The Perfectly Ironic 50’s Play Set

Vintage play sets are cute enough the way they are, but most of the times the prints to them make them to die for.  This newest one that I’ve made has a print which perfectly combines the vintage-made-modern flair of it with a print which is a pun on the iconic classy lady of the 1950s.  Women in wasp waists and elegant dress might be the conventional womanly ideal flaunted on this playsuit, but it itself is meant for much more than swishing around and sitting pretty.  It is sassy yet classy fun all in one versatile, comfortable outfit.

A short romper as the first layer makes this set a bit easier to tackle by not having to make various pieces (i.e. a separate top and shorts).  It also is a lot more challenging to go visit the restroom, and even though it is a bit of an extra inconvenience, I am absolutely loving my very first romper.  The matching overskirt departs from the romper’s plan but self-drafting skirts with no pattern is my forte, if I do say so myself.  I am much happier with a skirt I ‘draped’ on myself, generally.  A fully separating zipper which can close either top-to-bottom or the other way around makes the skirt versatile, interesting, and different.

The print is everything!  I’ll admit my strong failing for Michael Miller fabrics, the prints are such first rate and they are always the one’s I gravitate towards even without knowing the brand as I browse fabric.  This one is so very well done, though.  The fashions on the ladies and stylization are so charming and appealing, drawn like a vintage cartoon of Parisian fashion illustration.  I want each and every dress to wear for myself out of the print!

If you look closely on the hat boxes stacked next to the woman in solid pink the Michael Miller name is hidden on them (he frequent buries his name creatively in his prints).  You might be able to see this better further down in my detail about the romper pocket.  I channeled the woman next to that in the pink polka dotted dress with my halter strap and me-made belt. That polka dot dress was my favorite…no…wait, it was the green two-piece outfit, or maybe the striped dress.  Ach!  They all are my favorites, I guess she was merely the most striking to pair with a roll of ribbon out of my stash!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton duck cloth from Hobby Lobby by Michael Miller called “Spring In Paris” lined in an all-cotton sheer batiste

PATTERN:  Burda Style’s “Vintage Capri Sunsuit” from their Vintage 1950s magazine special pattern collection from 2015 for the romper, while my skirt was self-drafted

NOTIONS:  I needed lots of thread, a sliding waistband-style hook-and-eye, two zippers (one 14” invisible for the romper and the other a 30” separating bottom one for the skirt), bias tape, and a bit of interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was finished on June 10, 2019 after a total of about 20 to 30 hours spent to make the whole set.

THE INSIDES:  All cleanly bias bound

TOTAL COST:  On sale, 2 yards of the fabric only cost me $12, and as everything else I needed was out of my long time stash that is also my wonderfully frugal total!

If you read that last line of “The Facts”, you might be saying, “Two yards!? That’s all she needed?!”  Yes, indeed, and that’s what makes this set so awesome (…among plenty of other reasons, too)!  The multi paneled pieces, short bottoms, and the sleeveless style makes the romper pattern take under a yard for my size.  The overall pattern originally calls for much more than the 1 ¼ yards (leftover from the romper) I used to make my skirt, as the design shows a full, gathered waist dirndl-style skirt.  I would rather make things work on less money (because of a smaller cut) and according to my personal taste, though.  The fabric was not ideal for a full skirt, anyway, and I do love a good 50’s style skinny skirt on myself.

The instructions direct that you need a fabric with some body here, and this is absolutely true and not to be ignored.  Even with the thicker, stiffer cotton duck material which I used, I still felt my romper needed some extra support especially being practically strapless.  Luckily, the print was so bright and busy and the cotton thick so it was really not see-through despite being a faint ivory background color.  Nevertheless, because I wanted to support the bodice, I figured on going ahead and making the romper quite nice and do a full body lining.  There is nothing like the clean beauty of seamless inners to a garment!  The rough texture of cotton duck is not the best against the skin compared to the soft batiste of the romper lining.

Back to the details on how I supported the romper’s bodice!  I added lightweight boning into the underside of the two back bodice seams, just on the lining.  The side seam had the invisible zipper to stabilize it and the front has good shaping together with the halter strap, which is why I only kept the boning to the back.  I know from many other halters that the back dip has the tendency to droop and I could mentally picture beforehand that that ‘problem’ might be especially worse off on the back of a sleeveless one-piece romper.  The back boning is the best thing ever for this!  I do not need to pull anything back up in place and the bodice has a wonderful body all on its own without having to tailor it to be tight in the fit just so it can stay up well.  I lightly tacked the lining to the fashion fabric exterior along the boning after I was finished and made sure to add gel cushions (little boning ‘comfort caps’ you can buy) before sewing the romper together so the bodice support is not bothersome in the least, rather it is not even noticeable.

Choosing my ‘normal’ size using Burda Style patterns to make this, the fit was so close I want to suggest people to go up a size to be safe.  It works to take clothes in a bit, but taking seams out is more of tricky story.  I like clothes I plan on playing around and being active in to not fit too closely – I do need room to move!  I had to make most all seams ¼ seam allowance (I added a 5/8 inch seam allowance when I cut it out) just to have it fit me a comfortable snugness as you see it.  That is not a spot on fit and accurate sizing.  I would have rather had all my seams still be a wider seam allowance and have the comfort of knowing I have room to adapt this if I need to, but not this time.  This is why I would suggest going up a size for this pattern unless you are of a thin build and relatively non-curvy.  Granted, I still fit in a good amount of my teenager clothes, but my body is still changing so I’ll just have to get the most enjoyment out of this set as possible just in case!

No play clothes would be appropriate in my opinion without a pocket!  Now, the romper pattern called for in-seam side pockets in the shorts.  For close fitting items, such pockets never really give that much room for anything, anyway.  They only create a weird bulge if you do store real life items like a phone or lip balm.  Yet, I was only left with a handful of small scraps after the outfit was finished.  There was one pink dress woman on the print which I noticed was weirdly cut off when I sewed in the right side dart for the front of the shorts.  I luckily had one full square of the pink dressed woman (next to the tower of hat boxes) as part of my scraps so I was able to accomplish making both sides of the front matching as well as give myself a better pocket with that one scrap.  You see, I turned that pink lady scrap into a small sew-on patch-style pocket which completes the print and is so much better than in-seam pockets.  The pocket fits only 2/3 of my phone and a tissue but who really wants to try in-seam pockets along the side of an invisible zipper anyway?!  Bring the print-matching challenge on!

The fashions on the print further inspired me in the way I drafted the skirt.  The lady in the yellow, green, and pink polka dotted dress (next to the Eiffel Tower) is only seen from a back view on the print and I copied her center box pleated waist from behind, with side knife pleats for good measure.  It is against reasoning to add more pouf over the behind, but between stitching down the pleats for an inch and a good ironing, I think it works!  The front shaping is simple – just a few more knife pleats – so that the closure can take center stage.

My skirt was skinny enough that I really didn’t trust a button closing because of the stress that would be put on them.  However, I wanted to be able to have this skirt close or open at any given point.  Luckily, I had recently acquired a stash of the most amazing variety of zippers – big and small, new and vintage – for a steal of a price and there was this unique separating zipper that I knew was just perfect for my skirt.  It was labeled as a “Parka Zipper” and had two pulls that could go up and down and close at either end…fully adjustable!  This zipper was in a special 30” length, too, so I knew this was an expensive notion and was tempted to hoard it.  When the right project is calling, nevertheless, my good supplies deserve better than to stay in a drawer, so I think!  I like the modern touch the zipper brings to this vintage crossover set.

This outfit has been my second make for the 2019 “Sew Together for Summer” challenge sponsored by “Sew Sarah Smith”.  The theme this year was jumpsuits, dungarees, overalls, playsuits, and rompers…something one piece that has bifurcated bottoms, and this project certainly applies even though with the skirt cover-up makes it not what it seems at first glance of the whole set.  (My first garment for the challenge, a 1962 embroidered denim culotte jumpsuit, can be seen here.)  I am also including this romper play set as also part of the “Made Like Maisel” 1950s challenge to sew something inspired by the Amazon TV show “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”.  I know her swing coats are the iconic thing to make, but in Season Two, Mrs. Maisel had some killer play sets (especially episode 4 in the Catskills but also the pink and black gingham set in episode 7), which I interpreted my own way rather than literally.

It took me awhile to completely ‘warm up’ to play sets, I suppose.  For comparison’s sake go check out my previous playset, which was also my first, and is from the proceeding decade of the 1940s.  Funny, it also has a self-drafted skirt!  The general feel of that play set is more about a tropical-themed, sultry poolside lounging look compared to the sporty, activity-friendly, versatile use of my new 50’s one.  Perhaps I have another challenge here – to make more play sets from more eras?  Ugh, so many ideas, so little sewing time, and not enough places to go or a long enough summer!  Yet, I do have everything ready for both a 60’s play set and a 1980s one as, well.  Maybe this whole summer is my own “Summer of the Play Set”.  Would anyone be with me on this one?!

Mystery Mail Order Split Skirt Jumpsuit

This is my attempt at a compromise between skirts and pants, technically ‘culottes’…with a vintage interpretation.  I’m not exactly sure if this is the best look on me, especially with the mid-length wide bottoms, but I love it despite such misgivings because it is so comfy, different, and a creative use of a border design (if I do say so myself).  This is by no means my first jumpsuit (see my others here and here), only my first faux-dress one!

My title alludes to the mystery vintage pattern I used to make my culottes jumpsuit.  It was one of those many mail order patterns of the modern mid-century, but what was particularly bothering me was I could not date the design.  I estimated that the design was early 60’s (or even late 50’s for a stretch) based on the hairstyle alone.  Then, I shared the pattern on Instagram, and someone apparently knew enough based on the pattern number to date this to circa 1962.  I still don’t know what company or newspaper this particular one came from, and if anyone can tip me off, please, do share!  For now, though at least I know what decade to understand this…but whatever past time it is from, I like my new and unusual jumpsuit!

This is my submission for the “Sew Together for Summer” challenge of 2019, co-hosted by the blogger at “Sew Sarah Smith” with the Instagrammers Suzy at “sewing_in_spain” and Monika at “rocco.sienna”.  This year’s theme is jumpsuits, dungarees, overalls, playsuits, and rompers…something one piece that has bifurcated bottoms.  This garment certainly falls in this category!  However, one is never enough of a good thing so this is just my first part for the challenge…part two will be a full 50’s playsuit, coming soon since the closing date is June 21!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a lightweight chambray cotton denim with a border embroidery stitched along the selvedge; facing in a lightweight plain cotton

PATTERN:  a Mail Order pattern no.1495, ca. 1962

NOTIONS:  I needed lots of thread and bias tape to finish the edges (chambray frays like crazy otherwise), with some interfacing and four waistband style hook-n-eyes

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This took me about 10 to 12 hours to make and was finished on May 18, 2019.

TOTAL COST:  just under $30

Whatever company this pattern was from, I am impressed.  For such a simple, unassuming line drawing and such a basic looking pattern (unprinted tissue, simple instruction sheet) it was sneakily complex.  The entire neckline and shoulder strap was one large and unusual shaped continuous piece that took copious amounts of pins, patience, and expertise to make correctly.  The pleating needed precise marking at the cutting out stage and lots of ironing afterwards.  Happily, I didn’t have to deal with much fitting issues – according to my tissue fit and preliminary measurements, this mystery mail order pattern ran one size smaller than what was listed, and I was correct.  Other than having to adjust this jumpsuit’s slightly long torso, it turned out pretty much perfect for me as it was straight out of the envelope.

Split skirts have interesting construction, especially when they are pleated like this one.  They also make for very large pattern pieces!  The deep pleats that meet at both the center front and back hide the crotch seam and make it look like a skirt.  I figured correctly that it made a better box pleat to sew the center fold-line together from the inside rather than just top-stitching the creases down next to one another, as the pattern instructed.  Depending on how much wear this jumpsuit sees, I might come back later and embroider on some “arrow heads”, the proper (and beautiful) way to stabilize the ending point of a pleat to prevent or stop a hole from forming in the fabric.

I normally hate box pleats in skirt backs because they rarely stay looking nice between sitting and everything life calls for, but a good hot steam of the iron keeps them pretty good.  The box pleating in the back was a lot more challenging than the front, needing much hand stitching, because of the center zipper running through the middle.  You are basically trying to have a fold line end right where the edge of the zipper teeth are!  I made sure to have a bit extra ease in the fit because if something like this fit snugly the back pleats over the zipper would not come together at all and only pull apart.

A border running above a hemline is rather conventional, so my favorite part of this jumpsuit is the way I have the embroidery border wrap around the neckline, too.  It really balances out all the interest at the hemline, in my opinion, and brings just enough attention to what might be lost otherwise – the fabulous strap design which is the closing method.  This jumpsuit has wrap-over-from-the-back straps, pretty much like overalls, that end as wide, cornered tab closings on the front of the bodice.

The pattern called for buttons to close the shoulder tabs, but they are the only thing holding up the 2 something yards of fabric in the skirt.  Thus I opted for two strong sliding hook-and-eyes to close each strap…but with the back zipper I really could have just sewn the front tabs down permanently and not had them workable.  Oh well!  It’s always way cooler to have the tab closings actually work, and at least I know what garment to raid if I ever need some last minute notions for another project.

The open, eyelet-style embroidered border presented several creative challenges.   First off, the dress’ neckline and straps needed a facing to complete the eyelet without making it obvious the openings in the embroidery designs were being filled in.  The only answer to that was to make the facing a similar weight plain white cotton, and interface it in likewise cotton interfacing, as well.  Secondly, after completely hand stitching the entire neckline and shoulder straps and tab closings, I was bracing myself to do more of that to the hem.  However, the hemming was easy once I just figured on following along with what was already there.  Then I was able to use a close zig-zag stitch (much like a loose button hole stitch) on my sewing machine and just follow along with the scalloping of the bottom to the border.  I’m tricky like that!  Hubby shook his head at me like I was cheating out of doing the hem right – but hey…I’ll save myself both time and bodily misery where I legitimately can.

Speaking of misery, in order to give my culotte jumpsuit a ‘test run’, I wore them over to frolic and play in my parents’ backyard (the backdrop for our pictures).  Yup, my new jumpsuit is certainly great for jungle gym climbing, puppy dog chasing, and general child level play!  However, my ‘test run’ (watch it here) sure caused me so much achy arms and tired legs for the next several days afterwards!  I suppose I need more play clothes like this if only to have a reason to exercise while having fun like I did that day.