Strutin’ My Feathers – A 1937 Pin-Tucked Satin Blouse

The peacock and his feathers have long been very symbolical, and its popularity seems as immortal as its typology.  However, in the 1920’s, the peacock began a new emergence of popularity.  Suddenly it’s fan shape and distinctive eye feathers were reproduced everywhere – in fashion, as decorative building motifs, and even as bouquets.

Peacocks have a very personal connection for me and my family.  My mom was once chased down by a peacock, and my dad can do a peacock call all too well.  When I was little, my mom also hand made a very elaborate peacock costume for me one Halloween. (She sewed me a train with more than a dozen long peacock feathers that I could lift up by my wrist bands…so creative!)  Therefore, it was a no-brainer when I saw a peacock printed fabric – I had to buy it.

I bought that peacock fabric and transformed it into something from an era suited to the peacock’s popularity.  Using my favorite (and only) original 30’s pattern, I now have a wardrobe go-to favorite.  I believe my 1937 blouse puts together a smashing vintage look as well as offering the best fit and comfort ever!

100_1892THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a matte peachskin silky print, 100% polyester, bought from JoAnn’s

NOTIONS:  I had the cranberry thread, clear snaps, and bias tape; I only bought 2 packs of see-through orange ball buttons, a cranberry colored zipper for the left side opening, and brown roping

PANTONE CHALLENGE COLORS:  Emerald green, Mykonos blue, and Koi (orange) all in small, but frequent patches throughout the fabric print

PATTERN:  McCall 9170, with the date of January 1937 stamped on the envelope flapMcCall 9170

TIME TO COMPLETE: 8 or 9 hours stretched out over the course of a week; it was finished on March 20, 2013

THE INSIDES:  French seams on every seam, except for the bottom hem and the sleeves, which are covered in Koi colored bias tape 

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FIRST WORN:  to church on Palm Sunday, with the green, bias cut wool skirt seen in my pictures (we had a heavy snowfall earlier that morning)

WEAR AGAIN?  YES! YES! YES! Love it!

TOTAL COST:  $20 or under

I really have almost no Fall/Winter/Spring blouses in my wardrobe.  That’s what helped cinch the decision to just make the top, actually the long sleeve version, with out the whole big project of the rest of dress to sew with it.  Besides, I wasn’t quite sure how this pattern would run -big or small – and I didn’t want to fiddle with it enough to find out ahead of time.  In the end, my peacock satin blouse did run small, but just small enough to still get a perfect fit.  This was one of only a handful of projects which did not need a single touch of adjustment…made just for me!

100_1887     The construction details and the sewing method of putting this blouse together greatly impressed me.  This McCall’s is an ingenious pattern, much better than modern patterns, with an assembly that teaches some excellent new and not as commonly used techniques.

First and foremost, I enjoyed doing the old-fashioned way of sewing the sleeve placket.  The finished look is smooth and unique.  It totally makes up for the extra time spent.  In the pictures below I am showing you how I did the sleeve openings.

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In the left picture, I have the small facing square, right sides together, with the tabs at the end of the sleeve matching.  I have stitched in the shape of a long and skinny U, then sewed a line down the middle of that U.  In the right picture, I have cut out closely around the middle stitch from between the U stitching.  Next, I turned the facing square wrong sides together, top stitched around the opening, and stitched down the turned under edges of the facing.  See the picture below right.100_1130

Both sleeve ends get gathered into cuffs that are designed to look more like cufflinks.  The instruction sheet said nothing about adding interfacing to the cuffs, and they are fine without it, but I will add it if (or when) I make this again.  In lieu of button holes I sewed on clear snaps, under where the button is sewn on,  to keep my ‘cuff links’ together.  If I ever find some cool vintage cuff links I might end up adding button holes, but snaps work just fine for now.

100_1897     The collar placket was the most time consuming and challenging part of the satin blouse. It required lots and lots of hand stitching with some intermittent hand picking of seams.  The whole thing was so twisty I had to do much stretching and clipping of curves just to achieve the lapped seams needed to tack the collar to the bodice.  Then, I had to sew on self-fabric facings to the entire collar!

100_1894    I took my time to get my corners just right on this ’37 blouse.  My picture at left does show off my gathered pouf sleeve caps, but the picture below especially captures the most tricky corner of all – the one where the front and back plackets meet, around the bottom of my neck.

I saved the loop closures for the buttons for last, wanting them to be more a decoration and not just purposeful.  My knowledge of tying ship’s knots was utilized for the loop closures.  I finished off the ends with Fray-Check and securely sewed them down.  I love how the fancy loops bring attention to the button placket in a good way, showing off my skills and hard work.100_1895a

Did you notice all the small pin-tucks, front and back?  There are 4 down the front (two on each side) and the two down the back meet each other and open up in the middle so I can move my shoulders freely.  The far front bodice tucks actually conceal a cleverly placed hidden dart.  There  is a bust shaping dart sewn first, starting from the top where the placket gets sewn on and ending at the bust point.  Only then do I sew the pin-tucks down.  How very clever!  The bust gets shaped from the chest area so as to take nothing away from the trim, but slightly blousy shape of the rest of the top.

We have a large but beautiful building used as a telephone company switchboard hub, just a block or two away from where we live, with numerous Art Deco details all over the window moldings and especially the railings. This is where we took these pictures.  Looking at our pictures when we came home from this photo shoot, we realized the railings match the feathers in the fabric of my blouse.  The same brushed, feathery shaping is shared in both.  What a happy coincidence!

100_1885     I like to show you some bonus pictures of my 1937 blouse, just for fun.  Hopefully our pictures convey how well fitted, smartly designed, and extremely comfortable my blouse is for me to wear.  My blouse is one of those projects that reminds me of something –  I’m so blessed to be able to sew my own clothes.

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“Water for Elephants” Imitation Knot-Neck Halter Dress

elephant+vintage+GraphicsFairy006b     The thrill of the circus was a welcome distraction to lift the spirits of people of the 1930’s, who were so busy trying to eke out a living.  Television wasn’t around yet, and radio broadcasts were not a common mode of entertainment, either.  This is why so many stars and performers of big (and not so big) traveling circuses were real celebrities.  Oftentimes, a city would turn into a ghost town when a circus would visit since everyone flocked to see glamorous and strange sights, buy special candy treats, and watch exotic animals do unimaginable stunts.  The world was brought to their doorsteps.

However, all the glitz and mystery of a circus trying to survive in the year 1931 can also hide a dark reality, as addressed in Sara Gruen’s book “Water for Elephants”.  There was an adaptation of the book onto film in 2011, and, as I haven’t read the book, I know nothing of how close it is to it’s original story, but the movie was done well in my opinion.  Reese Witherspoon’s character wears the most fabulous early 30’s fashions, which inspired me to make my own version of one dress and plan on a few more.

100_1812THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  3 1/2 yards of crepe back satin from JoAnn’s, and 2 1/2 yards of black Pongee matte finish lining from Hancock Fabrics

NOTIONS:  I only had  to buy a matching spool of Mettler PolySheen thread and a zipper.  I already had on hand black thread (for the lining), black snaps, a hook and eye, and purple ribbon.  Almost forgot to mention that I bought the belt clasp/closure from the jewelry section at JoAnn’s

PANTONE CHALLENGE COLOR:  Acai puWater-For-Elephants-whitedressrple

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PATTERN:  Simplicity 2580,  year 2009, view E done to look like year 1931, with this picture at far right being my inspiration

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Somewhere between 12 to 15 hours; it was finished on August 27, 2013

FIRST WORN:  out to take pictures for blog, then out to eat in the old waterfront area of downtown

WEAR AGAIN?  Definitely!  I can’t wait to find another reason to wear this elegant dress!

TOTAL COST:  about $25

In case you’re wondering, the color of my imitation dress was changed for some personal preference reasons: 1.)  I would never wear a white version, 2.)  it would be hard for us to take pictures of a satin dress in white, 3.) I love purple…all hues…it’s the color I go for without thinking, as hubby rolls his eyes and thinks, “purple again?”

100_1832     The major addition/change to the dress pattern are the large triangular godets that I added into the side seams to replicate the fullness and shape of the original movie dress.  I used the pattern piece for the godets from my precious Simplicity 75th anniversary #5876, made already last year (click here for pics and link). 5876 I made sure the godet points hit right at/under the hip line, but I wanted them low enough to give room for me to add a zipper (which you can kind of see in the picture above).  Measuring 3 1/2 inches down from the side tabs of the skirt pieces was the perfect meeting spot for the godet points, and boy did those tricky corners turn out well!  I know the movie dress actually has side godets that are shaped like an upside down U, probably so they hug the hips while pulling the dress in.   Figuring how to adapt for those U-shaped godets wasn’t worth wasting time not working on getting it done.  I LOVE how the side godets make my dress sweep out and flow around me when I walk.  It is the most feminine and fun feeling!

100_1817     Other than the godets, I really did no other changes to the design of Simplicity 2580; however, I did think outside the box in a few ways.  First of all, notice that Simplicity 2580 is dresses “designed for stretch knits only”.  Oh, whatever!  I simply went up a size to accommodate for the ‘no-stretch’ satin, and made some small fitting adjustments near the finishing point.  That’s why I added a zipper along the left side.  For the knot, I took both tie ends that are supposed lay down across the chest, and tied them both in a nice knot, as low to the bodice as I could, with the ties in pleats to create nice folds.  THEN I could tie the ties around my neck and look just like Marlena in “Water for Elephants”.images-close-up

The original movie dress has much better drape than my version – but I really believe she must have used fashion tape to keep from showing off a side peek of a little something.  I was willing to dip the back lower to get closer to the movie, but I was unwilling to deal with a dress that did not want to cover the front of my chest.  Just can’t win ’em all!

Simplicity 2580 was a great pattern to work with and surprisingly simple.  View E, the one I used, only had 4 pattern pieces.  If I do make this pattern again, and I hope to soon, it might not be made out of a knit.  I will give you my word of warning – it is an unsupported dress.  When 3/4 of the fabric of the dress is not part of the bodice you are set out for a possible problem.  I’m glad I discovered this on a woven.  Make sure to add seam web or interfacing or something along the edges and seams if this pattern is ever made out of a knit.

100_1854    The back of the dress has elastic sewn into the top (although it didn’t do too much gathering as it’s not a knit).  One of these days I might go ahead and have a cut at refashioning the back of this dress, reshaping it and taking out the unnecessary elastic.

You would be impressed looking at the insides and details of my dress (pic below).  The bodice has a self- fabric facing that lines and doubles up the bodice, covering up all of those seams especially the skirt/under bust seam.  Then I went to the trouble of a separate lining for the entire skirt.  Hand stitching tacks down the inside zipper edges to the lining.  I steamed and ironed the entire bodice -ties and everything- to avoid having to top stitch anywhere and ruin the smooth finished look.  This is the first garment I have made which I can be proud is finished well AND lacking in top-stitching, excepting the bodice seam where I stitched “in the ditch”.  I did so100_1915 much ironing on this dress in between sewing…I finally got hubby to iron the hem.

A good idea came to me when I added the hangar loops into to the sides.  The ribbon loops have snaps sewn on them, snapping down where the lining starts so they wrap around the sides of my strapless bra. Thus the ribbon loops have the dual duty of hanging and keeping my dress from drooping, while staying tucked away out of sight.

100_1913a     Ahh, don’t forget my belt!  I am proud of how I made things work in this case.  Selection is almost zero when it came to looking for a vintage or even Deco style belt/clasp style for my belt in a gold color.  Then, I happened to be looking for beads and ran across this beautiful, detailed clasp for bracelets.  It has a hinge type system that utilizes a strong magnet – very cool!

100_1796   The bracelet clasp only had 3 holes along the edges, so I treated it as a bracelet and strung clear stretchy cord through and around the 2 outer holes a few times, then tied it off, sealing it with nail polish.  Whatever pattern was upstairs nearby was the one I used to make my belt – it happened to come from a vintage Butterick #5281.  I sewed wide seam allowances so I would end up with a skinny belt.  Here, again, I ironed the belt in lieu of top stitching.  The belt ends were folded in, pulled through the stretchy elastic cord loops at the ends of the clasp, then both ends were tucked under and hand stitched in place.  Using the stretchy cord is the best thing ever, and I plan on doing a belt like this again – the way it gives when needed makes for a comfy and never confining belt.

My dress is hemmed so that, with heels on, the bottom back barely sweeps the ground.  The front skirt panel was hemmed up 6 inches, the back skirt panel was hemmed 3 inches, and the side godets slope in between the different lengths.  This dress didn’t seem formal enough for a train to follow behind me and pull the bodice down.

100_1884     Most of our photos were taken outside along an old railroad bridge.  I think it seems a bit connected to the movie;  their circus train was the only ‘home’ they had when they were always on the move, never able to settle down.  WATER FOR ELEPHANTS

Now that I have bored you with enough sewing construction chatter,  I will share with you a few really neat and thorough web links if you want to read some real, first-hand history of the circus in the 30’s.  You can even see pictures of the real Rosie the elephant, and read how she was the golf caddy for President Harding.  Here is “The Struggling Circus”, which focuses on Missouri facts, and here is “Awesome Stories”, which seems very documented.

There is a brief glimpse of the knot-neck halter dress in the “Water for Elephants” movie trailer, click here if you want to see it for yourself.

There are more pictures of the details of my dress on my Flickr site, Seam Racer, link here.  Since this is the kind of dress I hated to take off at the end of the night, we had fun taking plenty of pictures.  Look for more fashions from the movie coming soon to my blog!