Cold Shouldered

An ice queen wouldn’t really feel frigid temperatures, I would assume, so she can dress purely for beauty, aesthetics, and the power of her position, right?  Okay, we have that understood.  It wouldn’t be too assumptive either, would it, for the next step to be automatically suppose that character also has certain affectionless traits of a queen who has the capability to freeze water and produce snow?  Perhaps.  However, Disney’s animated “Frozen” movies both 1 and 2 (2013 and 2019, respectively) counter some of such widely set understandings of such a particular fantasy female character.  Ice queens are almost always given a villainess arc in other related stories and films, yet Disney’s version becomes (dare to say) thawed by love and warmed of heart yet still upholds her powers and magical capabilities.  It’s weird and kind of a disappointing change for me, but hey – Elsa does have some awesome cold-shouldered fashion in common with her fellow more malevolent ice queens, so I can definitely roll with that!

Because I am not really a frosty temperament nor am I tolerant of the cold weather, I am happy to have found a way to make an open shouldered gown warm to wear, vintage styled (of course), and practical all at once for a personal interpretation to an ice queen character.  Of course I needed the proper crown and jewelry to match the part, so I also crafted a crystal crown and ring for my set, too.  This is part two of my newest 2021 blog post series called the “Pandemic Princess”.  Part one can be found here – it is my remake of a dress worn by Anna, the sister of Elsa from “Frozen”, so this is kind of like a sequel post to that one. 

Yet, this princess post’s outfit is inherently different since I do not relate to Elsa (as I discussed at the end of my previous post).  Inspired as well by the old Hans Christian Anderson “Snow Queen” tale, I however, mainly incorporated strong references of my preferred ice queen, one who is just as enthralling as she is scary.  She jumps off alive from the pages of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia…the White Witch called Jadis.  She is a not a true queen of course (those who know the books understand) but she still reigns over her spell of an eternal winter with such an iron hand that there is no Christmas.  She is not a character to ‘like’ necessarily but I find her captivating as appalling in her mystery and importance to the story.  The seven Narnia Chronicles are just about my favorite books ever and the strong character of Jadis has formed my idea of a snow queen.  Disney did do a fantastic job at outfitting actress Tilda Swinton to become a great visual interpretation of the White Witch in the 2005 “Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” movie

One of the White Witch’s trademarks is her wearing of fur to symbolize her ruthless brutality to the creatures of Narnia.  A polar bear may be pulling her chariot one day then become a coat the next…ugh.  (See several examples here.)  After all, Jadis did wear as a collar the mane of the great Aslan the day after killing Him.  My outfit gave a further nod to the character of Jadis in a fair and humane way by wearing either my Grandmother’s vintage 50’s era fur coat collar or a cut of white polyester faux fur, leftover from a coat my mom made me as a child.  These added items were my refuge to keep such a dress with an open neckline warm to wear in the cold, anyway.  Such a style is called cold-shouldered for a reason, but it only becomes literal when the wearer is also frigid in personality.  I was doing my best at looking the part of a stern snow queen in many of these pictures, but it is really hard not to smile in an outfit this fantastic.

Both Elsa in “Frozen” as well as Narnia’s Jadis only wear open shoulder dresses.  The White Witch prefers dramatic, heavyweight dresses though while Elsa of “Frozen” sports lightweight, sparkling, elegant finery.  Both queens incorporate elements of the Hans Christian Anderson Snow Queen, who looked “as if (her dress) had been made from millions of star shaped flakes.  She was beautiful as she was graceful.”  (The classic Anderson Snow Queen also has a chariot and is portrayed in images wrapped in furs like the White Witch.)  All of these ladies gravitate to pastel blues, greys, and white tones (with exception of “Frozen Fever”).

Being worn with bare shoulders, I realized early on that my snow queen creation had to be a dress yet still be closer to a coat.  I wanted it out of a warm and sturdy material to channel Jadis, yet something soft and lovely in sheen to incorporate Elsa.  An all-cotton textured chenille which was found in the decorator’s fabric section on clearance at my local JoAnn store was just the ticket.  It has a white, frosty overtone to the dusty blue because of the fluffy nap (similar to a quality velvet).  Yet the substantial ‘hand’ to it, being a decorator material, is perfect to hold up a strapless dress.  You don’t see much of chenille anymore, both in stores and in fashion today, and that’s a shame.  It is lovely fabric that I remember liking a lot back in the 80’s and 90’s as I was growing up.  This flashback gave me an idea of what direction to look for choosing my pattern design.

Off shouldered vintage dresses are almost every time something super fancy, for evening wear, or not remotely utilitarian.  This was not something I wanted for my “Pandemic Princess” collection, as I said in my announcement post.  I need a “pretty princess” dress I can wear anywhere and everywhere, as often as I want!  I remembered how the 80’s and 90’s (cue the tip from the chenille) were so good at attractive avant-garde fashions which took unexpected creative spins on many ‘traditional styles’.  I found a “New York New York, The Collection” Designer pattern, a McCall’s #4442 from 1989, that hit all the right buttons for me.  It is part body fitting coat, part feminine dress, but altogether powerfully asymmetric enough to suit placing myself ‘in the shoes’ of an intense queen character.  Except for my shoulders, I could be covered up in the cold, too, in the ankle length and long sleeves – just like Elsa!

As weird as the pattern pieces for this looked on paper, the making of the dress turned out fantastic!  The fit was spot on, instructions were clear.  My dress is remarkably easy to move in, as well, and comfy.  It has raglan sleeves.  Pleated darts in the front from the neckline down which shape the bust yet open to give ease in the hips.  There are also pleated darts in the back which are sewn in from bottom to waist to give an amazing bloused back but fitted booty.  As proof, just freaking check out that silhouette the dress gives from behind!  There is a tapered skinny skirt and skinny long sleeves.  The front cover did a horrible job at portraying all of these fantastic details, and the back only gives tiny, limited line drawings.  Under the cover of the loosely sketched fashion illustration, it hides a gem inside.

I made a few slight changes to the design.  An asymmetric closure ends in a pleat which opens up into a walking slit (which I moved from being a kick open style in the back).  After all, Elsa’s “Let It Go” song dress has that infamous thigh-high front slit and sensual fit!  As I didn’t want to deal with closing all those buttons nor try to stitch in buttonholes through the thick fabric, I sewed the buttons down permanently to have the front be a mock closing.  They are silver foiled mock crystal squares to nod to the ice queens who inspired me. Then, I added a left side seam closing invisible zipper to compensate for the faux buttons.  Due to a small lack of fabric (buying an end-of-the-bolt on clearance meant I was ½ yard too short for what I needed) the sleeves are indistinguishably two-pieced along the elbow.

As chenille frays like crazy, all seams are finished inside with a double zig-zagged stitch to imitate overlock stitching from a serger, while the bottom hem and sleeves has vintage rayon hem tape in turquoise.  The instructions impressively called for very fine finishing techniques similar to what I see in Vintage Vogue Special Design patterns or modern Vogue designer ones.  I felt the chenille just couldn’t handle French seams or an additional edge binding, though.  I can wear a slip in lieu of lining and the fabric is not scratchy.  It was important to keep such an odd but fantastic dress simple. 

Speaking of simple, when prepping my supplies for the making of this dress I was prepared to tolerate the possibility of adding in an internal structure (boning or horsehair trim) to either the body or neckline of this dress.  I honestly had no idea going into this if it would just end up a nightmare of a project.  Luckily, it was not – only remarkable easy.  This was so different a style, I didn’t know what to anticipate!  I soon found that as long as I properly interfaced the front placket and the wide neckline facing as the pattern recommended, as well as found a snug fit for the waist and below, the dress stays up and in place. 

The pattern called for little shoulder inserts if a full cold-shoulder is not wanted.  I actually cut out these pieces of a skin-toned power mesh and had them ready to sew in, only to try on the dress and love it as-is with a fully bare neck and shoulder line.  The pattern has a wide facing which stabilizes the ‘collar’.  It was a weirdly wonky piece that I cut out of a dark green cotton and ironed heavy interfacing to the wrong side.  As crazy as that piece looked flat on tissue paper, it did the trick.  I adore the way this neckline frames my face and is low-key drama.  Without being snug, the wide neck opening is also not sloppy on my body.  It stay perilously on the curved ends of my shoulders so perfectly.  This is a mysterious wonder of a design. Did I say enough times already that I love this dress?!? 

Unlike the White Witch in the Disney film, my dramatic up-do is ALL my own hair!!!

Mirroring the way ice forms into defined faceted, geometric shapes, I chose natural crystal quartz to make my own crown and ring set to match my outfit.  Sterling silver findings give it that cold shine.  Back when I was at my local craft and hobby store buying the crystals, I was walking around the section for findings when I saw an ad for wire wrapping.  I liked the appearance of that technique and figured it might be a way to attach the quartz stacks to become jewelry.  This was my first try and I know there is vast room for improvement but I am happy my crazy idea was a success. 

I wound the wire in and around one quartz column then wrapped the rest of the frame to become the ring.  The crown’s crystals were wrapped around the center of a necklace wire.  This way I have not only made a crown, but also something I can wear as around the neck to make the most of my time, money, and supplies.  There are screw off nobs at the ends so I can even slide off the crown’s quartz crystals and reuse the necklace if I ever want to.  I’m all about splurging on something as superfluous as crown, but at the same time I’m also incredibly practical, you see.  What carat is the rock I am wearing, I wonder?  To match, my earrings are vintage 1950’s faux diamond pieces from my Grandmother.  My dark beige boots from my White Witch inspired photos are of the 1980’s era from my mom.  

Hey, Olaf! “Do you wanna build a snowman”

All of the ice or snow queen characters are so inherently sad, so I hope my version of such a role is a much happier, brighter spirited one.  A kiss of the Snow Queen blinds the mind’s eye of the little boy Kai – another kiss from her would have killed him.  Jadis only shows a mock kindness to Edmund so that she can later kill him and his siblings.  Elsa finds herself alone internally due to her powers, even after the power of love allows her to physically touch her family and friends.  Most all of us now know the crippling deprivation of seclusion in some manner since the pandemic of 2020 hit. 

As frosty as these queens are, they have now become easier to empathize with through the bitter loss of social contact in today’s society.  This post’s pictures were taken around Christmastime decorations and after a long-awaited snowfall.  Thus, combined with my fantastic new outfit and the company of my immediate family, there was a lot of fun to be had behind the scenes.  This makes for a joyful, novel understanding of the snow queen persona I undertook by creating this outfit.  I hope this shines through to you as you read this post and enjoy the images.  Let’s not turn into snow queens ourselves, but work on finding ways to let love break through the icy solitude and cold seclusion of the world today.

“Even if there is no Narnia, I will continue to live as a Narnian!” -quote from The Silver Chair. We had fun playing out the parts from the stories with our son!

Checkmate!

There is safety in numbers…mathematical equations, that is.  The consistency and assurance of having a logical way to figure out a problem is helpful in other spheres of life because, as we are taught in school, math is not just pointless numbers on paper.  Mathematics can be found in science, space, biologics, industry, fashion, and more.  Games especially call for math skills.  Out of all the games to be played, there is perhaps nothing else that calls upon the exacting perfectionist in me, awakens my inner competitiveness, and leaves no room for my sense of graciousness to my opponent quite like a game of chess.  (Those are also all the reasons for me avoiding playing it.) 

However, that doesn’t mean I and others like me don’t have a great respect and fascination for those you enjoy and excel at the game.  Thus, it comes as no big surprise that such a powerful, mind provoking game loved worldwide could make related statement in fashion, yet the influence of “The Queen’s Gambit” came just over a month ago like an unexpected global storm.  It has become Netflix’s most watched scripted series to date.  Granted, “The Queen’s Gambit” is fiction loosely based on history, and sadly doesn’t really teach novices a whole lot about the game.  Nevertheless, the fashion for the time period it was supposed be set in (50’s to late 60’s) is spot on, visually stunning, and (most importantly) still very wearable for today.  So those of us who will not be playing the game more because of the show (raise your hand with me) can certainly copy the mid-century fashion. 

Say ‘hello’ to crisp angles and opposing colors, chic short dresses and straight lined silhouettes.  My mom says I look like Emma Peel (as fashionable as she was a smart espionage agent) from the 1960s British television show “The Avengers” in this dress!  I do so love the bold, mod fashion 60’s and forget that fact after so many other projects for other decades in between.  I am all here for a reason to jump back into the era headfirst through “The Queen’s Gambit” outfits!!  There will be more in the works very soon…this bow neck, babydoll dress will be next up for my early 2021 sewing.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  heavyweight 100% linens for both the exterior black and white fabric, yet the black is a smoother finish while the white is a textured (slubbed) hopsack; lined in a lightweight 100% cotton muslin

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8588, year 1969

NOTIONS NEEDED:  All I needed was one 22” long zipper for the back, lots or thread, and bias tape to finish off the inner edges and hem.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was whipped up in 4 hours and was finished in the afternoon of November 26, 2020.

TOTAL COST:  in the remnant clearance bin at JoAnn Fabrics, I only spent about $6 on this dress!!!

Both linens on this dress were something I had bought about 3 years back now.  Yes, as on point as sewing this dress may seem in the light of “The Queen’s Gambit”, I had the idea for making this much earlier.  Pierre Cardin is a long-standing fashion icon for me and his creations are the epitome of the power of the avant-garde (next to Elsa Schiaparelli).  Only now, it took an entertainment fad of today to give me a very good reason to pull my needed supplies from my storage tubs and finally make room in my sewing queue to transform them into something wearable.  Amazingly, I only needed one sole yard of each color linen for this project…60’s era mini dresses aren’t much to wear so they don’t need much material, ha!  This is yet another one of my many “remnant” projects.  They never cease to amaze me – how good you can look on scraps!

In the final episode of the series, Beth proves her dominance in a chess tournament in Russia.  The nail-biting competition sees Beth don an array of elegant and high-fashion outfits to communicate she is a woman in control.  Among them is the black and white “I’m Chess Dress”, made in viscose material inspired by mid-1960’s London design.  Like many of Beth’s other outfits, the two-tone coloring, and strong lines subtly reflects the pattern on a chess board (from here).  I immediately recognized the series’ dress mimicked the idea that I had a few years back!  Beth’s dress in viscose has more drape than many such 60’s era dresses, which tend to have a soft structure like stable knit.  Linen is similar in quality but a bit more of a call back to timeless quality I adore.  So I suppose this is all me working at redeeming a slight ‘fault’ I saw I the series’ fashion.  I like my version better – it’s more wearable!

I felt a pattern from the year 1969 was a perfect place to start.  On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human to step on the moon.  It was the dawn of true “Space Age” and the imaginations of designers were wandering very futuristic.  Pierre Cardin took his space travel seriously: In 1969, he went to Houston and quizzed officials at NASA headquarters about how to stay stylish on the moon.  Like his colleagues André Courrèges and Mary Quant, Mr. Cardin proposed a sleek, forward-dawning fashion.  This was the height of the “mod” fad.  As I thought about it afterwards, my mom’s reaction to refer to Dame Diana Rigg from “The Avengers” (which series ended in 1969) for my dress ticks all the right boxes. Rigg (as Emma Peel) wore the most avant-guade and Op-art fashions of any Steed sidekick, frequently toned in black and white.  Costume designer John Bates outfitted her in clothes influenced by the 60’s trio – Cardin, Courrèges, and Quant.  Ironically, series 4 of “The Avengers” had a chessboard opening intro, too (for American broadcasts)!  This “Avengers” dress for Dame Rigg is strikingly similar to this “On the Cross” on Beth wears in “The Queen’s Gambit”.

Besides the serendipitous dating, the clean, angular lines and chic thoughtfulness in the design lines drew me into this particular pattern.  Don’t judge a pattern by its cover.  Just because a pattern seems simple at first glance doesn’t mean there isn’t a happy little complex variation waiting for you once you pull out those tissue pieces or study the line drawings.  The detail of note here is the lack of true side seams.  The side front panel technically ends a few inches over into the back half of the dress.  It is so subtle!  Also, there are no bust darts.  The dress is strongly A-line yet some slight bust shaping is cut directly into the shaping of the side panels.  Most 60’s era patterns have sleeves which fit my larger upper arms terribly but these are so comfortable and generous in ‘reach room’ right out of the envelope.  I am very impressed with this pattern, unlike any other 60’s pattern I’ve used so far.  I appreciate a design which seems suited to my body type but more importantly I enjoy finding a pattern seems to have a touch of higher quality.  Everyday wear in the era of the 60’s is not particularly known for it’s complex, meticulous tailoring in the anxiousness of the younger set to depart from the classiness of the decade before.     

The common pairing for the popular black-and-white color combo of 60’s dresses seems to be having the dark color on the sides and the light color in the middle.  Check out my Pinterest page here on this topic for more inspiration and to see what I’m saying.  I realize the color layout I used on my particular dress is the opposite.  However, I just have to prefer what will suit me accordingly.  Black down the center is more slimming for my body type (believe me, I experimented with draping it differently on myself before cutting out).  The black emphasizes the angular qualities to this design.  It also makes this more of an all season dress in my opinion.  I am wearing thick ribbed tights with this – just as any 1960s gal would do – but bare legs and metallic sandals or even tall go-go boots would be just as perfect of a pairing in other seasons.  White on a dress may not be a popular color for winter but when color blocked intentionally yet minimally, it works. 

However aesthetic my choice of color layout was, my heavy use of black over white visually voices my lack of dominance in the game of chess.  If Beth Harmon in “The Queen’s Gambit” wears all white as the reigning victor, well I am more of the ‘dark horse’ kind of player.  It is said that the person who plays the white pieces (and therefore starts the game) has the advantage.  I am certainly not the champion type because if I was, I wouldn’t be enjoying the game anymore…no one wants to see me that serious and obsessive, not even me.

I couldn’t ask for a better backdrop for our pictures than the local World Chess Hall of Fame.  In front (and behind me in many pictures) is the world’s largest chess piece.  Just a year ago (October 2019) we attended the opening night for two very relevant chess inspired fashion exhibits, which were apparently ahead of their time. 

Firstly, Michael Drummond, a multi-talented artist and veteran of “Project Runway” Season 8, put on the exhibit “Being Played”, described as “thematically marrying the issues of climate change and the stress the fashion industry places on the environment”.  See the online version of the exhibit here!  Drummond was inspired by the noted chess fan Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 sci-fi film “2001: Space Odyssey”.  There was an amazing dress completely made of chess pieces as well as reclaimed remnants of sewing and art supplies reinvented into wearable art with a deeper message.  No wonder Drummond was interviewed by the New York Times regarding where to find clothes inspired by “The Queen’ Gambit” (see article here).

The second exhibit from back then was “A Beautiful Game”, showcasing the World Chess Hall of Fame’s artifacts of “chess-inspired beauty products, photographs, posters, and advertisements while illustrating how the sophistication and brilliance of the game have been celebrated and revered in chess and popular culture. Also highlighted was new, interactive artwork by chess champion and author Jennifer Shahade as well as Pinned! fashion designer Audra Noyes.” The online exhibit can be seen here.  It had the most appealing posters and glamorous chess sets from the last 100 years that made me want a perfume bottle or lipstick tube player set for myself (yes, for no real reason)!  The exhibit also taught me that the power of the queen piece was elevated to the status of “chief executioner” circa 1500 after a string of powerful female monarchs.

My husband and our son both enjoy the game of chess at least, with the occasional addition of my dad as another opponent.  One our son’s Christmas gifts from last year was the coolest ever variety of chess that has mirrors and lasers!  Nevertheless, I’ll just stick to chess inspired fashion for myself, thank you.  Sewing has the math and the strategy that I enjoy.

An “Appointment” with the Baroque

The word “baroque”, widely used since the nineteenth century, comes from the Portuguese word “barroco” meaning “misshapen pearl”, a negative description of the ornate and heavily embellished music of this period (circa 1600 to 1750). The name has also come to apply to the architecture, sculpture, painting, literature, dance, as well as fashion of the same time period.  The Baroque style is characterized by exaggerated details and sensuous richness used to produce a sense of drama, exuberance, and grandeur. 

There is no better example of this rich style of dressing in our modern fashion than the two designer lines of both Dolce & Gabbana and Versace.  Am I a too much of a rebel to admire both enough equally to combine their distinctive elements into one self-made interpretation of Baroque dressing?  How about adding some Hollywood inspiration to the mix as the base for my creative efforts?  The film industry and designer clothing goes together quite often after all!  In this dress, I will pretend to be a wealthy aristocrat strolling to the music of Bach in my private rose garden for a true Baroque experience.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a polyester scuba knit in a large scale paneled print, with the bodice edges faced in a beige cotton-poly broadcloth (which ends up being interfaced, too); the button placket edges are of a heavyweight cotton sateen (leftover from this blouse)

PATTERN:  Advance #5550, from July of 1950

NOTIONS:  All I practically needed was a lot of thread and some interfacing.  The closures of the dress required one small skirt side zipper (7 inch) and lots of buttons.  Luckily, back in 2011 I had bought two packs of “Dress It Up” buttons, and I used some from both the “Victorian Miniatures” pack as well as the “Nostalgic Treasures” pack.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finally finished on September 9, 2020 after about 30 something hours spent to retrace and grade out the pattern, assemble the dress multiple times to make up for the bad fit, and then all the finishing details.

THE INSIDES:  left raw as scuba does best

TOTAL COST:  This material was sent to me in April 2018 for free.  It was part of my prize from “Minerva Crafts and Fabrics” for winning the 2017 Vintage Pledge sponsored by Marie at “A Stitching Odyssey”.

A recent purchase of a new-to-me vintage pattern had interesting features that I saw as a probable compliment to my paneled, oversized scuba print.  All the scallops along the bodice edges and the basic blocked bodice and skirt pieces were a natural pairing to my prize fabric and worked well with the rolling print and oversized scale of the fabric.  The scuba knit made construction a bit easier (no edge finishing needed, either) and provided the dress some ‘body’ without stiffness.  After all, this was my excuse to get around to using my amazing supplies of both pattern and fabric sooner than later!  Besides, after the previous post, I can still stay on-topic by continuing to explore the possibilities of neoprene material for something that is true vintage, designer inspired, and a movie style all-in-one. 

As is alluded to on the pattern cover, the dress’ design was first worn by the actress Jan Sterling, designed by Mary Kay Dodson, a costume designer who worked under Edith Head at Paramount, under contract between 1944 and 1951.  (If you’re feeling curious, just look at this fantastic chartreuse suit Dodson designed for another movie!

The dress from my pattern is out of an old Noir genre movie which tells the story of a fictional peril to the United States Postal Service, titled “Appointment with Danger” starring Alan Ladd.  The film was lucky to have just be seen by audiences – having gone through several names and stalling for almost 5 years before being released.  (This is why the pattern cover has a different title for the same movie!)  Besides the sultry Jan Sterling, there is no other real female fashion inspiration to “Appointment with Danger” so it’s a good thing her few dresses were fantastic when compared to the only other woman in the film, a religious nun, Sister Augustine as played by Phillis Calvert.   

Dolce & Gabbana have a religious flair to many of their creations, paired with the frequent Sicilian influence (the cultural roots of Domenico Dolce), and so for me the gold scrollwork often calls to mind an old church or Renaissance opulence.  One of the pieces from their fourth collection was labeled “The Sicilian Dress” by the fashion press, and was named by author Hal Rubenstein as one of the 100 most important dresses ever designed.  Rubenstein described the piece in 2012 by writing, “The Sicilian dress is the essence of Dolce & Gabbana, the brand’s sartorial touchstone.”  

Yet, at the same time, the 2018 Met Gala theme of “Heavenly Bodies” solidified the manner by which the house of Versace could also mimic the same vein as Dolce & Gabbana, as seen on the late but great Chadwick Boseman.  Versace is commonly known for its striking use of chains as a print and large scale panels.  However, both do frequently use the primary colors of white, black, a golden yellow as well as interesting textures and feminine styles. 

I heavily referred to Dolce & Gabbana directly by my details – choice of buttons, the red rose hair corsage I made, and my Sam Edelman brand leather platform heels in animal print.  I really don’t have many sets of 12 buttons, and none of them paired well with this dress, so I went with the showy and eclectic answer of using all different buttons on this unconventional dress project. (See the “Notions” section of “The Facts” above.)  All the buttons luckily need the same size button hole and all are fully workable buttons (and button holes) – no fakes just for show. The most interesting ones – a cherub’s head, a Fleur-dis-lis, and a sun – are all along the shoulder while several miss-matching round golden buttons are along the sides under my arms.  I love the subtlety but unusualness of it, but in reality doing so helped clear out my random buttons from my stash and stayed true to the “more is more” spirit of Dolce & Gabbana. 

My Versace tribute is in my fabric’s print and by wearing vintage chain jewelry.  My jewelry is from my Grandmother and by a well-respected small Italian designer who came to America at the end of WWII.  “Jewels by Julio” items are said to be are hard to find today.  Such marked pieces are by Julio J. Marsella, who created high quality jewelry from 1946-1957. He was a perfectionist who sang Italian Opera with the same skill that he created jewelry. His jewelry was considered to be on par with Hobe, Hattie Carnegie, and Dior (by Kramer) pieces for quality and desirability.  It is most likely only plated and has a warm authentic gold color that has aged nicely and pairs well with my dress.  Even though the actual print of my fabric is more Dolce & Gabbana, the colors and the way it is laid out is very Versace.  There are still chains in the borders to the panels, after all.   

My heart will always be tied to Italy, especially Milan, the founding place for both companies.  My first trip out of my country and into Italy was a 3 day visit to that town!  Thus, this outfit takes me back in sentiment to a place I remember so vividly as the experience of a lifetime.  As a 19 year old, I was unfortunately not equipped with the pocketbook to splurge on things I had then admired in the store windows.  Yet, now I can sew whatever I set my mind to.  This outfit is my hometown, homemade version of a replacement!  Thus, my post’s outfit is also my submission for Linda’s “Designin’ December 2020” challenge at the blog “Nice dress! Thanks, I made it!!”

For the 2 ½ yards of fabric which were gifted to me, there were 3 ½ panels for me to work with for my dress.  Two of the panels immediately went towards the front and the back of the skirt respectively.  The last full panel went toward to the bodice, both front and back.  I added a center front vertical seam to accommodate the way I wanted the print to lay.  With the main border running up either side of the front center seam, the torso is lengthened visually to offset the full, wide skirt.  The angled, radiating front bust darts nip in the waist perfectly – just as I hoped – by creating the image of the sides to the bodice wrapping over the center border.  The back bodice reminds me of a glorious chandelier the way the scrollwork seems to drip down from my shoulders.  I wanted to widen my shoulders from behind with this layout, and thereby complement the waist in a different manner than what I employed for the front.  I had to get inventive as I had limited fabric to work with.  I do love a good sewing challenge…with exceptions.

After all the raving and seeming glowing words I have given my outfit so far, reaching the point where the dress was actually wearable and properly fitting me was a very frustrating journey.  The proportions to the dress pattern were so completely off whack that I was mind blown.  Yes – I love the final result of my dogged determination to see this project perfected.  Yet, what was shown on both the cover drawing and the line art specifics was something so very different than what the actual tissue paper turns out.  All the details shown were still there.  However, where the skirt and bust landed on me were all wrong.  I should have listened to my gut instinct when I noticed such on the tissue…only I’ve never seen a pattern this far off and considered that I must have been the one measuring wrong.  Nope!  This one pattern has both a sizing and proportions problem, the likes of which I have never seen.  If I hadn’t been using the very forgiving and easy-to-work with scuba knit, this dress would have easily become a sewing project straight from hell.  

The actual size of the pattern was very tiny (a 28 inch bust!!) and so I graded up an inch less than what I assumed I needed due to working with a stretch knit.  Width wise grading was the only adaptations I traced out when prepping this pattern, and my work was not the cause of my issues with the design.  I did notice right off the bat when laying out the pieces and checking measurements on the tissue pattern that the waist length from shoulder to skirt seam was really quite long…and I only trimmed off 2 inches because even that much taken off seemed extreme, right?!  I also lengthened the center-radiating, French-style bust darts to actually come up to where they should on me.  I sewed up most all of the dress, stitching once and tried it on.

Agh!  The ‘waistline’ ended at my high hip, the front bodice was still huge, and the neckline was so small I couldn’t even button it closed.  After lots of unpicking of thread, cutting of new seams, and even some crying, I started fresh again.  I cut off another 2 inches from the bodice length, stitched in the vertical center bodice seam making the front smaller by 2 inches, and cut the V neckline lower by 2 inches as well, then finally sewed the uber-gathered skirt in again and called it good.  Let’s realize I took out a total of 4 inches from the length of the bodice!  The line drawing shows the ‘waistline’ should have where my hips are…so weird!  Something went wrong with this pattern because even a long-torso woman could not be 20 something inches from the shoulder to the waist. 

I lost each one of the bottom side scallops in the process of re-fitting.  See how the movie dress has four on each side and I only have 3 on each side.  That worked for me because I didn’t have any more buttons anyway.  How in the world did the four button arrangement work on the movie dress with actress Jan Sterling still having a naturally placed waistline for the dress?!  Were the scallops drafted smaller, maybe half the width as the Advance pattern’s?  Did Ms. Sterling have an impossibly tiny Barbie sized neck?  Perhaps the Advance pattern wasn’t even directly drafted from the movie dress at all, like I am assuming. I’ll never know.  Nevertheless, all is well that ends well, as the saying goes, and the good thing is no one would ever guess the troubles and frustrations it took to finish my outfit.

There was a nearby companion to my photo shoot who did not have to go through the bother I did to look so striking.  It was a Yellow Garden Spider, waiting it in its web for an evening snack.  This is a larger spider than what I am used to seeing around town – several inches in diameter when you include the long legs – and it was rather creepy to see an arachnid in the garden which would take up the whole palm of my hand.  It was matching me in color and was too dramatic of a creature to not appreciate, though!  This is exactly the kind of thing I could see becoming inspiration for a designer dress.  Let’s talk about the killer print that spider is wearing on its back!!  Its scientific Latin name translates to “gilded silver-face”.  For having a plain term for its English name, this spider could be baroque by the way it has drama, loads of interest to its details, and it still respectfully regal.   

This is a fun and different thing for me to make that is still so very wearable.  Dressed in this, it brightens my day, brings a smile to my face, and makes me swish around feeling imaging myself a princess for the moment.  The fact that I have on some higher-end brand, extreme 5 inch heels feeds my unreasonable enjoyment for tall shoes.  (They not only lengthen my legs but bring me up to my hubby’s stature level, he he).  Being a modern scuba print and not something heavily embroidered or fine silk like a true designer item keeps it more akin to ‘normal’ – albeit fancy – clothes.  Upon arriving at the first place I wore this dress, I immediately received compliment.  Apparently my dress must share with its viewers the same happy feeling I have when wearing it!  This is proof that making my own spoof on something designer I have admired for years ends up doing good all around, much more so than if I had broken my bank account to splurge on a true Versace or Dolce & Gabbana.  Dolce himself has said, “A dress should live the personality of the woman who wears it.”

There is still time to create your own designer inspired ‘copy’ for “Designin’ December” since the challenge runs until the end of the year!  

A Few ‘Unmentionable’ Sewing Projects…

There’s been a lot of overly basic sewing going through my machine over the past months – and I’m talking about more than just masks.  The couple that wears handmade clothing stays together…did I get that right?!  Thus, I might as well spice that necessary stuff up a bit to make my practical sewing more interesting.

Not content with once around, the leftovers of one recent refashion plus some lace remnants were enough to eke out a special little sewing for my intimate wearing!  Then, some one yard novelty fabric remnants went towards making some quirky new boxers for my hubby.  Sorry if this is quite “too much personal information” to share, but I am proud of all the sewing I do and this stuff would never be seen otherwise if I didn’t post about it!  (That might be a good thing…anyway.)  I do think these look nice enough to share, especially my pretty bra, and yes – they are brand spanking new at this point.  It’s so hard to show how wonderful these items are without modeling them, but we’ll spare you that!  You’ll just have to believe our words and settle for my beginner’s ability to pull off an interesting flat-lay.  I paired the items with something that recalls the era of the pattern date.  You can see a peek of my silk true vintage 1930s pink bias slip as the backdrop for my bra, while hubby’s favorite vintage 60’s skinny tie and his monthly magazine subscription are the accessories paired for his boxers.

I think it is important to post about making underwear and lingerie so as to show others that it is much easier to make your own basic necessities than you might think.   These items are 100% more comfortable on us and much better fitting than any store-bought RTW items.  No wonder – they were tailored along the way to fit each of us, besides being incredibly personalized with the materials chosen, turning into an everyday treat to wear.  Also, everyone can see how pricey it is to buy quality, name-brand underwear and lingerie.  With remnants and under a yard of material, you can sew yourself something better than RTW at a very low or even free (if using scraps on hand) cost.  It’s a win all around.  Especially when these are such easy-to-make patterns, and vintage designs to boot!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  except for the little bit of lace on my bra, every item shared here is in comfy cotton – each one is just a different variety and weight of cotton (I’ll explain in further down in the rest of the post)

PATTERNS:  the brassiere – Simplicity #8510, a reprint from 2017 of a year 1937 sewing pattern (originally Simplicity #2288); the men’s boxers – Simplicity #5039, year 1963, from my personal pattern collection

NOTIONS NEEDED:  Luckily, I had the specialty bra making supplies already as part of a $1 grab bag of notions I bought a while back at a rummage sale.  Besides that, everything else I needed was basic – thread and elastic.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The brassiere was made –from start to finish – in 3 hours and was made in the afternoon of July 27, 2020.  His boxers were made here and there over the past few months and only took 1 ½ hours each to make.

THE INSIDES:  The insides of the bra are cleanly hidden, encased between the layers, while hubby’s boxers are zig-zag stitched finished along the edge.

TOTAL COST:  Each boxer cost about $2 to $4 (what a deal) while the bra materials are as good as free, being mostly leftovers from something 15 plus years ago.

So – where to start?  At first, the motivation for such sewing was both pure necessity as well as an inability to shop for such things in person (as we prefer).  But you know, what?  Somewhere along the line such basic sewing became more enjoyable.  We normally make sure to save my time and buy such items, yet the amount of 1 yard or less cuts that I have on hand are so plentiful and the perfect resource.  Besides, they both were quick projects that required barely an hour and so were practically perfect for the small segments of time I have for sewing recently!  It is nice to have a fast turnout item in between more complex projects, like the over the top dresses that my pandemic brain has been needing as of late (more on that soon).  It’s wonderful to have a completely handmade wardrobe inside as well as out, and it is also really special to be able to share that feeling.  I suppose doing such would be weird to share with anyone else but a partner, anyway!

I will start off with my selfish sewing.  The 90’s plaid skirt I refashioned to become this 1940s blouse had a basic cotton lining underskirt to it which was left behind.  It was a very small amount, about a half yard wide by about 25 inches long, but in simple A-line shape with only the two side seams so it was as good as a folded fabric remnant.  While it was out and not stashed away yet, why leave that good fabric neglected without a productive idea to match with it?  That would not be me!  So I reached for something that would need very little fabric, be different to make, and be something I could use at a practical level.  The basic ivory color and semi-sheer thickness dictated using the leftover lining cotton for some garment that was not to be seen.

This vintage year 1937 lingerie set has been a pattern I have been itching to try ever since I picked it up when it came out and so it was the natural choice.  Even though I was only able to use the skirt lining for a half set – just the bra (and the leftover fabric went towards two face masks) – this refashion was an immense success that makes me excited to pick up the pattern again and make a full set in a fashion fabric.  This is a very lovely surprise project, and a totally wearable muslin test.

As the lining cotton was a plain ivory and almost sheer (even with two layers), I realized mere dyeing to change the color would not add both a special touch and a bit of decency to this bra the same way layering it with some leftover lace did.  As the pattern is not complex and has very few seams I chose a posh French lace from on hand to layer over the outside.  Wow, does that lace addition really elevate this bra!

Yet, without realizing ahead of time, I found out it is a good thing that the lace was so delicate and the cotton was so soft and thin because it was quite hard to gather the middle seam of the bra down to the length the pattern intended.  As it was, I could not gather any tighter and that spot is still ½ inch longer than supposed to be.  If I had used a fabric any thicker this detail would have been even more difficult.  It is important to get this section as closely gathered as possible because it provides the bulk of the bra’s shaping, beside the small underbust darts.  The lesson learned (without having to recover from a failure) is to keep to lightweight, thin, and drapey for at least the brasserie half of this vintage reprint design.

Other than the challenge presented from the fabrics I was using, this pattern was a breeze to sew.  I found the size spot on and the instructions good.  The shaping of the bra is well done and the support is gives is just enough to do its job while still being comfortable to the point of feeling heavenly.  Of course you can see I upgraded to modern bra notions when it came to the notions used just so that this can be a vintage merge to get the best of both worlds.  There are times where I like to go all out vintage so I can both learn a new, different way of doings and also come from a historical perspective to try to understand how things used to be.  I did that already, however, for this earlier 1930’s lingerie set (posted here).  That aqua bra was finished the way the old vintage instructions dictated – with twill tape straps and such in the non-adjustable manner – and it needs constant tweaking to be brought back up fitting me as perfectly today as it did when I made it.  This time, I was determined today’s pretty little project was going to be more enjoyed than the last vintage lingerie, and what better way to do that than make it fully adjustable for my body and a touch more up-to-date?!

Next comes my unselfish sewing project!  This trio of boxers were very much mindless sewing I really didn’t have to think about how to construct.  They were pretty much the same as the 1940s pajama pants I had made him (posted here).  To save on interfacing for the front fly, I merely tripled up on fabric layers.  Interfacing and elastic still seems hard to come by, but luckily I had a pretty good stash of 1 inch wide elastic from my deceased Grandmother.  Thus, with the exception of the first pair of boxers I made for him – the animal print ones – which were two channels of ½ inch elastic, all the rest were a single piece of wide stretch waistband.  The instructions said to make two channels, but he seemed to find the dual channels of elastic would twist and line up wrongly as they get worn, so a single wide elastic waistband is always less fussy…and who wants fussy underwear?!

I gave myself a bit of a break when laying out the pattern for these boxers.  I laid the lower bottom edge out along the selvedge to save myself a bit of extra time to do hemming.  Also. I cut them opposite the grainline to save on fabric and better align with the directional prints on two of the boxers.  All of the pairs are cotton wovens that are not shifty and so going a bit against the rules of sewing and fabric isn’t a big deal, especially when you’re talking about mere underwear.  I normally never do such a thing so I was really in a special mood for such a disobedience to happen in my sewing projects.

Each pair is a different weight and kind of cotton.  As I said, I was not only using what was on hand but was experimenting to see what he would prefer.  The animal print ones as a tissue weight voile, the Captain America print is a medium weight quilting cotton, while the red print is something you might recognize, leftover Indian block print from making my sari ensemble choli blouse (posted here).  The Indian cotton was actually my part of a deal he made with me.  He encouraged me to not be feeling bad for placing a big fabric order from “Fibers to Fabric” on Etsy (yes, I honestly sometimes feel guilt for adding to my already generous sized stash of sewing supplies) as long as he gets a little something made for himself out of it.  I said I would use one of the fabrics to make him boxers, because I know how luxurious Indian cotton is, and underwear is the best way to appreciate good material.  It seems this is his favorite pair on account of the fabric – it is almost like a silk in the way it is very breathable, cooling, and weightless.

The voile is lightweight, yes – but not as silky the Indian cotton.  I know, he put up with me sewing him the animal pair, but I couldn’t help but think of Tarzan when I saw this one yard remnant.  Those were my crazy choice and my hubby has humored me.  The quilting cotton is a thick and tightly woven, as I’m sure many of you know (us vintage enthusiast always get tempted by its pretty prints for day dresses!), that has way too much sizing in it so it’s not the best choice for underwear.  Many washes will fix that eventually and break it in…and by then it might be looking almost worn out.  Ah, yes, I have a love-hate relationship with printed quilting cotton.  Yet, the Captain America print is so darn fun it has to be the winning boxer pair, though!  It is a print that is practically made for our family interests.  I actually ordered enough of this official Marvel brand fabric to make several face masks for each of us, with a yard still leftover to sew some pajama pants in the future for our little guy out of it as well.

The frequent wearing of loungewear along with finding ways to be self-dependent both are having a strong moment this year.  As we are all staying at home and outdoors more frequently, whether for work, play, or eating.  Crafting your own ‘unmentionables’ for your own personal comfort and enjoyment might just become as much of a thing as the “Nap dress” or food canning.  I love to be on trend using old trends.  Drive-in movie entertainment is coming back, so hey – anything is possible!

Handmade lingerie is really not as impossible a task as it might seem at first, and it is a fantastic way to use up small fabric scraps and bust that stash you’ve been holding onto, as well as be as sensible, sustainable, and thrifty as possible.  Besides, the holidays are coming and a handmade intimate garment would be an easy and cute little gift – just saying!  The world will never know how handmade your outfit really is when you make your own underwear…it’s merely a little undercover secret about your modern day superpower.