Conifer Night

Conifers are the mysterious ones among their fellow hard woods, the trees – they stand fully clothed when others go naked in hibernation.  They jealously kill the grass over their ‘feet’, have unfriendly prickles for ‘leaves’, and cast mellow, unholy shadows when they are planted in a huddle together.  Their perennial greenness is cheering, though – providing color and shelter outdoors in winter, the resiliency they represent ends up decorating our living quarters at the holidays!  Combining an overcast rainy evening with a patch of winter green becomes embodied together in this comfy set of viridescent and navy hues.

After my last 1940s suit from post WWII times, I’d like to share another focused on a slightly earlier time frame of the late 30’s to early 1940’s.  The now past holidays for all things green (St. Patrick’s day and Christmas) originally inspired me to keep to a certain color scheme linking each piece together.  This set is sans jacket, but at least it does have a statement hat!  This is also put together (like the last one I posted) with a mix of re-fashioning and sewing from scratch.  Just the same, it is also for winter, again composed of a span of years and fashion influences, and has a blouse pattern from 1941 as its common separate.  A vintage look, or a new outfit is only a re-fashion or a simple sewing project away!  This was relatively easy and fun to whip together, with only one pattern needed and lots of inspiration.  I do like to keep my styling connected to the past for the best practical glamor.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a semi-sheer 30% silk/70% cotton blend for my blouse, a cotton flannel for my skirt, and a poly felt for my hat

PATTERN:  Simplicity #3714, year 1941, for the blouse.  The skirt was made with no pattern. The hat is loosely based off of Vogue #7464, view D

NOTIONS:  I bought the base for the hat at Wal-Mart (sounds weird, but I’ll explain down below), but everything else cane from my stash – the buttons are vintage “Schwanda” brand from the 1950s, the zipper is vintage (metal teeth), the wire for the hat came from hubby’s workbench, the interfacing was scraps on hand, and matching thread was already here.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse was made in about 15 hours and finished on December 18, 2017.  My skirt’s re-fashion took me about 6 hours, while I spent no more than 4 hours to make the hat – both finished only days before Christmas 2017.

THE INSIDES:  French seams for the blouse, bias finish for the skirt

TOTAL COST:  The hat cost me a total of $5; the blouse cost me $6 for two yards; I’m counting the skirt as free as it had been on hand for so long.  Thus my total outfit cost is under $12 – how awesome is that!

Although this is a winter outfit, these pieces are quite versatile on their own, especially the lovely blouse in its soft silk blend ordered direct from China!  The way silk breathes and adjusts to one’s body temperature makes it fabulous and perfect for any and every outdoor or indoor climate.  When combined with the easy care and softness qualities of cotton, it is such a winning blend (would be perfect for some heavenly bedsheets!).  This blouse can definitely be dressed up but also be quite casual, especially when used as a layering piece under a sweater.  Having semi-transparent sleeves keeps me covered in a very lightweight, yet dressy way that also both keeps me at a good temperature and are easy to roll up to short length for summer.  I am slightly obsessed with its creamy celery green color and loving what it does for my light olive skin tone.  This blouse is really the one new piece of my outfit that will be a dependable workhorse in my wardrobe, besides being the one linchpin which inspired the whole set’s idea.

The rest of my ensemble is from items on hand – even my true vintage gloves and earrings but especially in regards the skirt!  Originally, it was something I haven’t put on in years, though I did wear it many times when I was in my early to mid-teens.  I was more of a wall-flower then, not as comfortable in my skin, and was always cold in the winter.  If I went out in the cold, I liked my skirts long so I could wear boots and pants underneath, and I liked them basic because I probably preferred to keep my coat on (whether inside or out) and not be seen anyway.  The skirt was ankle length, A-line shape, with a wide elastic waistband and in-seam pockets on both sides.  Yet, it was not worn enough to pill up or look as well-loved as it was…prime for a refashion.  I know the skirt is definitely for cold temperatures being a flannel, yet it’s lightweight enough to not completely be a one season piece, either…which makes my sewing the most bang for the little time spent to freshen it up.  A good rich toned plaid is one of the many fabric weaknesses of mine, and perfect for the 1940s, so a basic WWII era skirt it was going to be so it could match with my silk-blend blouse.

The pattern for my blouse has been used twice already, for my basic brown version and my “Leave Her to Heaven” look-alike.  I have this pattern down pat, but I love it no less for being the third time around…it’s a winner.  However, I did decide to tweak it a bit.  I spread the fullness of the thick single shoulder darts into three tiny darts of descending lengths which get shorter as they get closer to the sleeve caps.  It is an understated detail that feels very feminine and tailored.  I also added a bit more length in the sleeves with a little more fullness.  The sleeves are single layer of fabric so they are slightly sheer and delicate, perfect for the puffier shape.  The main body of the blouse has been double layered so that it would be both opaque as well as darker in color.  Instead of cufflink holes, as I do on most of my dressy blouses, I chose some wonderful pastel flower shaped buttons from my Grandma’s stash.  They really emphasize the creamy, bright color of the fabric in a way that cheers me up in winter and makes it perfect for summer, too.

My skirt was a pretty basic re-fashion, all I was basically doing was reshaping it.  I cut off the elastic waist first (keeping the side pockets), then chopped of only enough from the long hem to make a new, wide, interfaced waistband.  However, I needed to tailor the waist before adding that waistband!  This was the tricky part, trying to figure out how to take the waist in and how much to bring in.  This step took way too long and caused a lot of unpicking.  I had plenty of other more interesting ideas (pleats, a placket) that I tried before I settled for the basic, darted straight line skirt style you see.  Just a simple hem made, the zipper and waistband set on and my refashion might not look that dramatically different from its the original state.  It was merely fine-tuned and I hope classic enough to not just be a “vintage” style item.  Just imagine my skirt paired with tights on my legs and platform shoes or slip-on mules topped with a modern oversized sweater and a big belt…yup, it should be pretty variable.

Now, my hat is definitely and unequivocally old-style.  I have long admired the late 30’s (see this article) and early 1940s oversized drama hats.  This hat style seems to go by several names – most frequently called either the pancake hat or beret.  It just kind of subconsciously seeped into my realization to just start with a placemat. It’s round and lightweight and the perfect base for that kind of hat, but then again this is not the first placemat hat I’ve made (see this one here).  First I covered the hat in felt, but that was way too plain.  I had to spice it up.  I pleated the felt in an Art Deco style throwback in three tiny pintucks that angle in to disappear before they reach the other edge.  Art Deco details persisted through the 30’s into the post-WWII times, mostly in the built environment, so the pintucks call to mind my love of architecture.  A sculpted hat is sort of like architecture the way they are structured works of art, sometimes reaching for the skies, and craftily perched on the human head the way buildings cling and hold onto God’s good earth no matter what the angle.  I actually need my giant hat pin to keep this one on my head.

I wanted to make sure the placemat kept its shape, so, before I sewed the bottom half of the hat to it, I hand tacked an electrical wire to the underneath edge.  This was a good idea that ended up being a bad idea.  Electrical wire was the scrap I most immediately found on my hubby’s workspace and it was much too heavy for the job…why I need my hat pin.  I should have used my lightweight floral wire instead (as I don’t have any proper millinery wire).  We live and learn, and although this was not the best success, it is neither a failure.  It is a very wearable experiment that I love.  It turned out 100% better than my husband had expected and cost me pittance so what could be more awesome than that?!  I now had the perfect finish to my outfit and tried a new hat style I have long admired, besides learning what to do the next time!  The little silly hat front décor is straight out of my head, also made out of the same felt, and merely something cute and decorative to break up the overwhelming shape.

I love practicing the idealistic challenge and thrifty, global conscious practice of taking my wardrobe from years past and things on hand to use with my talents to update it for my current life and fashion tastes.  It’s not because it’s the new “in” thing to do, though…neither are we on that tight of a budget.  It’s purely because I want to.  I have been doing this for so many years, way before it was a trend, I am used to looking for what is on hand before I buy.  My husband calls it a version of shopping…where I go downstairs and rummage through my stash of unworn, but sentimentally attached garments I no longer want to wear the way they are to find something “free” to rework it and feel like I end up with a “new” piece of clothing.  Add in a fully new, made-from-scratch item, like my blouse, which was easy and fast to make in a natural fiber, and top it off with a luxurious statement hat made from ridiculously simple home decorating supplies on hand…and I get my fashion and overall creative fix satisfied.  You don’t need much money or supplies to be crafty and start sewing.  There’s a bounty of stuff nearby somewhere just waiting for a second chance.

 

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Fuchsia Pleats to Brighten Up the Greys

Winter skies here can be so blasé and I am not at all afraid to use bold color in my choice of sewing plans to counter attack that!  This post will try to be short and sweet about a not so simple 1940s blouse I made to complete a recently acquired vintage suit set of the same era.  This blouse proves that mantra, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!” to be very true and not just words.  I indeed had to struggle to have this blouse turn out successfully and am so glad I persevered for this gem of a garment!

I will confess that I now have a hopeless taste for silk and silk blends recently.  A fine silk cotton is my especial combination of fascination – it can come in so many finishes, levels of opacity and crispness, besides the myriad of colors available.  Add that to its relative affordability, it is a no-brainer to choose for blouses.  Find some for yourself and you’ll thank me later.  Just don’t go and buy it all, now!

If I let myself get technical, I would guiltily admit that I am mislabeling this blouse because if you go by the book “a tuck is stitched down, a pleat is not”.  So this is a tucked front blouse whose detailing is made to look like what we conventionally think of as pleats.  There I said it – I’m admittedly wrong.  Nevertheless, tucks and pleats are frequent and lovely details on vintage blouse designs, and are a fun and relatively easy way to have a blouse that’s a complex, standout piece.  Tucks and pleats are just about cleverly manipulating folds of fabric after all.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 58% silk, 42% cotton blend fabric, opaque and rich in color with a sheen like a satin and a crispness like a shantung

PATTERN:  Hollywood #1165, year 1943, a “Ruth Warrick of RKO-Radio” design

NOTIONS:  All I needed was thread at first, which I happened to have, but then I ran out of thread and I needed a zipper so I had to buy (at the last minute) some of my notions needed for this project.  Otherwise I used up some interfacing scraps for the cuffs, and I used vintage buttons from the stash of hubby’s Grandmother.  The buttons might look like cut glass, but I believe they are Lucite

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This blouse was finished on November 20, 2017 after maybe 20 plus hours invested in it.

THE INSIDES:  So nice I’m tempted to wear the blouse inside out…well, almost!  100% French seams.

TOTAL COST:  I ordered this from a seller on Etsy than imports in from Hong Kong so it’s at a discount.  Two yards cost me only $14 including shipping.

Now, before I get into the details of the blouse, let me gush over the suit details.  From what I have seen in my research, I can date this suit with relative certainty to circa year 1946.  It could be as early as year 1944, but not much later than 1947.  They just do not make suits remotely close to the level of quality and beauty as they did in the past.  This wool, though it is plain grey, has a satin sheen in varying colors that is simply breathtaking.  Pictures just cannot capture that shine, neither can they convey the substantial thickness of the wool and the crepe lining inside.  These kinds of fabrics sadly are not to be found anymore.  This wool is almost like a felt in plushness, and with the lining and complicated, impeccable structuring I can feel is going on inside, this is more like a jacket than just a suit jacket.  If you haven’t ever felt what a 1940’s quality suit is like, you need to experience it.  Put it on your bucket list!  These garments are truly transforming when you put them on.  They make you feel like the best darn good version of yourself you never knew existed.  I feel like I can tackle anything in a killer vintage suit – they’re empowering.  The trick is to take your measurements, know what garment measurements would work well for you, and then wait and check around to find the one that “suits” you!

More often than not, unless you are willing to make a larger monetary investment, a vintage suit will need some upkeep and TLC, with many even missing their matching skirt.  This jacket needed its buttons tacked on and some popped seams closed up, but these are the most common repairs with vintage pieces as cotton thread was frequently used back then and is to the point of disintegrating by now.  Luckily, I had a matching skirt, only it didn’t fit me very well, not like the suit jacket did.  Since someone had obviously tinkered with the skirt before I received it, adding modern-style repairs I wasn’t happy with, I didn’t feel too bad when I refashioned it so I could wear it.  The waistband was unpicked and removed to make a center back panel that gave me about 3 inches more of booty room and better, curved shaping around the waistline.  To finish the waist, I turned under the edge in simple bias tape.  Without the waistband, the skirt does have the tendency to droop now, but at least it is more wearable for me and I was able to fix it using all of the same original material!

With all the effort I put into bringing this vintage suit set up to snuff, I felt that a more detailed and complex blouse was especially worth it here.  Don’t get me wrong – anything anyone makes for oneself is ‘worth it’.  I just mean that a rich looking, detailed blouse that might take more time than my normal project would justly give my suit set the finishing touch I was seeking to have a full outfit that has a bang!  Of course, the right accessories help that, too. My gloves, handbag, and hat are all true vintage, as well as my Grandmother’s jeweled turtle brooch and earrings set.  My two-tone spectator pumps are new reproductions from my favorite vintage-style brand, Chelsea Crew.

Finally, to the blouse!  Not that I don’t have blouses already that work with this suit – of course, white and black tops match here, primarily because of the buttons.  But that is so boring and predictable.  Blouses with collars distracted away from the lovey curved collar (and matching pocket flaps!) on the suit.  My oldie-but-goodie 40’s basic round neck satin blouse works nicely under the suit, so for my new shirt I reached for a rounded neck blouse with interest down the front that would peek out.

I have been wanting to use this Hollywood blouse pattern that I have had for years!  Ever since I saw Emileigh of “Flashback Summer” blog make a Maasai-inspired version for herself using this pattern it has been higher in my sewing project queue.  I had a feeling that a solid color would be the best way to show off the detailing, and I think I was right.  Only, I was wrong when it came to estimating the sizing.  This pattern ran really small!  It was weird.  Emileigh had said that she felt her pattern ran large, and I have made another Hollywood pattern from 1943, the same year, that ran true to size, as well as one which ran very large from the next year.  It’s not that this pleated blouse pattern had weird proportions, for all the pieces were nicely marked and fit together well.  It was just all over small.  Luckily, when I graded the pattern up to my size, I gave myself and extra ½ inch or so just to be on the safe side so I had just enough bonus so that that a small change could fix things.  More on that change in a minute!  The only thing I can think is that this was an anomaly rising from the combo of an unprinted pattern and an off-brand company (meaning something other than the “Big Four”, Simplicity, McCall, Butterick, Vogue).  Many times unprinted patterns are less reliable in accuracy than printed ones due to how they were made in stacks of hundreds of sheets at a time, die-cast stamped with their balance marks and darts.  Also, out of all the vintage patterns I’ve worked with, I do find unpredictable sizing almost always in brand patterns like Du Barry, Hollywood, mail order, and even Advance.

You start with the front, which is in three panels – one side front on the left and right of the center panel that gets pleated.  Except for the center where they spread out towards the shoulders, the pleats are in “blind tuck” style, which has folds that meet each other so no stitching shows.  Then I made all bodice darts, sewed the back panels on, and inserted the sleeves.  Sounds easy, right?  Well, I adapted the sleeve fullness to be pleats rather than gathers as the pattern intended.  It was tricky to get the sleeves looking even and exact together when I was free handing the detailing.  I wanted the pleats on the sleeves to match the trim darts on the sleeve caps and the pleats on the body of the blouse.

That done, then I realized that the neckline add-on piece would make the blouse so high necked I might as well choke myself with it.  No, I was leaving the round neck panel off. So I took what little material I had left and made bias tape facing to cleanly finish off the neckline at the level it was at.  While I was at it, I then also made a bit more bias tape to cleanly hem the bottom of the blouse, too.  I tried it on without the back closing, and realized the bust darts needed to be re-stitched about one inch lower.  With that fixed, the blouse seemed to fit great, so I finished it by stitching in all the buttonholes and buttons in the sleeves and bodice back.  Here came the problem.

The blouse was not all that small of a fit in itself if I just stood with my arms to the side, but add in the back buttons and that was a difficulty.  I found it almost impossible to button the blouse closed on myself, with not enough extra ease room.  Once I did finally do that feat, I saw that when I reached out, the stress on the buttons was making me scared the delicate fabric might possibly rip.  Stitched on and already cut through buttonholes are non-reversible, so I thought, “Why not cover up the buttonholes (my only real option anyway) and add a pleated panel down the back to also cover up a zippered closure?”  This way the back of the blouse compliments the front and now has equally lovely interest, besides that fact that a separating zipper is so much easier to do blind reaching from behind and much stronger than four buttons could be.  Adding the panel with the zipper technically gave me one whole extra inch of space across the back, making my blouse fit me so much better overall.  A crisis was averted that night, and I actually like my method of covering up a sewing “failure” much better than if everything had gone according to plan.  Mistakes are often blessings in disguise, I suppose.

The Hollywood star associated with my blouse’s design, Ruth Warrick, is herself an interesting woman that is not heard about as much as she could, for being in the limelight in as many ways as she was.  First of all, she played the character of the actor Orson Welles’ first wife in the famous 1941 movie “Citizen Kane”.  She worked with Orson Welles on both the screen and the radio on several occasions because he said he was looking for a woman who “was a lady”, not just someone who could “play a lady”.  Mostly she is known for the later career in the television soap dramas.  She was in “As the World Turns” for a number of years after the show debuted in 1956, then she moved to “All My Children”, which she was part of from 1970 to 2005.  She has bonus points in my book for being a gal from my own state of Missouri!  It’s amazing how adding the association of a famous screen star can really add to a pattern’s appeal.  Pattern companies should bring back Hollywood patterns, and I’m not talking about cosplay either.

Speaking of Hollywood, this reminds me of a quote of some fashion advice by Joan Crawford, “Find your happiest colors – the ones that make you feel good.  Care for your clothes, like the good friends they are!”  (Full quote here.)  This is good advice for store bought clothes, even more so for things that you have sewn.  If you have taken the time to think of it, buy the fabric and work with the pattern, you are worth seeing what you have made be a success and not an unwanted failure.  However, Joan Crawford’s quote is especially the case for vintage items.  It would be sad if the general interest in fashion from the past also becomes the cause for it to be more scarce and therefore less attainable.  I don’t mean to get on a soapbox, but really – it’s kind of like what is said about our environment, we should leave vintage the same or better than how we found it, but never worse off.  Those who own a garment piece from the past should make sure to wear it only if it fits (as there will be less chance of it tearing irreparably and more chance they will like wearing it), take care of it, and examine, appreciate, and learn from it.  Without clothes from the past how will we learn and understand our present and future fashion styles?  Anyone who has or does sew vintage and even those who do not should appreciate the value of true authentic pieces in the hands of everyday people.  I hope you agree and enjoy what I have done to add value to this 1940’s suit set.