Persistence of Fashion

Even with my complaints in the last post about fitting my recently changed size, I still do happily fit in many of my old me-made items.  Not to brag, but not everybody can say that they fit in things back from 20 years ago, much less have them still wearable today in both condition and aesthetics!  I luckily liked to make rather classic pieces that still work with my style of today.  This post’s outfit is a prime example.  A skirt I sewed 20 years back combines with a 50’s style blouse I have been meaning to make since I first dove into vintage in 2010 to give me an outfit that perfectly defines my unified past and present outlook on my fashion.  Add on a little self-made flower sewn down to a hair comb and I am a contented little maker!

Andrea Venier of Recycrom has said, “One of the big problems is that today we don’t expect to wear something for a very long time.”  (The Italian Recycrom from Officina+39 is a revolutionary sustainable dyeing solution made of 100% recycled clothing, fibrous material, and textile scraps.)  Boy, Andrea has not met the likes of me.  There is a specific comfort level to wearing items that are old favorites, and for me, when they also happen to be handmade…all the better.  Sure they are made in ways I would not do today.  However, it is nice to keep these reminders of my progress especially when they are still wearable for me.  All it takes is a little something new to renew my excitement for an older me-made, and I feel like I have a fresh ideas and bright possibilities again.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The skirt is rayon challis and the top is polyester shantung

PATTERNS:  For the skirt, I used McCall’s #8796 from 1997, while the top is Simplicity #4047, a 1950’s era ensemble released in 2006

NOTIONS:  Nothing unusual – a zipper for the side, thread, and interfacing for the neck facing is all that is needed for the blouse, while the skirt required thread and elastic.  Simple, really!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The skirt was indeed a two hour project from what I remember back to 1998, and the top took me about 8 to 10 hours and finished March 17, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  My skirt has overlocked (serged) edges with a hem covered in hem tape and the blouse has bias bound seams.

TOTAL COST:  I have no idea.  You’re talking about fabrics out of my mom’s stash from over half my lifetime ago.  It’s all as good as free to me.

Let’s talk about the patterns first.  I’ll start with my favorite out of the two.  My skirt is from an old standby pattern, literally made into a two dozen varieties between 1998 and 2004 when I began filling my wardrobe with handmade, comfortable, classy, yet easy-to-make separates.  This particular rayon floral one was one of my first attempts.  I had made a paper copy of the whole pattern at my nearby office store because I was using it so much.  The slim, two-piece ‘View A’ I had used as a base for add-on details, a draft for lining other skirts and dresses, or just by itself.  The full, four-paneled ‘View C’ was the version I used the most, especially when using rayon or a lightweight poly print, while the in-between breadth of ‘View B’ was great for stiffer materials like cotton.  As the cover states, this really is a two hour skirt.  It took me 30 minutes to cut the pieces out of 3 yards for ‘View C’, and 15 minutes to cut out of two yards for the slim ‘View A’.  The elastic waist is easy to do and provides a nice waistband that doesn’t roll, thankfully!  The rest of the skirt is simple, long, straight lines, however, the wide, bias-influenced hemline takes up most of the rest of the two hours.  The simple pieces taught me how to successfully work with the bias grain as a beginner at the concept.  This pattern has a gold-medal in my estimation, amongst my substantial stash.

The blouse’s pattern offers such a wonderful variety for building a great basic 50’s wardrobe. Give me the most for my money, in my opinion!  This blouse is a very chic anchor to the ensemble.  I told you (a few posts back, here) I wasn’t done with the color blue and peplums, anyway! However, it frustrates me that I cannot authentically date this pattern, like most of the other vintage re-issues, by finding its original.  The iconic actress Lauren Bacall had a very similar blouse in the 1957 movie “Designing Woman”.  That year is a popular date for many of the 50’s reprints, so I’m guessing the styles are from mid to late in the decade.  They do have #4047 still as an on-demand custom print-out (link to that here), so Simplicity must realize how good this pattern is, too, although finding an old out-of-print copy would probably be a cheaper option.

Sizing ran small for my blouse, and I do wish I had went up in size. After all, working with a tight, unforgiving woven like poly shantung leaves me no room for a big meal of a body sizing change.  Oh well, it was really much easier to make than it appears and poly shantung is not as precious as its silk cousin so it’s no big loss if I need to make another down the road.  The blouse pattern has a long back bodice I wish I had shortened, but otherwise came together beautifully, with good instructions and wonderful details.  There were no mistakes or hiccups encountered with the blouse.  It was whipped up with no alterations and fits as you see it.

Oh, how I wish I knew the name for the kind of neckline which is on this blouse!  I love it, along with the box pleats coming from the shoulder!  It is so unique and beautiful the way it all frames the face.  The curving and angles made the neckline by far the trickiest part of the top.  It’s not hard to do, I just had to be thorough with marking points and seam allowances before I could be precise with my sewing.  There are two ¼” wide darts along the back neckline to help bring it up to sitting above the base of the neck, like a collarless collar.  Then the sides of the front neckline bow out on the side to square out at the bottom, so there is lots of clipping and trimming of seams involved.  I never could get the darn shantung to not be puckered at the corners.  Deep down, I will always hate anything polyester.  Yet, the fabric looks pretty enough and only I will ever probably notice such “failings” so it is and easy success.

The skirt is very true to size but then again working with bias cut skirts with elastic waists is naturally going to be forgiving…the reason why I am still wearing them all these years!  Many times I even went down a size for the skirts to cut down on the excess material that needs to be gathered at the waistline (what I did for this version; see picture below), but also because I sometimes just added darts and only back elastic to make my skirts smoother fitting over the tummy.

Length measurements for the skirts can be deceiving, however, because of the sweeping hem fullness and bias grain.  My advice is to go long and try it on to decide.  Let hemming be the last thing you do after letting a skirt like this hang for at least 24 hours.  I learned the hard way with this rayon floral skirt.  Circle skirts or those cut on the bias, even if they are on a dress, change their hemline once the grain hangs down on a completed garment for a day.  I remember I was in a hurry to finish this skirt, and I immediately hemmed it as soon as it was together.  By the time I wore it, the hem was embarrassingly wonky, which was obvious because the original length was down to my ankle.  Even back then I hated unpicking as much as I do today, so I merely recut a new, slightly shorter yet straighter hem.  It was hard!  The fabric was always shifting and I got to a “good enough” attitude and used hem tape to cover the skinny hem edge.  Straight grain hem tape is not ideal for a curving hem, so I found out.  It is necessary to ease in the fullness of one edge.  Ah, you sew and learn.  You’d never guess the ‘oopsies’ I made with this, would you?!  The day these pictures were taken, it was windy so my skirt might still seem uneven, nevertheless.  Twenty years later, my sewing “mistakes” are still happening (but decreasing), and I’m still learning.  Just so long as my projects turn out just as successfully and are enjoyed as much as this skirt, I am happy.

My hair flower was a last minute creation to complete my outfit by utilizing some of the few scraps leftover.  I cut a pointed-end oblong piece on the bias, single layer, about 10 inches in length, about 7 inches at the middle where it is widest.  If you think of how a kid would draw the playing ball to the American game of football, that is what my piece looked like.  That was folded in half along its length, wrong sides in together, and loosely stitched along the curved raw edge.  The loose stitches are ties off at one end and brought in tight, and the piece is curled into itself, jellyroll style.  The raw ends are stitched together and covered with some fake plastic leaves after sewing it to a small hair comb.  I want to make every last remnant count for something so they might as well help me accessorize!

No matter how fast styles change, and how quickly clothing is given away before it has reached the end of its wear, fashion of the past decades is persistent and has a way of coming back around again.  I feel like the 90’s was the last of the good quality ready-to-wear that is part of the reason why the label of ‘vintage’ is synonymous with lasting style.  Now that we have had a few decades of cheap tees, under $30 dresses, and poor-quality clothing made in third world countries (paying them an un-livable wage) can we just go back to making garments that are worth wearing and keeping for even a fraction of how long I enjoy my wardrobe?  I mean the fashions of the 90’s is subtly coming back, and older vintage styles are comfortably mainstream, so I don’t know why wearing what one has for longer is such a hard concept for the masses.  Then again, what might be better for the world is not necessarily the first thought in the face of a flashy bargain…or good for the pocketbooks of big business.  I realize I might be “preaching to the choir” here, however, this is my site to write down not just my sewing process, but also my thoughts and the passion which goes into every outfit I share here.

Look for more of my old reiterations of this skirt pattern to show up in future posts.  I am still going through my past makes and constantly finding new ways to style them with my even newer makes!  As for my blouse, this might not get a whole lot of wear in shantung, and I might not fit in it before I wear it enough to satisfy me, I’ll figure out something for it when that time comes.  Until then, I feel so special in this set!  I am stubborn about what I want to wear.  I like things that make me feel good and confident enough to be myself.  Yes, that does include things that are not necessarily new or up to date…and I’m quite okay with that.  If you have something made years back but you are still proud of it, please do share!

Bright Sewing

This simple little blouse has everything going for it!  It is a small wonder project, literally, in colors that make me smile from the inside.  It is a little remnant of happiness and I need every ounce of that I can get at the moment.  The radio silence here has been because I have seriously been knocked down by sickness for two very long weeks.  Now that I’m slowly crawling back into humanity, it’s good to post something that is yet another amazingly simple design which calls for very little to make something so fun and creative.

All of us who sew probably possess or have found leftovers in an amazing fabric that are substantial enough to save yet small enough to stump creative expression.  Or perhaps you have seen or own a vintage or modern scarf that you love but have no use for.  Not only is this post’s simple top the perfect answer to such dilemmas, but it also only took 2 hours to come together…aaand there is more than one way to wear it.  Plus, my version is in my favorite colors of pink, purple, and turquoise.  I’m in heaven!

My trousers are an older make, see their blog post here.  They were made of a colored denim and an early 40’s vintage original pattern.  My earrings are old originals from my Grandma.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% rayon challis, in a Kathy Davis Designer brand print

PATTERN:  Vogue #5524, circa year 1945 (check out the original garment label that was hiding in the factory folds!!)

NOTIONS:  …nothin’ but thread…and a quarter in monetary change!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  under 3 hours, closer to two.  It was made in one afternoon on July 16, 2019..

THE INSIDES:  cleanly French seamed

TOTAL COST:  about $7

This pattern is so much smarter than is looks at first glance.  A one yard project is always great, but this top design calls for a square 36” scarf as an optional material source.  How awesome is that?!  There are so many absolutely lovely vintage scarves that would be stunning made up into this blouse.  As the envelope cover illustration shows, a scarf with an all-sides border would give such a unique look.  But wait – that’s not all (cue the selling point)!  There is no designated front or back either, and this is reversible!  The draped neck can be worn in the front (which I prefer) yet will also work worn in the back.  There is no zipper or buttons, no facings, and very few seams for an easy, simple, fun project!  I am thoroughly tempted to whip up a dozen of these in all different fabrics and colors, trying out drafting a long sleeve adaption, too!  There is so much potential here.  It is the epitome of smart 1940s wartime rationing that did not cut corners with style at the same time…truly a smart design.

The way this top works being reversible, with no closures needed, relies on the cut of the bias grain.  Each bodice piece is tucked into a corner of the one yard (or scarf) which is laid out flat, single layer, not folded.  This is why this pattern would work so well with a square scarf.  There is one small and odd-shaped sleeve piece that needs to be cut twice, and I also squeezed out a belt as well, but that is all.  The pieces just make it.  What an efficient little number this pattern is!  So many sewists have a hard time understanding or even working with the bias grain, and this pattern would be great place to start

To enhance the drape of the cowl neckline, the pattern instructs you to choose a moderately hefty button and attach it to the inside point with a thread chain.  I like to keep my buttons for being seen (most of mine are treasured vintage pieces from Grandmothers on both sides of the family) and I pictured that danging button as perfect for being caught up and snagged in the wash machine.  Instead, I made a tiny square pocket, just the size of a quarter in change.  Only one side of the pocket opening was stitched down to the inner drape point.  This way I can remove the weight easily before washing and even control how much drape I want – sometimes I go for two quarters or a lighter weight dime in the tiny pocket.  Versatility is everything to me when it comes to my own sewn wardrobe!

I didn’t change a thing to the pattern.  Its sizing is broad – merely a range bulked into a small, medium, large rather than the traditional numbers.  Even though this looked like possibly a size too big for me, I went with it because I figured a pop-over top never hurts to have some extra room.  I like the loose and flowing fit, but for a different fabric I might size down next time.  I left the blouse length as-is and it is almost too short to stay tucked in easily, yet I must say it is a good length to be just as nice untucked.  Of course, I did leave out the directed adding of shoulder pads.

I realize that I have been posting a lot of one yard or less and remnant projects, and I will take a break.  However, they are really as good as I tout, and really necessary to counter the fast fashion of today.  I have an inkling that it might be an unrealized, underlying mission to find and use as many of these one yard projects in my lifetime as possible.  Such economical projects are not as well advertised (or as easy to find in modern patterns) as I think they should be.  This one is the cream of the crop in my opinion, which is why I am considering offering copies of my Vogue #5524 pattern (at a minimal price) for your own enjoyment.  I have not decided how or through what method I would offer the patterns because it would depend on the interest.  Please, just let me know if you would be interested in a copy by commenting to this post or send me a message.  I will keep all of you posted!

In the meantime, I will follow up this post with something different, but connected to this post – a smorgasbord of inspiration about ways, both vintage and modern, to wear and use scarves.  Curious after finding this pattern, I ended up coming across too much more scarf inspiration not to share.  Get your one yard squares ready!

Remnants, Scraps, and Leftovers, Oh My!

With the refashions and sewing projects which need small cuts that I’ve been doing lately, some deep questions have arisen in head.  Primarily, what constitutes a fabric remnant?  When is a scrap piece of material considered rubbish?  When it is no longer useable?  Who is the judge of that?  How has our estimation of when the leftovers from creating a garment are considered unusable changed over the years and why?  Is figuring out such questions another key to truly sustainable fashion and new creative possibilities?  I have a feeling these questions are not easily answered nor can they be figured out in one blog post, but perhaps this outfit project is a small example to part of the solution.  It is made from two less than one-yard linen remnants and a handful of notion scraps, for an on-point 1960s era set which defies the modern disregard for its ‘waste’.

Only half a yard of 45” width novelty linen fabric was turned into this interesting pop-over crop top.  Just under one yard of linen became the slip dress to complete it.  If a remnant can make a full garment, should we still consider it scrap fabric?  My last post featured yet another half a yard top.  I suppose remnants used to be considered as those tiny pieces that became 1930s era crazy quilts, the stuff that is thrown away at all the sewing rooms, fabric stores, and homes of other seamstresses I know.  I love how the end of the bolt is a gold mine waiting to be dug because they are almost always deeply discounted and do work with more sewing designs than realized.  The 1940s, 50’s, and 60’s were really good at having sewing patterns that boldly advertised they would work for one yard or less.

Having more than a yard to work with is needed for many sewing projects, but it is not automatically a necessary luxury.  Refashioning my unwanted clothes, or taking the time to mend and alter, is on equal par with the indulgence of making just what I want to wear when I make it work with unwanted scraps.  In my mind, it’s because I like to be responsible and caring and appreciative of what I have.  I can turn this outlook into something fun and creative, catering to my individuality, by being the maker of my own fashion.

To continue this handmade, sustainable, and thrifty outfit theme, I would like to also point out that I also made my necklace out of a cheap, assorted bead pack I found on sale recently.  I am freaking infatuated with purple and pink, and lately orange as well, so this whole outfit is like my dream colors…but purple is my hands-down favorite.  Thus this necklace set is my new favorite accessory!  Each of the two necklaces are separate so I can wear the assorted seed bead one with or without the fancier, Czech glass, detailed one for a flexible look.  I brushed up on some beading skills learned back as a teen and had a blast making these necklaces.  I get to wear just what I imagined for a fraction of the cost and much better quality than I could possibly find to buy.  My bracelets and earrings are true vintage.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% Linen all around, so pardon the wrinkles!  The top is from a novelty, multi-color, open weave linen and the solid under dress/slip is a cross-dyed semi-sheer linen is a reddish pink color.

PATTERN:  a true vintage McCall’s #8786, year 1967, for the under dress/slip and a Simplicity #1364 “Jiffy” blouses from the year 1964 (originally Simplicity #5262)

NOTIONS:  Everything for this outfit was scraps from on hand – the thread, bias tape, interfacing, and ribbons!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Both were made in only about 2 ½ hours each, and were finished on August 15, 2019.  These were definitely easy and quick projects!

THE INSIDES:  As linen frays something awful and that fraying gets scratchy, my top is bias bound while the dress is French seamed.

TOTAL COST:  The linen for the top had come from JoAnn, and was only $2.50.  The cross dyed linen slip dress had been purchased for a few dollars as well when Hancock Fabrics had went out of business.  All together, the whole outfit cost me $6 at the most!

This is an awfully good classic, proper set for coming directly from the late 1960s!  The only slight giveaway to its era origins that I can see is in columnar, straight-line silhouette of the slip dress and the boxy shape of the top.  I love how cool and comfortable the set is and how versatile each item is on its own.  The underdress goes well with my modern bias flounced wrap dress, yet I do have some sheer pink floral chiffon in my stash to come back to this pattern and make the matching given overdress.  It is humorous how confused the 1967 pattern seems to be at what exactly to call what it has to offer – is it a camisole top dress, a slip, or just a dress?  The top goes with all sorts of bottoms, but especially my 1980s pink shorts!  These particular linens are such soft, sweat-wicking champions that layering them up like in this outfit is not a problem but rather feels quite good.  You just have to roll with the wrinkles, though!

I did just a few adaptations to the pieces’ to both make them fit and be as easy to go on as they are to wear.  First of all, the slip dress was in junior petite proportions and a too-small-for-me size.  Thus, I had to readjust the bust-waist-hips spacing and grade up at the same time.  Luckily this was a really simple design – one front, one back, a few fish-eye darts for shaping, tiny spaghetti straps, and a wide neckline facing.  I went a bit over and above what I needed in extra inches because I wanted the slip dress to be a closure-free, pop-over-the-head type of thing.  If I was planning on wearing this as both a dress on its own and as a slip, I didn’t want a stinkin’ zipper in the side.  I already have a 1940s and a 1950s slip that both have zippers, so I’ve been there and done that.  This linen was too soft and wonderful to confine into a zipper anyway.

Going along with that aesthetic, I went up a size larger when cutting out the top (and was forced to make it shorter based on the half yard I was working with).  I wanted it to be closure-free and easy, breezy, too.  It’s such a refresher to do without a zipper.  I really don’t mind sewing them in at all and they are a must in the structured garments I love to wear, but it is nice to do without both from a maker’s standpoint and as someone who likes simplistic fashion sometimes.

A few little details were all my two pieces needed to elevate this basic set to a chic, coordinated set.  To tie the slip dress in with the top and also make it look a little less plain, I used two random pieces of leftover ribbon from my stash for decorating along the hem.  They secretly cover up my hem stitching!  The lavender velvet ribbon is true vintage and all cotton, still on its original card, and out of the notions stash I inherited from my Grandmother.  The cranberry sheer ribbon is modern, leftover from this dress project made many years back now.

My top needed something to pull the boxy shape in just a tad, so I stitched a button down at the bottom point of each side seam then made a thread loop three stripes away to pull the hem in.  I love how this ‘fix’ compliments the striped linen by making a lovely V at the side seam point (where the bust’s French dart and my back pleat is pulled in).  This ‘fix’ is nicely non-committal, too.  I can also wear it either way – full boxy or slightly tailored when buttoned in.  The notions I used were two leftover buttons I had cut off my son’s worn-through school pants before they were thrown away.  I’m proud of how I let very little go to waste around here!

“The Frade”, a stash swapping website where you can buy/sell/trade fabric, yarn, sewing projects and all sorts of maker supplies, states the statistic that approximately 15% of fabric is wasted when a garment is cut and made.  I do not know if they were referring to the industry or homemade clothing, but from the layout suggestions I see on modern patterns, for one example, I would personally think that percent would be much higher.  As long as grainlines are followed I see no reason for following a computer program’s suggestion for laying out pattern pieces on fabric compared to ‘playing Tetris’ to find an economical fit for minimal waste.  On average, I find I can make most patterns work with at least a half to ¾ yard less than the suggested amount needed on the envelope chart and end up with about 5% or less leftover.  Of course, all this does not apply to many vintage patterns, especially from the 1940s when they knew how to make the most of what they had on hand.

Sustainable fashion practices when sewing new from scratch might be more of a challenge or test of both patience and skill, but the results are worth it in the end.  Voracious fast fashion is ruining the world we live in and destroying appreciation for quality.  According to this article at the Fast Company, “the average number of times a garment is worn before it stops being used has gone down by 36% over the last 15 years (yay!), and yet many consumers wear their items for less than 10 times.”  This is bad news for efforts to limit waste in the fashion industry (info also quoted here @RightfullySewn)”  because over the last 15 years, clothing production has doubled.  There is a problem.

Whether or not we go through sewing projects just as fast as we might with store bought fast fashion, we sewists have the perfect opportunity to be smart about what we make, just as open to the kind of accountability we want – or should expect – from big business.  We can create with supplies that are either vintage, secondhand, or in our stash, and make items with a quality that we will enjoy for years to come.  We can mend when it is needed, tailor as our body demands, and finally recycle in one of the many modern means when all of those options are not viable.  Please, I beg you, choose natural fibers, anything other than a plastic or chemical based material.  We who sew have the answer to sustainable fashion just by our creative capability, and sustainable fashion absolutely needs to happen.  Might I suggest there is a duty attached to sewing, because ‘with knowledge comes responsibility’ as the saying goes.  Maybe we can kick start that with a change of mentality towards the good old-fashioned regard of remnants.  A good creative challenge never hurt anyone, either.

“Fruit Salad…Yummy, Yummy…”

Anyone who has had or known a child growing up in the last 10 years might know “The Wiggles” song my title refers to!  I can’t help but think of that quirky tune when looking at or even wearing this fun little vintage crop top.  Only half of a yard of this bright fruit print rayon just had to be redeemed into something more than just a supporting role in a sewing project, in my opinion.  I am so happy to have made the remnant work as this 1950s sun top!  With a bright print like this portraying a yummy cocktail salad how can I not be put in good spirits by my new creation?

My headband and earrings are me-made, and my sandals I had refashioned (yes, I even work on shoes!) but otherwise my skirt is a ready-to-wear standby item.  I can’t wait to see what my new crop top looks like with some vintage style jeans or a bright circle skirt!  The busy print with all the colors help this to match up with all sorts of bottom pieces – yay!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a printed rayon challis on the outside, a bright yellow cotton inside, and poly/cotton blend broadcloth for the straps

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8130, a 2016 reprint of what had original been Simplicity #2532, year 1958

NOTIONS:  I actually had everything I needed on hand, which is amazing because I used some notions which were more complex than what the pattern called for…more about that down later!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was made in about 8 hours (two evenings worth of sewing sessions) and finished on June 1, 2019

THE INSIDES:  Hey – this is fully lined, so the raw edges are incognito…

TOTAL COST:  I was able to pick up the rayon for about $1 but the lining was ‘more expensive’ at $2.50.  I’m not counting the scraps used for the straps and interfacing, or notions from my generous stash of supplies.  My total was about $4 – how awesome is that?

This summer has been so busy that a few hour project is all I can handle if I want a finished project.  Yet, I am all about not sacrificing quality.  Thus, I put in some extra time to make sure this little summer top is comfortable, effortless, nicely tailored, and will last me many more years of warm weather fun!

The most obvious part of construction that took some of the extra time to reach completion was the faulty amount of ease put into this design.  This needs to have a close, tight fit – both to stay up and to look right (not slouchy).  This is not a blouse or shirt.  That means there needs to be about zero to negative amount of wearing ease.   Tasha at “By Gum, By Golly” has an excellent, helpful review going over this same subject.  Looking at the finished garment measurements as compared to the size chart, it’s obvious there is a several inch ease added in for every size.  I myself went down one size to be safe, but even still, I had to bring in the top by over an inch for my first fitting.  I am pretty sure this was not how the original was and something added in when the pattern was re-released.  Vintage re-issues from the Big 4 pattern companies are sometimes really good at tweaking something that was just fine to begin with.  I’m sorry to be negative.  I should be glad for re-issues, though, because they do make vintage sewing something more mainstream, affordable, and attainable for all body sizes.  So, if you reach for this pattern for the first time, just remember this heads up to check the sizing, instead of recalling my crabbing!

Hiding under what might look like a simple little top is many seams and a secret to keeping them straight.  Boned seams further structure the body and combine with (what should be) a snug fit to share amazing tailoring that the 50s are so good at.  Many extant original 1950s evening dresses and summer bra tops have boning in them, too, so I like this true vintage touch.  Yet, I got rid of the boning directly through the bust as directed and instead opted for something a bit more naturally structured.  The side seams and center front alone have boning and there is a bra sewn into the front half in my version.  Boning is still in the back as well, as directed, but only on either side of the center because I added a back zipper.  It’s so much more convenient rather than a

A boned, true vintage piece very much like Simplicity #8130, for sale recently through Instagram

buttoning back, as the pattern directs and true vintage items have.  As I said, for me to fully enjoy this, it was going to have to be easy to wear – lingerie is sewn in already for no bra straps peeking out and no circus trick required lurking behind me either whenever I elect to put it on.  I chose a metal exposed zipper because it was what I had on hand but I do enjoy the funky, modern flair of it.  This might be vintage, but the time is today and I frequently don’t mind a little crossover between the two.

For my first time attempting to make a fully boned garment I am pretty happy. (My first trial at boning was for the back of this 50’s strapless romper I made awhile back, but that was just two little strips I added so I’m not fully counting that!)  I figured this little top was a good piece to go all out and experiment with.  It was no real biggie if I messed up or things didn’t turn out just right, between the busy print and the style itself.  Nevertheless, it wasn’t really that hard to do, just a bit tedious and time consuming, and I can’t think of how I would have done better.

The boning I used was the pre-packaged Dritz brand lightweight kind, already covered in a soft cotton blend sheath.  I had a pack of soft, jelly-like plastic caps to cover the cut ends.   I cut to the measurements provided in the instructions and pushed the caps over both the boning and its fabric cover, then stitched through all layers using the hole in the caps provided to anchor them on the ends.  Since my boning was covered, I top stitched it directly to the inside of the lining along the princess seams, but if it hadn’t been fabric coated I would have used the seam allowances to form a casing channel.

My only complaint is that the packaging of the boning had it all curled up too tightly in a roll and I had a hard time working to straighten the unwanted curving in it.  Even still it tends to want to do its own thing sometimes, working against my body.  That aside, I can’t wait to try boning again.  When I sew it, a boned garment is much more comfortable than I would have thought, especially compared to the scratchy boning in my extant vintage garments, it turned out well, and was fun to do.  I love the confidence and assurance in a great shape that a boned garment lends!

The ‘collar’ has me on the fence.  I like it but would rather have had it not have so much individual personality but stick closer to the main body.  It is cute though and makes this so fun and different.  You know I just had to make things so much harder for myself to squeeze this in on half a yard!  The grain line for the collar piece calls for it to be cut on the bias cross grain.  However, was lucky enough to make things work the way I cut the collar on an off-kilter straight grain.  I rarely go against the grain line so this was a rare deviance for me.  Perhaps this change in the cut and layout of the collar effected the way mine hangs on the finished top.  Sometimes it’s best just to make things work rather than finding perfectionism.  Coming from me this is something (I’m so hard on myself) but I really wanted that extra touch!  For an alternate idea, I can actually picture a big bias ruffle (not in the pattern, I know) coming from the neckline in a white eyelet version of this top.  Oh no, another project to add in my projects queue!  Apparently another version of this top is probably in my future.

Having the little black edging united both the contrast straps and bold back zipper together with the top as a whole – another reason I wanted the neckline collar.  I disregarded the pattern piece for the edging and used pre-made bias tape instead out of convenience.  Mitering the corners is still important whether you use the pattern for the edging or bias tape or ribbon for edging, though.  Perfect points make that overhang really appear as if it is mock-collar.

The instructions call for a lot more interfacing than I committed.  It called for the whole body to be stabilized on top of adding the boning.  To me that doesn’t sound comfy for a summer top…it sounds like sweaty, unbreathable torture to be.  I left out the interfacing through the body and added it instead in shoulder straps.  This makes more sense to me and feels better to wear.  The straps would be even better with an adjustable option like lingerie, but I really didn’t feel like something complicated and they were too wide to even work like that.  I didn’t want to make new skinny ones.  Perfect is being done, sometimes.

Well, I hope this post inspires you to think outside of the box and look at small cuts of fabric, what we consider remnants today, as having great potential.  Our grandmothers were onto something with their depression era practice of making scraps work in more ways than modern minds find imaginable.  Fabric is fabric to me, in any size cut!  It find it so funny how one little half yard turned into one complexly structured vintage top.  The many seams (10 vertically around) were my friend to help my idea along.  Between the bright print and the fun design and the thriftiness of it all, this make of mine really is a cheerful, ‘feel good’ summer piece.  Fruit salad, anyone?  I do love a healthy treat.

A Tale of Gujarat

Every August I observe in spirit with India celebrating its Independence on the 15th.  I use the clothing that I make for the day reflect my understanding, respect, and wish to be united with them in pondering on their past, commemorating 1947, and hopeful for their future.  My first Indian influenced garment for August 15th was this dress I made back in 2017.  I unfortunately had to skip repeating that last year, so I am making up for it by sewing a handful more vintage-influenced Indian fashion this year!

The first one I’d like to present this August is a different kind of garment – a Rajput inspired Sherwani-style summer coat – to honor the traditions of India that I know through some close friends. 

One of the reasons why India is my favorite culture not expressly my own is on account of some “adopted family”, long-time friends of my husband that are as close as blood relatives.  Their primary tradition hails from the Gujarat territory of India, with family from and still in Kutch.

The Gujarat region history is intertwined with that of the Rajput dynasty.  The last Hindu ruler of Gujarat was in 1297!  “For the best part of two centuries (at the end of the 14th century until the 16th century) the independent Rajupt, Sultanate of Gujarat, was the center of attention to its neighbors on account of its wealth and prosperity, which had long made the Gujarati merchant a familiar figure in the ports of the Indian ocean.”  Why was it important that the Gujarat trader was proficient at spreading their wares, and what did they have to offer? Among other things, it was mostly textiles…and this is what peaks my interest.  As our adopted family has showed me, they have mind-blowingly beautiful, region-specific ways of dying silk sarees, but they had an empire in cotton and are still India’s largest producer of the fiber.

According to Dr. Ruth Barnes (“Indian Cotton for Cairo”, 2017), fragments of printed cotton made in Gujarat, India were discovered in Egypt, which provides evidence for medieval trade in the western Indian Ocean. These fragments represent the Indian cotton traded to Egypt during the Fatimid, Ayyubid, and Mamluk periods from the tenth to the sixteenth centuries.  Similar types of Gujarati cotton was traded as far East as Indonesia.  Their local art has been in high demand over the centuries, and all you have to do is see the real thing (watch out for modern imposters or look-alikes from other regions!) to understand why.

I must confess though – the block printed border print cotton I used is hand-stamped from a company in Mumbai (old Bombay).  Gujarat was under the authority of the Bombay Presidency since the 1800s and later, after India’s Independence in ’47, the Bombay State was enlarged to include Kutch.  The mother of our adopted family knows how to speak the official language of Mumbai.  It wasn’t until May of 1960 that there was a split in the Bombay State along the Gujarat-speaking north.  So my fabric is a sort of a hybrid, a close relative by association.  It was the closest thing I could find in both colors and print pattern to my original inspiration as well as something that would set the occasion for this coat.  More on this further down!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  all-cotton, with the print from “Fibers to Fabric” on Etsy and the lining a bleached muslin

PATTERN:  a Mail Order pattern A526, designed by Dalani, with its envelope stamped with the date of January 1976.

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed on hand – lots of thread, heavy canvas sew-in interfacing, and true vintage wooden toggles from the stash of Hubby’s Grandmother’s notions box.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This jacket was whipped up in the matter of two afternoons just before a trip to visit our Indian friends out of town.  It was finished on June 17, 2019, in about 10 to 15 hours.

THE INSIDES:  What inside edges? This coat is fully lined.

TOTAL COST:  I ordered 4 yards of the Indian cotton (you need to always be on the generous side with a border print) at a sale price of $5 a yard – so $20.  The plain cotton lining was from JoAnn on sale at about $1.50 a yard. As everything else was on hand my total cost is just under $30.

A Sherwani is a knee-length coat buttoning at the neck worn by primarily men of the Indian subcontinent, for the shortest and most basic definition.  “Originally associated with Muslim aristocracy during the period of British rule, it is worn over a kurta (tunic)” and several other combinations of clothing (from Wikipedia).  There are other coats and jackets in the Indian tradition, such as the Achkan or Nehru, and both are related to the Sherwani in style details and history.  However, the qualities of a Sherwani are a flared shape from the waist down (where it opens up to reveal the layers underneath), a straight cut (not as fitted), a longer length, stiffer (heavier weight), more formal in special fabrics, and fully lined.  Yup – I’ve got all those boxes checked off!

Thus, even though I am using a vintage pattern as my starting point, I hope that my coat has a timeless, cultural aura about it.  Nevertheless, let’s not ignore I am wearing here a customary men’s garment!  Together with the fact this Sherwani is asymmetric, this is a much updated type of twist on a custom yet still reflecting the modern India of today without losing its past traditions.  In modern India, women are wearing Sherwanis and there is more variety of expression in materials and decorations used.  (For more info and visual candy on this subject, see this page here.)  My husband has tried my coat on, and with a man’s propensity to stronger shoulders and lack of hip curves, this coat actually looks better on a guy than on myself, in my opinion.  It is a truly unisex garment here the way either of us can wear this in a culturally sensitive manner and also fit in its forgiving cut.  What a rare bird my Sherwani is in so many ways among all the sewing I have done.  A summer coat in the strongest Indian tradition I have channeled yet that can be worn by men or women alike?  Yes, please.  I’m more than happy to welcome it into my wardrobe.

My preliminary inspiration was this 1970 woman’s wedding coat from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  It was designed by Richard Cawley under Bellville Sassoon, hand-painted by Andrew Whittle and named “Rajputana” for the marriage of an Englishwoman (see her full outfit here).  The “Rajputana” coat even had its own feature in the November 1970 issue of Vogue magazine! Wedding garments in India are normally inclusive of gold and red, but as the Rajput princes followed the religion of Mohammed, they did not necessarily follow the region’s traditions.  White and lighter colored garments to the rest of India (especially saris) are reserved for formal wear, ritual occasion, and upper castes, and even for mourning in the Hindu religion.  The Jain sect of Gujarat wear more white than elsewhere in India, as far as I can tell.  Thus, my coat further reflects Gujarat, Rajput and the thriving textile trade the region was excelled at.  My interpretation also stays true to the 70’s, coming only six years later than my inspiration.  The top I wore under my jacket was a past 70s make of mine as well (see it here) and rather than trousers to match (which I don’t have) I went for a basic A-line rust linen skirt.

The original pattern shows this as a wrap dress, and sadly I have not been able to find anything about its designer, “Dalani”.  Besides finding a few more mail order patterns (from the 70’s and 80’s) and a few dresses credited to a “Dalani II”, I feel like digging into the source for this design is a sad dead end.  Dalani’s trend seems to be for loose and simple cut dresses and wrap-on robes.  Yet to me, there was no way such an overwhelming amount of fabric was going to look good as anything other than a coat, in my opinion.  It was so easy to adapt this to becoming a Sherwani.

Wooden buttons are traditional to India, and the fabric company generously sent a baker’s dozen along with my fabric, but a Sherwani only closes at the neck.  So, to avoid disrupting the lovely border with buttonholes, I used two wooden toggles on the asymmetric flap and orange loops on the left shoulder.  This method closes the jacket yet leaves it loose to flare open below the waist like a proper Sherwani.  Following grainlines, I laid the jacket out so that the border just ran along the bottom hem.  A separately cut border strip had to be mitered, redirected around the bottom corner and up the front, for it to be as you see it.  I blended my adaptation so seamlessly you’d think it was printed like that, right!?  Happily I found the exact color thread to match the orange along the border and I hid my tiny top-stitching in the stripes.   My sleeve hems also had a pared down version of the border applied in the same manner.  This border print was only on one selvedge edge and luckily I only had literally 5 inches to spare by time I was done…my ‘overbuying’ of 4 yards was apparently just enough to squeeze by

As I mentioned in “The Facts” above, actual construction was easy and the main body of the jacket came together in only two afternoons.  The sleeves are cut on with the main body so there were only 3 pattern pieces here.  One gi-normous back piece is laid on the fold and ends up looking like the capitol T, and two front pieces like an upside down L – a properly squared off body for a Sherwani except for the flared sleeve cuffs which give it a subtle nod to its 1970s origin.  It was all the attention to detail that took at least half of the total time spent to finish.

The highlight of the details to me is the most understated one – the quilted border to the lining.  This is what makes this all-cotton coat closer to a real Sherwani.  Such soft cottons could make this feel like a housecoat without some body.  Neither did I want to entirely stiffen the silhouette – it is boxy enough!  Thus, one layer of lightweight cotton canvas sew-in interfacing is “quilted”, in rows ½ inch parallel, to the muslin lining’s underside.  The quilted interfacing was stitched before sewing the lining inside.  It is as wide as the border is on both sides of the asymmetric front edges and also was cut to form a stable “collar” that extends out from the neck to the shoulder.  This way the main body of the jacket is loose enough but it still keeps its shape and feels so much more substantial, besides having an understated detail that I have come to expect of Indian clothing.

I have seen similar interfaced line stitching on Anarkali dresses but, goodness, it is a lot harder to do than it looks.  My machine heated up enough from the rows of long stitching that I needed to turn it off and give it a break halfway though.  It was one of the most exhausting things I have done in a while.  But can I remotely find a way to have my effort show up well in a picture?  No – it’s white stitching on white cloth.  Oh well, art is sometimes made for the sake of art…and this Gujarati tribute was worth it when I saw our adopted family appreciate the details I included in this Sherwani.

India has such a beautiful richness of culture and tradition.  There is so much, in so many varying facets, to learn about.  The way what people wear in that country speaks for their state and caste in life, their region of the land, the occasion of the moment, their religion…is something so admirable, besides being any fashion historian’s dream.  Quality that we expect out of couture garments is a normal part of Indian fashion and their strong ethnic pride is what I admire the more I get to know of the country and its citizens, both ones who live in my country now and those who still live there.  The trip to see our ‘adopted family’ included a stay at their home and my first visit to see her parents, so my coat was appropriate for an important few days of meeting people for the first time and catching up with others.  It was also quite comfy in the southern heat outside and absolutely perfect for cold indoor air conditioned inside!  My sewing feels so worthwhile when I can use it as a means of respect to our friends and their culture.  Look for more India inspired fashion to come here on my blog!