Botanical Garden Block Printed Dress

It’s comforting to know that some of the best things in our world have not changed and only stayed the same as they have been for centuries.  As India just celebrated their Independence Day August 15th, I’m specifically thinking of how so many of the heritage fiber arts in that country are practiced the way they were so long ago.  Why mess with a good thing when it is perfect as-is, right? 

What comes from the earth is kept a part of the earth the way the fabric of India is produced.  Indian cotton is grown and harvested naturally, first of all.  Then, plants, spices, and vegetables are used for dye, the earth is utilized for resist stamping or setting, and artisans turn everything together into an organic whole.  All this adds up to a very eco-conscious manner of creating some of the most beautiful and wonderfully comfortable fabric this world has to offer.  It is an honor and a special experience to make and wear something that involved so much love and attention just for these few yards!  There’s no better way I can think of to celebrate India’s long fought freedom than to enjoy a respectful all-in dive into appreciating the beauty to one of the many fascinating facets of their culture.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton content for the print, fully lined in a tan beige tone Bemberg rayon satin

PATTERN:  McCall’s #7894, year 2019

NOTIONS NEEDED:  I just needed lots of thread and one zipper

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finished on June 9, 2022 in about 20 hours

THE INSIDES:  loosely zig-zag stitched along the raw edges to reduce fraying

TOTAL COST:  The Indian cotton fabric from “Fibers to Fabric” on Etsy cost me $15 (I got this on a half-price sale) for 3 yards, while the rayon lining was another $15 for 3 yards from Fashion Fabrics Club.

There are many sites that dive into the nuances of block printing so I will not overly dive into the process here but this link through Saffron Marigold and this page through Vogue of India can be a good start to inform yourself.   I merely want to stress that it is of utmost importance to make sure you are buying from a source which employs fairly paid workers and does the craft the traditional way…no mere printed fake outsourced versions, please.  There are many knock-offs to be found, especially in ready-to-wear (which is in it for the visual aesthetic and nothing more), but this does the opposite of esteeming a craft that deserves only awe-inspiring admiration.  Historically, the textile history of India is not about being carelessly machine made but being the work of caring human hands.  Support the heritage craft of India by doing some conscious purchasing if you want some block prints for yourself!

This being said, there are some pro and cons to keep in mind.  Be aware that most block prints are in a width no wider than 45” so take that into account when planning out a project.  This is why I was squeezing this dress in on 3 yards when 4 yards probably would have been better.  Rich toned block prints can bleed out their dye in the first one or two washings so be careful to wash them with similar colors.  The cotton of India, though, is buttery soft, whisper thin, and among the easiest to sew material you could ever imagine.  It is a dream to wear, sew, and work with!  Besides, this material is the best way possible to effortlessly stay cool in the heat of summer. 

The positive qualities of Indian cotton also means that it is often less than opaque.  Busy prints hide any see-through issues more than not.  For this dress, however, I did not feel like a sheer look nor did I want to feel obliged to wear an underslip, so I fully lined the cotton.  Bemberg rayon is magnificently breathable, moisture wicking, and a very good imitation of silk, so it is the perfect pick for keeping this dress lightweight, comfortable, and an effortless summer staple.  Knowing how to work with fabric and how to use it to its best advantage is a large portion of the planning and figuring that goes into any sewing project.

With all of this positivity I am expressing towards this dress, it was really difficult for me to successfully sew.  I may sound crazy, but I loved doing the yards and yards of ruffles which go in between the seams.  Doing the ruffles in this buttery soft fabric was easy after all but the process really centered me, calmed me down, and helped me enjoy the extra effort.  I just think I relaxed a bit too much and didn’t think to look ahead at the pattern for issues.  Then, I had to be creative and fix the dress’ fitting issues after it was fully finished.  Also, there was a total oops moment where I sewed in the most perfect invisible zipper – even matching it through the intersecting points where the ruffles meet – only to realize after the fact that it is on the right side and not the left.  Considering the effort it would take to switch sides, I am leaving the zipper well enough alone. 

The wrong-sided zipper just added to the many little ways this dress was such a frustrating bother to sew, even though I love everything about it…the details, the fit, the style, and how perfectly it matched with my fabric.  I’m actually happily accepting of all the dress’ ‘faults’ which happened because I’m working on being gentler on myself with my self-imposed expectations of perfection.  I actually love my dress all the more for reminding me what it feels like to embrace the fact I am only trying my best and cannot always be up to par.  The beauty of a handmade block print are the little irregularities in the coloring or stamping.  Why shouldn’t my sewing be all the more beautiful for showing the way I persevered and made the most of my ‘mistakes’?!

I rounded up to a size bigger because I wanted a looser fit, and this worked out great.  Having a looser fit keeps the overall garment easy and comfy to wear.  Tight clothes are uncomfortable in the summer for me.  Nevertheless, having a loose fit is especially important here since I wanted the option of wearing silk Indian trousers underneath for a more ethnic look, as you see it in my pictures.  With a looser fit, the bodice front wrap stays closed without gaping open.  Most importantly, though, I discovered the hips in this pattern run really small, even with going up a size!  By letting out the seam allowance to 3/8” on each side seam I had just enough to recover the fit and keep this wearable.

Another point to mention is how this pattern seems to have been drafted for very tall girls.  The torso is very long and not average proportions.  Comparing the line drawings to my finished dress, everything seemed to droop lower on my body.  The bodice-to-skirt seam needs to be slightly above the waist and the left point where the two ruffles meet at the side seams needs to land at the high hip.  The finished dress wasn’t doing this on me.  I needed to pick up the upper bodice to raise up all the rest of the dress without ruining the design lines. 

Disguising while correcting this faulty fit after the fact was all done before I had set the sleeves in, so I luckily had I bit more freedom to alter the bodice.  First, I made a 2 inch horizontal tuck across the back bodice right across the shoulder line, making my dress appear as if it had a shoulder panel much like a man’s dress shirt has.  This picked up the dress, for sure, but the front became wonky.  To evenly pick up the front half of the dress, I took 2 inches of the front bodice under the shoulder line and tucked that under the shoulder seam.  Then I top stitched down along the shoulder seam.  The excess fabric was not taken in evenly in the front as on the back I realize, but the dress doesn’t give any funky fit for this fact, and I am thrilled to have found a way to fix the fitting issues with no marring of the original design or unpicking of stitches.  The sleeves merely have a bit more gathers to them for my alterations to the bodice, but I love puffed sleeves already from sewing designs of the 1930s era.  All is well that ends well, here. 

A handful of further personal variations to the design deserve a mention, as well.  The asymmetric look of the skirt’s ruffles struck me as a tad odd in the way they abruptly end at the bodice.  I realized that the front ruffle joins the bodice seam at just shy of the same point where the underwrap to the bodice ends.  So I ran with this detail and added extra ruffles to just that half of the neckline, thereby continuing the asymmetric line and adding some unity between the bodice and skirt.  I had the neckline ruffles go across the back of the neckline and end at the shoulder on the opposite side so they can be visibly a part of the bodice from behind, as well.  I also lowered the slit opening so it didn’t open up so high up on my thigh.  Finally, I also disregarded the elastic guide for the sleeve hems and cut whatever length felt comfortable around my arms.  Sewing for yourself is all about customizing to your personal taste and desires, so don’t forget to throw those instructions out the window every so often and make what you want, how you want!

Even though I make what I want how I want it, for Indian and other ethnic material I always do my research and let a respectful interpretation of that culture influence my sewing in such cases.  I want to give cultural fabrics their proper place so I can learn from and honor those cultures yet still also invest my own personal story into what I sew.  In the case of this project, I first bounced some design ideas off of our Gujarati Indian friends to see if I was on the right track.  Then, I got in touch with the seller of my fabric and found from her the details to the print that I chose for this dress.  Apparently, these types of multi floral designs on a single print are called “bagh” – which means “garden”.  Lotus, marigolds, hibiscus, rose, Chameli (Jasmine) are common depictions.  Gardens are often shown as the setting for many joyful and sacred artistic depictions in Indian art of both Hindu and Muslim manuscripts.  Thus, I found a beautiful blooming wall of flowers at a local Garden shop to pose in front of to emphasize the glorious theme printed on my dress’ fabric.  I was bringing my own garden to a flower garden…oh, the lovely irony!

The overall creative stylization of Indian block prints are such a heritage craft that my dress’ fabric can be recognizably similar to an 18th century skirt or a textile dating from the Renaissance.  The floral imagery to Indian block prints has not changed all that much and my historian heart rejoices at such a continuity.  My original plan for this fabric was to make The Dreamstress’ “Amalia” jacket (ca. 1780) from Scroop patterns, after all.  However, Indian block prints have a history of being very desirable and sought after in olden times when imports had long lead times and exporting was a dangerous job.  Thus, many countries sought to “knock-off” the visual look of such fabrics with their own colonial practices.  I do not want to be the source of continuing a painful narrative history and wanted this garden fabric to be turned into something practical, wearable, and a source of joy.  I believe I succeeded. 

Happy 75th anniversary of being an independent country, India!

Pretty Blue Pinafore…

After my success with my last “Shabby Chic”, fully convertible pinafore, this next one is in the real deal vintage 40’s style as a one piece dress.  This pinafore dress has an amazing attention to detail and the way it was designed includes a new-to-me shoulder seam method.  This is also my first time making an Anne Adams brand pattern…and I love the fit, style lines and proportions.  It might not receive as much out-and-about wear as my last pinafore, but I think this was the most perfect use for a longtime orphan (material not yet matched to a pattern) in my fabric collection, a quaint feedsack printed seersucker I’d been holding onto for years.  Yay – one more bolt of fabric is out from my stash and able to be enjoyed.

If you’re confused about what a pinafore is, please see my preceding introductory blog post on “The Summer of the Pinafore”, the inspiration behind my recent sewing.  This post’s pinafore is not like the multi-use floral one with a modern flair that I blogged about last, so here I will further explore the colors, fabrics, and prints used in the history of pinafores.  It’s weird to see how pinafores seem to reflect deeply subtle societal changes in the times around them.  A garment for the basic needs of women and children has a surprisingly very rich history.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton print with a slight seersucker texture

PATTERN:  Anne Adams #4988, circa 1943

NOTIONS:  I used everything from on hand in myexisting stash – thread, bias tape, interfacing scraps, a card of vintage baby rick-rack, a vintage metal zipper, and three vintage buttons from hubby’s Grandmother.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Making this pinafore took me about 15 to 20 hours and it was finished on July 22, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  All clean, as they are all bias bound.  The waistband is smoothly finished by an extra facing piece I added

TOTAL COST:  This unusual vintage specialty fabric was bought at Wal-Mart…of all places…as a “value print calico”.  I still had the receipt with the fabric.  2 ½ yards was bought back in March 2013 for $6.88.  What a stinkin’ great deal!

This is one of the very few patterns in my stash that had a very deep set personal, self-imposed “duty” to sew myself a version.  Why?  On a practical level, the pattern and its instruction sheet are absolutely crumbling to dust so I felt an urgency to make a dress from this design before the condition of the paper turned dire.  There is a better reason, though.  There is room to believe the original owner/recipient might be a distant relative we never heard of before!  You see, one weekend, on my occasional visit to our city’s antique and vintage shops, I came across a shocking and exciting find of a 1940’s pattern, whose old postal recipient had the exact same last name as ours.  Her address was in our same city, quite nearby, too.  Our last name is on the more unusual side, and it’s in the traditional German spelling, so the family has always said that anyone else with this same name in town was probably some relative, however distant.  Finding this pattern make the family dig into our genealogy again.  To make things even more special, the year of 1943 was written on the instruction sheet…very much appreciated because mail order patterns are seldom able to be so specifically dated.  Everything about this pattern was a touching, exciting, special opportunity…probably something that will not happen again and a neat happenstance to find in the first place.

Whether rightly or wrongly, I somehow was surprised at the amount of detail and well thought out design to this pattern, as if I thought mail order patterns were second rate.  I feel bad now because this was a killer pattern not in a standout or “chic” fashion way, but by having a great fit of both pattern pieces and finished dress, nice instruction sheet, and impressive design lines.  I am probably so used to primarily using patterns from the four major brands in every era (Simplicity, McCall, Butterick, Vogue), as well as the coveted yet well-known defunct brands (DuBarry, Hollywood, and Pictorial Review, to name a few).  I realized from using this Anne Adams pattern that I should give more mail order patterns a better appreciation.

Anne Adams from my knowledge is an all-American pattern company (yay!) which lasted from the 1930s to the 1960s and were the last to use unprinted, pre-cut tissue.  Her company’s patterns were available through the local newspapers along with related Marian Martin brand.  Apparently, Anne Adams designs were from uncredited designers who tailored to real women, offering larger sizes and even customizing designs for local fashions trends (so the city girl and country girl could have their own style)!  Many Anne Adams patterns do have scalloping as part of their designs, with a penchant for trimming, so I suppose this pinafore is a semi-classic design for this company!  My pinafore does strike me as a very country girl look for a city woman to purchase…I can tell the pattern pieces had been used before so I’m really curious if it was the original owner – our mystery distant relative – that made this for herself!

This was unexpectedly challenging and sort of difficult in the way of being quite detailed and having many steps to make.  This step had to be done before this step…oh and don’t forget the trim…was the sum of my sewing progress in repetition.  I really needed those crumbly, falling apart instructions and the fact that there were substantial parts missing made sewing a bit more challenging.  Not meaning to brag, but for many garments I’ve been making recently, I have not needed the instruction sheets so having a project be a surprise challenge was a good change.

There is really a lot going on with this dress!  Most of it is in the front, and although the back is rather basic, it does have first-rate seaming and shaping.  I enjoy how the vintage metal zipper I used in the side really makes my pinafore strike me as close to an authentic vintage piece.  Asymmetric scalloped bodice closing, tapered rectangular neckline, set-in waistband, center front skirt box pleat, and curved, set-in-style pockets are all awesome, but I like the sleeve ruffles the best.

The shoulder seam is defined by the spot where the gathers are brought in and stitched down.  The smart part is that they are set into the main body of the dress!  The horizontal shoulder seams, which run from the neck outward, are divided into two separate seams – the true shoulder and the over-the-shoulder ruffles – by the vertical opening for the gathering to work.  This did make the bodice one big piece tow work with!  I had to iron the finished ruffles and stitch the seam allowance flat (facing towards the neckline) so that the over-the-shoulder ruffles don’t flare upward obnoxiously…what they want to do!  They might be over the top but these ruffles are so fun to wear and were interesting to sew – not to forget mentioning extremely comfy, too.  The openness of the sleeves and the airy breeziness of the ruffles make this so very easy to move around in, stay cool, and have all the freedom to perform all the necessary or menial tasks a pinafore is meant to be worn doing.

I’m not one for rick-rack on my clothes, by I’m actually surprisingly won over to the benefit a card of the vintage baby size notion added along the edges here!  As I said before, the quainter a pinafore is made, the more it is jazzed up with novelty embellishment, it only makes it look all the better.  Without the rick-rack, anyway, I do believe much of the seaming details would be sadly lost.  I just made it – I only had about 4 inches leftover of the rick-rack after I was done adding it along the pockets and neckline edges. Whew!  I couldn’t cut it any closer if I had pre-measured how much I would’ve needed.  I really think this project was meant to be!

The slight puckering to this seersucker makes it simply a dream to wear and work in.  Reproduction aside, this is (to my knowledge) the true vintage way of doing seersucker – not the giant bubbled, ugly print stuff I see offered nowadays.  It is so cooling the way it keeps an airy distance from off of the skin.  It holds a good shape without being too stiff or getting droopy yet stays soft and comfortable due to the brushed all-cotton content.  Fabric like this is a goldmine to come across these days and that’s a shame.  I’m glad I resisted the urge to hoard this because now I understand why its material gold…it’s not just because it’s rare, it also great to wear!

I suppose I went with a rather traditional color tone for pinafores by making mine in a primarily baby blue print.  You must remember, that in the 1940s blue was still considered a woman’s color and shades of red, including pink were a man’s tone.  The modern opposite methodology of thinking was not around as of yet (read a further explanation of the gender significance of pink and blue in this past post of mine).  Even Hollywood used primarily blue pinafores to costume their best actresses in the decade of the 1940’s, the era I see the most pinafores on the Silver Screens.  Perhaps the most famous of the blue pinafores has to be the gingham bib-style one worn by Dorothy in the 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz” (of which I made my own version for a past Halloween).

Also, the popular 1945 musical movie “State Fair” abounds in blue toned peasant looks, aprons, and pinafores.  The movie’s main actress Jeanne Crain wore at least two shoulder ruffled, baby blue pinafores that were really more like jumpers than my own dress version.  For another obnoxious shoulder ruffled Hollywood pinny in a more basic color of white, I’d like to highlight one that Betty Grable and her associates wore in the 1944 movie “Pin up Girl”.  There’s even rick rack along the edges just like my own and Ms. Grable still looks hot!

Traditionally the pinafore was worn for many years in primarily white and it wasn’t until the 20th century that they became something worn by anyone other than children in prints and colors.  Going upon the concepts of Rousseau that children are their own entities with their “duty” being to learn, play, and be healthy, late nineteenth century girls, young women and sometimes small boys were dressed in pinafores made of plain, mostly white fabric, so they could have comfortable option to protect their clothing when they did their “work”.  With this concept, pinafore from that time were a sort of “uniform” for doing what children did best.  Besides, at that time modern methods of washing were not available and a basic white pinafore would’ve been relatively easy to wash, bleach and starch back to normal if dirtied.

In the 20th century, this had changed to the pinny becoming part of the clothes it was originally meant to protect.  In 1946, Life magazine noted this shift in an article on children’s dress, noting that “children used to wear washable pinafores over un-washable dresses. Now a pinafore becomes a washable dress.”  (Quote from the FDIM Museum blog here.)  Beginning somewhere after WWI (circa 1920s) novelty and juvenile prints, fabric with patented movie themes, and feedsack cottons also helped contribute to the pinafore usage switching from a basic, white, covering children’s clothes to a one-piece, fashionable garment for the dirty work needed to be done by all ages.  In 1941, the U.S. had about 31 textile mills manufacturing the fabric for bag goods which, in 1942, it has been estimated that three million American women and children of all income levels (roughly 3% of the population) were wearing at least one printed feedbag garment.  The element of fun was definitely brought in to loosen up the “uniform” of a pinafore with printed, colorful fabrics.

For adults to adopt a garment as childish in historical use, so sweet in its styling as a pinafore, I don’t think it’s because of being in a wishful time-rewind fantasy world.  Yes, it can be out of place to adopt the fashions of an age group different than your own.  I see it as extending the practicality of a garment, and bringing some lighthearted charm to mundane tasks with something as basic as what clothing is worn to perform necessary tasks.  The rise of the “junior” class of teenagers mid-1940s no doubt further propelled the idea of staying youthful (a key theme of pinafores)…what they found popular, adults paid some heed to and women found ways to bring their trends into their own style when desired.  Sure, pinafores evolved somewhat into playsuits, or jumpers to be worn over blouses, and even into dresses with ruffles and trim that mimic a pinny, so there was no rigid way to achieve a pinafore look.  But no matter what the kind of pinafore, they still find a way to way to mix practicality and playfulness in a way that can be perennially appealing.

Clothing of today is rarely such a hybrid mix of so many different aspects of appealing yet useful, comfy yet nice in one garment.  As odd as it might seem, a pinafore definitely has a place that can best be understood if you make and/ or wear one for yourself.  There are so many, unlimited ways to achieve some sort of pinafore style that I’ll take a chance and say that there is one that could work for any woman or child.  There are 1960’s simple A-line pinafores, 1970s prairie looks, and even modern ones out of denim or suiting.  Why just a few weeks ago the famous 19 year old actress Elle Fanning was out and about wearing a fuchsia pink pinafore with a crop tank underneath and designer accessories for an up-to-date option.  Perhaps my “Pretty Pinafores” Pinterest board can further inspire you to find a style that suits you, or at least find an image to like and appreciate.  Let me know when you find it!

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“Retro Forward” Burda Style: Ruffled Halter Neck Sundress

I must confess, a sundress is something I very much enjoy making, especially when it comes to patterns with interesting details that challenge my sewing skills.

Fun, feminine, and perfect for scorching weather, the perfect sundress for me also lets my skin enjoy some air and sun…which is good for my spirits because I am by nature a warm weather-loving girl. My newest magazine from Burda Style, as well as a contest on their blog site and a “Sundress Sew-a-long”, enticed me to sew up one of their designs – a ruffled, halter neck, vintage inspired sundress.

100_5663a-compExcellent construction method laid out in the instructions, as well as a wonderful design, made sewing this sundress turn out as a satisfying success. The predominant details showing off are the ruffled and gathered elastic halter strap, the cut out and pleated bodice, and a full gathered skirt. The full lining of the inside makes for a clean and professional looking garment, not to mention being comfy on the skin. I’m very happy with my finished dress.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The floral fabric for my dress is a very lightweight and sheer printed 100% cotton gauze. It is hard to see unless I am in the outside light, but the print has a dark navy background with white flowers and a very faint pink center spot in the flowers. My dress’ lining fabric for the entire upper bodice half is a basic but soft white bleached 100% cotton muslin. The skirt portion of the lining is a 100% polyester pongee cling-free fabric.

Burda Style Ruffled Halter Dress 4-2015 #111A line drawingNOTIONS:  All I needed was plenty of thread, some stay tape mesh ribbon, and a zipper. The interfacing was omitted. The zipper was the only notion bought.

PATTERN:  Burda Style Halter dress with Ruffles 04/2015, numbers 111B and 111A. The difference I can see between A and B are one is shorter, one is longer. I chose a skirt length between A and B for my dress.

THE INSIDES:  Almost all inside seams are covered by the lining. The only slight change I made to the original instructions was to cover the waist seam in bias tape instead of keeping it under the skirt lining.100_5540-compTIME TO COMPLETE:  In total, I spent 10 to 15 hours of “enjoyment” on my dress. It was finished on June 20, 2015.

TOTAL COST:  I got by with 1 5/8 yard of floral gauze fabric for my dress, and the muslin and pongee linings came from my stash. The floral gauze had been bought at a Hancock Fabrics store a month before intended for another different project, so it was kind of on hand as well. Anyway, in total my dress probably cost (for floral gauze fabric and a zipper) a total of $15 to $20.

My pattern had come from the April 2015 magazine issue (cover image at right below), but a downloadable version ofApril 2015 Burda Style magazine cover the halter neck sundress is also available on the Burda Style website. Either way, the Burda patterns (for those readers who don’t know) need some assembly and tracing before being ready for layout on your chosen fabric. A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a finished pattern prepped. This is the stage where I pick out my size, tracing out only the size I need to use, including any grading and adding seam allowances.

For this pattern, I actually went down a size in everything from the normal size I choose for myself from Burda Style. Looking at the model’s version, I noticed it looked a tad roomy on her. I wanted mine to be tailored more tightly as I am generally on the small size when it comes to fit. Going down in size really gave me the perfect fit, I believe. Take note – the pattern is also sized for petites. I did not change this but made it “as is” since I am right on the high end of the height limit for that category. In my mind, see this pattern as decently easy to grade out of a petite size, nevertheless. Whether wrong or right, I would have added the necessary height into two spots: the lower bodice bands and the upper bodice just under the bust. I am happy with the height proportions of the finished dress on myself and think anyone about 5 foot and 3 to 5 inches can get away with it being petite.

100_5681a-compThere were just a few slight things that I personalized to make my dress. I wanted to go with the feel of the soft cotton gauze fabric and have a dress that has an overall softer and easy theme to the way it wears on myself. Thus, as I briefly mentioned above, I eliminated the interfacing called for in the entire bodice. My sundress still holds its designed silhouette, but it just makes it more of what I exactly wanted to make. There is stay tape in the seams to keep the cotton in its original shape since I didn’t use interfacing. I also 100_5541-compadded a small self-drafted bias tape to support and finish off the left side edges where the zipper gets inserted. The self-fabric edge tape blends right into the rest of the dress and is barely noticeable, but gives me a tad more comfort by providing a little more room as well a peace of mind that the zipper seam will not tear the thin fabrics of my dress. Also, as I was working with half the amount of fabric as the pattern called for, I was able to cut all the other pattern pieces out correctly by cutting out the halter ruffle piece on the straight grain (vertically to the selvedge) rather than the bias. The ruffle gets gathered anyway, so I figured correctly that changing the grain line wouldn’t affect all that much. Finally, as there is so much gathering at the waistband, I do have an exposed seam there but it is nicely covered in bias tape. No major design changes or alterations to the style was done otherwise.

100_5660a-compBurda Style’s Ruffled Halter neck dress pattern is challenging enough to be good to sew without being hard enough to be frustrating or impossible. The bodice and ruffled strap just came together before my very eyes after just doing the first few parts (1, 2, and 3), as you can see in my pictures. I did get lost as the how the exactly finish off the ruffles’ edge, so I decided to just make a ¼ inch hem. Having the strap be a bias strip with a ruffle, and then adding elastic and gathering it too is very intriguing and creative to me. At first, I was afraid the strap was going to be uncomfortable, tight, or confining to wear, but – no, it’s not at all! Burda Style’s measurements for the elastic length in the strap is perfect to be taut but still comfy in my opinion.

Combo pic of the first few construction stepsThere are two looks to the halter neck sundress. If I have the elastic in the halter strap lay flat along my neck at the top of the shoulders, then the ruffle lays down, nice and tame. If I roll the elastic up so the halter strap lays up against the back of my neck, then the ruffle is frilly and perky, like a modern Elizabethan ruff.

100_5691-compOn the Burda Style page for the pattern, there is this summary, “This dress will turn heads when you walk into the room. It has a close fitting bustier with a full skirt with wide waistband, like the iconic Fifties silhouette. The most eye-catching trait is the wide riffled RetroForward badgehalter strap that hugs the neck.” This summary obviously fits this sundress into my “Retro Forward” blog post series. To me (and hubby), this sundress seems like a mix of several decades of vintage touched with a slight futuristic appeal. I have not been able to find a clear past trend for ruffled neckline that wrap around the neck, except for some briefly recurring fashions of this style in the 1960’s and 1970’s (see this dress and this pattern). The trend of summer swimsuits and sundresses with an under bust cutout can be found through the 1940’s and 1950’s. There is a modern counterpart pattern which reflects the design of my Burda ruffled halter sundress – see Simplicity 1371. It seems that the “midriff ventilation” trend was most popular and widely seen between the mid to post-war 1940’s into early to mid-1950 decade. See my inspiration collage of patterns and old advertisements below for examples. The full skirt trend was also popular in the 40’s (and 50’s too, as an option to the “wiggle” slim skirts of the era), as was the wide close fitting waistband and pleated bustier center front detail.

1947 Peck and Peck striped summer playsuit fashions advert & 1948 Pedigree Bathing Suits vintage catalog adHollywood 1778 yr1946 playsuit with cutout in front & Hollywood 1353 Pinafore dress yr1944

My new Burda Style sundress is ready and waiting for warmer days and special occasions. I did get to wear my dress so far to some uneventful occasions in our first heat of the summer. Behind me in the pictures of our photo shoot, you can see some beautiful pink/peach Italian Travertine rock that is part of a distinguishing building in our town, the Lindell bank. So often it has the nickname of being the “Art Bank” because of its beautiful and obviously large statues flanking the sides of the building. I love how the muted calming colors of the building and the peaceful, nature-themed statues offer a moment of calm to what is one of the busiest trafficked intersection in our area.100_5666a-comp

Come to think of it now, the “Art Bank” reminds me of my new halter neck sundress. In the way the “Art Bank” behind me in my pictures is a thing a beauty that calms in the midst of chaos, so my dress instantly brightens up my mood when I put it on, besides making me cool in the heat and proud to be wearing a style you don’t see elsewhere. I love being an individual and my sewing helps me silently proclaim this statement. What do your clothes say for you about you?

The Little 1943 Blouse “On the Prairie”

Here is a little different style of a 40’s top to add more variety into vintage sewing. Just when you think you’ve got a decade understood, wham…here comes a style to throw a wrench in your wheels and keep you from thinking you know it all (as in my case). History, and especially the history of fashion is a bottomless pit of info – I hope you enjoy the dive in as much as I!

100_4227compThis 1943 blouse definitely has a country-style look that easily reminds me more of the 1870’s. It was never supposed to end up like this – it just happened mostly because of the homey, almost too cute, tiny floral print on the cotton fabric. I really enjoy doing gathering and small details, so with the ruffled front and sleeves this blouse was definitely “up my alley”. I just have to be careful how I style my hair and pair it with bottoms or it becomes something from “Little House on the Prairie – does 1943”. I should call this project the multi-decade mash-up top! badge.80

This is another  “Agent Carter” 1940’s themed post.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  An ultra-soft 100% cotton in a tiny floral print (a mix of small portions of the colors steel grey, dusty blue, rust orange, dark brown against a background of creamy ivory). This cotton is thicker than most quilting cottons, so between the colors and the fabric weight, my blouse is perfect for chilly weather!

hollywood1117_yr1943NOTIONS:  Everything I needed was on hand already – a vintage grey zipper leftover from repairing a 1960’s era dress, thread, and bias tapes.

PATTERN:  Hollywood #1117, year 1943

TIME TO COMPLETE:  I was finished on November 9, 2014, after maybe 10 (or 12 at the most) hours. This was my Thanksgiving Day outfit – perfectly roomy and comfy, perfect for visiting with family and eating lots of food!

THE INSIDES:  The blouse’s side seams are French seams, but the rest of the seams are bias covered.

TOTAL COST:  My only cost here was for the fabric, which was about $10 in total.

I’ve already used Hollywood pattern 1117 before to make the skirt with the arched front waist (see the finished skirt here). I am incredibly pleased with the finished skirt, and found its sizing and fit to be right on for me, needing little or no adjustments beyond a slight grading up in size. This was a good sign. There are many vintage original patterns (between the 1920’s and 1940’s) that I find seem to run wonky in the sizing. Not all of them, mind you… but I’m getting to a point where I can surmise which pattern brands have predictable sizing (I’ll save this discussion for some other time unless you want to ask me for my opinion). However, when it comes to a pattern that has separates, once I sew up one piece from a pattern, such as a skirt, and find that I like the fit, then I feel quite safe to make the other pieces, such as a blouse and/or jacket. The situation just mentioned with vintage “separates” patterns is what led me to making my 1941 military wool suit set (post here) as well as this 1943 “Little Blouse on the Prairie”. I’m beginning to really like the old Hollywood patterns now that I’ve made a set from #1117.

100_4231compThis really a sweet twist on a basic 1940’s blouse design. It has simple sleeves with slightly gathered shoulder tops, and the conventional 40’s tucks that end at the waistline for a bloused effect. There is also the classic wrap-over the-shoulder seams which end at high chest at the collarbone. The tops of the front bodice are gathered, not pleated as some blouses, into the wrap-over shoulder seam. I added some extra length to the bottom, as is my norm, to make blouses easier to stay tucked into a skirt or trousers.

100_4230compIt’s amazing how such a little addition as strips of ruffles change the look completely. This was the tiniest gathering I’ve done in a while. I was tempted to get out and use my giant monster-looking ruffle attachment on one of my old sewing machines, but as I needed the strip to be a particular length, I thought better of it. There are two very long strips for the neck that get sewn together at the center back of the neck and taper at the ends, while the sleeve ruffles are two long strips that get sewn into a circle. As per instructions, the strips for the ruffles are single layer, and cut on straight grain, with the outer edge receiving a narrow ¼ inch hem. I wish I had done a double layered bias ruffle instead, just because I’m not sure if I like the wrong side of the fabric showing, although my blouse turned out just fine the way it is.

100_4257compAll I know is it sure was a challenge to get all that ruffle gathered onto the edges. I enjoyed it, though. My hubby was intimidated when he saw the neckline chock full of straight pins to keep the ruffle down for sewing – I’m talking about a whole box’s worth of about 200 pins. If I had put it on then… Ouch! Firstly, I sewed the ruffle down to the neckline and sleeve edges first to keep everything in place and take out all those pins. Then I sewed down the bias tape over the ruffle so the raw edges insides would be covered when the ruffle gets turned straight out. All this bulk and layers of fabric was a challenge for my Singer, and I should have used the Brother machine’s heavy duty setting. If you are doing this pattern, or something similar in the way of ruffled edges out of a heavier material, if might be a good idea to use a machine or setting that can tolerate substantial thickness…don’t break your most important tool for creating with fabric!

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Whoo Hoo! Don’t mean to make it look like I’m flashing you here.

I was totally lost and confused in regards to the instructions about the zipper insertion so I made up my own and installed it in the center front. It seemed I was supposed to add the slide fastener in the center front because the instructions said a brief mention of closure between the ruffles and there wasn’t any markings or mention of where to position the zipper on the side. I went all out vintage with an old original zipper in the front – I figure it should be stronger than the modern zippers (which was all that I had on hand at the time) with its metal teeth. I didn’t know how else to do it but the connected end of the zipper (covered with bias tape) is at the top of the neckline, where it comes together. This makes for a slightly awkward and snug fit to get the blouse over my head, and I have to remember to fix my hair after and not before putting it on. I would have rather put a modern separating zipper, but I didn’t have one on hand, and couldn’t think of the harsh modern look it would have lended, ruining the overall quaintly vintage theme of the blouse. Do you also try to stick with what you have on hand? It is a challenge but feels satisfying in the end.100_4255a-comp

After my blouse was completely finished, the hips had just a bit too snug of a fit for the blouse to lay right on myself. So I unwillingly unpicked (I hate unpicking) to make slits on both side seam bottoms – much better!

My “Little Blouse on the Prairie” is so very clearly the style that the character of the villainess Dottie Underwood wears in the Marvel television series “Agent Carter”. My blouse’s secondary nickname in my head is actually “Dottie’s style blouse”. Dottie “supposedly” came from Ohio (the mid-west of America), from farmland Dottie combo pictureterritory. She wore homey, sweet, toned down fashions to make her fashions play that part of an innocent country girl and help her seem the opposite of what she was to Peggy Carter – a dangerous threat. She wore cream colors, pastel yellows, olive greens, and small floral prints and cultural-themed sweaters – all of which is in my ruffle front blouse in this post, if only in very small doses.

Not that I am the type of person to want to play the par100_4659a-compt of the evil character, but, just for fun, I did my best at making an “evil Dottie” photo. Maybe I succeeded too well because hubby was like, “Oh, goodness, whoa…” as if he was at the receiving end of my tough attitude. Gee, I was only having fun! It is fun to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, especially when it comes to the decade of the 1940’s, although things were tough for a woman in that decade.

This ruffled blouse my not be my favorite 1940’s creation, but this project has won me over to wearing it again and again by its features. It fits so well in the arms and shoulders and bust plus the ruffles and thick cotton is nicely warm in the winter, all the while still keeping me a comfortable temperature inside buildings by having the short sleeves. I have a big box store brand micro suede skirt which I like to wear with my blouse (you see it in our pictures). It has all the feature of a forties skirt with its high waist and six-panels, shaping it into an A-line perfect for activity and, ahem, martial arts kicking like Agent Peggy Carter (I wish). Lucille in blue ruffled blouse with Bud from Best Foot Forward movie - cropped pic

The ruffles of my 1943 blouse are another interesting fashion feature of the decade of the 1940s. They are something you see a whole lot of in the 40’s, and when you do they are often, like my blouse, used as an easy way to jazz up a garment (especially the small ruffles that don’t require much extra fabric to make). After all, a ruffle front blouse was good enough for the famous Lucille Ball to wear in a movie made the same year as my top, “Best Foot Forward” of 1943. Ruffles and ultra-feminine features like ruffles, bows, and quaintAdvance 4214 pattern 1940s ruffle neck two-piece playsuitcountry prints (such as the Advance #4214 play-suit pattern shown at left) had begun to be popular with the Bavarian/Tyrolean cultural fashions beginning at the late 30’s/early 40’s, lasting through the entire decade of the 40’s. However, I find peasant blouses to be the one remnant from that trend that is perennially appealing…after all, the 1970’s brought them back to be used in our modern times as well.

Do you have an outfit that you made which is different than what you normally like to wear, but you find yourself liking it after all? I feel that is one of the best perks to sewing your own clothes…to get to try all sorts of new, different, and unusual things and have fun experimenting with fashion, such as I did with my “Little Blouse on the Prairie”!