A Cardin Inspired Coat, a Coral Blouse…and a Crab

The way my 9 year old is so easily savvy with the newest technology and hooked on anything electronic makes me painfully aware that I am part of a generation that grew up without the internet.  However, overdoing nostalgic comparisons makes me feel like I’m overly emphasizing my age.  Thus, I’ll try to narrow the focus of this post on both the amazing details of my outfit and its symbolism to me.  I will never cease to be amazed at how pleasantly avant-garde the fashion of the 80’s and 90’s can (on occasion) be.  I don’t think designer fashion of today can compare to it, for all our technological advancements.   

Notice the toy crab as my companion – here’s my major princess reference, as this is indeed the part two post for my Ariel (of Disney’s 1989 “The Little Mermaid”) inspired clothing.  (The part one post can be found here.)  Yet the fact I could easily start crabbing about surviving a childhood without being hooked to a ‘smart’ accessory places me as the peevish one.   Both Sebastian and my enameled Ariel lapel pin are both items from my childhood, picked up when the animated movie was first released. 

Thus, let me return to ‘89 again with both Cardin and Coveri as my inspiration this time, with a mind to further transform the pants of my first “Little Mermaid” outfit into a chic, sporty yet dressy, full collection suitable for more than just wintertime.  Using the little bits leftover of my lovely “Alta Moda” Coveri designed material, I was able to eke out a matching jacket.  Its fabulous back reminds me of a waterfall!  A scrap of outdoor cotton in a branching coral print becomes a blouse for me to enjoy the weather outdoors. 

Imagine if a track suit went high fashion in the very best 80’s way…and this is what I think you would end up with.  I absolutely, wholeheartedly treasure these pieces in a special way!  It is yet another great example of how certain 80’s styling can be timeless when well crafted, but on a personal level, these quite possibly were done in my best hand stitching work to date.  I am not one to ‘save’ my good items, nevertheless – the only way to enjoy them is to wear them!  I found it appropriate and comfortable for a trek through the woods to visit my favorite creek-side haunt on a chilly, rainy day for some water related pictures.  I would think any mermaid princess would go to a creek if that’s all she could find, or that an Ariel of 1989 would do so wearing something like this!

THE FACTS:

FABRICS:  Jacket – a 100% wool twill, marked on the selvedge “Alta Moda – Enrico Coveri”; Blouse – a Waverly brand printed 100% cotton duck (outdoor fabric)

PATTERN:  McCall’s NY NY “ The Collection” pattern #4181, year 1989, from my stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread, a few hook-n-eyes, and a couple cards of buttons (new)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse took me only 4 hours to make, and was finished on March 6, 2021.  The jacket was finished on March 26, 2021, and took me about 40 hours to make.

THE INSIDES:  Clean as can be! The jacket and blouse – as both are unlined – have vintage rayon seam tape and/or French seams.

TOTAL COST:  As I said in my post about the making of the trousers, the woolen Alta Moda fabric was a rummage sale find and therefore a dollar or two, while the blouse’s cotton print came from Wal-Mart’s scrap clearance section, as it was only one yard, for $2.50.  My buttons were a few dollars more.  Altogether, my total is probably $8.00!

What I specifically love here is that a different pattern was used for these two top pieces than what was selected for the fall-front trousers (McCall’s #4537, posted here).  Even still, the jacket and blouse of this post seem to flawlessly match with the bottoms and become a perfect set.  I attribute it to the fact both patterns are from the same year and same NY NY “The Collection” line.  

According the numbers, this pattern came first before the other I used for the trousers.  I definitely will be revisiting this to sew up the jodhpurs and the paper-bag waisted skirt which are included, too.  The way these NY NY patterns have a complete wardrobe in one envelope is really the best, not to mention the awesome, unusual styling.  This is the third one I’ve posted about (my first here) and you will be seeing plenty more of this line of patterns on my blog in the future because I now have a significant number of them.  They run from the late 80’s through the 90’s and are supposed to be designer, or at least designer inspired.  I definitely recommend you trying one out for yourself!

The style lines to these pieces, expressly the jacket, reminds me two great fashion designers who were were highly successful in the 80’s.  As I mentioned in my post about the trousers, my fabric is an Enrico Coveri brand “Alta Moda” woolen from pre-1990.  Coveri worked at the “Espace Cardin”, the vast design institute set up by Pierre Cardin, when he moved to Paris in the late 70’s, before he started his own label.  (In this previous post I expounded upon more details of his life.)  I think the futuristic thinking of Cardin rubbed off on Coveri – both were men ahead of their time in the 80’s.  Coveri was designing in the late 70’s garments we associate with the “look” of the late 80’s or early 90’s, yet as he died young he does not get the credit I feel he deserves.

The blue jacket is one of several different iterations of this kind of back detail Pierre Cardin produced in 1980.

Then there is Pierre Cardin who released a “Computers” inspired collection at the turn of the new decade in the year 1980. When computer usage for the populace was a very novel and limited item still, his jackets where designed to echo the functional venting of a computer’s body (see picture at right).  The introduction of three preassembled mass-produced personal computers was just launched in 1977. IBM Corporation, the (then) world’s dominant computer maker, did not enter the new market until 1981.  I would like to suppose that, just like as he did in the 60’s with his Space Age looks, Cardin was banking on the expectation of the new frontier ahead that was seen in the new dawn of computers for all to use.

Now to me, Cardin’s short, hip-length, blue “Computers” coat is not that far off from this NY NY McCall’s jacket.  In reality, my jacket is probably closer to an early 90’s Claude Montana creation (seen on the left) at first glance of design lines.  Not knowing the construction details of either designer piece, I could just be completely off here with my references.  Yet, I see what I see and love the irony of perceiving a Cardin and Coveri influence, especially for my Ariel inspired clothing.

Back to what I’ve made.  How was this particular jacket constructed though, you may be wondering by now?  First of all, it is unlined which sounds like it should have made it easier to sew, but no – it did not.  The already confusing and challenging construction was complicated by my need to see this jacket have a pristine finish inside.  Wool is not the best medium to do French seams and a tiny rolled hem.  With some steaming, seam clipping, and careful hand-stitching, I made it work though.  The ‘waterfall’ back (as I call it – don’t know what to term this otherwise) was too flowing and beautiful to receive a ‘normal’ hem, as the instructions directed.  I made a very tiny rolled hem, which I learned by finishing the flounces on this dress, to keep the panel from becoming stiff and restricted.  Even the sleeves were French seamed!  All of the top-stitching to the hems and lapel facings was done by hand so I could keep the thread invisible.  If my fabric is high class, and I see that it has couture inspiration, I felt I should raise the bar of my finishing techniques to match.

This jacket has a lot going on when it comes to details to list, and somehow they all seem to work together.  I don’t know how, but I am in awe.  There is the extreme boatneck which leaves little of a true shoulder seam.  The sleeves are wide cut at the shoulders and taper to a snug fit at the wrist.  The curved, high front lapels can be thrown open or flapped closed for a variety in the look.  There are no bust darts, surprisingly, and I kept the front bodice smooth by substituting buttons for hooks and eyes as the trio of closures.  The waist is high, which worked out fine paired with the above-the-waist trousers.  The shoulder panel and ‘floating’ lower waistband, which sits under the bias cut ‘waterfall’, are the only two anchors keeping together the back of the jacket. 

The weirdest but coolest part to this jacket is that there is no real back.  Yes!  The flounce-like ‘waterfall’ back falls down loose from the shoulder panel, attached only at the sides.  There is a back waistband, heavily interfaced and a just a few inches wide, stretching across to connect the hems of the front bodice.  The ‘waterfall’ flounce meets only at the outer corners of the hem to bring in all the pieces.  Hidden underneath, the back is completely open.  If you lift up my flounce back, you can see my blouse underneath.  

This odd feature makes the jacket appear like a haphazard mess when it is anything other than on my mannequin or my body.  Some of the most interesting things I sew are also the hardest to explain, so I hope my pictures do some justice.  It is simply indescribably curious…and was therefore even more challenging to grade up to my size on paper, believe me.  I went into this sewing project “blind” because the pieces and instructions didn’t makes sense until I had a go constructing the actual garment.  I’m so happy this turned out and that I like it as much as I do…because if ever a sewing idea has been a gamble for me, this one was more so!

The blouse is much more low-key, to be sure.  It’s the fine tuning that makes it fantastic.  It pairs with the jacket by filling in the open neckline and paralleling the boat neckline with high-cut sleeveless shoulders.  The blouse is boxy in fit with a wide and shorter hem length.  It also has lots of small buttons to close the front…so many I had a hard time finding enough.  The buttons I chose to match – frosted aqua ones that reminded me of sea glass – could not be found anymore, so I pared the number down to 8 from the 10 that were called for.  I used the provided customized armhole facings for a change, too, so this would have a finished inside that matches the fabric of the outside.  The pique-style waffle finish to the cotton duck adds an interesting texture as well as keeping this top nicely weightless for cool summer living.

Notice how the bust darts come into the bodice from the front armhole? So different – I love it!!!

I have paired other blouses, mostly collared ones, with my jacket and trousers set, and I must say that they actually look better than the high-necked one worn here.  Sure, it came with the same pattern.  Yet, it is not the best at staying tucked into the pants with its boxy, cropped length.  I still very much like the blouse I made on its own, and I do like the fact that it is something different to wear with the jacket and pants I probably wouldn’t have tried on my own.  It perfectly fills in my “Little Mermaid” reference though its details such as the sea glass inspired buttons, the perfect ocean blue aqua tone, and a print that reminds me to give a care about the alarming damages of bleaching to coral.  Whenever separates match with plenty of other pieces in my wardrobe rather than just the set they were intended for…well, that’s a good thing I won’t complain about!

At this point I have sewn 5 items from 1989, all from McCall’s “The Collection NY NY” patterns mind you, and I think none of them are what normally comes to mind when anyone might think of the last year before the 90’s.  I actually feel quite comfortably myself in these fashions the way that I know it is still my penchant for vintage (borderline, I know) without seeming so.  It is the kind of faux “modern” wear that I can totally be on board for!  This NY NY McCall’s was a nicely impressive surprise I did not expect, yet another one of the (currently many) reasons I am enjoying a new appreciation the 80’s and 90’s. 

Designer Pierre Cardin is shown during a dress fitting for his “Computers” Coat, 1980

Just some parting reflections – seeing a couture designer like Cardin ‘honoring’ computers with a collection is weird to me.  I love irony in fashion, and so I find myself delighted yet confused at the same time.  Anything inspired by a technology 30 years back was not always flowing and elegant but often angled and overtly “sci-fi” (I’m thinking of the costumes to the 80’s movie “Tron”, especially).  This is not so much the case today, I realize, especially at the hands of Iris van Herpen

Also, I’d like to point out that a computer system is not necessarily the best friend of the traditional way of creating couture.  I am a manual, free-hand pattern drafter, so I know I am biased, but did you know that as of 2019 there is such a thing as “Algorithmic Couture”?  A body is 3-D scanned to determine its exact proportions, which are used to create customized clothing for zero waste, perfect fit, and maximum sustainability. “Algorithmic Couture aims to democratize haute couture customization culture prevalent in the 19th-century, by revitalizing how we fashion our own style through personalization in the digital design process,” said the team of “Synflux”.  Kind of like in the story for “Tron”, this “Algorithmic Couture” puts power into the hands of the user by letting the ideas of each customer be the guide for each of their projects.  Technology of today is rewriting the historic rules of couture (see this article).  In my opinion there is nothing quite like what human minds and human hands can create…I wonder if Cardin had any idea back in 1989 that computers and fashion would go this far together.

The CAD system has no doubt its benefits at the consumer level.  It can provide a multi-dimensional ‘finished product’ view at the conception stage of a design; it has helped expand the Indie brand world of patternmaking; it aids the ease of offering wide range of inclusive sizes as well as the commercial availability of various designs…all for a just a start to the list.  So much to consider! 

Making marks on pattern pieces via computer, March 1987

In 1989 Cardin had THE most fascinating interview in which he said what I feel embodies a lot my outlook on the importance of quality fashion being a normal part of how we dress, as well as the importance of it being accessible to many.  This is why I believe so strongly in the importance of great patterns for home sewers…ones that are designer or at least ones that offer unique styles to both challenge and suit every sewist’s unique tastes and body types.  Yet, I’ve learned from experience in being a patternmaker who can create a tailored custom garment, today’s modern means of digitizing patterns falls short from a quality I encounter in the early 80’s and older. (See this picture).  I am very aware of noticing that the curves, the perfect body fit, is subtly diminished the newer (90’s on up) you go in commercial patterns.  This is one of the many compelling reasons I prefer vintage sources for my sewing.  Here I go crabbing about things again.  Move over Sabastian!  You’re not the only crab.  It is clear I am an 80’s era grouch.

So how about ending with a little fun, geeky, 1989 related trivia that I find entertaining and related to computers, Cardin, and ”The Little Mermaid” animated movie?  Did you know that the first feature film to use the CAPS process, the “Computer Animation Production System” developed by both Disney and Pixar which had 2D/3D integration, was in the production of The Little Mermaid in 1989?  It was only used for very few scenes such as at the end where King Triton sends a rainbow into the sky for his daughters’ wedding (see pic below left).  Furthermore, if King Triton’s palace was a place on land I think it would most definitely be The “Bubble Palace” on the French Rivera.  This fantastic and futuristic living space was completed in 1989, and I swear it looks like something I would see on the ocean floor in “The Little Mermaid”.  Everything is round!  Pierre Cardin acquired it for himself in 1992 to live in as well as for presenting his fashion shows. 

Well…I *mostly* focused on my newly sewn princess-inspired outfit in this post!  I hope you enjoyed reading my musings here, as well as what I have made for myself, and chime in with my grousing through the comments!  What do you remember about 1989?  What strikes you about the fashion and the times of that year?  “The Little Mermaid” was my first princess, the one that completely sucked me into the realm of Disney, so Ariel was a pretty big influence for me when I think of that year.  Fashion and technology came into play for me that year also because it was my first big pageant show…bringing back memories of being in the limelight of the local media and modeling some styles that I shake my head over today.  Luckily, I like my 2021 versions of the 80’s decade much better!

1930 “River City” Beach Pyjamas

Living the Midwest of America, I am surrounded by land and thus far away from any real beach.  However, I am surrounded by rivers, streams, and creeks!  The lack of real coastlines doesn’t stop me from sewing myself a set of 30’s beach pyjamas, complete with a matching short sleeved jacket cover-up.  These pieces are the ultimate vintage garment for casual living, so good they’re timeless, really.  It is yesteryear’s equivalent of a loose fitting, wide legged jumpsuit that’s as unassuming as your nightwear yet flawlessly chic.  They are now over 100 years old now, being born of the atmosphere of leisure following the end of WWI, and were the first popular trousered garment to be worn in public for women.  After spending too long being overly anxious to take on such an unusual project, I have now conquered and succeeded in coming up with some ‘new’ vintage for my wardrobe that I absolutely love.

It is actually quite hard to photograph black in a way to always show that my bottom half is actually divided and not just a skirt.  Between the breeze on the flood wall where I was and the evening light, it was challenging to demonstrate these beach pyjamas as truly trousers!  This is half of why I like them, nevertheless…they are a sneaky bit of a chameleon garment, especially since I made the jacket cover-up reversible!  Its look is variable at any given moment.  Passerby people probably wondered, “Is she wearing a dress or is that a sort of a jumpsuit?  Wait, how does she get that on?  Is it vintage or some modern resort wear?”  The resolutions are not obvious merely looking at my pictures either, I’m guessing.  All will be answered in this post! 

For these pictures, I am at what is one of the most classic spots for St. Louis’s Downtown – the Mississippi riverfront at the base of our emblematic monument “The Arch”.  Behind me is the famous Ead’s bridge.  My hometown is called “The Gateway to the West” for more than one reason, among which is the fact that our location is prime for travel and transport of goods among the river route.  The Eads bridge added to our prestige as the first south of the Missouri river, now the oldest still existing to span the “Mighty Mississippi” river.  It was commissioned by Andrew Carnegie, named for its designer and builder, James Buchanan Eads, and completed in 1874 with a dedication ceremony by President Ulysses S. Grant

The Eads bridge was installed and built with what was then pioneering technology, so much so that it still holds several records for its construction feats.  Happily, due to recent (but costly) maintenance, it still is being used for its original purpose to this day.  I suppose I am one of those old-fashioned locals that takes a higher pride in our useful, historic bridge – a symbol of St. Louis that now takes second sitting to ”The Arch”.  Both are equally tied to the river town that we are, and therefore the perfect backdrop for celebrating some regional pride while in my vintage summer fashion!  

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  the black portions are a 100% rayon crepe, while the contrast is a 100% cotton quilting print.  The jacket lining and pyjama facings are in a bleached, sheer, white cotton muslin.

PATTERN:  Past Patterns Company “Beach Pajamas and Jacket Pattern”, circa 1930 reprint

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread and one zipper for the pants side seam

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The pyjamas were finished on August 28, 2019, after 30 something hours of sewing.  The cover-up coat was made in 4 hours, and completed on September 4, 2019.

THE INSIDES:  The jacket is fully lined, the pyjamas are French seamed

TOTAL COST:  The cottons were from my local JoAnn Fabric store, the rayon was an online purchase – both bought many years back now.  I have no idea as to my total cost anymore.  Keep in mind, though, that beach pyjamas need a lot of material – almost 4 yards (45” width) for the solid black and 2 yards for the print contrast.  

Just to clarify before I go any further here – in the United States (where I live), we tend to use the spelling “pajamas”, so by now you may be thinking I have plenty of typos.  Yet, that spelling is all too commonly associated with nightwear today for those who are not accustomed to the past fashion history for this term.  I am using the term “pyjama” because of the way this garment was spelled when it first became popular.  When including a “y”, the term also strongly alludes to its European origin.  Beach pyjamas blossomed at the Italian Lido in Venice and the French Riviera in the 1920s, especially so at the hands of Chanel.  She took it upon herself to turn them into the fashionable pieces we know them as today versus the practical, sun protective cover-ups they were in the late 1910s when they began to be worn on beaches and not just indoors.  There have been other sites who have written extensive, informative posts on the history of beach pyjamas (such as “The Vintage Woman” magazine, the BBC, the British Pathé, or “Messy Nessy”) so I will not do so myself, here.  I have already addressed the early beginnings of bifurcated bottoms for ladies in this post of mine on the history of the jumpsuit, after all.  I’ll not repeat myself, but now at least I have explained myself!  

The preliminary challenge I faced in sewing my own beach pyjamas was deciding on what design to choose.  There are so many reprints and vintage inspired patterns out there now!  Check out this post at “Vintage Gal” for some inspiration.  I personally gravitated towards the Past Pattern one, as it was a set with a cover-up and it had complex seaming.  I knew it would also be difficult to adapt to my needs as it is a much larger size than what I needed.  Nevertheless, I am a long-standing patron of that company.  I love the quality and accuracy of their pattern reprints. Therefore I painstakingly pinched out a total of almost 6 inches from the width (spread out in many small ½ increments), then equaled up the horizontal bust-waist-hips points, and trued up all the lines.  This was quite tricky to do with the contrast pieces being so very zig-zagged along the joining seams, but I chalked it all up to being good for me to gain practice in grading.  Sheesh.  Yes, I do tend to be hard on myself.

I meticulously measured the heck out of everything after I was done re-sizing to make sure at the beginning that this would fit.  My chosen “wearing ease” was about 3 ½” so I could have something in between a close and a loose fit.  I only had one chance at this with the ‘only just enough’ amount of chosen fabric I had on hand!  That being said, testing the fit of a paper pattern is nothing like actually cutting and sewing those same pieces out of a slinky rayon crepe.  My finished pyjamas fit just a little more loosely than expected, which was fine because that’s what helps make them the effortless, breezy casual and cool summer garment that they are, but – all in all – turned out perfectly!  Once it is understood how to ‘read’ and refine a pattern at the preliminary stage, it can save much grief, time, and cost of material.    

It was interesting to construct as a wrap-on garment and is a bit counter-intuitive to put on.  I couldn’t bear to sew a welt “window” opening right through the center front of the bodice for the one wrap waist closure tie.  This was how the pattern instructs.  I felt the rayon was too supple for that and I liked the simplicity of a solid main body since the contrast was busy and bold.  So I improvised slightly.

Unlike most wrap-on dresses or jumpsuits, this one – as I made it – does not have one tie slip through a gap at the opposite side seam.  I merely attach the left wrap, which is sewn to the pants halfway across the front up until the center front seam, to the right side seam from the inside seam allowance.  I chose to close it with a button (on the end of the left wrap) and buttonhole elastic (on the right side seam).  This way the closure is both adjustable and comfortable and it is also easier to close with the elastic.  Then I take the other wrap half, the top wrap which has a tie at its end, across the front over to the left side seam, which has another tie end attached to the side seam just above the zipper.  I like to wrap the ties fully around my waist, as if a belt, and finally pull up the zipper.  Now I am dressed!  Explaining the process makes it seem a lot more complicated than it really is.  However, through the explaining, I am also laying out some of how it is constructed as well.  I hope you are encouraged or at least have your interest piqued enough from my description to try this pattern out for yourself!

As if this closing manner isn’t curious enough, sewing on the curved and pointed contrast panels made for a hearty trial for my skills.  I added to my woes by drafting the hem contrast in a curved and pointed manner to mirror with the neckline paneling.  A major part of the challenge was on account of the differences in “hand” between the loose rayon crepe and the stiffer quilting cotton.  It is not a combo I would recommend, yet I made it work.  It took me having to take my good old time not stretching the grain of the rayon, being very precise and clipping all corners and curves of the tiny seam allowances.   

Don’t get me wrong – having the contrast hems, neckline, belt ties, and jacket be something more substantial gave great support to the overall beach pyjamas.  When you have 3 plus yards of a heavier draping material for the rest of the main body, which you do need to have the general air of a proper beach pyjama, it would look like a sloppy, wet rag hanging on me if it wasn’t for stabilizing the contrast.  For clean insides, I faced those printed cotton parts but did not interface them.  They didn’t need to be made thicker, just finished nicely for me to be fully happy with my work.  I just adore how Art Deco the cotton contrasts are with the sharp angles of the design lines and the zig-zag print!  Here, I would like to take a minute to unashamedly brag at how sharp all my corners turned out.

The cover-up jacket was a super simple project, one that I adapted slightly, as well.  I shortened the long sleeves and curved the front corners of the hem.  There were only three pattern pieces to the jacket and no closures so – in theory – it should be easy to match up the crazy print.  If only I wasn’t so short on fabric, I could have had the pleasure of matching precisely, boo hoo! At least it was also easy to fully line.  The way the lining cotton is quite sheer has me doubting whether or not I can truly call this reversible, but all raw edges are clean by being completely hidden…so I think the word can still apply.  I did draft the shoulders to be a bit more generous for my thicker upper arms, and it’s a good thing I did.  The jacket seemed to run a bit small already so I didn’t have to grade out quite as much as I did for the beach pyjamas.  Otherwise it was breeze to come together.

 It’s nice to have something like this cute little extra matching piece to keep the chill away for when I step indoors amid cold air conditioned buildings or out in the cool of a riverside on a summer night in Missouri. Hopefully in the future I will have an actual beach trip to plan for…and then I can bring my vintage pyjama set and wear them on a location proper to both their history and their name.

This outfit is such a personal accomplishment for me on so many levels, some of which I’ve already mentioned.  A more analytical reason of mine is that a year so long empty on my 30’s decade page – 1930 – can finally be filled in on my blog.  I have been having some difficulty finding a design from that year which I felt was something I could make.  Sure, I have seen many old catalog images and fashion prints from that year which are to die for, yet the perfect pattern and inspiration combination hadn’t struck me for anything else but these beach pyjamas.  Now I have something really good to add to that section to start off my decade page with a bang!   

Bar Code

One of the most interesting and unexpected observations from a child about my sewing was that I don’t have company labels, care instructions, or check out tags on my handmade clothes.  No, I don’t.  Yet, this time, I do have a bar code to label me…well, kind of.  This top may have a bar code, yet it is not for sale and there will not be another quite like it in the world.  I did not go to a store to get what I needed when I came up with the idea for it…I shopped downstairs in my stash.  I have no bars holding me back, and no code to dominate what I wear.  This top is me silently laughing at fast fashion – I don’t need you, cheap ready-to-wear.  I can do better.

This scrap-busting little summer top project blatantly speaks for my lack of conventionality when it comes to what it is that I wear, while my background mural of St. Louis, Missouri speaks for my hometown pride!  Together, this outfit is the modern “me”, the side of my life which occasionally does not wear vintage, that is.  It is the late 90’s punky-style teen still inside me that still loves to sing loudly to Avril Lavigne while driving around town.  Besides, I needed an edgy monotone black-and-white outfit to see the new Disney live-action “Cruella” movie, after all!   

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  one printed cotton quilting “fat quarter”, picked up many years back from a JoAnn Fabrics store, and satin scraps leftover from this Burda skirt project, made years back now (posted here).

PATTERN:  an adapted version of the Burda Style “Cropped T-Shirt” pattern #103, from the March 2016 magazine

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was whipped up in the matter of 2 hours on March 30, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound on all edges and facings

TOTAL COST:  The satin and rings were leftovers on hand, which I’m counting as free, and the quilting square was bought on sale so many years ago I no longer remember.  My total here is probably almost nothing!!!

I made the necklace myself, as well!

I was literally just making this idea work.  That’s okay, though, because I felt like being inventive for that day and just went along with all the setbacks I faced.  For example, I didn’t have a piece of satin wide enough to have a conventional center back seam, much less a pleat, so I figured the rear of the top would have to be open…”but make it a stylistic element” I thought.  I added metal rings, found off of my husband’s work table downstairs, to connect the two edges.  The fat quarter wasn’t big enough for a whole front piece either, so I added little satin shoulder extensions (drafted off of the pattern) to end up with a complete panel.  This way the print is primarily front and center to my top and the satin is visible from more than just a back view.  I like my top better for all the changes I was forced into because of my fabric choices.  If you have an oopsie appear purposeful, it becomes an artistic pattern adaption! 

Crop tops are fun for me to wear anyway, but this one is more so the way you can tie the longer back extensions up or leave them down like tuxedo tails.  I am surprised the pattern never showed or even suggested this wearing option!  Either way, tying the back tails helps keep this crop top down in place on me.  As I found out after its first time being worn, the lightweight fabrics I used are too insubstantial for a loose fitting pullover crop top, like this.  It has the tendency to not stay down in place.  Luckily the heavy metal rings weigh it down somewhat from behind.  Otherwise, I could see this top creeping up on me.  Lesson learned – do not make a crop top in the lightest fabrics on the market unless you don’t mind if it flies up to arm level.  Luckily, the combo of both the rings in the open back and tying up the back tails helps this project to be wearable in the end.

I can actually wear this over a long sleeved black tee in the winter, so this is more than just a one season piece happily.  Inside during the summer, when places have their air conditioning on “deep freeze” setting I like to have my faux leather moto jacket as a fun, modern cover-up.  To wear this to see the “Cruella” movie, I actually paired it with an oversized 1930s red beaded necklace, nice red flats, and a black skirt, and the top almost looked dressy!  In these pictures I am wearing it with another Burda Style pattern, the pants portion to a designer jumpsuit (posted here).  This little crop top has become more versatile than I imagined when I was originally sewing it together.  What I make for myself always gets worn to some degree, I make sure of that.  Anything that usefully whittles down my scrap pile is good in my book, anyway.  Yet, I love surprises where something that seemed fun and useful to plan at the moment ends up a wardrobe favorite.   

At this point, I almost need a whole section of my blog highlighting my scrap-busting projects…I have so many!  This one was one of those projects that has been slipping under the radar of my blog, being worn frequently but seemingly insignificant enough to post.  This summer has been so busy, I feel badly for not posting here as much as I would like, and certainly not frequently enough to keep up with what I am sewing in real time, but it gives me the opportunity to easily share simple little creations like this one.  I hope, like me, your sewing creativity is still going just as fervent and fulfilling, and this season is also finding you happy and healthy! 

P.S. If you want to discuss the new live-action Disney “Cruella” movie, share what you thought of it, or just find out more of my opinion, leave me a comment and let’s get talking!!  I found it really good, and well done, but with reservations over some confusing technicalities that do not match up.  I’d be happy to chat about it! 

A Pre-Raphaelite Reverie

My avid, life-long research into medieval studies, especially when it comes to manuscripts, is distinctly tied to my fascination for the revival of its tales and artistry through the Pre-Raphaelite movement, which spanned the 1850s to the late 19th century.  The term “Pre-Raphaelite” is associated with the much wider and long-lived “Brotherhood” of English painters, poets, and art critics that included both men and women in its ranks and influenced architecture, music, and literature, as well.  They developed a particular taste instead for medieval and early Renaissance art made ‘pre’, meaning before, Raphael, focusing on working from direct observation with dazzling, sparkling colors and incredible attention to detail.   It is full of romantic idealism, old-style stories, and classically draped damsels in distress…perfect for a princess at heart!

My particular favorites are the pensive, realistically styled images in the latter half of Pre-Raphaelite art, particularly those of medieval characters or fictional fairytale damsels produced by Brotherhood members such as Rossetti and his followers William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, and Evelyn De Morgan.  The women in such art always have hair and clothing that are total romantic perfection while the men are yearning, staunch, and heroic…I’ve been entranced since my childhood.  In a recent post, my sewing was inspired by the classical, flowing, Grecian style of Disney’s Meg from the 1997 animated film “Hercules”.  Here I am continuing that idealism with posting the making of a dreamy, draping 1940s era “Goddess gown” with matching bolero and jewelry, all inspired by the medieval inspiration behind the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood.

How did I link paleographic manuscript studies to both an art form and fashionable clothing?  Well, just like Pre-Raphaelite art, my outfit has a blend of the medieval with the elements of other eras tied into one.  The floral printed silk of my dress and the canvas print of my bolero are veritable copies of the beautifully scientific style of accurately painting nature as can be seen both on the pages of late medieval illuminated manuscripts as well as a tapestry of Burne-Jones.  It was often in the page margins or borders of illuminations that such texts (primarily early 15th century) used flowers and insects so as to heighten and add depth of meaning by their symbolism.  

This is no less the case with Pre-Raphaelite artistry where such a lush amount of detailed flora and insect fauna was frequently added in abundance (especially on tapestries).  Doing so was not just to add beauty, although that is often the extra benefit.  Both this 19th century art form and medieval manuscripts used the visibility of nature to aid and enhance our understanding of ancient stories and the people of the past.  Every moth, every fruited berry, and every flower had a symbolism, a meaning that added to the message of the art, sometimes even hinting at whether well-intentioned or full of irony.  Our modern times have forgotten much of the rich underlying meanings to such beautiful creations, and I say we need to relearn this knowledge!

So why channel this classical idealism through a 1940s gown?  I wanted to emulate Madame Eta Hentz, a designer born in Budapest and educated in Hungary who immigrated to the United States around 1923.  She presented her distinctive masterpiece collection of Grecian themed gowns in circa 1943.  Please click on over with the provided links to see Ms. Hentz’s “Athena gown”, her black and gold “Clytemnestra gown”, her “Iconica” pleated dress, her “Walls of Troy” butter yellow gown, and her unnamed but strongly classical evening gown, one in ivory and a version in black – all from the same Grecian collection at the MET museum.  They are flowing, draping, asymmetric creations resembling either an ancient chlamys, a Roman palla, a column in the Pantheon, or a pleated Fortuny toga. Such a beautifully simplistic style of dressing has been around since the beginnings of civilization, but I love how the late 40’s and 50’s Hollywood puts its own subtle high-fashion spin on such a garment.  Yes, there have been many other designers from many other eras who have created according to ancient inspiration.  Yet, 1940s gowns are already elegant to begin with, and to combine such a trait with the references to the classical past gives a very winning result I had to try for myself.

Furthermore, the post-WWII (40’s into 50’s) boom of Biblical, early Christianity, and ancient history related films also resulted in the popularity of the sensual, sultry “goddess gown”.  In 1949, the year after the pattern I used for my gown, Cecil B. DeMille released Samson and Delilah, a picture that became the biggest hit of that year.  This was one of the very first big epic films made using the latest technology that ushered in the height of the Biblical silver screen drama so prevalent thereafter in the 1950’s. 

Even before the popular quasi-religious films of the mid-century, however, Grecian style gowns were a go-to choice for either elegant evening wear or a classical themed costume in Hollywood at that time.  In 1947, the year before the pattern I used for my gown, the famous Rita Haworth was seen in a sexy, one shouldered goddess gown for playing the part of a Grecian Muse in the popular musical film “Down to Earth”.  Also in 1947, for a Christmas dinner party, the actress Gale Storm graced the screen during the movie “It Happened on 5th Avenue” with an asymmetric goddess gown.  Next to the works of Eta Hentz, this goddess dress heavily influenced my own version.  Similar to the one shoulder strap which mimics a climbing vine on Gale Storm’s evening dress, I incorporated me-made leaf jewelry as a compliment to my outfit.  The accessories I crafted to match are a further nod to the sneaky Pre-Raphaelite inspiration of my outfit besides being a very classical touch.  More on this further down in the post!   

A goddess gown is usually a one-shoulder dress that is made from a quality fabric that drapes gracefully, simple in lines and inspired by the togas of old.  It is so effortless, so ageless in style, and it’s wonderfully flattering for all!  I went with a sheer floral silk underlined with an opaque rayon for my version to turn my goddess gown dreamily feminine rather than just architectural, after the stylizations of Waterhouse and Rossetti.  The bolero is like a condensed minuscule version of the printed silk, and turns the dress into a refined look, with a bit of added interest, while also not disturbing the aesthetic.  My bright green jewelry and vintage green suede heels freshen up the tone, saving it from being too dark.  However, the black background for both pieces to this outfit keeps it moody and somber, just like a Pre-Raphaelite painting.  We happily tuned into that for the photo shoot location.  What could be more melodramatic than old building ruins around a pond with giant lily pads (just like John William Waterhouse’s painting “Ophelia by the pond” from 1894) or gliding into a weeping willow tree at dusk?!  I’m living a dream.  

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  2 yards of sheer 100% silk chiffon, digitally printed. Fully lined in 2 yards of all rayon crepe for the dress. The short bolero jacket is an amazing Rifle Paper Company 100% cotton duck (from Spool and Spindle as part of my prize from the 2018 “Designin’ December” challenge) fully lined in a sage green polyester.

PATTERN:  Butterick #5136, a year 2007 reprint of an original 1948 pattern

NOTIONS:  lots of thread and one zipper

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress took close to 30 hours to make, while the bolero only took 3 hours.  Both were finished in October 2019.

THE INSIDES:  The bolero is fully lined, so there are no seam allowances showing at all!  The entire dress and its rayon lining (which is separate, free flowing) are both finished in French seams.

TOTAL COST:  The silk on discount and was ordered direct from Hong Kong through a shop no longer in business.  The rayon crepe and the poly lining for the bolero are as good as free as they were leftover from past projects and came out of my stash. The bolero fabric was free, but I had to pay the shipping.  So, between the silk, the jewelry I made, and the shipping cost to the bolero fabric, my total cost was about $40.

Of course (knowing me) I slightly adapted the design (of the dress) to accommodate the border print of the silk, but other than that I made this entire outfit as-is out of the envelope…and it is to be highly recommended.  Some vintage reprints have strange amounts of ease or finish different than the cover image, but not this one.  It was indeed easy to make, as it says, too.  It’s only because working with a silk or a rayon crepe is never easy that my version was more challenging.  The bolero’s most challenging part was being precise with the stitching (and then trimming) the curvy seams around all the edges. 

The one slight change I made to the dress can be seen when I walk away.  I think the contrast panel train I added is a beautiful touch!  I had to add a gored godet to the center back of my dress’ skirt because working with two yards of border print material wasn’t enough to go around the bottom hem.  The one selvedge to the silk had the floral border I used along the hem while its opposite selvedge had a dense line of paisley ‘almonds’.  I used this paisley along the other selvedge for the back skirt godet add-in, and drafted its godet point to start where the center back zipper ends and curve out past the hem to be a train. 

Here’s a close-up of the right side seam bodice gathers.

The bodice was cut out of the material in front of the paisley selvedge where the underlying print is more spread out with only a few random bugs and flowers.  I actually had to seam together several smaller pieces of rayon to make my remnants work for lining this dress, but as it is inside underneath the silk, the odd excess seams are unnoticeable.  This was such close call of a project!

As it turned out, the heavy rayon lining sort of pulls the dress down on the one open-shouldered side, and I half think that adding boning as well an inner grosgrain ribbon waistband would’ve been a worthwhile idea to improve upon the bodice.  It is just fine without such ‘improvements’ too, though.  A structured bodice would bring this dress closer to the silhouette of a 1950s era dress and deviate the dress away from the soft, flowing overall appearance I was aiming for originally.  It’s often good to leave what’s well enough alone.  At least I did made sure to sew seam tape into my stitching along the top neck edge and into the dual skinny shoulder straps so these spots don’t stretch out of shape at all.  As I’m my own garments’ maker, I’m naturally going to be hard on myself.  I realize this much.  Any small ‘faults’ cannot in the least make me love this outfit any less.

The bolero’s fabric was a happy find that just happened to match because, I’ll admit, it was only made as an afterthought.  When first creating the dress, I discounted the hope of finishing a complete set as I had no idea what would be a good pairing.  Would a solid color bolero overwhelm?  Would a black one underwhelm?  I was at a loss.  What would remotely ‘match’ the printed silk enough to seamlessly blend in with the dress?  Upon browsing the “Spool and Spindle” site after receiving my “Designin’ Designer” gift, I was looking through the Rifle Paper Co. fabrics (something nice I would never buy on my own).  I happened to see a fabric print so similar to the silk goddess dress already made and jumped out of my seat.  Serendipity had decided for me a matching bolero was on the table!  Luckily, I only needed half of a yard for the bolero.  Rifle Paper Co. fabrics are pricey and my certificate voucher just covered it.  Yay!  I loved putting my prize fabric towards a very special outfit like this.

Beautiful seams, amazing details, and clever construction are all packed into this little jacket.  A backwards closing bolero comes across as very unusual to me, first of all.  I added two shiny, faceted black buttons to close this behind my back neck with hand-stitched chain loops.  The back opening lets the dress just barely peek from underneath.  As if these features aren’t cool enough, there is that slight cowl neck front neckline fold, the front hem curve notch, and those perfectly curved cut-on cap sleeves which all totally vie for my “favorite garment feature ever” title!  What makes this little jacket even better (if that’s possible) is the fact that it is slightly longer than most boleros, and actually comes down to the waistline, so it pairs with other things in my wardrobe, such as my black Burda pants (posted here)…among other things!  Not that I ever wholly mind a one-way-to-wear-it outfit, but multi-use sewing is such a wonderful payback.

My handmade jewelry includes a full bracelet, earrings, and necklace set.  The necklace is the main piece.  It was two sets of enameled leaf ‘charms’ from the “Gilded Age Timeline by Bead Treasures”, a Hobby Lobby line of vintage and Steampunk inspired jewelry supplies.  They were on deep clearance, probably due to having the date of 2013.  Each pack made a chain of 7 inches, and I knew the base of my neck (measuring around tightly) is 15 inches…this would be a close call.  The lobster clasp and loop closure, as well as the front ring that combines both leaf chains, added another 1 ½ inches so I ended up with a perfect length for a closely fitting necklace.  The two leaf chains fan away from one another yet meet in the middle front and back of my neck, so my necklace ends up looking like a Grecian or Roman coronet. 

In medieval imagery, a laurel leaves symbolize peace, tranquility, and the power of a promise.  A simple internet search has shown me that 15 inch enameled leaf necklaces were not only existent but also popular, primarily in the 40’s and 50’s, so I was onto something era appropriate anyway, it seems!

As there weren’t any more of the necklace leaves to be had, I improvised to make something similar to complete the jewelry set.  I chose green glass teardrop beads in the same deep but bright green color as the enameling on the necklace leaves.  I made the bracelet and earrings reference the necklace by interweaving small metal leaf beads above each glass teardrop.  I rather love the look of how this jewelry set turned out.  There’s nothing quite like an outfit that is all handmade, excepting the shoes (and underwear), of course, ha! 

This is a project into which I put a lot of thought and meaning, since not only have medieval subjects been a lifelong interest but I am also much more artistic on paper than I let on through this blog.  Perhaps that’s what helped my outfit to be just as dreamy and romantic as the inspiration behind it, though.  I could have expounded upon several points in detail but I reigned myself in to keep on topic! I only hope I conveyed some of my thoughts, inspiration, and construction notes in a clear and intriguing manner enough to maybe even interest you in finding a channel for your own goddess gown. 

It really does take a lot of effort to come up with a completely me-made outfit and also make it look just like what was dreamed up in one’s own head.  That is perhaps the hardest part to sewing up something based off an exciting idea…to have what you end up with be just as you had hoped.  It doesn’t always happen that way for me, yet even still, I always make sure to be proud of what I made and even enjoy the surprises along the way.  Not here, though – it’s all that and more!  You know, the definition of a “reverie” – as used in my title – is “a pleasant state of abstracted meditation or fanciful musing; to be lost in a fantastic, visionary, or impractical idea.”  I see that it is said reveries often never come to fruition, being often negatively labeled as only a daydream.  Bah.  Anyone who believes that has never sewn.  To be able to swish and glide around in this 1940s set the same way as I had hoped to be able to as I saw it in my mind’s eye is a fantastic thing.  Make that reverie work out in real life for you – it’s worth it!