Windows

A different view into a space apart from our own is essential to human existence.  We crave, we need an alternate vision, whether that view is into another living space or outside of our own quarters.  Windows keep us attuned to nature, in touch with society, and help us realize a bigger picture.  At certain times of our lives, we need to take advantage of a window in time to the schedule of our life and grab an escape, which is deeper and more lasting than a mere distraction.  “A distraction is momentary – an escape helps you heal.” (Quote from “We Look to You” in the Broadway musical “The Prom”.)  That process of reaching out – even if it’s as short as pausing to soak in a lovely picture, or as long listening to an orchestral piece, or as animated as a phone call with a friend – can be an opportunity to learn, grow, love, and find refreshment.  Such a train of thought is important in our world today, when the living quarters and life possibilities for many of us have become more limited.  Yet, it is also an important reflection for “Multicultural May”.  Take a trip with me then, into the wonderful world of India.

The Indian culture has as many grand architectural entrances as it does interesting open-back sari blouses for the ladies.  The bare-backed bodice of my tunic is my interpretation of the “chaniya choli” traditionally worn by Kutch women, a style which became prevalent throughout India beginning in the late 1940s.  My loose hipped, tapered leg trousers are in reminiscent of the kind of bottoms, called churidar pants, worn underneath an Indian tunic, the western words for what’s called a kurdi.  Together, I have merged a casual, all-occasion style (the kurdi and churidar) with a features of a garment for fancy, special occasions (choli, aka sari blouse) into one creation of individual interpretation.

My main accessories are fair-trade, handmade Indian imported goods bought from a local market.  My bracelet matches in the way it is a small window of itself.  I was so excited to find it!  It is a raw hammered brass wrist cuff.  My necklace is a combo of aqua grass beads and more brass with the excess of chain.  Finally because one’s treasured, best gold pieces are an important contribution to any Indian outfit, my hoop earrings had been a sweet Christmas gift from my husband and had to be included here!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  I used 2 yards of a printed 100% rayon challis direct from India for the tunic, and fully lined it in a buff finish polyester lining. The pants are a Telio Ponte de Roma knit in a 65% Rayon, 30% Nylon, 5% Spandex medium to heavy weight opaque material in a spruce green color.

PATTERNS:  Burda Style “Cut Out Back Dress” pattern #124 from June 2015 for the tunic, and a true vintage McCall’s #5263, year 1959, from my pattern stash

NOTIONS:  I just needed thread, two zippers, and a small bit of interfacing for both projects.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The tunic was finished in late last year (2019) in about 15 hours, and the pants were made this May of 2020 after only 8 hours.

THE INSIDES:  The tunic, as I said, is fully lined, and the pants inner edges are left raw because they don’t unravel

TOTAL COST:  The Ponte knit (from “Sew Stylish Fabrics” on Etsy) was about $25 for the one yard I needed, and the material for the tunic was about $15 (the rayon was on sale at “Fibers to Fabric” on Etsy and the lining was a discounted remnant at JoAnn).  My total is $40.

Kutch district is in the Gujarat state is the culture of India that I am most familiar with through some close family friends who are like family to us.  So it’s no wonder that I chose it as my influence once again (see this post for reference)!  I will be exploring more regions of India in my future ethnic-influenced self-made fashion…I did already touch on the central region with my “homage to the Rani” vintage dress…and Gujarat is west.  Goodness, I acknowledge there is such a richness of traditions, artisan crafts, environment, history, and special people everywhere you look, but especially India has such fabulous fashion to boot!  I greatly respect how every detail to traditional Indian clothing has a reason, symbolism, and meaning.  Yet, I also love how the India of today is not afraid to merge modern renditions of clothing with a homage to their traditional past.  Personally I like to take a 20th century vintage twist on India’s fashion, on top of all that!  That’s a lot to take in, right?!  So you see there are many ways to interpret Indian clothing with proper provenance.

This set is half vintage really.  As “The Facts” show, I used a true vintage pattern and a modern Burda Style pattern together.  Modern or not though, the tunic is strikingly similar to vintage – especially 1930s – styles.  In the depression era, many styles of fashion for women – mainly evening wear – were all about making a grand parting by sporting a “party from behind”.  I am all for that trend!  I have a whole Pinterest page here full of eye candy for the open-back trend.  It is a common feature to women’s Indian cholis (see this post or this post for some modern examples)!  Luckily, Burda keeps offering designs every so often with such a feature, too.  Now, I have sewn many open-back garments before (look under my “Modern” and my “Burda Style” pages to see them) but this one was by far the trickiest to find the right fit.  This is the main reason why I chose a 50’s pattern for the pants, because let’s face it…I find the fit of vintage patterns to generally be spot on for me, especially when it comes to pants.  Something guaranteed to be an instant success was welcome after the many issues I had with this Burda Style tunic.

I had to resize both projects due to them being in petite sizing.  Firstly, I’ll address the wonderful pants!  The “multi-sized” pattern were supposed to have three different proportions, but the ‘regular’ was missing from the envelope, the ‘tall’ was uncut, and the ‘petite’ was cut down to shorts length… ugh.  I had to retrace the pattern onto sheer medical paper and add some width for the smaller size to be my measurements, and then I was good to go.  No other adjustments were necessary and so I doubt a new pattern could offer better than this – it’s just what I had in mind!  Too bad they are mostly covered up by the rest of my outfit but no worries!  As basic as they are, I will certainly be wearing a lot of these pants with plenty of other tops, though.

Secondly, the tunic was the first time I had worked with a Burda petite pattern and I wasn’t quite sure how much to add horizontally to bring it up to regular proportions.  As I was sewing it up, I regretted adding in any extra allotment because this pattern seems to run long in the torso (very weird for a petite sizing).  I did do a tissue fit beforehand, but paper cannot quite account for the give of the bias grain, and there is a lot of that in the design of this tunic, especially when it is cut of something as slinky as rayon challis.  Thus, I had to take the garment in along the ‘kimono’ style (non-set-in, cut on sleeve) shoulder seam, which threw off the neckline, which messed with the proper bias.  Now do you see why this was a problem project?

I do like how changing the neckline forced me to be creative and add details to the tunic that I like better than the original design.  There was a lot of extra room in the chest because of the fit adjustments I made everywhere else.  I needed to bring that extra fabric in to fit by using a means that looked intentional, and not just what it was – an adjustment on the fly.  The best I could come up with was to make a soft, slightly angled pleat on each side of the neckline to shape the bust from across the upper chest.  It reminds me of a frame for the face and my necklace, as well as adding symbolical angles to the “window” theme of my outfit.  It’s so funny how a “mistake” taken with the right outlook can add so much good to the originality of what you create.

There were quite a few small tweaks I did to both pieces, as well as lessons learned.  I did not really need the zipper up the back of the back waist to the tunic – mine fit loose enough that I only wasted my time on a perfect invisible closure.  I did get rid of the back neckline button to less complicate things, then sewed down a hanging decorative tassel instead (sari top/choli reference).  How this pattern works as a dress I don’t know because the bottom hem was so confining and tight, besides being so short (I lengthened it by several inches for my version)!  I did plan on opening up the one seamline to be a thigh slit anyway so the snug hem width didn’t really matter too much anyway other than figuring out the pattern’s original design fit.  The pants originally called for a sewn-on set waistband, but I found them sitting high enough at my waist as it was.  I used the interfaced waistband piece to instead make a facing to turn inside so as to have a smooth edge for a very simple, streamlined style.

In case you noticed, I have been calling my upper garment a tunic in this post, as I feel it is a modern hybrid of a traditional cultural garment.  Kurdi are usually a bit longer in length than this, at least to the knees in my understanding, but I was short on fabric to make it any longer in length.  The tunic I made still makes the ethnic reference I intended and has the general properties of a kurdi the way I am wearing it.  A good churidar pant has its stretch coming from being cut on the bias grain, but modern Western-influenced young people often wear leggings or skinny pants as a substitute and so my bottoms are along that vein.  I do like the subtle reference to the May of 1960 split in the Bombay State along the Gujarat-speaking north by using a vintage pattern from ‘59.  I absolutely love the high waist, comfy fit, cozy body-hugging Ponte knit properties, and the slightly tapered but still full enough to be easy-to-move-in legs.

This outfit is very fun as well as quite different and very freeing.  I enjoy wearing it!  It is a unique garment combination for me to sew, too.  As out of the ordinary this set is for me to make and wear, it is a more ‘common’ Indian ethnic outfit for my wardrobe (versus dressy dresses and my fancy Sherwani coat).  I do love variety in my wardrobe, but variety is more important to help us to being open and understanding of other people and cultures.  Understanding India can be both challenging and intimidating because of its richness of history and traditions, so please never resort to easy-to-find stereotypes as a source for information.  I hope my little posts can shed some extra light on India that you never saw before.  However, don’t just stop at the month of May to focus on growing a multicultural understanding!  It should be a year ‘round effort, especially when there are so many beautiful clothes to see and appreciate!  What is your favorite “window” to a world outside of your own?

I Dream in Reverse Jacquard

My analytical brain likes to focus too much at times on some of the everyday mysteries of life.  Do I time travel when I take a 4 hour flight across two time zones in only 2 hours of my life?  Am I still dirty after cleaning myself in a shower for the towels to appear soiled so quickly?  Does a mirror really reverse an image for it to only cross up our front to back (in what seems to be a left-right reversal) but not up or down?  ‘Apparently not’ is the answer for all of these mental queries, but a scientific explanation doesn’t quite solve things for me.  So what do I do?  I play with at least one of those ideas through fabric.

In this case, I have created an elegant two-piece 1950s outfit that plays on the idea of the reverse image.  Jacquard is the perfect medium for such an idea.  It has a soft structure, is easy to sew, comfortable to wear, and not as fancy as a brocade or silk (i.e. more wearable for more occasions).  Most importantly for my idea, is the fact that either side is the ‘right’ side, more or less a reversible fabric.  Is it really a mirror image, though, when the loftiness of the nap is not the same on each side, creating shine in different places and therefore not a true reverse…in appearance only?  Ah, I think too much sometimes.  Nevertheless, I do love how this outfit turned out, with its play on maximizing the potential of my chosen fabric and making a deluxe combo that echoes everything I adore about the perfection of true vintage clothing.  The dress has dark navy, textured leaves against a blue satin background, while my bolero has satin blue leaves against a matte dark navy background.  It’s a trick of the eyes.

Speaking of the beauty I admire to past styles, that includes architecture…especially when it is as regal and extravagant as the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, California!  Hot off of our camera, and the perfect backdrop for my fancy set, are these pictures from my most recent trip to the American west!  After I had stayed in Las Vegas for several days, we came to stay at what is described as the “premier luxury hotel destination in Downtown Los Angeles”, the Biltmore hotel.  Built in 1923, this immense beaux arts-inspired hotel will be the backdrop in yet another post as well, more appropriately an early 1930s dress.  Stay tuned!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a cotton and rayon blend jacquard, with the dress bodice and jacket facing being in navy all-cotton broadcloth, and the bolero lining a basic ivory poly

PATTERN:  For the dress: Burda Style #121, a year 1957 pattern reprinted in August 2019; For the cropped jacket: Simplicity #8250, a year 1951 pattern (originally Simplicity #3775) re-issued 2016

NOTIONS:  All I needed was a whole lot of thread, some interfacing pieces, one long 22” zipper, two vintage buttons from the notions stash of the Grandparents, mesh seam stabilizer tape, and bias tape…nothing too unusual.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was my last sewing project for 2019.  After about 25 hours put into the dress it was finished on Christmas Eve, December 24, just in time to wear to the holiday celebrations.  The cropped jacket was made in about 3 or 4 hours and finished on January 2, 2020, as my first project for the new year.

THE INSIDES:  The dress bodice is covered by the lining and the rest of the seams are bias bound.  The little jacket is fully lined so no seams are to be seen!

TOTAL COST:  The jacquard had been found at a local rummage sale for only $2 for the whole 6 yard cut.  I only used about 4 yards out of those 6!  The cotton contrast and the lining for the jacket were scraps from on hand sitting for years in my stash, so I’ll count them as free, just as the notions.  This whole outfit cost me little over $1…how’s that for amazing?!?

This set happened to be my marker for the end of one decade and the beginning of the present one.  The dress was my last 2019 sewing project and its jacket the first for 2020 (as I mentioned in “The Facts” above).  What a way to show how far I have come!  This was a challenging project to make (mostly on account of the dress’ bodice details and the jacket adjustments), and I made it with all the trademark finishing of a well-made garment so I am very proud of myself for this set.  I could not have seen myself doing so well on it, even if I did manage to sew something like this, a decade back.  Enough of my reminiscing – let’s get down to the useful information.

I found the sizing on both pieces to be slightly off.  Vintage reprints and reissues often have such problems, especially so when it comes to Burda Style.  The dress, when cut in my ‘normal’ size, had a snug fitting bodice and loose fitting hips and waistline.  I had to take the waist and below in dramatically at the side seams.  Granted, you want the bodice of this dress, by the very way it is designed with its shelf bust, to fit closely, so I am not complaining that it is a good fit.  Luckily, it just fits for me.  The short jacket had snug sleeves and shoulders according to several online reviews from others who have tried it out already.  My shoulders are athletic, so I went up a whole size larger than what I needed according to the chart (for the entire jacket, not just the sleeves), and I am so happy with my decision.  A little crop jacket is the last thing you want to turn out tight fitting, and I wanted to hold onto my extra jacquard and not have to use it to make up for a mistake.  Thank goodness for sewing blogs, right?!

For the dress, I did leave out the addition of boned panels to the lining, as the instructions suggest.  I felt that a stiff mid-section would have been overkill and becomes obvious under such a soft material.  As long as you find a snug body fit as I did, I do not think boning the middle panel is necessary at all.  Definitely do heavily interface all of the lining pieces to the bodice instead, as well as the neckline.  You will definitely thank me later.  Some things you can leave out according to your judgment in sewing, but the shaping and the details, as well as the fit of this dress, demand significant stabilizing.  The sole spot I left out interfacing was along the skirt back’s open asymmetric vent slit.

For the jacket, I went ahead and significantly changed up the pattern to revise it back to the way the original pattern portrays it.  In the reprint, the jacket fitting more like a shrug – only covering a small portion of the upper body (shoulders and upper arms, not extending past the shoulder blades or covering the bust) and thus little more than a pair of sleeves joined at the back.  Not that I don’t like shrugs, but the original pattern cover from 1951 shows the fit and fall of the short jacket to be closer to a true bolero.  That is what I felt would match with my dress the best anyway, so I lengthened the jacket by 1 ½ inches, adding that amount horizontally midway between the hem and the bust.  This was a tricky re-adjustment because the hem is extremely curvy and the back is longer than the front.  The darts needed re-positioning, as did the front neckline curve, but I kept everything basically the same.  I feel that it fits me much better than if it was a short little shrug.  After all, tailored this way, I can have the option of closing it at the center front!  I made a little oriental-style frog using elastic ‘thread’ to achieve a low-key, workable closure.

I also adjusted the dress to bring it up to par with its vintage original.  Thank goodness Burda shares the original images because something about the extremely low dip of the neckline had me doubting this reprint’s credibility.  The center of the 1957’s sweetheart neckline was much more of a horizontal curve, a higher, more decent décolletage.  The reprint has a very angular sweetheart neckline that is closer to a V-cut than anything, and doesn’t look like it supports or holds the bust in at all.  I was not a fan of the model garment in that one detail.  Thus, I raised the center dip of the neckline by 3 ½ inches (yes, you read correctly!) to bring it up to what I feel is a truer imitation of the vintage original, yet still providing a hint of cleavage, a sexy open neck, true sweetheart curving, and better support for the close fit across the bosom.  Many times not letting it all hang out is more of a tasteful appeal than leaving nothing to the imagination.

The dress’ bodice by far took up about ¾ of all the time and effort, but just look at it!  It was worth it, in my estimation.  I have such a failing for sweetheart necklines, especially one with details like this.  The instructions were good, but for something as tricky as this, worded commands are only going to get you so far.  There was a lot of experimenting with the pieces, and unpicking a few times, before I finally hit upon what seemed to be right way to accomplish to the goal.  Granted, the steps did not make sense at first, but working it through – and under stitching every edge from the inside, even for the armscye – gave me a no-thread-visible, how-did-that-happen, complete pattern awe.

For all its faults, this is a really fantastic design.  If you want to advance your sewing skills, try this.  If you want a good challenge that will give you something to be so very proud of if you can do it, try this dress.  If you want to make something that will stand out from anything you can buy, that will bring you to the level of making your sewing equal to those vintage garments you are in awe over because of their craftsmanship – try this pattern.  It gives you a dress that is amazing to wear, after all!  I feel like a princess in it!

Except for the outer hem edge to the bolero, everything else to my outfit is hand finished.  The jacquard has such a satin finish, any thread showing would be glaringly obvious.  The bodice has all of its stitching reserved for the inside so as much as I wanted the easy way to completion, I hand stitched the hemline, skirt back vent, and the long back zipper.  I love the precision that installing a hand-picked zipper offers!  Even though I did not use an invisible zipper, I am getting so used to hand stitching in the conventional exposed teeth zippers almost invisibly.  I’m not meaning to brag, but really not sorry if that’s what I’m doing.  Practice really does make perfect, folks.  There isn’t anything wrong with being proud of your own personal accomplishments.

My accessories are special in their own way, and a combo of different styles and eras.  My necklace is a “Downton Abbey” jewelry piece, in other words a copy of 1910s era style.  My gloves are a great true vintage find on my shopping in Burbank area shops of Los Angeles.  They have a “handmade in France” label and are probably 1930s.  My hair flower is a vintage silk millinery decoration, from the 1940’s, yet another good find on my visit to L.A., this time from fashion district.   The very best purchases of my travels were an immediate part of my fanciest outfit for my trip!

I think all of this must come down to the fact that my mind has never ‘grown up’ in the modern conception of the term.   I haven’t forgotten how to be curious and ask questions about the world around me, or even enjoy playing dress up just because I can or I want to.  Getting out to go on travels helps promote that amazement and interest in life, past and present, too.  It also makes sure I don’t get overly used to the daily grind and get out of my comfort zone to see and do new things.

Finally, this most recent trip was extra special because I caught up with a good friend!  That friend is the one that helped me decide which side of the jacquard to use for the dress after all, so it was appropriate to bring it on my travels spent with her.  Ah, it’s amazing the unlimited possibilities this world has to offer!  Let’s make sure to take the time to be creative and open our minds, in whatever way you need, and I’ll keep my mind open.  I’ll keep asking those deep questions and searching for their answers, continue to challenge my creative skills, and prioritize time for friends and family.

“Soft with a Touch of Tailoring…”

Many times I take a cue for a sewing project from the cover image envelope, but this time my post’s outfit 100% takes its cue from the entertaining original descriptive text to a pattern.  There is a lot of things which give this outfit unique qualities amongst both my wardrobe and my list of items I have made, though, besides following an old leaflet’s text for inspiration.  “Important silhouettes destined to go places…” as the tag line says!  With an outfit like this, I find myself actually loving my winter wardrobe enough to be totally okay with spring taking its good old time coming around!

Firstly, I considered few things coming into my outfit idea.  What material has both structure and softness?  Is it possible to find a fabric which will simplify the creation of the tricky details on the designs I have chosen?  How can this be comfortable, warm, and possess a 50’s appropriate classiness all at the same time?  Is there something I haven’t yet done, something new, that I can integrate into this project?  Can combining two different sewing patterns dated exactly 10 years apart – years 1948 and 1958 – even work or at least be made any less risky?  Happily, this my first project with scuba knit – and a lovely floral suede finish version at that – has both answered and solved many of those considerations.  Making my ‘dress’ (one-piece in appearance only) into two versatile separates, a blouse and a skirt – solved the last concern.  Ah, I love the unlimited creativity available through sewing.

I think I nailed interpreting “Soft with a touch of tailoring” my own way.  The brushed, textured suede finish compliments the softly rounded pleats and angles to the lines of both blouse and skirt achieved through the foam-like thickness of the material.  The raw, unfinished edges of the scuba knit – one of the features for which this material is so handy – brings what might otherwise be a very dressy style a par down to being unpretentious, easy-to-wear, and unique.  The floral print might be a bit dark but it lends an undeniable femininity to the designs.  It hints at the promise of spring in a dreary, leafless season.  Having a golden yellow and black primary palette pairs perfectly with gold jewelry, yet can be fancied up or down as I please.  Scuba knit is quite cozier than I expected, yet is a light warmth for a providing a wonderful winter set without the weight of a wool or tweed.  You get the idea.  I am loving this set, yet another very good sewing project!

To balance things out, the skirt is a true vintage pattern from my stash and the blouse is a modern reprint coming from Burda Style.  Together I feel that this outfit – worn together or each on its own – has a very sneaky vintage look.  It is not in your face, unmistakable old-style, and can pass as a sort of call-back modern spin.  I like that!  As I said above, versatility is what I like, in more ways than one, and as much as I love vintage styles, I do love the flexibility to merge it indistinguishably into today’s fashion.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Polyester suede finish scuba knit

PATTERNS:  The skirt’s pattern is a true vintage Simplicity #2616 from October 1948.  The blouse’s pattern is Burda Style #121 “Cross Neckline Retro Blouse”, a reprint from December 1958 included in their October 2018 magazine issue

NOTIONS:  All I needed was plenty of thread with a strip of interfacing, a zipper and a hook-and-eye set for the skirt waist

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse was made first and was finished on February 27, 2019 after 8 hours.  The skirt took me only about 5 hours to make and it was done on March 3, 2019.

TOTAL COST:  This was bought from my local JoAnn Fabric store.  It was on sale, with a coupon, so it came to about half the original price – about 3 yards cost me about $30.

There were no recognizable changes I made to each design, just slight adaptations to make this set work as separates made out of scuba.  Otherwise, it was really pretty easy to sew in the way it was straightforward and quite simplified.  Firstly, the fact my material has stretch gave me a reason to eliminate the need for a zipper or neck button for the ultimate cute slip-on top.  Manipulating the pleats in the skirt was the trickiest part of this outfit because they were layered on top of one another at a slightly fanned out angle.  Sewing in the underarm gusset panels was immensely easier than ever before in scuba, though.  Also, ironing down interfacing to the underside of a plain waistband I cut for the skirt was easier than I expected.  The scuba is thick enough that I wasn’t too worried about eliminating the facings to the ties and having them be one layer.  I just don’t pull the ties too tightly, but I wouldn’t want to do that anyway because it would twist the blouse out of shape as well.

I lengthened the ties so I have the option of multiple ways to tie the front – getting back to the idea of versatility.  There’s the twisted criss-cross thing I mostly do with the ties, or I can merely lap them over each other on my chest.  In any other fabric, this design would be equally as interesting – such as a tissue-weight silk (like the Burda sample), yet a structured wool would be on the opposing end of the spectrum.  A sharply tailored woolen adaptation of this blouse could very well end up looking like the bodice of this dress from the film “Motherless Brooklyn”, a 2019 American neo-noir crime drama set in 1957.  The original pattern actually called for a soft jersey knit as the material, though, admitted in this Burda blog post.  As it was, I made this outfit last year primarily for the blouse because I wanted to be part of the “Sew Twists and Ties” challenge.  Either way, I need to have my neck covered in the cold because of my sensitive thyroid gland, and the ties on this blouse make for a much more fancy way to do so fashionably, compared to a neck scarf or a turtleneck.

The belt is adapted from the arched waistband of the Simplicity 40’s dress pattern.  It’s worn on the reverse side and cut of a single layer of fabric, since scuba knit doesn’t fray!  I love how scuba knit is often reversible, this one especially so.  I played with that here.  Because the neck tie edges are raw, a bit of the solid underside shows and highlights a feature which might otherwise be lost in a busy print.  That also worked for the belt, and was a way to easily match with the rest of my outfit as well.  The only places where there was a conventional hem – the sleeve ends and skirt bottom – were stitched down by hand to have the thread be invisible and accommodate the stretchiness of the fabric.  Otherwise, as I learned, for both the neck ties and the belt piece, you can’t be messy with your cutting practices in a scuba knit or a jagged edge clearly shows!

My first project-from-scratch experience with scuba fabric was fun and successful. (I’ve worked with scuba to refashion RTW fashion for my paid commissions for others.) It is a great fabric, I will admit.  As I recently told a friend, scuba knit goes against everything I believe in about quality, earth-conscious sewing (there is no seam edge finishing needed, besides it being non-breathable, plastic polyester) so I was initially a skeptic.  Scuba knit is so forgiving to sew, you don’t have to be perfect stitching it together, but it still looks good nevertheless…so it would be perfect for a beginner to knits. As long as you use a wide zigzag stitch, you don’t need to stretch it as you sew, unlike other knits. An all scuba garment can be hot to wear in the summer though, as it is lofty and thick like foam, but these are good qualities for a winter piece.

I have sighted smartly crafted scuba knit garments carrying respected designer labels on them when browsing my local Neiman Marcus store, so this kind of fabric has surprisingly really progressed in status over the last 10 or so years!  I really don’t want scuba to be something I reach for on a regular basis, but I do enjoy the fact I have come to terms with it and found some of the reasons behind its popularity. This is not my last project in scuba, believe me!  I had a little bit of scuba knit on the collar and waistband of my most recent bomber jacket, after all.  Let me know what your experiences with scuba knit are!

Cerulean Streamline Moderne

If the last gasp of the Art Deco era could be a color, I would say it is unmistakably a pastel baby blue.  Many people do not know that a beautiful but mutated form of the geometric architectural style prevalent in the 1920s and 1930s was still strong in the WWII era.  We often think of fashion as being inspired by nature or movie costumes or world events but I see a correlation between the blue angled buildings of 1940s Streamline Moderne era and many of the powerful, angular garment designs of the Second World War.  There is no better example of this than the frequent use of plastron features on ladies’ dresses between 1942 and 1947.  Of course, I had to interpret such a pairing through my sewing…

This follows on the heels of my first post of the year where I shared a 1988 dress with a plastron front which has strikingly similar elements to this mid-1940s dress.  The 80’s frequently rehashed many WWII era points in its clothing styles but you gotta go back to the source to figure things out.  Firstly, I addressed what a “plastron” is in this post here – it is generally defined as a type of interfaced chest yoke that fills in the hollow between the shoulders and bust and frequently extends down to the hipline.  The fact that it was so popular in the 1940s can be seen in this 1943 leaflet, which has several different plastron style dresses, and Constance Talbot’s sewing book from 1947 which defines the word.  Just as Streamline Moderne architecture was seen as sleek, futuristic, and modern for its times, no doubt a plastron front was regarded in a similar mindset.

In our town, Streamline Moderne architecture is defined as the end of the Art Deco built environment, lasting between 1936 and 1945 (with a slightly earlier timeline for Europe).  The building behind me is a perfect, classic example of the American interpretation of the style despite the fact it is merely a façade front added circa 1943 (the year of my dress) to the lowest level of a brick late 19th century building.  Its “rounded and sweeping lines” of chrome-plated trim reminiscent the means of wind resistance used on trains, ships, and autos.  It has minimal ornamentation and color on an angular plan, highlighted only with the creamy blue glass tiles called Vitrolite.  Many Streamline Moderne buildings were made working through the last funds of the Public Works Administration, the second half of the New Deal agency that made grants for construction to local governments between 1935 and 1944, so no wonder it had an Art Deco air.  Even though the building behind me had been a small department store in its heyday, it has the same look of the Greyhound bus stations built across the U.S. during the Streamline Moderne period.  The idea of the style was to add movement and convey the sense of travel to something stationary, after all.  My photo’s location has been named the “Paris style” building ever since its 40’s refresh, to give us mid-west people a trip over the ocean to France where the Moderne style all ‘began’ (at the 1925 Exposition of Decorative Arts).

A plastron dress is not so unlike the buildings of its times.  Plastrons really widen the shoulders and slim the waist (especially when in a contrast color), just like what the 40’s and 80’s preferred.  Streamline Moderne buildings are impressive in a confident but pleasing manner, just like WWII women’s fashion.  A well-tailored garment can add complimentary appearance movement to our bodies – whether stationary or not – and can transport us to a happy, confident place in our internal mental vision.  A smartly designed garment can deceive and please the eyes with the visual appearance of a sleek form.  They are not much different after all!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a slub-textured, navy and oatmeal colored linen and rayon blend, with the solid contrast being an all rayon challis, and the entire dress body fully lined in a buff satin finish poly lining

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1777, reprinted in 2012, originally Simplicity #4463 circa 1943

NOTIONS NEEDED:  thread, a long 22” zipper, and interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Making this dress took me about 20 hours, and it was finished on November 4, 2014

THE INSIDES:  Nice!  The side seams and armscye are finished in bias tape, and the plastron facing covers up the center pleating, but all the rest of the seams are French.

TOTAL COST:  All the fabrics for this outfit came from the now defunct Hancock Fabrics, and were picked up on clearance.  I don’t remember the cost anymore but my total could not have been over $20.

For as much as I love this dress, it is a problematic re-issue because it had been significantly changed from its original 40’s design.  The blog “Black Tulip Sewing” has an excellent and very eye-opening post that clearly lays out the differences between her original (Simplicity #4463) and the reprint.

No wonder I had problems shaping the back waist (it ran long and wasn’t curved nicely)!  As much as I made a deal in the post of my Agent Carter dress about how full back zippers were apparently a real “thing” in the 1940s – albeit unusual – I had problems with all the curving that was drawn into the center back seam.  This gave me a suspicion something was off even before I saw The Black Tulip’s post.  There was supposed to be a side zipper or neckline closure.

Looking at The Black Tulip’s blog review, this dress’ skirt was supposed to be flared and have most of its leg room from the shaping in the side seams creating a general A-shape.  The reprint has a basic straight skirt, then added so much more pleating in the front, at and around the bottom of the plastron, to account for fullness and ease of movement instead.  However, it only made things quite bulky and challenging to sew (although the fanned out darts are quite beautiful).  1940’s patterns are generally pretty smart the way they are originally and such dramatic changing does not do anything but harm when you’re starting with something just fine to begin with.  Leave the good stuff alone, Simplicity.  Unnecessary fiddling is nothing but a waste of everyone’s time. Luckily, ever since 2016, Simplicity started staying true to the vintage lines for their reprints…only now, they are no longer giving us any past styles it seems – boo hoo.

That being said, I’m glad I persevered through all the quirks that made this a pain to sew and fit.  Fully lining the dress was probably not the best idea, but the linen blend material was thin and loosely woven so I didn’t have much of a choice.  One step which I am glad I did do was heavily interface both the inside (lining) and outside plastron.  If I hadn’t, no amount of clipping would have disguised or held up to the thick seam allowances sandwiched in between.  These older Simplicity vintage reprints often have smaller sized sleeves so I thought ahead and cut mine on the bias.  The sleeves are still closely fitted but at least the fabric is not restricting.  Besides, I really like the change in texture I get just by cutting the sleeves on cross-grain.  I do wish I had added a few extra inches to the hem length.  I only hemmed by adding bias tape on the edge and turning that under because I did not want to make the dress any shorter.  Can’t win at everything all the time!

What proper 40’s outfit would be complete without hat and gloves?  I even bought out my old shoes clips!  All accessories are true vintage, yet only the hat had a makeover before it could pair with my dress.  It was originally from the 1970s.  Those 70’s fedoras are close to a proper 40s hat…but as the saying goes, “close only counts with hand grenades”, ha!  It had a really deep pinch at the tippety-top of the crown that kept the hat sitting too high on my head.  Luckily, it was an all woolen hat.  These are easy to re-block with some hot steam!

I first stuffed the inside of the hat with a very tightly wadded up bath towel, rolled into a ball.  Some sort of inner base – be it a kitchen pot or wooden mannequin head or bundled towel – is necessary to both help shape and protect the hat as well as keeping it from shrinking too much when it cools down.  Then, with my iron on its highest steam setting, I kept shrinking the tacky pinches out of the crown.  You never really touch the wool (unless you cover it with a pressing cloth) only come close with the seam.  Being careful of my hands, I would reach in and flatten/reshape the crown in between good steaming episodes.  As you can see, I kept a fedora double ‘pinch’, but just made it more shallow and higher up on the crown. I made the mistake of coming too close to some of the fabulous iridescent feathers on the side of the hat and they shriveled up and wilted, needing to be cut off.  Thus, there are less feathers and more weird fluff than I would like to decorate the hat but at least I ended up with something I like better – and will wear more – than leaving it in its original state.

Unfortunately, both my dress and many 1940s Streamline Modern buildings are generally underappreciated today.  My dress was just fit when I first made it so many years back now, but my body has since changed slightly since then and I am no longer comfortable in it.  This post’s dress is currently hanging on my part of the rack where clothes go that need a bit of tailoring or repairs to be wearable again (it is a very small portion of my closet, fyi!).  Luckily, I have been holding onto a good yard leftover of my linen blend material, so giving myself a little extra room will be an unidentifiable fix the way I am planning it.

Sadly, many 80-something year old buildings which are being stripped of their ornamentation or completely torn down are not as easy to bring back to life as my dress.  Either in the rush towards ‘modern’ improvement or from neglect over time, such architecture is beginning to disappear (especially in my town).  When it’s gone, it’s really gone, because both the capacity to and general desire to recreate such things are missing today.  That only means that part of our story – the tale of our city, our collective history – is absent, too.  In the US, our societal account is not as ancient as Rome or Athens, for two well-known examples for contrast. Thus, it’s important for us to learn to appreciate the built environment that we do have and learn how to transition it into today while learning about what storied locations which have been lost to time and relegated to memory.  If making one simple dress can help me do just that, than I am pleased.  I love how finding such little hidden gems gives my research-loving mind a wonderful purpose to find out about and understand.  Here’s a toast to those awesome photo backdrops which make me feel like I’ve stepped back in time while wearing my self-made vintage!  Here’s a wish to having these great spots stick around all over the world so everyone else can visit and enjoy them, too!