I Got Big Sleeves, and Don’t Care!

Last years’ “Designin’ December” challenge hosted by Linda at “Nice dress! Thanks, I made it!!” gave me the gumption to step up and make my own personal version of a 1937 Schiaparelli outfit I had long admired.  Well, this for this year’s 2018 Challenge I’ve chosen another Schiaparelli design to sew up in my own interpretation!

I was determined to be inspired by a Schiaparelli creation that has always amazed and mystified me – a Spring year 1951 voluminous sleeve blouse made of organdy, worn with a slim satin skirt, modeled in the original photo by Della Oake (click on “Show More” to read about her).  How was this garment to wear and move about in?  What is the symbolic inspiration Schiaparelli was thinking when designing it?  As a seamstress’ point of view, how were those sleeves made?  What did their pattern look like?  All these questions in my head could only be answered if I made my own version, I felt.  This is what I love about the “Designin’ December” challenge…I use it to push my boundaries and learn new things.  This project definitely has done that for me again.

I tried my best and, although my sleeves are not anywhere as dramatic as the original which inspired me, I am happy to say I think I succeeded in making a comparably impressive and recognizably similar blouse.  This doesn’t just meet look-alike appearances…it also has a generous movement for any pose or movement.  Yay!  I can officially say I am ending my 2018 year of sewing with a big bang!

My outfit is completed worn with a true vintage silk faille black pencil skirt and my Grandmother’s vintage earrings.  The vintage skirt is the bottom half of an old local “Martha Manning” brand suit set that I have dated with near certainty to 1952.  So my skirt is also very age appropriate to the date of my inspiration blouse!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a “burnout” velvet, also called “devoré” fabric

PATTERN:  self-drafted sleeves, but the cuffs and main body are from a vintage year 1951 McCall’s #1651

NOTIONS:  all I needed was thread and a fabric covered button kit (¾ inch)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was finished on December 20, 2018 after 30 something hours spent to make it.

THE INSIDES:  All fancy and clean in French seams.  As this is a sheer blouse and the material is very delicate and fine, French seams were the only way to go!

TOTAL COST:  On sale, with an end of the bolt discount since I took everything that was left, I bought almost 3 yards for the price of one regular price yard – $30.

People say that high fashion/designer style doesn’t make much practical sense.  This particular Schiaparelli blouse, when shared on social media, seems to frequently receive comments that compare it to having wings for flying, or picture the mess those sleeves would cause during serving or preparing a meal.  In reality, yes – that would be a problem and no, we can’t fly with some full sleeves.  As I have quoted before, though, Stefano Gabbana (of Dolce & Gabbana) has said, “Fashion makes people dream -this is the service it gives.”  Regular everyday clothes are boring and practical enough, in my opinion.  We need gloriously inventive and fantastically impractical clothes to realize something different and amazing is out there, and perhaps find a wonderful middle ground between the two by doing what I and all the participants of “Designin’ December” are doing.

Personally, I think a good percent of what is paraded down runways today is completely unwearable for many except the rich and famous, but that doesn’t keep me from still finding it all interesting and fun to follow because good and bad ideas alike are still creativity and inspirational.  Vintage designer fashion (also, my opinion) had a closer connection to and influence on everyday fashion, and the 1950s especially had a flair for the fantastic silhouettes and elegant fashions, so I love the way making and wearing this pared-down Schiaparelli-inspired blouse is so very wearable.  How often is a blouse exciting nowadays, much less sleeves?  But, hey…why shouldn’t it be so?!  Our desire for what is new and different can bring out the romantic dreamer in any of us, and fashion is a readily seen and popular medium for such inventiveness because we can literally and visibly wear our taste and personality!

The phrase “something up your sleeve” takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to this blouse.  I have room for it!  I actually started from scratch and drafted these sleeves myself from a basic block.  As far as I know there is nothing close to what I wanted and I didn’t feel like looking.  Anyway, I wanted to totally own this pattern and comprehend a new level of pattern drafting – another reason to start from a basic beginning.

These sleeves not just have extra volume.  Notice they still have a normal armscye (shoulder/armhole sleeve) with a hint of the vintage puff tops and the sleeve length down my arm is a basic ‘normal’ span for the top half.  I knew the design was more complex than what might be first thought.  The extra fabric is concentrated to under my arm on each side of the sleeve seam and all the drape and interest culminates at the front bottom.  This might not be how Schiaparelli’s version was constructed because there isn’t a whole lot to see in the one picture that is out there of that blouse, but I’m ‘reading’ it from the knowledge I currently have of both fabric draping and pattern making.  To ‘read’ backwards through a finished garment to reach the flat patterning stage is perhaps one of the hardest parts of trying to re-make something you see.

The funny this is that in the process of trying to figure out how to make these Schiaparelli sleeves I was helped by a finding a designer copy.  The great courtier herself, the mysterious (also French) Madame Grès had included very similar sleeves on a 1969 taffeta gown that was popular enough to be made in several solid colors over the course of almost 10 years.  As there were plenty more pictures of this designer copycat in many more poses, I could understand the workings of such a sleeve.  Yes – granted the Madame Grès dresses are in a much stiffer material (hence the full-bodied shaping compared to my Schiaparelli look-alike), but the fact that I had two designers to be inspired by for this one style makes me laugh a little at the trials of staying original and bittersweet taste of the ‘flattery’ of imitation.  Navigating the big fashion scene must be tough.

Engineering these sleeves was only possible by realizing the basic principle that you slash and spread directly where you want to add in extra interest.  I used my old pattern drafting manuals to change the sleeve block into a basic full bishop sleeve then adapted it to be as you see it from there.  My finished sleeve pattern was 60 inches wide by about 1 ¼ yards long, so both sleeves took a total of 2 ½ yards of material.  This is significant in the light that the main body of the blouse only needed ½ yard.

I religiously stuck to the vintage pattern for the main body as well as the sleeve cuffs.  The Schiaparelli blouse is a 1951 design and as this McCall pattern has fantastic details worthy of a designer besides being from the exact same year.  Besides – it is shown is a sheer fabric just like I was going to use to copy what Schiaparelli did!  Out of all the sheer chiffons and printed organzas I was contemplating, went with my personal preference and chose a French fabric (“devoré”) to copy a French design.

It has my favorite color purple, an enticing sheerness enough to fulfill both vintage trends and the modern one, and an interesting fabric pattern that I think is so much more appealing than the Schiaparelli polka dots!  It is so much better to ‘own’ a ‘look-alike’ by staying true to your own personal taste when it varies from the inspiration.  Especially when it comes to designer garments, not copying them line for line, fabric exactness and all, is actually more respectful to the individual talent of both you and the couturier in my opinion.

The scalloped, curved cuffs and collar were so challenging!  They don’t even show up very well compared to the rest of the blouse but that’s okay…the little details are always stand-out fantastic in designer garments, too.  As I was working with a mostly transparent material, I went with sheer and clear, slightly stiff organza in lieu of interfacing for inside the cuffs and collar.  This always works well for my sheer creations, but with the detail to the cuffs and collar, I had to snip seam allowances within ¼ inch or less and take my time with the edge top-stitching.

I wanted standout buttons to close up this blouse because figured the more detail the better, right?  I originally had big ideas of hand beaded buttons but I reckoned that would be too hard to push through a button hole.  No – there was enough going on and enough time spent already, I self-argued, so covered buttons made out of the velvet portion of the fabric are plenty ‘specialty’ for me.  I chose a larger size button kit because the Schiaparelli blouse’s buttons were oversized, too.

Buttonholes in such a sheer, delicate material as the velvet could have been a problem that I avoided with a little mesh seam tape under the stitching.  I totally avoided letting wide buttonholes messing with the fancy scallops in the cuffs by having them close by lapping over with tiny hook-n-eyes.  This is how I noticed the Madame Grès sleeves closed!

It’s amazing what a sleeve can do.  So often arms are regarded as too functional.  These giant sleeves do not really get in the way of life as much as you’d think, and my blouse happily seemed to attract many admirers like flies to raw meat.  To see mere functionality of the body as a barrier to limitless creative expression is sad to me – our arms are a means of expression, love, passion, and all the best activities of life.  Why not provide them with all the feelings that suit them?!  To make one’s arms beautiful and elegant at every angle through the use of clothes is a wonderful achievement.  I haven’t yet had an inner sense for the inspired perception that Schiaparelli might have had for dreaming up these sleeves besides the recurring life theme of a butterfly.  Just as the wings of a butterfly give it a new life and a certain sense of liberty in its fragile beauty, so a romantic and impractical sleeve blouse such as this is freeing in its unusualness of silent communication.

Hollywood 1944 Scalloped Front Blouse

This blouse may be a basic white, but it is anything but plain. It has a character that reminds me of how vintage patterns conveniently brought movie star glamour to the populace for a decent price. Who doesn’t have a film fashion crush in some way or another? So…bring on the Hollywood patterns!

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Hubby said, “Strike a ‘Peggy Carter’ action pose.”  This is my interpretation.

100_4940-compMy Hollywood blouse was directly inspired by a newly modern “icon” of the vintage world – Agent Peggy Carter. She wears the most simple but beautifully classy blouses, many with amazing collars and appealing details such as contrast top-stitching, pretty buttons, or special sleeves. There isn’t a blouse in Peggy’s wardrobe which I’ve seen yet that looks like mine, but it has the same feel to me of special touches and unique design. This is why I chose to make a basic white blouse superbly snazzy with a scalloped front collar pattern. Here’s to both the red, white, and blue and the power of a strong woman clad in 1940’s fashion!

THE FACTS:

100_4818-compFABRIC:  It is a rayon, cotton, polyester blend “linen-look” line of fabric from Hancock Fabrics store.

NOTIONS:  I had all of what I needed on hand – the bias tape, buttons, and thread.

PATTERN:  Hollywood #1318, year 1944

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse took me about 4 or 5 hours to make and was finished on March 17, 2015.

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THE INSIDES:  All edges are bias bound.

TOTAL COST:  Under $10

Being detail-oriented, this pattern was great for fulfilling my enjoyment of tricky time-consuming tasks which tests my skill (like all the scallops). Beyond any pleasing features, this was also compelling as it is the first Hollywood pattern which I’ve sewn. Hollywood patterns are often considered rarer (compared to Simplicity or McCall) and are slightly harder to find due to the fact that they were only made between 1932 to about 1947. Those patterns with a famous radio or movie name and face in the star on the envelope front are more special than those without. I must admit I have mixed feelings but am overall pleased using a Hollywood pattern. Its instructions were laid out differently, in a way I found a tad confusing and not as clear as they could have been. The finished blouse did seem to turn out on the generous side, too – not something I find in vintage patterns too often. I’m wondering if this tendency to run a bit large is connected to Hollywood patterns, because it certainly doesn’t have to do with the fact the pattern is unprinted (as surmised after making many other unprinted patterns). I do find their designs lovely, so I shall see what happens when I sew up the other handful of Hollywood patterns which are in my collection.

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Being an unprinted pattern using the “punched out holes” method, the scalloped front edge took a ton of marking. I just kept filling in hole after hole after hole! Then I ended up with what looked like a big connect-the-dots puzzle. The pattern piece layout guide on the instruction sheet clarified any confusion I had, but I just needed to think of how the finished product needed to look to figure it out anyway. It might sound hard but it was really fun! The only not-fun part was snipping the curves and turning them right side out into perfect half circles. Every time I do this much snipping, I always save the zillion of tiny triangles leftover…someday I hope to do something wildly creative with all these little pieces of fabric confetti.

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The instructions did not call for interfacing or any kind of stabilization, and although I know old vintage patterns leave out many basic elements of sewing because women “knew” what to do already, I left it out. I wanted my blouse to be easy care with a soft appearance, and interfacing would go against that aim. The neck and collar edges are faced, but not interfaced. I merely used a tight stitch length to keep the fabric from stretching and make my time to sew those amazing scallops not spent in vain.

100_4915-compI am impressed with the ingenuity of the sewing method to the collar. I believe it is a sort of a simple “waterfall collar” and is cut as one with the blouse front. The self-collar is cleverly manipulated so that it turns, gets slashed and darted so that it goes towards the center back neck, making the collar naturally lay open the way you see it. This part was tricky, and I got it wrong at first (due in part to the slightly unclear instructions), but with some unpicking and a little re-stitching, it came out right. Vintage patterns are so smart, they never cease to amaze me.

Down the front, the buttons are antique real mother-of-pearl, carved into a nice smooth knot with a deep inner cut out where they get sewn down. Sure the buttons are ivory on a white blouse…but I don’t care. I love how the buttons feel so cool – sometimes even cold – to the touch, much like how marble stone or metal keeps a differing temperature than the air around it. When I feel this it makes me aware of how special this blouse is to me. It has something about it you just can’t find anymore and knowing sewing can bring vintage back. However it does make me a bit apprehensive to clean this blouse in the washing machine on account of the buttons. They are extraordinarily thick nodules, otherwise I’d never have put them on in the first place. So far so good, but now that I’m talking about the buttons I don’t feel like pushing my luck and it might resort to hand washing from now on.

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My blouse goes with many different bottoms, but I like it best with a basic color skirt, such as navy blue so I can wear red accessories and feel like Agent Carter. However, for Easter 2015’s daytime ‘visiting with family’ I changed into my white blouse with a bright plaid skirt (modern thrift shop find with 40’s details) and an authentic vintage 40’s hat.

Do you have a favorite blouse which has some detailing which makes you feel special just to put it on – is it simple or snazzy? Do you also have a garment that you made in imitation of someone in Hollywood? Does imitating that Silver Screen starlet inspire you to attempt sewing a challenging garment? (This has happened to me on a few occasions already!) It’s amazing what we who sew (or knit) will do in order to make real our dream garment, isn’t it!

P.S. This blouse was part of an “Agent Peggy Carter” ensemble which I put together for being featured on “PopWrapped – Fan Tribute” (see the post for this here).

The Tap Dancing, Scalloped Collar Dress from “The Artist” Movie

Out of all the Silver Screen look-alikes I have made yet, none have been as rewarding to see finished, as fun to wear, or as tiresome to make as my newest Hollywood imitation: a dress from the movie “The Artist”.  This dress is also one my best fitting creations, amongst my modern and vintage sewing alike.  I simply can’t help but break out and dance like Peppy in this dress, especially since I now have a good excuse to wear my tap shoes!

100_1980a     Peppy Miller, played by the actress Berenice Bejo, is the one of the main characters in the 2012 movie “The Artist”.  It is a silent (music only) film in black and white.  The movie spans the years of 1927 to 1931, and, as IMDb sums it up, “The Artist” is about how “a silent movie star meets a young dancer, but the arrival of talking pictures sends their careers in opposite directions”.  My dress, which I carefully copied in many details, is seen in a tap dance scene towards the end of the movie, thus it might be more of a 1931/1932 era outfit.  For being a rather small production film coming from an independent/private company, “The Artist” won 5 Oscars and numerous other awards, especially the Academy Award for Best Costume Design.

Peppy sure is a natural when dancing with George Valentin ( played by Jean Dujardin) and together they make me smile as well as desire to learn some of their tap moves!  Here’s a original shot from the movie to show you where my inspiration has come from for my dress.

the-artist21     Well what do you think?

100_1982bTHE FACTS: 

FABRIC:  a linen-look fabric, half polyester and half rayon, in a bight turquoise color – I bought 2 5/8 yards at Hancock Fabrics

NOTIONS:  I bought from Hancock Fabrics 15 yards of a flat, stiff, white trim, called ‘President Braid’, 3/16 inch width;  I also bought a zipper and a spool of matching thread

PATTERN:  as the base for my ‘Artist’ dress, I used a mix of 3 patterns: Simplicity 3827, year 2007, view B, for most of the dress;  Simplicity 4365, year 2005, view B, for the godets added into the bottom dress seams;  Simplicity 3092, year 1949, view 1, for the scalloped collar.  I drew my own pattern for the white trim design…I’ll explain more about this down lower.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  I spent at least 25 hours (counting sewing only time) to complete my dress, all worth it in the end.

THE INSIDES:  fairly nice…all seams are clean finished or flat felled, except for the side seams and the inside edge of the neckline.  Those two seams are double zig zagged along the edge because those spots needed to move and stretch a bit.

FIRST WORN:  to this photo shoot then over to my parents’ house to show this off!

TOTAL COST:  just under $30

The main body of the dress was made using the Simplicity3827 because it had theSimplicity3827 dresses exact under bust shaping, six paneled skirt, and neckline as the movie dress.  Only one change was made – the hem of the shorter dress was lengthened just a few inches to land upper mid-calf on myself.  I must say, this is a wonderful pattern!  It is designed very well, the sizing is right on, and the fitting is oh so comfy.  I especially like how clean and non-bulky were the small armhole facings (for the sleeveless option).  Also, my side zip in this dress turned out so well it’s nearly invisible.  I already have plans to make the longer length, 3/4 sleeve version of this pattern in another fabric from my stash.Simplicity4365 godet skirts

I chose the godet pattern piece for view B from Simplicity 4365 (in picture at left) because this piece was longer and not as wide as the godet for D, E, and F skirts.  Paying close attention to the design of Peppy’s dress, the godet points on my dress end/start right at the spot where the leg bends at the hip.  Several inches had to be taken off the bottom of the godets for them to hit at this point in the seams and even up with the dress hem.  Four godet pieces were cut: 2 for the front and two for the back.  After doing a few of these type of godet pattern pieces, such as for my recent “Water for Elephants” 1931 dress, I feel those tricky points are done quite well, especially the inside (see pic below right).100_2019

The collars were by far the most tedious and slow specialty work I have done yet to date.  Adding the trim to the collars got old really quickly, mostly because I had to be so exact but also because it was hard to see any progress made to the dress…I just wanted it done!  I should clarify why I’m using the plural ‘collars’.  It’s because I had to make three full sized collars, with trim sewn on, to decorate the neckline of my ‘Artist’ dress.  Thinking outside the box has again produced great results for my sewing.100_1985Simplicity3092 blouses fm 1949     My decorative collar is based on a pattern from an old original 1949 Simplicity 3092, click here to see the Wiki page of this pattern.  The one scalloped collar piece of View 1 is supposed to go around the whole neck, but that same pattern piece is the exact length from the center back of my ‘Artist’ dress to the center front of its V-neck.  So I took the collar pattern from Simplicity 3092 and copied it to have a paper version that I could draw and score and mark up all I wanted.  I felt like an engineer drawing out the design for the collar scallops – first I traced out the grid of some graph paper onto regular paper, then used a compass to have even arcs and even spaces between the arcs.  For my design drawings to fit in curves of the collar, I had to enlarge my scalloped design on a copier to 135% bigger.  Now I was able to trace my scalloped design directly onto my copied pattern piece of the collar, making sure to keep the design from going over the seam allowances.

See the picture below to get an idea of what I did to a basic collar.

100_2044     All the tiny triangular shaped clippings leftover from shaping the scalloped collar edge are all saved, kept in a clean baby food container, and I hope to make my own lace with them.  The current edition of Threads magazine #169 has a tutorial on how to make your own lace using fabric scraps, thread, and wash away stabilizer.  I love to find creative ways to use leftovers from other projects!

100_1952     My mind ruminated over several different ways to add the scalloped design to the collar, but anything that involved hand-stitching was gladly eliminated, and, as it turns out, the president braid I used worked great…I hope it washes well too!  I used my sewing machine to add the white braid trim and held the pieces in place with extra long pins while I worked. EACH collar took me FOUR HOURS of work, from the cutting to all the trim sewn on.  Believe it or not, each collar also used up 3 5/8 yards of trim.  I could only sew on the collar in 1 1/2 hour intervals – it was all that my shoulders, hands, and patience could stand in one dose.100_1961

The center front fan is simply one of the three collars, for which I folded the scallops together and sewed from behind to pinch out the excess plain fabric.  It was hard and frustrating to sew from the wrong side, along the trim, but not catch the trim.

The center of the scalloped fan is covered with a rounded end casing to cover up any messiness and give me a nice flat center spot to sew the front buttons down.  After trying my scalloped fan on my ‘Artist’ dress, I ultimately decided to cut the extra end trim off (you can see my cutting line of chalk in the picture) and shorten it so it wouldn’t be so overwhelming and cover up the front bodice as much.  By the way, the buttons I used are small, with a pearlized textured top – these were fished from my stash by hubby, and are most probably vintage originals.

I did hit a bit of a problem after doing the trim on two collars.  I ran out of white braid!  I called all over and no one was helpful over the phone, so I went out myself, and found some more to finish.  Whew!

100_2017     My long right and left collars were sewn down to the neckline just at/below the dress’ facing, with the white braid ends tucked under so there are no raw edges showing.  I couldn’t really pick a color to use for top-stitching down the collar, so I used clear filament thread…nearly invisible and so non-historical, but don’t tell anybody because it worked out great anyway.    The collars matched together perfectly in the front as well as the back, as you can see from my picture.  I’m showing off my tap shoes in this picture!

100_1981     We had the perfect era-worthy backdrop for the photo shoot of my ‘Artist’ dress.  The Deco designed tiled wall you see in the background is only a number of blocks away from where we live, and it is covered in decorative work from top to bottom -so pretty!  The entrance wall in our pictures is by far the best part of the building, I think.  I wish new buildings were made this beautiful but I guess that’s what makes these old buildings special.

I really enjoy my ‘Artist’ imitation dress – it’s a very different 30’s style.  This project was one of the few that totally surprised both me and hubby because we really couldn’t see it coming together until it was together.  Then we realized what I did.  I feel so good about this dress that I have everything on hand to make at least two more imitation outfits of Peppy from “The Artist” movie.  Keep on the lookout for them to appear in my blog this winter.The_Artist_photo_Peter_Lovino_copyright_WarnerBros2

Peppy Miller is a character with an amazing, happy personality, and I tried to convey some of this in our pictures of my movie dress.  Perhaps I was feeling in character a bit too well, and we got quite a number a great shots with a little too much spunk on my part.  If you would like to see more pictures of this dress visit my Flickr page (click here for link).  Just believe me, I really wasn’t up to too much, even if I look full of it…

If you haven’t seen the movie “The Artist” for yourself, please do; if you’ve seen it already I hope you enjoyed it and recognize my dress.

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