The “Ivory Explorer” Dress

A trip to ancient Egypt with or without James Bond calls for the right dress, wouldn’t you say?  Even if I’m only dreaming, and even if I never really leave town, my newly made “Bond Girl” dress is still a wonderfully chic way to channel the “safari” fashion of the late 60’s and early 70’s.  Following the lines of my inspiration – Barbara Bach from the 1977 film “The Spy Who Loved Me” – my dress pattern was adapted to be more ‘explorer’ oriented while still keeping a pocket-free, clean silhouette to be suited for a warm weather environments other than the land of the Sahara.

The perfect vintage accessories were on hand to make my outfit so very “Bond Girl” matching.  The imitation alligator leather briefcase is vintage from my mom, circa late 60’s early to mid-70’s when she was beginning her professional career.  I love how it compliments my outfit in so many ways, especially in era appropriateness, besides being similar to what was used in the movie.  It really was my purse for the evening, not just a prop, and the nicely divided pockets inside made it very handy!  The earrings and necklace are also 60s or 70s era, from my Grandmother.  My shoes are my longtime standby comfortable wedge heels, Sam & Libby brand, although much more restrained than Barbara Bach’s high heeled Mary Janes.  Not everything is carbon copy to the movie – my buttons are a bit darker and I did wear my hair in an ultra-high, fluffy ponytail just like it was drawn on the pattern envelope cover!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% linen – soft, slubbed, off-white, and near handkerchief weight – for the main body of the dress and 100% cotton sateen in a rich ivory color for the belt, collar, and front buttoning placket.

PATTERN:  McCall’s #9585, year 1968

NOTIONS:  Nothing but thread, some interfacing remnants, and a card of vintage wooden buttons from my Grandmother’s stash were all that I needed, and were all on hand.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was a two evening dress project – very fast and easy, even with my changes!  I spent maybe 5 or 6 hours in total, divided between two evenings.  It was finished literally as I was getting ready to go out wearing it – October 6, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  So nice!  French seams with the rest covered by the collar and button placket.

TOTAL COST:  My dress’ two fabrics were bought at JoAnn’s a few months back for under $30 (as best I remember).  However, I did not use all of each, I have 2/3 yard of linen left and 1/3 of sateen, both of which will go to other projects.  Thus my total price for this dress should be about $20 or less.  Since when can a woman have a linen dress of this quality and design for such a price?!  Awesome stuff happens when you can sew…

Afar from the dusty regions of the world, the safari style mostly finds its place in the grimy urban jungle.  Hollywood’s choice of subject matter of the times helped popularize this style idealism – Born Free of 1966, The Extraordinary Seaman of 1969, Mississippi Mermaid of 1969, and Hatari of 1962 to name a few examples.  Catherine Deneuve and Faye Dunaway became the poster girls for the style.  The real credit, however, to the fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent for his expedition line of clothing.  It was supposed to bring a powerful sort casual class, that’s comfortable with an air of Amazonian confidence and capability to women.  1967 and ‘68, the year of the McCall’s pattern I used, were when his safari designs were in the limelight, with several famous pictures of both him and two models wearing his creations at the doors to his groundbreaking Rive Gauche prêt-à-porter (ready-to-wear) boutiques (one picture here).  It was his “Saharienne,” or Safari jacket, that was part of his first wave of RTW in September 1967.  However, this branch of culturally influenced clothes branched out into laced up dresses, pocket-laden suits, one-piece rompers, and now this Safari look has many forms and is in perennial popularity.  Visit my “Safari” Pinterest board for more inspiration!

My expedition dress has a gentle nod to the Saint Laurent style with its simpler style.  It seems most safari styles are in hue of tan or khaki, and have a plethora of patch, pleated pockets and fine details.  My own Bond girl dress has details but with more of a flawless sophistication I appreciate, no doubt because I associate myself from the woman who wore it in the movie.  Barbara Bach and I both have brown hair and a darker skin tone, and this is not my first dress from this movie, so forgive me!  Egypt does have sand and heat like Africa, but a slight twist on the style – bringing it to a glowing ivory – seems to put her above the elements (as if Bond girls are angels!), in a deceptive play with perception, rather than an earthy tan like true safari styles.  Ancient Egyptians would have frequently worn clothes in undyed linen, anyway, especially for sacred functions.  For me, the ivory brings it out of the casual side more easily, depending on how I style it.  Not that this dress isn’t comfy as if it were a casual dress, because the relatively wrinkle-free linen and the fit makes this effortless to wear.  I guess you can tell I just really think the costumes are first rate in “The Spy Who Loved Me”.  As this project is my second time around, I also think I definitely have another style icon in Barbara Bach.

For being labeled as a “Quickie” pattern, this dress pattern is top-notch!  Most other “Jiffy” and “Simple” and “Quickie” pattern I have tried have all been alright, but either they were so simple they did not need fitting or were just a plain mess to get tailored to myself…until now!  It totally reminds me of what I normally find with the vintage Vogue patterns and 1940s era McCall’s.  There is nice curving along the side seams and perfectly proportioned darts.  This pattern is another one of those that pretty much fit me directly out of the envelope, too.  I have a handful of these patterns that seem meant for my body, and it is like a seamstress’ security blanket to know you can rely on them to be easy to make and like on yourself.  Once you find a pattern like this, it’s a form of gold!

It really took some math to draft my own placket here because this is the widest one I’ve sewn yet.  It wasn’t really hard through, but I did have to remember to cut the dress front on the fold to eliminate the center seam.  Once the placket was in, then I figured out how much longer to draft the collar so I would reach parallel with the edges of the button placket.  I had the temptation to go all out and attempt to make an all-in-one collar and placket piece, but no…a “Quickie” pattern doesn’t deserve to have something added to it which would blow my brain up trying to figure it.

Both collar and placket strips were stabilized with sturdy interfacing so that they would standout somewhat from the rest of the dress and give it something to body, dimension, and interest.  (Something closer to this Yves Saint Laurent dress from Winter 1967.)  Granted the fact that the collar and placket was in a richly creamy colored sateen with a subtle shine already provided some contrast without clashing with the rest of the linen dress.  With the stiffness of the placket, I was luckily able to get by with only 5 buttons leaving some major spacing in between.  The way the collar opens up and stands on its own away from my face…I’m so in love.  I do also adore the way the changes I added bring out the basic but well-tailored fit of the pattern without any add-on details to detract from it.  As much as I cannot do without pockets, this dress needed to go without.

Small details unnoticed at first glance really do make all the difference here.  Lovely French darts were used for the bust and waist shaping while shoulder darts (which actually end at the top of the shoulder blade) offer superior freedom of movement.  For some reason I even found the sleeves and armholes to be much more generous and comfortable than most other 60’s and 70’s patterns I’ve used.  I even cut to the pattern’s original hem length too, and it ends at a nicely demure mid-knee length which comes up to a more risqué mid-thigh when I sit – yay for a sneaky hot little number!  The skirt rides up only because of the slight pencil skirt shaping from the hips down.  This is not an A-line dress but more of a straight cut with subtle curving.  My 1967 plastron jumper had the same kind of skirt, too.  I often assume that most 60’s dresses are A-line so I wanted to point out that this one is a good kind of different from the era’s ‘norm’.  I cannot wait to make another version of this dress for the winter in a long sleeve, perhaps slightly shorter version.

Going back to my title, it is regrettable that the thing which my Egyptian explorer dress shares in common with any kind of Yves Saint Laurent African safari dress is ivory.  This time I’m not just talking about the color of my dress.  Sadly, modern Egypt harbors one of Africa’s largest domestic animal ivory markets.  Hippos are (surprising to many) very lethal and kill about 3,000 every year and elephants can be equally dangerous – quite a different story from the cute nursery drawings of them we grow up seeing.  Many do get killed because of the encroaching of civilization upon the animals’ territory. With bone and man-made imitation being attractive and suitable substitutes, using animal ivory for inlays and carved accessories and artwork at the cost of endangering nature’s most fascinating creatures is even more irresponsible.  Yet, this practice is still going on.  In Africa and elsewhere, it is the elephant and the boar that are targeted.  In Egypt, it is the hippopotamus’ ivory, together with imported elephant tusks which are popular.  The Egyptian government has apparently been working to reduce the trade, but the illegal black market still works to both supply and demand.  Sorry to include a small soap box preaching here, but facts are facts and sadly this doesn’t seem to be recognized as a world problem.

“Bond girl” or ivory trade subjects aside, I now have a great new dress to explore my own urban jungle and take on the errands and duties of my city living in a new vintage style.  Maybe that’s the deeply set attraction of Safari styles – we all have some degree of desire for an expeditionary adventure of some sort which teaches us new things and enlivens the spirit.  Even if it’s just an article of clothing or a book or a piece of art, a tactile thing can still give a small taste of that.  Are you an “explorer” soul – in your own city or abroad?

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Pretty Blue Pinafore…

After my success with my last “Shabby Chic”, fully convertible pinafore, this next one is in the real deal vintage 40’s style as a one piece dress.  This pinafore dress has an amazing attention to detail and the way it was designed includes a new-to-me shoulder seam method.  This is also my first time making an Anne Adams brand pattern…and I love the fit, style lines and proportions.  It might not receive as much out-and-about wear as my last pinafore, but I think this was the most perfect use for a longtime orphan (material not yet matched to a pattern) in my fabric collection, a quaint feedsack printed seersucker I’d been holding onto for years.  Yay – one more bolt of fabric is out from my stash and able to be enjoyed.

If you’re confused about what a pinafore is, please see my preceding introductory blog post on “The Summer of the Pinafore”, the inspiration behind my recent sewing.  This post’s pinafore is not like the multi-use floral one with a modern flair that I blogged about last, so here I will further explore the colors, fabrics, and prints used in the history of pinafores.  It’s weird to see how pinafores seem to reflect deeply subtle societal changes in the times around them.  A garment for the basic needs of women and children has a surprisingly very rich history.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton print with a slight seersucker texture

PATTERN:  Anne Adams #4988, circa 1943

NOTIONS:  I used everything from on hand in myexisting stash – thread, bias tape, interfacing scraps, a card of vintage baby rick-rack, a vintage metal zipper, and three vintage buttons from hubby’s Grandmother.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Making this pinafore took me about 15 to 20 hours and it was finished on July 22, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  All clean, as they are all bias bound.  The waistband is smoothly finished by an extra facing piece I added

TOTAL COST:  This unusual vintage specialty fabric was bought at Wal-Mart…of all places…as a “value print calico”.  I still had the receipt with the fabric.  2 ½ yards was bought back in March 2013 for $6.88.  What a stinkin’ great deal!

This is one of the very few patterns in my stash that had a very deep set personal, self-imposed “duty” to sew myself a version.  Why?  On a practical level, the pattern and its instruction sheet are absolutely crumbling to dust so I felt an urgency to make a dress from this design before the condition of the paper turned dire.  There is a better reason, though.  There is room to believe the original owner/recipient might be a distant relative we never heard of before!  You see, one weekend, on my occasional visit to our city’s antique and vintage shops, I came across a shocking and exciting find of a 1940’s pattern, whose old postal recipient had the exact same last name as ours.  Her address was in our same city, quite nearby, too.  Our last name is on the more unusual side, and it’s in the traditional German spelling, so the family has always said that anyone else with this same name in town was probably some relative, however distant.  Finding this pattern make the family dig into our genealogy again.  To make things even more special, the year of 1943 was written on the instruction sheet…very much appreciated because mail order patterns are seldom able to be so specifically dated.  Everything about this pattern was a touching, exciting, special opportunity…probably something that will not happen again and a neat happenstance to find in the first place.

Whether rightly or wrongly, I somehow was surprised at the amount of detail and well thought out design to this pattern, as if I thought mail order patterns were second rate.  I feel bad now because this was a killer pattern not in a standout or “chic” fashion way, but by having a great fit of both pattern pieces and finished dress, nice instruction sheet, and impressive design lines.  I am probably so used to primarily using patterns from the four major brands in every era (Simplicity, McCall, Butterick, Vogue), as well as the coveted yet well-known defunct brands (DuBarry, Hollywood, and Pictorial Review, to name a few).  I realized from using this Anne Adams pattern that I should give more mail order patterns a better appreciation.

Anne Adams from my knowledge is an all-American pattern company (yay!) which lasted from the 1930s to the 1960s and were the last to use unprinted, pre-cut tissue.  Her company’s patterns were available through the local newspapers along with related Marian Martin brand.  Apparently, Anne Adams designs were from uncredited designers who tailored to real women, offering larger sizes and even customizing designs for local fashions trends (so the city girl and country girl could have their own style)!  Many Anne Adams patterns do have scalloping as part of their designs, with a penchant for trimming, so I suppose this pinafore is a semi-classic design for this company!  My pinafore does strike me as a very country girl look for a city woman to purchase…I can tell the pattern pieces had been used before so I’m really curious if it was the original owner – our mystery distant relative – that made this for herself!

This was unexpectedly challenging and sort of difficult in the way of being quite detailed and having many steps to make.  This step had to be done before this step…oh and don’t forget the trim…was the sum of my sewing progress in repetition.  I really needed those crumbly, falling apart instructions and the fact that there were substantial parts missing made sewing a bit more challenging.  Not meaning to brag, but for many garments I’ve been making recently, I have not needed the instruction sheets so having a project be a surprise challenge was a good change.

There is really a lot going on with this dress!  Most of it is in the front, and although the back is rather basic, it does have first-rate seaming and shaping.  I enjoy how the vintage metal zipper I used in the side really makes my pinafore strike me as close to an authentic vintage piece.  Asymmetric scalloped bodice closing, tapered rectangular neckline, set-in waistband, center front skirt box pleat, and curved, set-in-style pockets are all awesome, but I like the sleeve ruffles the best.

The shoulder seam is defined by the spot where the gathers are brought in and stitched down.  The smart part is that they are set into the main body of the dress!  The horizontal shoulder seams, which run from the neck outward, are divided into two separate seams – the true shoulder and the over-the-shoulder ruffles – by the vertical opening for the gathering to work.  This did make the bodice one big piece tow work with!  I had to iron the finished ruffles and stitch the seam allowance flat (facing towards the neckline) so that the over-the-shoulder ruffles don’t flare upward obnoxiously…what they want to do!  They might be over the top but these ruffles are so fun to wear and were interesting to sew – not to forget mentioning extremely comfy, too.  The openness of the sleeves and the airy breeziness of the ruffles make this so very easy to move around in, stay cool, and have all the freedom to perform all the necessary or menial tasks a pinafore is meant to be worn doing.

I’m not one for rick-rack on my clothes, by I’m actually surprisingly won over to the benefit a card of the vintage baby size notion added along the edges here!  As I said before, the quainter a pinafore is made, the more it is jazzed up with novelty embellishment, it only makes it look all the better.  Without the rick-rack, anyway, I do believe much of the seaming details would be sadly lost.  I just made it – I only had about 4 inches leftover of the rick-rack after I was done adding it along the pockets and neckline edges. Whew!  I couldn’t cut it any closer if I had pre-measured how much I would’ve needed.  I really think this project was meant to be!

The slight puckering to this seersucker makes it simply a dream to wear and work in.  Reproduction aside, this is (to my knowledge) the true vintage way of doing seersucker – not the giant bubbled, ugly print stuff I see offered nowadays.  It is so cooling the way it keeps an airy distance from off of the skin.  It holds a good shape without being too stiff or getting droopy yet stays soft and comfortable due to the brushed all-cotton content.  Fabric like this is a goldmine to come across these days and that’s a shame.  I’m glad I resisted the urge to hoard this because now I understand why its material gold…it’s not just because it’s rare, it also great to wear!

I suppose I went with a rather traditional color tone for pinafores by making mine in a primarily baby blue print.  You must remember, that in the 1940s blue was still considered a woman’s color and shades of red, including pink were a man’s tone.  The modern opposite methodology of thinking was not around as of yet (read a further explanation of the gender significance of pink and blue in this past post of mine).  Even Hollywood used primarily blue pinafores to costume their best actresses in the decade of the 1940’s, the era I see the most pinafores on the Silver Screens.  Perhaps the most famous of the blue pinafores has to be the gingham bib-style one worn by Dorothy in the 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz” (of which I made my own version for a past Halloween).

Also, the popular 1945 musical movie “State Fair” abounds in blue toned peasant looks, aprons, and pinafores.  The movie’s main actress Jeanne Crain wore at least two shoulder ruffled, baby blue pinafores that were really more like jumpers than my own dress version.  For another obnoxious shoulder ruffled Hollywood pinny in a more basic color of white, I’d like to highlight one that Betty Grable and her associates wore in the 1944 movie “Pin up Girl”.  There’s even rick rack along the edges just like my own and Ms. Grable still looks hot!

Traditionally the pinafore was worn for many years in primarily white and it wasn’t until the 20th century that they became something worn by anyone other than children in prints and colors.  Going upon the concepts of Rousseau that children are their own entities with their “duty” being to learn, play, and be healthy, late nineteenth century girls, young women and sometimes small boys were dressed in pinafores made of plain, mostly white fabric, so they could have comfortable option to protect their clothing when they did their “work”.  With this concept, pinafore from that time were a sort of “uniform” for doing what children did best.  Besides, at that time modern methods of washing were not available and a basic white pinafore would’ve been relatively easy to wash, bleach and starch back to normal if dirtied.

In the 20th century, this had changed to the pinny becoming part of the clothes it was originally meant to protect.  In 1946, Life magazine noted this shift in an article on children’s dress, noting that “children used to wear washable pinafores over un-washable dresses. Now a pinafore becomes a washable dress.”  (Quote from the FDIM Museum blog here.)  Beginning somewhere after WWI (circa 1920s) novelty and juvenile prints, fabric with patented movie themes, and feedsack cottons also helped contribute to the pinafore usage switching from a basic, white, covering children’s clothes to a one-piece, fashionable garment for the dirty work needed to be done by all ages.  In 1941, the U.S. had about 31 textile mills manufacturing the fabric for bag goods which, in 1942, it has been estimated that three million American women and children of all income levels (roughly 3% of the population) were wearing at least one printed feedbag garment.  The element of fun was definitely brought in to loosen up the “uniform” of a pinafore with printed, colorful fabrics.

For adults to adopt a garment as childish in historical use, so sweet in its styling as a pinafore, I don’t think it’s because of being in a wishful time-rewind fantasy world.  Yes, it can be out of place to adopt the fashions of an age group different than your own.  I see it as extending the practicality of a garment, and bringing some lighthearted charm to mundane tasks with something as basic as what clothing is worn to perform necessary tasks.  The rise of the “junior” class of teenagers mid-1940s no doubt further propelled the idea of staying youthful (a key theme of pinafores)…what they found popular, adults paid some heed to and women found ways to bring their trends into their own style when desired.  Sure, pinafores evolved somewhat into playsuits, or jumpers to be worn over blouses, and even into dresses with ruffles and trim that mimic a pinny, so there was no rigid way to achieve a pinafore look.  But no matter what the kind of pinafore, they still find a way to way to mix practicality and playfulness in a way that can be perennially appealing.

Clothing of today is rarely such a hybrid mix of so many different aspects of appealing yet useful, comfy yet nice in one garment.  As odd as it might seem, a pinafore definitely has a place that can best be understood if you make and/ or wear one for yourself.  There are so many, unlimited ways to achieve some sort of pinafore style that I’ll take a chance and say that there is one that could work for any woman or child.  There are 1960’s simple A-line pinafores, 1970s prairie looks, and even modern ones out of denim or suiting.  Why just a few weeks ago the famous 19 year old actress Elle Fanning was out and about wearing a fuchsia pink pinafore with a crop tank underneath and designer accessories for an up-to-date option.  Perhaps my “Pretty Pinafores” Pinterest board can further inspire you to find a style that suits you, or at least find an image to like and appreciate.  Let me know when you find it!

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The “Summer of the Pinafore”

Several months ago when Mena Trott (of Sew Weekly fame) and I were brainstorming the Sew-along on Instagram called the “Summer of the Pinafore”, we became mutually interested in this curious garment.  As odd as a pinafore might look, it’s really so versatile and practical.  Just think, a pinafore’s generous pockets serve as mini purses attached to ones clothes.  Its frilly personality makes it fun, fresh, and pretty.  Its multi-purpose “sundress-apron-jumper” design makes it something for mostly any season with the right fabric.  An assortment of trimmings and even a wild or quaintly cute print only makes the pinafore look better.  No really, this garment is meant to be there when you want to get things done and not worry about what to wear, like an old friend helping you out in your need.  And if you sew your own, it provides an opportunity to successfully use up things from your fabric and notions stash.

The “Summer of the Pinafore” is in its last week now (it ends at the first week of October) but I wanted to share some inspiration and knowledge to perhaps help others be motivated to join with me, to sew, or at least wear more pinafores outside of the sew-along.

So firstly – what exactly is a pinafore, after all?

A broad definition is that it is a collarless, sleeveless garment that implies an apron.  A pinafore is often (not always) tied or buttoned in the back, and may be a simple apron or a full sundress-like jumper for wearing over clothes.  This broadness and changing use of purpose for such a garment leads to much of the confusion as to what is a pinafore, after all…if you really want to “pin” down the term.  What doesn’t help clear things up is the added language differences for the same thing as well as nicknames – “pinny” (colloquial term), “training tabard” (for children), “smock” (full bodice), “jumper” (sweater top in British English), or the plain old “apron”.  The term “pinafore” certainly should be on a list of quirky and interesting sewing and garment related terms.

To go with a technical explanation, the very name of this garment reflects how the pinafore was worn. The original pinafores had no buttons and were simply “pinned” onto the front, “afore” the body, which led to the conjunction “pinafore”.  The last few centuries have seen this staple in the history of garment wearing evolve in use, shape, and purpose.  Over the next few posts, I will add to this discussion when I share my two vintage pinafores which I made.

Pinafores are a quaint, sensible yet embellished article of clothing which has stood the test of time, and deserve to make a comeback in some form or fashion.  Yet, just because they are vintage does not mean they cannot still find their appeal today either!  My next “convertible” creation will hopefully demonstrate that – stay tuned!

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…Sewing for My Little Motor Boy

My son sees what I do when it comes to creating and sewing.  Happily for me, he seems to pretty well understand and appreciate it…especially when he becomes the recipient!  He is enthralled and absolutely fascinated by anything that “goes” – planes, trains, and automobiles – so that it gets naturally chosen for him, as if on default.  But not any old print will do.  He likes emergency vehicles especially well and fast sports cars…this second one makes him more like a mini me!  Thus, every so often we come across a printed fabric that makes him particularly happy.  Sometimes he finds the fabrics and sometimes I find them…he does enjoy fabric stores!  Then, it is fun to pair me and my 5 year old up to find what to make with it!  Here’s some of what I have made from the most recent fabric finds which have tickled my son’s fancy.

Now that he is a bit older and no longer a baby, life with him includes more customizing to his age and paying attention to his individuality.  This includes updating his room, too!  So I’ve made him some novelty print ‘race car pets’ curtains that make him giggle and a Disney “Cars” movie flannel pillow cover which he uses every night.  Lastly, I’ve sewed a “Things that go” print shirt which he just loves wearing.  I am mostly proud of the shirt, for several reasons I’ll expound on later, although I did find the curtains to be an interesting learning experience, as I have not made any real home decorating items before.  The best part?  I think I get ‘awesome mama points’ from him for making this stuff – score!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  all are 100% cotton – the curtains and his shirt are quilting prints and the pillow cover is a brushed flannel.

PATTERNS:  The pillow cover and the curtains were self-drafted, but the shirt comes from a year 1975 McCall’s #4741

NOTIONS:  I needed lots of thread for all of this (of course), but I also used scraps of interfacing from on hand and some specialty buttons.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The curtains and the pillow cover was made in several hours’ time awhile back for my son’s previous birthday.  The shirt was made in 4 hours and finished on July 27, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  The little guy’s shirt has fun, random colors of bias tape finishing the inside.  A few seams are merely edge stitched, but the grown-up style facing makes this a very nice shirt.

TOTAL COST:  The curtain Fabric is a M’Liss brand “Traveling with Pets” series, bought from the now defunct Hancock Fabrics back in 2015.  I think I paid no more than $25 for the curtain fabrics, including the contrast remnant.  The pillow cover fabric was bought at Jo Ann’s fabric for a few dollars.  The shirt fabric was a recent ¾ of a yard remnant bought from Jo Ann’s, too, for about $5 and the buttons were on clearance for only 94 cents.

The mathematics I used to draft the curtains became a bit more challenging than drafting garments or purses and belts because it was on such a big scale, but also because I barely had enough fabric to make work.  The same “close call” happened for my son’s shirt – I was literally cutting the front, back, and sleeve with the pieces butting up against one another.  I don’t know why that always seems to happen – every time hubby or our son find a fabric that they really like, there is such a discrepancy of amount left for me to work with it makes my efforts at making something of it a bit more challenging.  The way this happens almost every time I’ve made a project for a family member is so odd!  Anyway, at least I’m putting to good use the last of what is left of these fabrics.

I have no idea if there is a “proper” way to make curtains, but the wide tabs to hang from the rod were relatively easy to make and have a bold yet relaxed, fun look to us.  The tabs and the curtain pulls might look like they are a basic yellow but they have a sneaky fun star print on them!  Nothing, however, can beat the hilarious cuteness of the print to the curtains themselves.  The “newness” of the curtains have worn off on our son by now, but for the first several weeks they were up he could be “caught” staring at them with a look that belies the proof of an inspired imagination and a smile which is between laughing and just plain happy.  After all, we are a family that loves animals, especially dachshunds (look at the giant stuffed “Gertie the dachsie” on the sill), as well as fast cars, so even if I didn’t want to sew this fabric into curtains, I pretty much had to because these are perfectly catered to us!

For my son’s pillow cover, I made it very basic, practically because it was whipped overnight for my son’s birthday.  I probably should have, or at least could have put a zipper into one end, but the pillow cover ended up fitting so snugly over the pillow itself that I didn’t want to take it off so I just hand stitched the opening closed.  I figured correctly that the cover wouldn’t need to come off for it to survive a trip through the washer and dryer.  He sleeps either with this pillow or on it every night (so excuse the worn appearance), and even likes it enough to want to bring it sometimes for sleepovers at the grandparents. Many people asked him what Mommy gave him for his birthday, and many of those who do not sew had a weirdly disappointed reaction when he would excitedly tell them I made something, as if I didn’t give him anything at all.  It’s a shame to see this misunderstanding.  A handmade personally-catered gift can mean so much between the recipient and the maker!

Now to get on to the best part – the shirt!  This is very special for me to sew for him mostly because of the family connections which bring things full circle.  The pattern I used is one that I had given to me by my mother-in law when we were first married.  It is one that she had from her stash.  She herself used this very pattern to make my husband a shirt when he was 5 years old, just like our son is now.  She even had the body measurements written on the pattern for when my hubby was our son’s age, and amazingly the body measurements are all too similar.  Thus, I happily knew it was finally high time to whip up a second generation version of this family pattern.  We explained the connection to our son, but he seems to rather focus on the fun print and details.  Like father, like son…they are both very engineering, detailed oriented persons – our little tyke now has his own version of his dad’s McCall #4741 shirt.

I know the pattern is for nightwear.  However, this pattern deserved to be used (because of the family ties), it was going to fit him without any alterations, and it was dated to a year I’ve never sewn anything from before.  Besides all this, a shirt is relatively classic for a boy of any age.  Even a nightshirt, in vintage terms, can pass as street wear easily and a novelty print can make it too fun to just restrain it to indoor-only wear.

One of the most entertaining aspects to a fabric store is definitely the button section.  My son certainly agrees!  He frequently wants to pick out buttons, and although I have such a generous stash of vintage notions, every so often the need for a store bought item arises and our son happily rises to the occasion.  I will say he does do very, very well for a 5 year old when it comes to finding the perfect button for both some of my own projects as well as his own.  In other words, yes…he picked out his own buttons for this shirt.  They are large planes in his favorite color red.  They don’t exactly match with the ‘theme’ of the shirt, but those buttons give him a special sense of personal pride in the making of this shirt.  He himself had a part in it, and he hovered over my shoulder watching me sew the shirt, so yes he did have a big part in making this.  He likes to brag about this fact, too.  No store bought shirt could have such a bonding, empowering influence!

My title is partly borrowed from a series of 1910 to 1920’s era books which were popular with the youth back when motor vehicles were the newest and most exciting ‘thing’.  There was the earliest and most popular “Motor Boy” series, as well as the “Motor Rangers” and (for the young ladies) the “Motor Maids” which came a bit later.  These are two books currently in our collection and date to 1911.  I cannot think of a better attribute for my son at this point in his life than calling him a “motor boy”, too.  Even in our modern age, the fascination with things that carry us, transport us, and help us travel faster than our basic human capabilities still never fails to captivate.

I do have plans for some fabric on hand to make our son the matching robe, as well as those amazingly dated bell bottom pants which are also part of the pattern for his shirt.  Between his growing so fast, the amount of clothing for him we receive from the grandparents, and the low cost of many kids’ clothes, the greater percentage of his closet is store bought, unlike my own wardrobe I must admit.  I can only sew so much!!! However, the handful of items I do sew for our little man gives me a reason to make sure and keep up sewing items for him and getting him involved with what I do in a large part of my life.  Sewing for the younger crowd is its own wonderful inspiration.  We need the next generation to continue stitching, creating, and imaging in terms of fabric!

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Totally Reversible 1967 Suit Dress Set

How does one maximize a garment’s wearing options with style?  By not deciding!  Before you tell me I’m crazy, listen.  You see, when I was planning to sew a 1967 suit set, and I had set my heart on two fabrics for it, I thought why not just go all out and make it reversible?  I had equal amounts of a lovely lavender linen and a fleur-dis-lis printed cotton, both of which I saw as meant for one another.  I wasn’t willing to hide one or the other to use as a lining, and using them separately just wouldn’t have the same effect.  Making a reversible suit set sure solved the problem of which fabric to choose, and it also gave me a darn good challenge, to boot…especially since my pattern was lacking instructions!  I had to count on my sewing smarts to get me through!

Yes, I know how to make things hard for myself, but it gives me a goal to accomplish which can make me feel proud to complete successfully.  There are so many ways of wearing a reversible suit dress set, so each picture practically has a different combination and different details to show.  I love how this set ‘suits’ my body, yet I mostly enjoy the ability to pop into a bathroom and come out looking different as if I’ve changed what I’m wearing when I really haven’t!  He, he.  It’s never dull around me apparently 😉THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The one fabric is 100% linen, in an open woven blend of the lavender, lilac, grey, and purple.  The other fabric is a 100% cotton in lavender, with a purple geometric Fleur-dis-lis print which has a slight metallic silver sheen printed over it.

PATTERN:  Simplicity #6957, year 1967 junior’s pattern

NOTIONS:  Believe it or not, everything I needed for this project was already on hand  – thread, interfacing, a zipper, as well a vintage buttons from the stash of hubby’s Grandmother

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The set was finished on May 24, 2015, after maybe 25 to 30 hours spent.

TOTAL COST:  Everything for making this project was stuff languishing in my different stashes for many, many years, so I’m counting this project as free!

I will admit that I had ‘support’ for my idea from a major fashion figurehead – Chanel – and an outfit of hers with a dramatic story behind it.  I’m talking about a suit set that she designed for her Patrimoine collection which was showcased in Marie Claire magazine No. 181 in September 1967.  It looks like a dress in a violet tweed with a reversible, or at least contrast lined, jacket and hiding helmet-style hat.  This Marie Claire magazine article was part of a daring and little known contest they hosted between Andre Courrèges and Chanel.  Thus, the violet tweed outfit that was my ‘splashboard’ was the best of what made Chanel, well…Chanel, still presenting appealing yet classic designs in the crazy decade of the 60’s and setting her apart from her modern peer Courrèges.  A woman’s suit, traditionally a man’s garment decades back when she was beginning her career, is Chanel’s specialty, along with that elegant “distinction” which her designs have.  The youthful, bright designs of Courrèges (such as the go-go boot or mini skirt), by the very way they fit, are cut, and worn, bring the body close to one’s sensibilities and contrast in bold terms with Chanel.  (More info can be found in the book “The Language of Fashion” by Roland Barthes, Chapter 11, pages 99 to 103, you can read some of it here.)  More or less, Simplicity was offering a very high class design here.For some reason, I feel that my reversible suit dress set from 1967 is an unorthodox mix of both Chanel’s dignified tweed design (with her soft feminine colors to boot) and the youthful, arm baring, modern aura of a Courrèges creation (my cotton print does have shiny silver, his preferred color besides white, and it is a junior’s pattern).  We were at a contemporary art museum for these pictures after all, yet many of my poses are dignified for even more contrast.  Hopefully, in my 1967 set, the contest between Chanel and Courrèges from years back is now a tie.

To the actual sewing, I more or less made the entire dress and jacket in double, with all edges inside itself.  There was so much turning of edges, pinning, top-stitching involved!  I eliminated all facings (of course) and instead ironed on interfacing inside where facings would have been.  Luckily this dress did not need any adjusting to fit me other than the changes I made to the pattern already at the cutting out stage!

The two biggest challenges to making this suit set reversible was the shoulder pleats to the dress and the button closing to the jacket.  The dress’ shoulder pleats are more akin to an overlapping fold, or technically a knife pleat, which runs right along the outer sleeve edge.  To make this work on a reversible dress, I did these folds last, and stitched them down individually.  There are four in total – one on each shoulder and one on each fabric side – and make things only slightly bulky (nothing a good ironing can’t fix), but at least the original design lines are kept intact.For the jacket buttoning, I went with a method which was popular in the 1930’s when delicate closures could be smashed through rough treatment from roller style wash machines – removable buttons!  Both sides of the jacket opening edge have button holes.  This way my buttons can be placed in the correct side, whichever that may be, for the right and the left change up when my jacket is reversed!  Vintage 1930’s buttons had a metal look which used a ring or a pin to keep them in place in the buttonhole openings (see pics of that in detail on the “Vintage Gal” blog), but I didn’t have that advantage here.

Again, my indecision saved the day for my outfit!  As I couldn’t choose between some large satin finish pale pink buttons or fancy deep purple shell ones, I used them both, connecting them underneath with a ribbon tie.  Making the buttons reversible actually worked out very well, because the second button behind whichever side I use acts like a backing to keep them in place in the button hole opening.  Next time you make something and want to use some precious or fragile buttons, or even if you want something reversible, remember to make both closing sides with button holes and make your buttons removable in one way or another!  A little ingenuity can go a long way to solving problems.

Even though my fabrics are not busy, I’m disappointed at how they hide the graceful style lines to this set.  You can’t really see, but the dress has these shaping side bust panels that arch down from the back neckline darts, swoop under the bust to head into and around the back just above the waistline.  So lovely!  This way there are no darts or other means of shaping besides a well-tailored panel which brings in a curve over the chest and high waist, unlike many other fashions for juniors from the same time (mostly non-body conscious A-line dresses and loose “baby doll” styles).  With such a shaped dress, a short and boxy jacket (which has French darts and an arched side seam hem) actually works much better than I’ve ever come across before.  I’ve always tended to dislike boxy jackets – I find them hard to pair with most of what I wear or have in closet, and never before found a way to like one so much on my body.  I love it when utilizing both my sewing and vintage styles opens up a way for me to like something on myself I’ve always avoided before.  It is hard for me not to like anything in any shade of purple, anyway!Oh yes, I can’t forget to talk about the back zipper!  I’ll confess I made things hard on myself here by using a “normal” modern zipper.  I know they make reversible zippers, but buying one 22 inch length would get pricey and finding one that match would be more challenging, so I merely used one that was on hand.  For the first time I switched to the lavender Fleur-dis-lis printed side out, it originally was quite tricky to zip closed the dress on myself grabbing the pull from the inside…a bit stressful, to tell the truth.  To make things easier, I later used my jewelry making skills to attach a double jump ring to the small zipper pull so I could add a decorative metal Fleur-dis-lis charm.  This charm makes the zipper pull easier to find and grab so I can close my dress no matter which side I wear without freaking out, stuck in a bathroom changing, with the back of my dress open (it has happened, can’t you tell).  Besides, the charm hanging at the back of my neck is quite, fun, and quirky.  Also, in my opinion, and there is no such a thing as Fleur-dis-lis overload.

There was a storm blowing in when we took these pictures, and as my hairstyle did not hold against the humidity, I resorted to using a vintage scarf which actually worked out quite well.  I think it conveys modernity, youth, and movement (Courrèges influence), as well as keeping my outfit from being too stiffly dressy, although I am wearing pearls…so very classic Chanel!  My shoes and gloves are vintage pieces, too.  The gloves have a scalloped edge, much like my suit jacket, and I think my shoes are very similar to the ones drawn on the middle model of my dress’ pattern cover!

I really enjoy reversible garments – I love how they offer optimal wearing options, and prompt me to nicely cover up all edges for a nice finish!  Not too often do I come across a garment with more than one wearing option – changing up one’s look with a single garment isn’t an option that I see in ready-to-wear, unless it’s travel-themed clothes.  I now have many pairing options for the effort of sewing one relatively simple suit set.  I feel like I’ve maximized some of my time and the space in my closet without compromising style.  Yet, reversible clothes doesn’t have to mean simple design…I’ve just proved that with my crazy sewing experiment.What do you think of reversible clothes?  Have you worn anything reversible, or made anything reversible?  Do you prefer the style of Chanel or of Courrèges for the 60’s?

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