Refashioning My Own 60’s Style Babydoll Blouse

When the items I sew for myself no longer fit or work for me in some way, they are not given up on but treated just the same as – if not better – anything else in my wardrobe.  They either get refitted, resized, or mended.  If any of those three actions are not possible for one reason or another, they get refashioned.  This has especially been an important task for me to tackle since 2020.  Ever since that year, the reasons and occasions for which I leave the house has decreased, so I sensibly expend my sewing efforts on the wardrobe I do have versus only adding more new (me-made) pieces.  Just recently I refashioned a project I made almost a decade ago, and this has now turned out to be a much more appealing creation for me than when I completed its first iteration! 

I sewed up the original blouse in 2013, and it was a success, but never as interesting to begin with as I have turned it into today.  As I said in that original post, I struggle to like myself in peter pan collars, and overly sweet styles.  I liked it, to be sure, but never felt ecstatic over how it turned out enough to be ranked as a ‘favorite’.  I wore the blouse for only a few years after it was made since it quickly became too snug to be comfortable.  To be fair, I originally cut it out in a smaller size – I was severely short on fabric.  Long story short, I haven’t worn this for the last 8-something years and now that problem has been amended in the most fantastic way I could have ever hoped for! 

This is the old original top, for comparison.

Measuring the old top as compared to my current body, I realized I needed to add in about 3 inches widthwise to have this fit me comfortably again.  My main focus was on adjusting for my shoulders, and I (correctly) figured that a good fit for the bust of the blouse (which had been snug, too) would then follow, as well.  Aiming for about 3 inches was ideal because I had no scraps of any worth to use and needed to cannibalize from the current blouse itself.  Cutting off that much from the hem meant that the new blouse’s length would be just below my natural waistline…perfect!  The puffed sleeves do give a bit of leeway over the shoulders so I didn’t worry about an exact re-fitting.  If I would have added in much more than 3 inches my refashion would have been too dramatic and obvious of an addition, anyways.     

Most of the original blouse was left untouched, but the little bit I did do made such a bit difference!  My first step for this refashion was to cut 4 inches horizontally off of the bottom hem (the 3 inches I needed plus enough for two ½ inch seam allowances).  The side seams were cut off to make two rectangular panels.  Then I cut vertically down the center front and the center back, separating up the collar.  One of the two panels cut from the bottom hem went right away into the center back.  With this step, I was able to get my first taste of how my refashion would fit and look and I was so excited!  I realized ahead of time that the tiny polka dot print of the back’s added panel would be running oppositely of the main body.  The print is so small, I didn’t really care nor did I have much of a choice with what to work with.  I rather like the interest it adds to have the print contrast itself ever so slightly.  According to my idea, the front was going to have most of the attention so I like how the back is low-key appealing, too.

The front panel required a bit more effort than the back, since I had a grand idea for ramping up the femininity and eclectic detailing to this new version of my old blouse.  Luckily, I am quite organized when it comes to my sewing notions (not to brag, but I am proud of this fact).  Thus, I was happily able to find the little bit of aqua bias tape leftover from what I used to make the elastic casing on my blouse’s puff sleeved hems.  The bias tape was extra wide and double fold, so I found that opening it up fully made it just about 3 inches wide…I suppose you can guess how thrilled I was to discover this!  The solid toned bias tape, which was opened up and ironed out as if it was a cut of fabric, was layered over the remaining blouse fabric panel.  Doubling up here both used up all of my fabric cut off from the hem and kept the front from being see-through (the bias tape was tissue thin), besides lending some wonderful continuity to the overall look of the blouse. 

With the idea that “more is more”, I also sandwiched some vintage cotton lace into the seam when stitching on the front panel.  The lace is a slight ivory tone to complement the yellows and greys in the collar.  Then, I found a half a dozen vintage ivory pearled ball buttons from my paternal grandmother’s notions stash.  The buttons really filled in the big empty front panel and matched with the lace bordering the front.  It seemed to be a popular design element to have a decorative-only contrast chest panel to blouses and dresses of the 1960s.  I suppose I was kind of vaguely inspired by seeing such patterns in my own stash (such as Simplicity #6801) or through perusing online (see Simplicity 7736).  Honestly, though, my refashion was merely the best I could do with what I had available…which wasn’t much to begin with!  I wanted to add pintucks or some other sort of extra details to the front panel but I felt lucky to get by the way it was.  My blouse is immensely more appealing to me than how it first was, so good enough is as good as done for this refashion project.  

I wanted to keep the popover simplicity of getting dressed in this blouse, for all its extra elements it now had.  However, it turned so very boxy in shape with the new panels added!  I had to sew in four deep, curved, vertical darts to the bust of the front and shoulder line of the back for shaping the blouse.  I made sure to not take in enough to necessitate a side zipper.  I was trying to ride a fine line of having it fitted yet still staying as a popover-the-head top.  I never mind installing zippers (I half enjoy the process, really) yet if I can avoid doing so, I will in no way turn down the opportunity.

Not only is my refashion an improvement on the overall blouse, but I am thrilled over the way I love the collar so much better by it having a wide open neck.  Most babydoll style blouses (and dresses) have a peter pan collar that closely hugs the neckline.  It takes a very specific interpretation (such as the 1930s; see my “Snow White” dress) in a select few colors (see this 40’s “Candy Stripe” blouse I made) for me to like what a peter pan collar does for my face.   I can afford to be picky when I sew my own wardrobe!  Then again, taking such an approach helps me hone my taste in fashion and cater to my personality unlike a dependency on ready-to-wear could ever offer. 

Re-working something your own hands have already made not only is sensible, eco-friendly, and responsible, but also it requires a greater amount of creativity and determination.  I will not deny, there is a dopamine rush from the amazing process of starting a sewing project from scratch and seeing it go from paper laid out on fabric to a wearable garment.  Sure, it would be much easier to merely donate and move on, but landfills do not need a single more item added to them when a few extra hours of my time can give me back a new and improved version of my own makes.  

I find a more innate sense of personal pride in my every effort to alter, tailor, or otherwise extend the life of the wardrobe I already have.  For me, doing such actions also shows me just how far I have come with my sewing skills to be able to add significance and worth to what I have made in the past.  I am constantly mending, letting seams out and taking them in, darning sweaters, dyeing, patching or doing some other sort of garment care for me and my immediate family (even for my parents, too, on occasion).  This blouse’s refashion is merely the most visually stunning recent example of all the mundane clothing care that I do behind the scenes of my blog!  I hope this post has inspired you to “give a darn and mend”!   

Tennis Top

In the quest for more sportswear that is also part of my handmade wardrobe, I have branched out to make something perfect for playing one of my favorite games – tennis!  This top had been part of a previous project back from 2016, only to be left unfinished when my ideas changed.  However, I detest sewing items lurking on the backburner and am a stickler for needing the projects I start to be fully finished.  At last I have conquered this little odd dress bodice to make it a top that does the job of a sports bra but with a fashionable, fun, me-made flair! 

This is a totally different side of me that is uniquely lacking in my normal glamour to show here on my blog.  Thus I am a bit unsure about sharing it yet too happy with what I’ve made to hold it back.  I felt it tied in nicely with my previous post of 1940s sporty, bibbed “short-alls” so I am sharing this now versus waiting until it is officially summer.  This is not a vintage piece, coming from a Burda Style pattern from 2016, but it does incorporate one of my favorite things – color blocking.  All of my favorite tones are here present – rich purple, bright pink, and a royal blue – all in a way that calls to mind a lovely stained glass window.  The black piping becomes likened to the “cames” of grooved lead which hold together the panels of color in a glass window.  I love the irony of recalling delicate stained glass for an item used for an activity that is quite the opposite – slamming of balls and full body movements.  Tennis is not listed as a high impact sport but it is the way I play it!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a shirting basics stretch cotton sateen

PATTERN:  Burda Style’s ‘A-Line Cocktail Dress’ #122, from 03/2016 (see the German Burda Style page for actual pictures of the pattern, though)

NOTIONS NEEDED:  I had to buy an extra pack of piping to finish this, as well as the back separating zipper, but other than that all I needed was lots of thread, which I always have on hand

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The original piped bodice took me about 5 hours back in 2016, but then for the recent fitting and finishing I spent another 4 hours

THE INSIDES:  left raw…the stretch in the cotton keeps the fraying of the fabric in check

TOTAL COST:  I no longer remember because the fabrics had been on hand from before 2016!

The sizing definitely ran small and quite wonky for the original Burda dress pattern that my top came from.  See a full recap on this post here. Such a sizing discrepancy luckily didn’t extend to the skirt portion of the dress, but the top half was another story.  Neither did I have any more fabric to recut anything.  All the vertical seams together with the fact I added in piping to them set up any fitting adjustments to be a major headache.  I definitely had to come back to adjust such an unfinished object when I was fully ready and equipped with a definite purpose and incentive to complete this.

It was a sewing project I truly wrestled with to just barely make it fit enough to be salvageable.  Letting out the 5/8 inch seams to 3/8 inch in some places was barely just enough to have this squeeze on my body as well as get the piping back in again.  The piping makes the color gradient panels pop with the definition but definitely restrains the stretch of the fabric in between.  It restricts the curvy seams significantly yet I loved the overall effect too much to give up on the idea.  Now that it is done, I feel that the piping makes sure the fabric doesn’t over-extend its elasticity and also helps this have such a snug fit, which I normally wouldn’t like but found a purpose for this time.   

I took advantage of the fact this top has wonderful stretch and is skin tight to wear this as my sports bra.  I have only worn loose tee shirts for tennis before and have never been happy with how I move and feel sloppily clammy while wearing them.  This top is like a second skin, and keeps my assets securely in place.  The top itself stays in place on my body, is fuss-free, and does not get in the way of my movement at all like my loose tee shirts were doing.  Plus, the sateen doesn’t show sweat, keeps me cool while wicking any moisture away, and still looks nice.  I never knew what to do with it before now since I formerly saw it only as a failure left behind from an unfinished project.  Now that this top is not only finished but also useful with a purpose, I am so taken by it.  I have something I always needed but never knew I wanted…and I made it myself, which is even better! 

In lieu of the side seam zipper I originally planned for when this top was to be part of a dress, I changed to a center back separating sports zipper.  A sports zipper is more heavy duty, with chunkier teeth, and the fact it opened up at both ends makes this top very easy to put on.  I left the zipper exposed to not only save every little bit of room I could spare but also because it visually gives a black line in the seam similar to the piping in all the other seams.  The black back zipper gave me the ideal combo of functionality and aesthetics in one easy step.

Not that I would highly recommend this pattern, but this is the perfect stash busting project.  The pattern pieces for this top could probably even fit on some cotton “fat quarters”.  When I was originally making this, I happened upon three colors of the same fabric in my stash, all in a stretch cotton shirting, in colors which complimented each other.  They just had to be made into a garment together! 

The pink is a whole 2-something bolt, still in my stash meant for a future project, while the other two colors were under ¼ yard scraps.  I just gleaned a small amount off of the total cut of pink, not enough to dent my greater plans for it.  With some recent re-organizing of my fabric bins I happened to come across this pink fabric again, and so I took the opportunity to shave off a tad more to cut bias strips to finish the armhole openings.  At the same time, I also happened to find some scraps of black stretch cotton sateen on hand, leftover from a store bought dress I had re-fashioned years back.  I then used this to finish off the neck and bottom hem edges.  I was left with the feeling my top was very barely cobbled together but also amazed that such little amounts were all I needed.  The stash busting redemption of this top has left me further satisfied with it even though the fit of the design is much lacking.

You see on my blog what kind of styles I stitch together for everything else in my life.  Now that I’ve finished making this tennis top you see what I wear for sporting exercise fun!  Have you made some athletic wear pieces for yourself?  What is your favorite sport?

My Victorian Christmas

The royal Christmas tree is admired by Queen Victoria, Prince Albert & their children, December 1848

The popularity of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” novel from 1843 is one a strong reason why Victorian fashion always seems to be the choice for a historical “old timey” flair to the winter holiday.  However, the celebratory traditions of the Victorian era do have a large part to play in the way Christmas has been celebrated in last 150 years.  The traditions of sending greetings to friends and family, caroling, the Father Christmas figure, glittering trees, and showy wrapped presents which spread good cheer and abundance were each not original to the Victorian era and were celebrated across the world for centuries before (in some cases).  Altogether, by the 1870s these practices were solidified into being one holiday, all thanks in part to the wide publicity of the way Britain’s Queen Victoria began celebrating Christmas with her family in the 1840s.

As much as I love the aesthetic of a Victorian Christmas, I have long been a confused but always captivated admirer when it comes to Victorian fashion.  What is with the big rear end?  Is it difficult to wear?  Why were the trained skirts so “extra” when there were dirt roads and hazardous carriage wheels to deal with? How can there be so many various trimmings (pleats, ribbons, ruffles, and beading) that actually look so good together?  Every detail in every fashion plate or extant original is so beautiful but also so unusual, with the fanciest Victorian ladies’ outfits a lot to look at, for sure. 

I actually have an original hand-tinted fashion page from April 1874 Godey’s Lady’s Book framed in my bedroom (see it in my post under “The Facts”) that speaks for my lurking obsession.  Did you know that in both 1850 and 1860 Godey’s printed an Americanized version of Queen Victoria’s Christmas scene with her family, and it is known as the first widely circulated picture of a decorated holiday evergreen in America? Art historian Karal Ann Marling called it “the first influential American Christmas tree”, and it certainly helped anchor the tradition for the Western Hemisphere by the 1870s.

I am a hands-on type of girl, though, and just admiring for years was eventually not going to cut it.  There was only one way to ultimately answer some of my internal queries and satisfy my fascination – attempt to sew my own Victorian wear.  My mom had recently given me her stash of historical costuming patterns, so I was conveniently set.  I figured Christmas was the best time to pick up this project for reasons listed in the paragraphs above, but especially with the local historic homes decked out in old time finery fit for a background setting which would be 1870s appropriate.  I also realized that I did not have historic clothing for the wintertime – the lack of which has now certainly been amended in the most fantastic way!

The recent purchase of a highly decorative vintage silk velvet jacket (possibly from the 1930s) which would remotely pass as Victorian gave me an easier introduction into sewing this new-to-me historical era.  Thus, for this outfit, I only had the make the skirt and the apron drapery which goes over the skirt.  The jacket gave me a ‘starting point’ idea to work off of, as well as having half of my outfit ready-to-go.  Luckily, I already had a reproduction blouse on hand, a 1880s Red Threaded corset, a lightly boned bum pannier, and my 1860s undergarments (made by me, yet to be posted) to help the rest of the outfit easily come together.  My Grandmother’s brooch pins down a lacey pocket square serving as a ruffled neck cravat.

Using the vintage jacket for my bustle set hints at a running theme I will be having here on my blog for 2022 – the revivals of historical styles which can be found in vintage fashion of the 21st century.  More on this coming soon!  On a basic level, the ‘not-true-Victorian’ jacket helped me remember to not be so hard on myself if I don’t get my first Victorian outfit perfectly historically correct.  Many of today’s most popular costumers are not strict about accuracy as much as I remember from being in re-enacting groups 20 plus years ago, but I am my own worst critic.  The older in era I sew, I want to be as accurate as is reasonable for both my means and my sanity (my Middle Ages dress is an exception). 

I acutely realize sewing is a journey and – especially for historical clothing – one can learn so much during the push to continue to trudge forward through challenges.  Looking back at the visible proof of that progress is something to be proud of, which is why I still love to wear things I sewed 10 and even 20 years ago.  I am confident this my first Victorian set will be very versatile to me, and be a work in progress that I will appreciate having made when I did…the way I did.  I have previously sewn and worn garments from the decades with bookend the Victorian era – Regency and Edwardian – so I am happy with anything fun, fancy, and swishy which fills that void.

picture of Lillian Robert from the DeMenil house

The location for my photos is the historic Chatillon–DeMenil Mansion, located in St. Louis, Missouri.  Construction on the house was begun in 1848 on a five-acre tract of the pioneer Henry Chatillon, somewhat famous as the leader of an Oregon Trail expedition.  In 1855, the house had then been enlarged to its present Late Greek Revival style form under the new ownership of prominent businessman Nicolas DeMenil and his wife Emilie Sophie Chouteau, the descendant of both of the founders of St. Louis.  Being a Victorian house, it was decked out in all of the era’s holiday finery.  I was so happy to hear the docent comment that I looked like an 1870s picture of Lillian Robert, the wife of the house’s heir Alexander DeMenil!      

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a dark brown herringbone printed cotton flannel for the skirt, with poly felt – leftover from this hat project – to support the hem (I’ll explain more about down below) and a 100% wool twill for the apron drapery

PATTERN:  Simplicity #5457, from Andrea Schewe, labelled as ‘Victorian 1880s’, from year 2003

NOTIONS NEEDED:  Lots and lots of thread went towards this project – I finished up about four 250 yard spools.  Other than that, I needed lots of size 2 hook and eyes.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The skirt combo took me about 30 plus hours to make (a large part of it by hand) and it was finished on November 30, 2021.

THE INSIDES:  all edges are tightly stitched over for a simple edge finish

TOTAL COST:  The dark brown skirt flannel was bought on sale at my local JoAnn store for $5 a yard – with 3 ½ yards, my total is about $18.  I’m counting the wool apron drapery as free because it was rummage scraps I picked up as part of a “$1 a bag” second-hand sale of material.  All notions were already on hand, most from my paternal grandmother’s stash.  What a reasonable way to dive into Victorian dressing, right?!?

the Godey April 1874 print in my bedroom

For women’s wear, the shape and placement of the underpinnings, as well as the size of the overall silhouette, changes subtly but still significantly over the span of less than any given 5 years throughout the general Victorian era (1837 to 1901).  I kept close to the year of my bedroom’s Godey print – 1874 – as my main inspiration, because that is what I see on a regular basis!  Nevertheless, the 1870s & 1880s is often seen as the classic trademark look of the “bustle era” to the Victorian period, and veering closer to the 1870s suited everything I had to work with already.  I do think that the date of 1880 for the Andrea Schewe pattern is at least 5 years too late – the late 1870s shifted into a more curvy natural form look for a number of years before returning to the full bustle.   

From my research into bustle era looks, it seems my outfit is more of an interpretive mix of trends which ranged between 1870 and 1876.  My velvet jacket has a natural waistline length, with close fitting sleeves that are set in at my natural shoulder in line with pre-1873 fashion.  My reproduction blouse and my jacket both have fuller wrists, as seen circa 1873.  Hoop skirts were just beginning to be replaced in 1869, so amplified rear ends at this time (early 1870s) were rather tame compared to the late bustle era.  The overskirt’s apron fronts and draped backs were detachable and shorter than any overlay that came post 1876.  These details are everything that this Andrea Schewe pattern has, hence my skepticism of the cover’s date.  Nevertheless, all of these historical details also happily suited my working with scraps, using what I had, and trying make this outfit on a budget.  I still used quality fabrics which would have been utilized for a garment back then, and my entire outfit – inside and out – is cotton, wool, or silk.  My hubby actually found the fabrics I used for my skirts – he has been trained well to know what material I like and is an expert at finding a good deal!

It is actually a very versatile set for historical dressing.  I am hoping to make a different overskirt and more dramatic drape in the future, as well as a matching bodice, so I can turn my underskirt from the current “walking outfit of a comfortably wealthy middle class woman” into a fancier, trained outfit of a wealthier woman.  Yes, visible appearance of class status was what was done back then, for better or for worse.  Finding out about the way women of different classes dressed is how we study Victorian fashion today, and understand them when modern costumers choose what to recreate.  I myself like a more practical look for a lot of my historic garments.  I enjoy wearing things that might have seen more use and been worn by more people like me perhaps.  It’s all part of my “stepping back in time” idea, I suppose (which I discussed here in this post, already).  It is also easier to start off basic and work up to some intricate finery!  

The skirt and its apron drape were really quite simple to make – the hardest part was adjusting to a different silhouette.  All the accoutrements, such as the pannier for the bustle back, petticoats, and a corset, too, needed to be tied, laced, and hooked on myself in between construction fittings to see how my two pieces would work for me.  I had a good beginner’s outlook to power me through.  After reading a few blogs (this post was especially helpful), I figured out that the best way for me to approach Victorian bustle outfits were to view them as nothing more than a bodice with a two part skirt – underskirt and overskirt (which consists of the front apron and the back drape).  No big deal…they just require a lot more material and in much weirder pattern shapes than what I am used to sewing.  Once I got my head wrapped around the undergarments and foundation, then I could understand what my end goal was and not be completely mystified during the construction process of my bustled skirts. 

I wanted warm fabrics in a natural materials, so my basic underskirt is flannel.  My hubby found a flannel that has a wonderful two-toned herringbone weave.  This makes such a basic cotton appear as if it was a brushed wool, or a suiting, and provides interesting texture.  To continue the warmth factor, and level up the underskirt, the apron and its draped overskirt are my wool twill remnants.  I would never have used such a fine woolen if it hadn’t have been small, hacked up remnants which were completely moth chewed (it was like this when we found it, hence it was offered as good as free). 

I normally dislike using really nice material on historical costuming clothing mainly because I get sad over the fact it will not see much wear when compared to my regular wardrobe.  If an expensive fabric will help my project turn out a successful recreation of my ideal I have no problem diving all in.  It is all about give-and-take.  However, it is ideal for me when a fine fabric has existing issues too obvious for a more fashionable design.  The deep folds of the pleated apron front drape hide moth chews big enough to slip a pencil through.  It also hides the seaming I did to come up with pieces which just barely fit the patterns.  I had to improvise my own back overskirt drape because of the lack of material, too.  I really wanted something more impressive over my bustled back, but I am just as happy to have ‘rescued’ a nice – but damaged – material from the trash bin.   

The way the details are put together are a mix of finely done and rather unorthodox.  In lieu of a proper waistband for both underskirt and overskirt, I used brown satin ribbon turned under inside for easy finishing and for stability.  Cotton flannel relaxes too much to trust to just interfacing (I’ve learned) and there was nothing left but tiny scraps of the woolen.  All hems and top stitching at the waist was prick stitched invisibly most just because I couldn’t find a color thread to match.  I just couldn’t bear the thought of a harsh solid stitching line jarring my efforts thus far to make a nice historical outfit here.  The extra mile is worth it to me…which is why I also spent so much more effort on the underskirt hem than what would be expected just looking at it.  Again, flannel is awfully limp, and my skirt hem needed some body, weight, and stability.  I cut a wide 5 inch strip of felt for the entirety of the skirt bottom, and tucked it inside the flannel hemline.  I have read and heard from my fellow historical costumers that Victorian and Edwardian skirt hemlines could be stabilized with canvas, horsehair braid, or some sort of interfacing to help the silhouette of the skirt.  Again, I was just working with what I had available.  The felt does a great job at doing just what I hoped it would do.  For never doing something like this before, I was really overwhelmed at this step.

The jacket is a very interesting blend of the old and the new, too.  The exterior is an older silk velvet, I can tell, especially by inspecting the decorative stitching, but the interior has modern poly chiffon lining.  When I bought it, someone had done some very pretty creative modern up-cycling to make it what it is today.  Subtle brown stains, indistinguishable in the fancy stitching, makes me assume this must have had shattered lining and different closures and been in a rather sad state.  I was happy to see another sewist’s great job of mending and thrilled to have a vintage piece (at a great deal, I must add) which didn’t need me to find the free time I don’t have for garment repair…all I had to do was enjoy wearing it.

The apron overskirt, as it was patterned, has these peculiar but very smart back yoke panels which reign in the deep side pleats, keeping them smooth under the back bustled drape (attached down halfway, also for ease of dressing).  I like the way the smooth helps the overskirt fit and lay in an uncomplicated way, yet I also do not know if this is a modern adaptation or a true historical but little used overskirt detail.  I have not yet seen such a feature on any other Victorian bustle skirt patterns through other companies, or even extant garments, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possibly out there and I haven’t yet seen it.  Other costumers or historical seamstresses, come jump in the comments and let me know about this overskirt yoke!

Perhaps the hardest learning curve of going Victorian was attempting a 1870s hairstyle.  I bought a 7 piece fake hair clip-on extension kit at 18” length to add to my existing hair and followed this YouTube tutorial from “Silvousplaits” (highly recommend, by the way).  I played around with my “new hair” for several hours the night before my event to get used to working with it, and so the styling as you see it here is my 3 third attempt.  If I had bought a 22” fake hair extension set I might have been able to try the second draped and twisted hairstyle in the “Silvousplaits” video or even had my braid go all the way around.  I used hair flowers to cover up the raw end of the braid, with all the pins I needed to keep the silky fake hair in place, and utilized a basic hair comb to hold the braid down at my top crown.  Victorian hair was fancy anyway, so I really don’t feel bad about having to use something extra in my up-do – the fake flowers and greenery add a nice splash of color in my half-fake hairstyle. 

Again, after explaining my hair situation, I am going back to my old feeling that Victorian fashion is so weird.  I have never before used fake hair and I am not used to having to use more than what nature has bestowed upon me.  Just based off of my experience with trying to re-enact the bustle era fashion, I can see why the Victorian period is often criticized as the era for keeping up unrealistic appearances.  My hair is half not mine, my body is restricted into a then-societal expected shape, and I have a fake caged booty.  What a woman wore back then told every spectator of her class, marital, and monetary status.   There were many wars and shifting of national boundaries at that time.  I would not have wanted to be a part of that era, and find it interesting in a different way than I do for the 20st century’s history.  I can’t relate in the way I can for the era my Grandparents lived through, but Victorian times had so many goings-on and such a shift in many aspects of life that the new Industrialism and colonial actions brought about…it is the history buff’s dream.  I like the fact Victorian times were the beginning of what we think of as modern living conditions, even if women’s fashion still had a good way to go before it too was ‘modern’.      

Perhaps a Victorian Christmas is too much for your taste.  Whatever way you celebrate this holiday, I give you my wishes for a happy, peaceful, and healthy holiday which will leave you with good memories, warm feelings, and a full tummy!  Yay – we made it this far through the year of 2021!  Now, for one more week to go so we can walk into 2022…  

“Just Whistle While You Work”

I know this year’s official Oktoberfest in Munich is over for this year.  Actually, though, the 12 to 17 of this month marks the very first occasion of this celebration, something which evolved from repeating the festivities surrounding the 1810 wedding of the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen.  Interestingly enough, the Brothers Grimm published their first edition of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, which included “Snow White” (“Schneewittchen“ in German) as story #53, around the same time in 1812.  What better excuse to post my outfit inspired by the legendary apple-biting princess with the most traditionally German background?  Let’s dive into my Snow White “rags” work dress, made of a 1937 design, the same year as the release of the first Disney animated film by the same name.  This post’s outfit is yet another installment in my ongoing “Pandemic Princess” blog series.

I am proud of how I incorporated the heritage of the Snow White story together with the year of its Disney film, especially when it comes to the fact that this entire dress was cobbled together from my scrap bin.  What we first see Snow wearing at the beginning of the Disney film (when she meets her prince while singing into the wishing well) has the title “rags” dress after all.  I both interpreted that dress literally and opened up room for storing more scraps – ha!  Snow was yet another princess who’s an unloved daughter working as the domestic servant in the house of her stepmother, much like “Cinderella”, and so it makes sense that her garb seemed cobbled together in tattered condition.  For my dress, my “rags” are all very nice material to begin with, so it might be scrapped together too, but it is still a very nice and comfy dress!  It also happens to happily be one I don’t have to keep perfectly clean and proper in while wearing (I don’t have many of these kind), or clean and proper in my grade of construction, as well, for a strange change of circumstances.

The location for these photos is a testament to the enduring, strong presence of German immigrants in the history of my Mid-Western American hometown.  It is a landmark for our city and called the “Bevo Mill”.  The Dutch-style mill was built by August Busch Sr. (of Anheuser-Busch fame) in 1917.  The story goes that August wanted a halfway point between his brewery near down town and his home in the county. It was later opened to the public as a restaurant.  “Bevo” is supposed to be derived from the Bohemian word “pivo,” which means “beer”.  During Prohibition (1920-1933), Anheuser-Busch brewed a non-alcoholic beer named that he also named “Bevo.  The place has a very Bavarian lodge kind of feel to it which was perfect for pictures!  I have many, many great memories of coming to this place since I was old enough to remember for good food and music with special friends and family. 

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% linen – all leftover from my past projects. The skirt was a hacked up one-ish yard remnant from this 30’s skirt, the collar and sleeves came from this 1910’s era suit, and a rich brown soft vintage linen napkin set became the bodice and pocket for the dress.  Scraps of silk leftover from this blouse became the second contrast pocket and headband

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8248, a 2016 reprint of a March 1938 pattern, originally Simplicity #2432

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread and one zipper

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress came together in about 6 hours and was finished on July 21, 2020.

THIS INSIDES:  This is a “rags” dress made from scraps…it would be weird to be cleanly finished inside, right?!  The seam allowance edges are left raw.

TOTAL COST:  This dress cost me nothing!  I normally do not count the cost of material when I am using seemingly insignificant scraps, so this covers most of the dress.  The vintage table linen set was picked up for 25¢ and the zipper was on hand in my stash already, so I’m counting my dress as an ‘as-good-as-free’ project!

Women’s fashion for the year 1938 marked a widespread Germanic and Bavarian cultural influence that was unmistakable, frequent, and easily recognizable in late 30’s fashion for women.  A Germanic folk style had been creeping into women’s stylish street fashions before then because of nationalistic, racialist, and expansionist ideas stemming from both the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy during the First World War and Hitler becoming Chancellor.  “The traditional dirndl (a tracht) was also promoted through the Trapp Family Singers, who wore folk fashion during their performance at the Salzburg Festival (1936), and later on their worldwide tours.  In addition, the film “Heidi”, with Shirley Temple in the lead role, became a hit in 1937. By that year, the dirndl – and Germanic influenced fashion – was considered a ‘must’ in the wardrobe of every fashionable American woman.” (Quoted info from Wikipedia here.)  No doubt the influx of immigrants fleeing pre-WWII invasions and takeovers helped bring a new cultural influence into American style as well.  Folk fashion of central Europe had spread way beyond Germany but the fascination in the United States had dissipated by 1942 to be replaced by a craze for all things Polynesian and South American.    

There is a darker side to the German influence on late 30’s fashion, often called “Tyrolean”, which needs to be addressed.  The women’s League of the Nazi party promoted a “renewal” of the traditional Germanic designs, reworking them into a more attractive version of their folk costume which might easily entice women to adopt the styles outside of festivals.  The Nazi women’s League added short puff sleeves, a more form revealing bodice, and shorter skirt length…all scarily close to how we know the dirndl of today.  To me, Snow White’s “rags” dress seems like a hybrid, bared down version with no lacing or apron.  The way its bodice is a different color from the rest of the dress is reminiscent of an old-style tracht over-bodice with a conservative coverage over the chest, high rounded neck, and little collar.  Yet, there are the puffed sleeves and the shorter skirt.  However, this is enough of my rambling – I will dive into this topic deeper in my next post on the other Germanic fairytale princess…the one with magical hair who was imprisoned in a tower.  So stay tuned! Until then, visit my Pinterest page here on dirndls (modern and traditional) for some eye candy.

I suppose the most obvious choice of pattern to make a vintage Snow White outfit would have been Simplicity #8486, a vintage re-issue for the 80th anniversary of the Disney film in 1937, but as I keep saying for my princess series projects, I do not want a costume.  Simplicity #8486 is indeed a ‘37 design in its lines when you just look at the technical drawing, but it just seems a bit forced to make it in such a way that is a Snow White outfit.  Sure it works, but for my purposes it is too obvious of a character reference sewn like that.  I couldn’t see myself wearing these pieces otherwise, so I will come back to that pattern when I have a non-Disney inspired idea for it.  (I have made the pattern’s hat, posted here, and highly recommend it!)  Now I will explain at the end of this post why I gravitated to Snow’s “rags” dress rather than her princess one, but it was also an easy choice when another 1937 reprint – Simplicity #8248 – was an almost line for line ‘copy’.  This shows just how much Disney’s styling of Snow White makes her very much a product of the times.  I have been aching to sew Simplicity #8248 ever since it came out, anyway, and I was so happy to finally have a reason to do so!

My little bluebird pin on my collar is a gift to me from my Aunt!

Before diving into my Snow White dress, I checked out a few reviews on the pattern and immediately saw one constant warning – this pattern runs small and short-waisted.  I can now attest that this is 100% true.  Heeding the warnings (‘cause it’s better to be safe than sorry), I cut out one whole size bigger than what I needed (according to the given chart) and gave myself an extra inch in the bodice length.  It was a good thing I took these precautions – the dress just fits, and couldn’t be any smaller.  Any tighter in the bodice and I would have been restricted in reach room or my bust would’ve been smashed.  I do wish I had widened the shoulders more because they are too far in towards my neck.  However, the puff sleeve tops fill in for this fitting mishap.  I did have to take out the seam allowance from the waist down because the hips in the dress were snug enough to wrinkle and ride up on me.  I wholeheartedly recommend this dress, though – it is a cute design that lends itself to many differing interpretations.  The details are top notch (omg…the angular darted sleeve caps I chose from view B = love).  It was easy to sew.   It is a classic example of late 30’s fashion.  I will be coming back to this and making another dress from this pattern, maybe even color blocking the bodice panels.  It’s a winner – I hope you try this dress out for yourself.

Pockets just big enough for a to-do list, small handkerchief, or my lipstick – in this case Besame Cosmetics’ “Fairest Red”, a faithful recreation of Snow White’s lip color in the 1937 Disney film.

That being said, I did slightly change up the pattern, not by altering anything in the design, just by adding in extra seam lines to accommodate the small fabric pieces I was using.  The four napkin squares that I had were just barely enough to work – only wide enough to fit half of my body at a time.  Luckily the bodice was in two pieces as well because This linen was dense, super soft, and luxurious – understandable as it was intended to be napkins – and in the perfect color for Snow’s bodice.  I was determined to make my idea work.  The entire front and center bodice is supposed to be cut on the fold, but I had to add a center seam to all the pieces because of linen napkins I was using.  Even the collar pieces had to be seamed together as well because the two biggest scraps went towards the sleeves.  Since there was a seam down the front anyway, and since a collar that is tight around my neck can feel stifling for me, I added a long 22 inch zipper to make my dress fuss-free and adjustable for my comfort. Of course, the double, overlapping, two-tone pockets are my idea as well, and the cutest way to flaunt something so utilitarian!

There was a chunk cut out of the almost perfect one yard left that I needed for the dress’ skirt.  No problem – I was being forced to do the natural thing to make an accurate rendition of the “rags” dress…patches!  It’s not just decorative for looks alone…I really used up the few pieces I had left to barely cover the hole in my skirt material.  It couldn’t have been any more perfect, it was laughable – I would never do this to a project otherwise!!  This was a fantastic case of serendipity.  I left the dress bottom raw, fraying and unhemmed to complement the “rags” look.  Even still, I did use decorative, basic embroidery (a chain-stitch and feather stitch) to sew the patch panels down so at least they would look well-done.  The patch work goes against my ingrained sewing style but the embroidery made it palatable. 

I realized something important here – just because clothing becomes mended doesn’t mean it is ruined or on it’s last life.  My husband, my son, and I have been wearing out our clothes, socks, etc. at a far quicker pace than ever before since the start of the pandemic in 2020 and the rate of repairs I have been doing is quite constant.  I suppose it’s all the extra time and work we are getting done at home – I don’t really know.  Anyway, this Snow White dress is a good example of the visible mending trend I am trying to lean into anyway.  I have always been about reusing, refashioning, and recycling what we have on hand for a new purpose here at home.  Sure, it would be easier to just pitch or recycle such items and buy new, and in some cases we need to do just that, yet change in the fashion industry has to come from somewhere…so it might as well start with me.  I’ve just never tried to incorporate mending so intentionally into something vintage, much less newly made.  As I said, it’s weird for me…in a good way.

As much as I love this dress, and as happy as I am wearing it, Snow White’s story is troublesome to me, mostly on account of the many questionable and problematic elements to her tale.  One young woman to keep house for seven men she just met?  At least the Grimm Brothers’ version makes the Disney interpretation seem so much better than it is on its own.  Don’t get me wrong, though.  The Disney movie version is fantastic in its own right, particularly as a landmark achievement in animation history, and charming in its presentation.  I love how Snow was animated, I enjoy her songs, and relish the humor intertwined in her movie.  Even still, as a person, I find Snow White to be one of the hardest Disney princesses to associate myself with or understand…she is too naive and gullible, for my taste.  Even the messages of both the Grimm tale and the Disney story is sort of confusing…physical beauty will save you and find you love?  Be kind to the point of overly trusting of strangers?  I know it was the older “scare” style of teaching lessons. Yet, seriously, folks…how the antiquated fairytales were for children, I’ll never fully understand.   

I like to ‘see’ a better message from Snow White’s tale, which is why I gravitated towards the “rags” dress in the first place.  Beauty is not dependent on the clothing you wear or the manner of styling oneself.  Marilyn Monroe put a spin on this belief in the most fantastic, hilarious manner in recent memory by wearing a potato sack for a photo shoot.  Beauty is what’s on the inside.  I know this may be a cliché phrase by now, but it’s worth repeating so we can remember what’s important in a world that’s driven by image-centric social media ‘perfection’.

Furthermore, on a practical level, I can completely relate to Snow White’s working song, “Just Whistle While You Work”, which I why it’s my post’s title.  I do like a bit of merry, energizing background music while I do chores or sewing (but not fabric cutting…too much to focus on).  Believe it or not, I sometimes even like my favorite tunes playing on the side when I do my blog post writing.  However, such a setting only applies when my “comfort” music is played, the kind that I know by heart and places me in a great mood!  Now if only I can get all the squirrels, rabbits, and birds that we have around our yard to actually help me get things done, as well, I suppose I would be ecstatic enough to whistle about it, too!