerie and it is no less appealing for the little extra coverage!

Now that I have finally posted this outfit I started way back in 2013 and completed in 2021, I can feel like it is fully finished.  I think I will follow up with some more of these half-forgotten and need-to-be posted sewing projects of mine!  Do any of my fellow bloggers out there have a backlog queue of things you’ve made but never got around to posting?  Surely I’m not the only one!  I think we can all agree this gown was a good one to let out from my archives and share sooner than even later.  Let me know if this post becomes the reason you try Butterick 4919 retro reprint!

1960 Two-Piece Bathing Suit

Within the last few years, I have become a greater fan of enjoying summer with some fun in the water.  For far too long I have been overly self-conscious to fully enjoy or even desire some pool time, whether public or private.  My first ‘dive’ into sewing my own swimwear last year (see my 1989 swimsuit posted here) helped me realize that crafting my own bathing suit bestowed loads of self-confidence.  I never thought I could have this much enjoyment when daring to be baring extra skin!  This year, I am more about enjoying lazing in the sun fashionably while playing in the water just enough to stay cool, yet still keep my hair and face dry.  Following suit, I crated a bold burgundy two-piece set next…who am I anymore!?! 

The 1980s swimsuit of last year bestowed me with an extra dose of experimentalism and I was in the mood for something I would never try to wear unless I had made it myself!  I love how my newest bathing suit turned out.  It is everything I could have hoped for and something I never knew I could enjoy so much!

All this being said, an undercurrent that will not completely go away is that I am still generally uncomfortable to post myself in a swimsuit, for all my maker’s pride.  Please go easy on me with any judgment or estimation of my figure, and maybe I can find it easier to be gentle on myself.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  burgundy solid matte finish nylon-spandex blend fabric lined in a beige toned athletic wear stretch polyester, with a thin foam “interfacing” layered into the brassiere

PATTERN:  Vintage Vogue #9255, a 2017 reprint of a 1960 design, originally Vogue #9996

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread, four buttons, and non-roll poly elastic

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The top half took me about 8 to 10 hours to make, while I spent 4 hours to finish making the bottoms.  Both were completed in July 2021

TOTAL COST:  The burgundy solid was bought from “Fluky Fabrics” shop on Etsy (specializing in athletic and swimwear material), while the nude lining was bought from my local JoAnn Fabric store.  One yard of the burgundy solid cost me $15 while the beige poly was about $8 and the interfacing about $5.  My total cost was a reasonable under $30.

Louis Reard’s design for a 2-piece swimsuit, which he named the bikini, was introduced to the Paris media and general public on July 5, 1946.  I figured this anniversary was as good of an excuse as any to finally share my version and kick off my summer posts here on the blog!  Granted, my bathing suit is just that and not ‘technically’ a bikini.  The term bikini has evolved to designate swimwear that is not only two pieces, which leaves an exposed midriff, but also having separated cups in the brassiere, often only connected by spaghetti straps or sturdy string.  My suit pieces have more decent amount of coverage than that, and the top is definitely substantial besides being one piece with no strings other than neck-shoulder ties.  It is said Louis Reard declared in his advertisements that a two-piece suit wasn’t a genuine bikini “unless it could be pulled through a wedding ring.”  I am not that daring…so this is going to be a lined, padded, and tailored bathing suit set and not a proper bikini!

First of all, I need to point out that the pattern I used, being vintage from 1960, was meant for a woven fabric like cotton, denim, or linen.  I interpreted it with a modern super stretchy swimsuit knit.  My immediate solution to make such a fabric substitute possible was to choose one size smaller than what would pair up with my body measurements according to the chart.  As a knit requires negative ease, usually you can go two whole sizes down when working with a stretch out of a pattern made for woven material.  I did not want too snug of a suit, and the pattern envelope back points out this design is already “close fitting”, so I only went down one size, instead.  You can always take seams in but you’re restricted when it comes to letting seams out! 

After I had finished my bathing set, I later found out that the UK magazine “Love Sewing” had featured the “Thrifty Stitcher” – aka Claire-Louise Hardie, the first and original Sewing Producer & Mastermind for The Great British Sewing Bee – who had done a similar ‘woven-to-stretch’ conversion to this Vogue #9255 vintage reissue.  Hardie slightly modernized the shape of the two bathing pieces, though, while I kept close to the vintage design.  I am a big fan of her color blocked idea, nevertheless.

Looking at some vintage inspiration of patterns and photographs, it seems that this style of bathing suit was pretty common and popular for the time.  My favorite example of a similar suit is in this 1962 photo of the Hollywood actress, singer, and animal rights activist Doris Day with her fellow actress June Allyson.  Doris Day had another striped two piece suit in a wardrobe test (see picture here) for the 1962 movie “That Touch of Mink”.  For yet another example coming from Hollywood, the main character Midge in the popular television series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” had a two piece suit that is the most similar to the Vogue reprint pattern.  Midge’s blue and white polka dotted suit is in Season two, episode four, and supposedly takes place in the summer of 1959. 

Butt darts!! There I said it.

In all, I love this style of suit for the almost shorts-like cut of the bottoms, and the high waistline which lands above the belly button, something I am used to from regularly wearing vintage styles.  Ingenious but unexpected back booty darts which radiate from the hem shape the bottoms closely into the body. The top is dissimilar enough from lingerie (so it’s not a nagging afterthought that I’m in public wearing my underwear) with a moderate amount of coverage.  This pairing was the only way I can feel comfortable easing myself into a two piece suit. 

I made the pattern as it was from out of the envelope, with a few minor tweaks and customized additions.  For full booty coverage, I slashed and spread open the pattern as well as extending the hem length by an inch.  I added an extra 5/8” to let the waist have an extra allowance for turning the elastic inside twice.  Then, I made the top straps longer than given and left them free so I could have multiple tying options.  The only weird part to this design may be the gathering ties at the front center to the top.  The pattern said the leave a gap in the center front seam, and that just seemed fussy so I sewed it together.  I hand tacked the center front tie to the underside, which makes it merely a decorative touch at this point, albeit one I really don’t know what to do with.  The material is too spongy to go in a bow, and it is too bulky for a nice knot.  I may come back in the future and do something different to the center front tie of this swim top.

My fur baby is never far from me when I am sewing!

Finally, as an inner layer to the swim top (as mentioned in “The Facts” above), I added a thin foam bought from my local fabric store in the interfacing section.  It is slightly stretchy, poly knit mesh covered, and a scant 1/8” thick, much like whatever is used to make the sew-in, pre-made brassiere cups you buy in the notions sections of the fabric store.  I have seen this stuff technically called “polylaminate foam”.  I know most vintage original swimwear of pre-1965 had hard cups, but I was going for a ‘soft-with-structure’ ideal here by using the foam support.  With a dual button closure in the center back, I figured the rest of the top and not just the cups probably needed foam for further stabilization.  This was a good idea, but maybe not the best idea – too much foam means the top holds water all over.  Even still, the swim top turned out better for the extended use of the foam.  It was easy to work with, nicely dense, and something I can definitely recommend using.   

Both bottom and top are fully lined in the beige toned athletic poly using the bag method so all raw edges are hidden for a smooth feel against my skin and professional appearance.  I don’t actually remember if I was going rogue from the pattern for such a finish.  I hate to admit that I didn’t refer to the instructions much at all but used the skills I learned from my first swimsuit.  The sizing was spot on (once I sized down on account of my swimwear knit) so I didn’t have to spend additional time on fitting tweaks.  Just like my last foray into sewing swimwear, this project was also surprisingly easy and finished before I knew it.  This kind of sewing is quite addictive. 

Looking back on my set now that it is done, I wish I had done better on some of the construction and finishing details.  At the same time, I don’t know what precisely could make it better than it is because it fits me great, is insanely comfortable, and is everything I could ever want from a two piece bathing suit.  I specifically went with this burgundy solid color because it would help pair with a full coverage “rash-guard” swim shirt I have had for years, besides matching with some other two piece sets I now plan on sewing in the future (from the 1970s and 1940s, for a hint).  Thus, sewing my 1960 two piece suit appeased the insanely practical side of me, too! 

I don’t think this looks homemade for all my gripes, nor does it look too old fashioned for being a vintage design (not that I really care all that much about public estimation of my fashion choices, anyways).   I just love sewing my own “dream pieces” – garments that I have always wanted to wear and enjoy but never could when dependent on buying ready-to-wear!  I also love finding out that the dream swimwear is more accessible than expected due to the reasonable cost of needing only ½ yard and the ease of a simple pattern.  If this is only my second go around with swimwear and I am still thrilled, I can’t wait until my third try…three time’s a charm, as the saying goes, right?  Since I have all the fabric and supplies needed for it, maybe I’ll tackle making a golden lamé 1950’s pinup inspired swimsuit next (using this Gertie pattern).

We now have a pool membership so I can have more opportunities to enjoy my (now two) different handmade bathing suits this summer!  Natural water sources are the most peaceful and beautiful, but can be either dirty, dangerous, or full of bugs and critters, so a man-made pool is good for a safer (but sometimes crowded) option.  This natural waterfall and pond down a rocky ledge was too pretty to pass up as a photo opportunity!  What water do you prefer to play in – natural water sources or man-made pools?

I hope you enjoyed yet another post of my custom made swim wear.  Making your own bathing suit certainly carries a real “wow” factor.  As a consumer driven society, many people forget about the process – all garments have to be made in some way or another!  Even still, bathing suits definitely do seem like an alien project compared to sewing a simple hair scrunchie.  Both items are basically crafted the same way – by a human harnessing thread and material into something useful and creative.  Be it suit coats, swimsuits, pillowcases, or hats, I see them all as merely a different version of the same sewing.  This mindset gets me through my tough or intimidating projects.  Maybe it can help you conquer your sewing challenges?  Please do consider making swimwear for yourself.  I dare say, you will be in for a treat!