A Bold Upgrade to Your Modern T-Shirt Dress

Vintage styles are my preferred ‘look’, even for a comfy everyday outfit, but yet I do enjoy getting out of my comfort zone to sew up boldly individual fashions for myself in the styles of today.  I want to make sure I am in touch with today sufficiently to still enjoy modern designs here and there.  After all, although I do not follow ‘fads’, sometimes I can’t decide what decade I want to wear for the day and just want something that might remotely “fit in” for the 21st century!   Burda Style patterns are my preferred resource for my modern sewing.

This year I might just have a dress-down Mother’s Day in my newest Burda Style creation!  It is such a bright and fun version of the American favorite – the t-shirt dress – made in deluxe rayon jersey.  This is perfect for these quarantine times when I want to be put together without a lot of effort but still just as comfy as if I was still wearing pajamas.

THE FABRIC:

FABRIC:  100% rayon jersey knit, partially lined in poly power mesh

PATTERN:  Burda Style “Dress with Waist Yoke” #110 from December 2015

NOTIONS:  I just needed lots of thread and a small bit on interfacing.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was finished on May 6, 2020 and took me about 8 to 10 hours to make.

TOTAL COST:  I have no idea when or where or how long I’ve had this fabric, so let’s count this as a stash-busting winner and completely free, shall we?!

I have had my eye on this dress pattern ever since it came out, but had not yet come up with a way to highlight the fantastic seaming until now.  It was really a sudden revelation kind of idea.  You see, I have been going through my fabric and notions stash lately – taking account of what I have, what I might run low on, what I should put away, and what I will tackle.  All this is because of Covid-19 shortages of sewing supplies and the resulting impossibilities to shop in stores in person, but also a bit of “spring cleaning” is in my blood.  I am being as smart, sensible, and thrifty as I can lately!

So, in continual process of that organizational effort, I ran across this bright fuchsia rayon jersey and the navy striped rayon jersey both paired up together on the same bolt.  I didn’t realize they had been sitting out of my storage bins for so long.  Then, I suddenly thought of this Burda pattern, long forgotten in the back burner to my mind.  These two fabrics would be an unusual, experimental, and certainly eye-catching combo!  Never one to shy away from a risky project, as you can see, I just went with it.  Yes, I need crazy sewing projects to entertain me right now.

I do think this dress turned out quite well, much better than I expected.  However, I am not totally won over to a t-shirt dress, even when it’s this good.  I suppose I just need some time for this project to grow on me.  The jersey knit is so super soft and slinky – I am not used to how luxurious it feels.  Something this lightweight and weightless on my skin makes me forget what I have on…and that feels kinda wrong to a girl like me totally used to vintage fashions like the 1920s, 50’s, or even 40’s that demand a certain silhouette with the corresponding lingerie and dress padding for shaping that said silhouette.

To help me feel better about wearing this t-shirt dress and also use up my extra fabric, I did take some extra steps to make this both opaque and easier to sew.  I doubled up on the layers of all the dress pieces which have the fuchsia knit.  Rayon jersey is a super fine material and harder to sew than any silk, in my opinion.  It so very easily catches on even a small fray of my fingernails.  My first wearing of the dress created a few new snags.  This is just going to have to be part of the dress, but at least I didn’t mess up the fabric while sewing it.  One layer of jersey is quite sheer and hard to sew without creating holes (yes, even with a ball point needle).  Two layers of rayon jersey knit makes for a heavier weight dress but is much more manageable to turn into a design, more opaque to wear, and easier to place through my sewing machine.

I lined the navy striped knit panels in a nude colored power mesh.  Doubling up on this contrast fabric would only make the second ghost layer of stripes underneath appear weird.  The power mesh does an awesome job at helping to shape the most important, detailed sections – the bodice front and the left skirt flare.  There is an interesting panel under the top half of the side skirt flare to keep the skirt in its slim shape and prevent the pleated section from getting too overwhelming.  I really like the lining panel especially because it keeps the skirt from wrapping into between my legs (which can happen with any knit skirt which is full).

There is one piece that is not like the others, though.  The left waist panel I heavily supported with iron-on interfacing to keep all those gathers in check to the seams above and below it!  Luckily, this was just a small pattern piece because interfacing is almost impossible to come by today, right?!  However, I am very glad I chose to make this one piece stable.  Doing so helps define the design.  I am not exactly sure if a curved corner was what I was supposed to do instead of my very angled finishing but at least it matched up precisely to the other fuchsia skirt section over the center front (not an easy feat here!).   I rather like the angled corners because they match with the lines of the stripes.

I made the necklace myself, too! However, this is just one part to a full jewelry set I have made for a different outfit to be posted soon!

The pros and the cons of sewing this were about equal on the scales, I suppose.  Firstly, don’t forget – this was originally drafted in tall women’s sizing!  On the pattern tracing, I had to take out a horizontal swatch of two inches through the bust to make this work for me, but the jersey knit pulls the whole dress down with its weight so I could have taken out more still.  I did trace out the tall woman’s equivalent to my “normal” Burda size but ended up taking it in along the side seams by an inch or so because of the jersey knit super stretch as well.  The dress length I chose was originally in between the longest length option and the ‘short’ knee length option.  Again, the knit stretches and makes the dress longer than was expected, but I rather like the way it swishes around when I walk, so the length it is will be staying.  I left out the back zipper and opted for no closures as the knit is so stretchy.  There is no need for any hemming to the sleeves and the bottom skirt because this kind of knit does not fray.  Thus, in summary, choosing a knit for this design made certain parts easy (no zipper, no hemming) and other parts harder than necessary (cutting double pieces, adjusting the sizing).  You win some, you lose some, but as long as I have something so cute and wearable for my efforts my time was worth it.

The list of things I want to find time to make is already quite long and Burda Style just keeps coming out with super tempting releases lately to add to my list of sewing projects.  Their vintage reprints are especially enticing and in almost every issue recently.  I’m not complaining, but it does present a bit of a problem.  Anybody out there have ideas for an easy way to keep track of what patterns are in individual sewing magazines?  I have enough Burda magazines now that I need to figure out a way to organize the designs in them which I intend to sew.  I wish it was as easy to file them by garment category as it is my individual patterns in envelopes!   Any insight would be helpful.  In the meantime, I’ll just get back to my crazy quarantine sewing and cooped up cleaning efforts.  I may even do some of that in this post’s dress.  We’ll see.

“Big Apple Plaid” 1924 Frock

New York might have seen this outfit as the smartest dressing in year 1924, but it sure wouldn’t fly on streets of today.  How things have changed almost 100 years later now!  Nevertheless, I’d like to be up-to-date for 1924 and flaunt about in a more historical style for a change of pace!

For most of the 1920s, the decade did not look like the stereotypical “flapper” that everyone reverts to.  Realistically, they were quite conservative in their long length and loose fit, and almost dowdy to our modern eyes.  To recreate them in a way that makes them appear better than a costume takes a bit of a different mindset (such as understanding the underwear which gave them their weird shape) and attention to the finishing details.  This project was more challenging in the way that I self-drafted all but the three main body panels – which were from a true 20’s design – so I could copy an image from a year 1924 “National Suit and Cloak Co.” catalog which had caught my creative eye.  Having the perfect fabric and trimming on hand certainly helped convince me to make something wearable of the idea.  

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% cotton

PATTERN:  Butterick #1101, from October 1926 (I know the precise month/year only because of the comprehensive Butterick pattern dating charts provided here by “Witness2Fashion”. This pattern is from when Butterick started a new design style and numbering system so that is easy to track!)

NOTIONS:  Lots of thread, interfacing remnants, embroidery thread, and extra trimming (soutache and satin grosgrain ribbon) from my stash.  The creamy yellow ball buttons down the front are vintage from my grandmother’s stash of notions.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was finished on April 17, 2020 after about 10 hours put into the dress.

TOTAL COST:  This project is as good as free – the fabric had been in my stash for over a decade before becoming this dress, and the trims were something I got for a dollar each years back…who’s counting after all that time?!?

I will bet that the actual inspiration dress was made just a bit differently, but I did the best I could interpreting a small image into an actual garment using what knowledge I have of the era.  My dress is a comfy cotton which makes it a great dress for a low-budget historical dress, yet I have an inkling the original “fancy checked suiting” might have been a wool or slubbed rayon.  The trim I used is modern but exactly the same as something straight out of the 1920s – soutache and satin grosgrain.  The way I layered them together they create a low-key but very complex detail that garments of the era were so good at inventing.  It can be one thing to like a dress you see in a catalog, but then ending up liking it on yourself can be a whole different thing altogether.  Luckily, I think I personalized my interpretation of the chosen inspiration image just enough for me to enjoy wearing this, no matter how odd of a style this era’s true fashion can be!

The body of the dress fit right out of my vintage pattern.  Now granted when I say “fit”, I mean that in a 1920s way of being very loose, unfitted, and with straight lines.  Since I am an hourglass body type and my hips are ever so slightly my widest body feature, making a 1920’s fashion means I need the entire dress to be a tube which is as wide as my hips plus a generous wearing ease of about 4 or 5 inches.  Yeah, that sounds very unappealing, doesn’t it?!  This is why sizing charts on patterns of this era are not dependable (going by age?) and not easily understood.  Even though the bust was too big for me, I needed it for the hips because you don’t curve in the side seams to find a modern fit for true 1920s dress.  It’s not intuitive to make clothes fitting like this for someone living today.  The only thing I did change up was to cut out the sleeves on the bias grain to accommodate my larger upper arms needing more room for mobility.

I traced a paper copy of the pattern to work with even though the tissue was in fantastic shape and still pliable.  This true vintage pattern copy will be a great starting point for any other early or mid-1920s dresses I have a mind to make!  Ah, the version on the cover with the scalloped, two-tiered skirt portion is calling to me.  Only, I know I would definitely add beading and embroidery along the hems if I did sew up that cover dress…and there is enough going on in my life for quite a while now for me to add in something which would be so time consuming.

Making this little 1920s cotton dress was relatively quick and simple.  It was figuring out the details which took all the thought and bother!  As I have said for most of my historical projects (by which I mean 1920s and earlier), they look like nothing but awful, ugly failures up until adding one little detail which suddenly brings everything you’ve worked on together.  For my 1917 dress, it was adding both the lace on the front piece and rosette ribbon on the sheer hems which made it appear like an actual dress and not just a concoction of fabric.  For my 1912 walking suit, it was the hat that added that extra oomph I was lacking.

Here with this project, it was at first the arrow points I embroidered at each end of the faux pockets at the hipline that made this idea work, but that wasn’t enough – then the collection of ten front placket buttons made the whole project come together.  Ah, the power of the ‘little things’ is never to be underestimated.

Figuring out what trims and notions to add was more difficult than drafting all the add-ons to that basic 20’s sack which was to be my dress.  At least with drafting patterns, it is all math and technical measurements!  Making up one’s mind about finishing details can be the hard – but fun, too!  Using the main body of the dress as my base line, and my little inspiration image for reference, I self-drafted the giant ‘pilgrim’ collar, the front placket pieces, and sleeve cuffs (which I didn’t end up using).  For the front bias flounce coming out of the placket, I used a Simplicity #Simplicity 4593, year 2005 skirt pattern for reference (such as figuring what grainline to choose) and then proceeded to draft my own according to the size I needed.

It was tricky to discern proportions.  On a 20’s dress that is over the body much like a sack, how do you properly visualize where the natural waistline and hips actually are?!  I had to make my front placket fall lower than the 1924 fashion image might show because it was hard to get the dress on otherwise (as my front placket was a workable closure, not just for show).  Once I figured that out, then I could measure the flounce piece to match, and estimate how to strategically make the most of my just under 3 yards of trim.  I ended up with only a few inches of soutache/ribbon leftover and nothing but small scraps left for the dress’ cotton, which is incredible after starting out with over 3 yards (45” width)!  Whew, I just made this idea work.

I kept the dress’ insides and construction simple – raw seam edges, bias tape in lieu of “proper” neckline facing, and all machine stitched seams.  Because the dress’ fabric was so see through, I skipped out on doing true welt pockets and did the easy ‘fake’ version.  The front placket has just five large hook-n-eyes (also true vintage) underneath because this dress hails from a time when it was still considered improper to have the means of closing one’s dress in plain sight.

You bet I’m wearing my 1920s combination underwear (posted here) underneath!  Believe me, modern underwear only brings attention to the fact that this style of dress is baggy and unfitted, besides the fact it doesn’t give the full historical effect.  Honestly, the early 20’s are super comfy to wear and not confining in the least, like a good nightgown.  If it wasn’t for all the other accessories, I would be ready for bedtime, ha!

I’ll admit, this project has been languishing as an unfinished project for two years before now.  The fact I am staying at home more is for some reason helping me have the fire to finish projects started, cut, and ready-to-sew.  It is so hard to have the gumption to sew something that will not see possible everyday wearing like much of my post-1930’s vintage garments.  Yet, my great impetus for finishing this project finally was recently happening to find the perfect hat to match.

All of my accessories here are vintage – and the hat is the cherry on the top!  It is a true-to-the-era original from around the same period as my dress.  It has a crown of silk velvet, with velvet ribbons around the brim, and was handmade by a talented home milliner by all that I can tell.  Sure there are a few chews to the velvet, but the wool base is untouched and the silk lining is not shattering.  To think this is in such good condition for being a century old blows my mind, and I am tickled to be wearing it with such a complementing outfit.

My shoes are true to the early 20’s with their pointed toe and French heel, yet they are of 1980s era.  The 80’s had a resurgence of many old styles, and besides 100 years ago, from my knowledge they are the only decade that came back with a strong, hourglass-style curving French heel (quite hard to come by otherwise).  Generally, 1980s shoes are unwanted today and can be found in plenty at my local thrift stores – happily they are also great for providing great 20’s style footwear that is in much better condition than their original counterparts.  Mine are a lovely suede leather and bring out the burgundy colors in my set!

Even the building backdrop to my pictures was built in 1924! How cool is that?

I do believe this to be a nice “street dress”, meaning something that would be worn out of the home to do things like shopping downtown or business-related duties.  It is too nice for a housedress, but the fact that my version is of cotton brings it down a level from, say, a ‘Sunday best’ kind of wear.  Sure, all those glitzy evening gowns or luxurious party dresses are so easy to gravitate to, but personally I appreciate the clothing that was more for everyday living.  It is more of a teaching opportunity/learning experience then.  I learn from the research and actual sewing which goes into my making such an outfit.  In exchange, I find that I can wear such an outfit to living history events or for historical presentations and my clothing only helps others both learn from me as well as feel welcome to ask questions.  It’s a win-win!

Peggy’s Faux Bolero Dress

It was the day after that terrible, unexplained explosion at the Isodyne Energy Facility.  She was fighting through so much internally and externally – confusion, loss, blame, and a gut suspicion of a truth that she cannot prove.  At least she was the only one who had the humanity to get to know the missing scientist, no matter what his skin color.  Although she did not have the time to establish the connection she was inherently hoping for, she did understand him enough to mourn that he was only another senseless innocent in the long list of persons she seems to be the cause of their destruction.  Rightly or wrongly, those are her feelings.  Yet, the rest of the world around her only wanted the ‘facts’ about last night tied up in a nice little package, so that the truth for them was what they expected to hear.  SHE was the one needed by those in power to sign off for their lies – willingly or not was the threat.  What might our heroine wear for such a scene?  How can her fashion translate her strength showing through her weakness, her conviction to stand for veracity as the sole woman among a sea of lying, well-connected men?

Luckily, Peggy did have some true friends to turn to in such an hour.  Fortunately, also, the wonderful costume designer Gigi Melton has already come up with the perfect, amazing, and striking answer to a scene such as this, as well as other incidents just as powerful.

The heroine, Peggy Carter of the “Strategic Scientific Reserve”, dons the signature color of her female adversary – purple.  As someone who perennially wears blues, reds, and browns, she combines it with a new-to-her tone from the other end of the spectrum…green.  A professional looking faux two-piece outfit becomes a convenient one-piece dress.  Bold but sensible courage is manifested in Peggy’s fashion as well as character. Now, with my sewing capabilities, some fabric remnants, and an old pattern, I have my very own copy of Marvel’s Agent Carter’s dress for the above described scenes from Episode 3 of Season Two, “Better Angels”.

I love how Peggy’s words perpetually cut through the crud around her and are searingly direct, like a hot knife in hard butter, especially for this scene.  Truthfulness with others is what she is best at, and those scenes in which this memorable dress is worn, she oozes an assertive yet feminine, complex yet simple, and full on 40’s look!   “Better Angels” episode helps demonstrate why I have such respect for her and why I admire her character – an everyday superhero capability is tinged with a very relatable humanity and touching empathy.

April 9 is the anniversary of Peggy’s birthday, and it’s annually a day to celebrate a character that has brought so much into our lives by taking part in the “International Agent Carter Day”.  This is one of my favorite days of the year!  For such a day this year, I will post one of my very favorite Agent Carter outfit “copies” I have done.  It also happens to get the most compliments everywhere I go wearing it!  All this was made in one yard of deep eggplant purple gabardine and a few scraps of bright China silk leftover from a past project.  I adapted a true vintage 1946 pattern to both keep to the era and find the real historical version – thus I’m not just copying a Hollywood garment.

Of course, anyone who knows me knows I love a great pair of shoes, especially one that perfectly matches a color in my outfit.  Thus, I set out to find some true vintage shoes which would parallel the olive green B.A.I.T brand heels in the show.  There are some more modern decades, such as the 60’s or 70’s, which mimic 1940’s shoe styles, with slightly different heel shapes.  They are frequently much more wearable because of their not-so-fragile-as true-40’s footwear, however.  So, after much searching, I found a pair of lovely suede and polished leather, woven front, peep-toe heels in my size, in the exact matching green as my center bodice!  These are so comfy and really complete the outfit, yet they sadly blend in too well with the grass to be seen when I’m in a yard!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a rayon/cotton blend gabardine, combined with china silk (leftover from lining this 40’s jacket-style blouse) for the contrast, and full lining in the bodice with all cotton broadcloth.

PATTERN:  McCall #6377, year 1946

NOTIONS:  I had all the thread I needed, and I used interfacing scraps and a zipper from on hand

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finished on September 10, 2018, in about 10 hours.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound

TOTAL COST:  The one yard of purple gabardine was a remnant found for about $5 at Wal-Mart, the silk was scraps (I don’t count the cost of such small pieces), and the “American Classics” cotton was yet another remnant, this time found at JoAnn for a few dollars.  This dress cost under $10!!!

Faux boleros on a one-piece garment or even just color-blocking – like this dress – seemed to have been a ‘thing’ starting in the late 1930s through 1940s, from what I have found so far through extant garments and similar sewing pattern designs.  This collage is only a small portion of what inspiration I have come across.  These are all a very smart – perfect for using small cuts of fabric, but nevertheless make the most fun out of fashion as well as the most streamlined outfit ever!  The bottom right extant late 1930s dress is the one that I specifically channeled here with my tweak to add a bit of Agent Carter my vintage pattern.  That inspiration garment had the arched, faux cummerbund mid-section as well as the shiny silk contrast bodice panels which worked perfectly with my need to fit every pattern piece on small remnants.  The more concise the pieces, the better to fit onto scraps!

Getting my bodice to look like a faux bolero required me to retrace it out onto paper, cut out that copy, and re-draft it into a few extra pieces.  Yet, to keep all of those pieces together nicely – besides validating the accuracy of my re-drafting and provide a clean interior – the bodice lining is the one-piece design of the original pattern.   I was so happy to be using my lovely leftover silk in a project which would highlight it.  As I had only used it for interior lining in the project before, this silk literally now has its opportunity to shine.  Yet, the silk is so much lighter compared to the substantial thickness of the gabardine, it sometimes appears quite wrinkled.  China silk is not the best at holding its own on a fashion design.  There’s exceptions to the rule as you can see here, but it really is best as a lining.  I wouldn’t trust the China silk to not rip or tear apart on its own if I hadn’t lined the bodice.

The best part of sewing a two-tone dress (total irony here) is having to switch between colors with the spools and bobbins of thread in my sewing machine.  It is a real pain!  This is why I did the side zipper and several other sections by hand.  Not to brag, but I can use whatever color of thread on whatever color of fabric and make the thread invisible!  Such a technique is a very useful skill, just sharing a heads up!  I kept the machine top-stitching to the purple portion of the bodice only because gabardine doesn’t look as terrible showing thread as silk would.  Silk is such a fine fabric, I feel like it deserves better (most of the time) than machine stitching!  I know, silly me!

There’s something to be said about dressing in character.  When you try to copy someone else’s wardrobe, no matter how much you like it on that other individual, you are not dressing for yourself until you own it and make it yours, whether through a tweak to the garment or a change of mental outlook for example.  I – and many other wonderful women who call Peggy Carter their heroine, like me – find that Captain America’s “Best Girl” only raises us up and makes us stronger and more confident in ourselves when taking on her persona through wearing her wardrobe.  Agent Carter is such a special character to emulate.  She is so relatable and inspiring in so many ways that to imitate her is like manifesting a braver and bolder version of yourself, which needed Peggy’s help to show itself.  Let’s all “know our value” today and every day!

Working in the Quad-angle

I recently realized a gap in my winter wardrobe.  Amongst all my warm self-made dresses and cozy skirts in lofty wool or tweed, none are from the 1930s decade.  My trip in February to Los Angeles (and Las Vegas) gave me the perfect excuse to amend this discrepancy!  We were to stay at a grand Art Deco era hotel “the Biltmore” – an early home to the Academy Awards ceremony, the Oscars.  You all can tell how much I love an appropriate background setting for my vintage adventures, so I came prepared with a wonderful mid-30’s boucle dress which now fills in the gap in wintertime gear!

This dress completely plays upon my combined love for Art Deco geometrics and the mathematics of sewing.  It is a dress chock full of right angles.  The boucle has darker brown threads in perfectly right angles, and the faux pockets continue the play.  There are gusset panels at the underarms.  My gloves have zig-zagged cuffs and my chest decoration is dashes.  Even the buttons I chose are squares.  This circa 1934 dress is on the very cusp of the shift in the decade’s dresses going from so very angular and Art Deco Influenced to soft, flowing, and feminine after 1935.   Even my hat refers back to the early 30’s with its close-to-the-head fit that pairs with a short hairstyle, much like the late 1920s, and it has very linear velvet trimming wrapping around the crown.

Granted, most of the pictures in this post were taken when back home in our town, because sometimes we’re too busy having fun on a trip to stop for photos.  However, it just goes to show that this dress is much more than just a splurge creation for a special trip.  It is a new favorite!  My accessories – all vintage except for my shoes – are also mostly acquisitions from the same trip, as well.  (Any color in gloves which are older than the 1950s is hard to find in town, but I prefer trying them on before buying, after all.)  It felt like this outfit was just meant to be, and although it has been hard to wait, apparently ‘now’ was finally the perfect time to pick up this project and make it wearable.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  an acrylic blend, fuzzy, chenille-like boucle; contrast pieces in a light polyester crepe; bodice and collar lined in crepe poly lining

PATTERN:  Excella pattern #5288, from circa 1934 (no later than 1935)

NOTIONS:  My buttons and my side zipper are true vintage from the 30s or 40’s.  Other than that, all other supplies are new and mostly from on hand – embroidery floss, thread, bias tape, and interfacing scraps.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was sewn in about 20 hours (yeah, it gave me a bit of trouble) and finished on February 12, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  The bodice is fully lined, but the skirt seams have clean bias bound edges.

TOTAL COST:  This dress cost me under $5!  The buttons, zipper, and floss were my few recent expenses and the only ones I’m counting.  Everything else (all the fabrics) was either scraps or came from on hand in my stash for what seems like forever…so there as good as free!

This dress has subtle (but fantastic and unusual) points to it that set it a bit apart from the run-of-the-mill 1930s design.  The skirt pleats are folded oppositely to the norm – the side panels are folded in knife pleat manner towards the center on top of the middle panel.  I have not yet found another 1930s design which has underarm gussets…combined with the wide, cut-on, kimono sleeves this style of bodice is what is considered traditional for the 1950s!  The collar does not extend all the way around the neck and ends in an angle on either side of the collarbone to leave the front button closure standing alone all the way down the center front bodice.  If I want a slightly different look than an all-buttoned-up neckline, I can open up the top button hole and give the appearance of a collar (thanks to the full lining).  The belt is an extension of the bodice in the way the belt carries on the descending buttons.  A back view is rather plain comparatively, with a basic two piece skirt and a bodice with waistline pleats for a slight pouf above the belt.  The era of the 1930s never ceases to amaze me with its curious variety of fashion, but even still, this is a rare bird of a style, I believe!

Finishing this dress was an old commitment finally fulfilled.  The project idea had been in my sewing queue for several years (and the fabric for at least a decade before that) but I knew my chosen design would require some real pattern work before being usable.  Firstly, I needed to trace it out so as the grade in wider (more modern) seam allowances.  Besides, I’d rather not take the chance of ruining the old original tissue pieces.  Secondly, it was incomplete.  Sometimes I can get a good deal on patterns which would otherwise be pricey by being open to ones which are missing pieces and in danger of being thrown away.  Pattern drafting feels so worthwhile when it can go towards bringing these old pattern gems back to being usable and complete again.  This way it’s also done not for money but driven only from dedication.  Granted, this dress did not have any major pieces gone – only the collar, facings, and decorative corner panels – but just drafting them successfully from scratch feels like a big deal to me now that the dress has come together!

Excella Pattern Company was a subsidiary of Pictorial Review Patterns, so if it is anything like its parent corporation, I’m assuming this dress is a higher-end style which is either from epicenters such as Paris and New York, or knocked-off of a designer’s creation.  Even though I see that the pattern number points to the probability that this is 1935, the design is so very 1934 (which I played upon with my hat which can be definitively dated to the same year).  This is weird because these patterns were usually ahead of the curve when it came to the newest styles.  Nevertheless, for as simple and “easy” as this might seem upon a general glance (especially when compared to other Excella & Pictorial Review patterns of the time) I could tell it was a high-end design by the way the small details that you don’t see demanded so much extra time.

I didn’t need the missing neckline facing pieces as I went ahead with my own plans and fully lined the bodice.  Yet the contrast collar, faux pockets, and belt were actually part of my never-ending scrap-busting attempts.  You see, I had bought some reproduction 1930s style, high-waisted, wide-legged trousers for my husband a few years back and they needed a very deep hemming job for them to be his length.  The fabric was a lovely, thick, crepe finish material and I had two big 6 by 24 inch-something rectangles leftover which happened to match so very well with this boucle.  I figured so very correctly that those pieces I wanted to be in contrast wouldn’t need much fabric anyway, and the dull crepe is a perfect non-flashy but pleasing material to do the job (a ‘pretty’ brown tone can be so hard to come by).   Yay for making the most of every little bit I bother to save!  My husband finds this use of those scraps amazing in the way I even so much as kept track of those remnant pieces, and then remembered my fabric stash (and planned projects) well enough to figure such a pairing.  As I said above, I feel this project was meant to be!

Perfecting the details took up more time than to bring the basic dress together, but I do believe such attention makes a world of difference from merely handmade to the Parisian chic Excella and Pictorial Review patterns were known for.  Perhaps the most obvious detail is the decorative stitching added onto the front chest faux pockets.  Rows of thread are shown on all the angular panel pieces on the pattern cover, and I was (still am) unsure how much I like the detail, so I kept it only to the chest panels.  No need to bring more attention to the hips, so I heard when I asked for advice.  I used embroidery floss for the job, and stitched it by hand during the car ride across the desert from Las Vegas to Los Angeles.  The instructions seem to indicate the rows of thread are to be tiny, close to one another, and stitched down by the machine, but I wanted something much more decorative than that…something that shows off my time and handiwork.

Additional embroidery floss went towards stitching on arrow points at the opening of the skirt pleats.  The boucle is very loose, and the skirt is unlined, and so the arrow points not only add a bit of couture finery but also make sure the fabric stays together at one of the most stressed seams to the dress.  There are hand stitched thread belt loops all around the waist to keep my self-fabric skinny belt in place over the bulky waist seam.   All hems and the neckline edges, as well as the zipper, were also hand stitched in place for a dress that has very little visible seaming thread showing.  The only semi-shortcuts I took is to make regular stitched buttonholes as well as making the belt front closure not a true workable button – there is a hidden double hook-n-eye.  These are not really shortcuts, I know, but I worked on such fine finishing everywhere else, so I had a silly sense of guilt.

Sometimes I wonder why I bother to go to such lengths.  Maybe it’s for the satisfaction of creating something beautiful to the best of my ability.  Perhaps it’s merely the perfectionist in me.  Maybe I’m trying to fill in for the lack in quality that RTW nowadays does not generally offer.  Deep down I want to make something that will last, something that will be treasured, something alike to what makes vintage garments so appealing and enduring even today.  Every time I doubt myself yet still take the time to construct something well, I see the finished look and love it – it makes it all worthwhile.

Anyway – back to the dress before I wrap up this post!  It might seem a bit out of the traditional season for rust toned ochre.  However, orange isn’t just for fall (I have a whole Pinterest page dedicated to this).  As much as this dress can come across as an autumn season frock, I see it more as an apricot color, or a warm, earth-toned beige.  It’s a lovely, cheerfully muted color for a very early springtime for some pleasant February days.  It’s also a color I most admire in the built environment of our home city, too.  I love decorative terra cotta elements, the fine crafted brick work that our town is known for, and the combination of a glorious sunset blending its colors with the rich architecture.  Now I have a dress that matches well with that!  Even though I probably will not be wearing this dress any more this year until autumn comes so many months away, I have this wonderful 30s dress waiting for those cold days ahead so I can rock the Deco Era no matter what the weather!