“Catch Me I’m Falling”…For the 80’s!

All I know is that I realized my Easter tradition of going up through the decades of the 20th century was going to be more challenging after reaching the 1980s this year’s holiday.  It all started with a 1920’s dress back in Easter of 2013.  Now, my “vintage sewing” has a white elephant in the room.  I never thought I could love the 80’s as much as I do this suit!  Nevertheless, this is a designer pattern, to add to the appeal…a year 1985 Givenchy skirt suit set to be exact.  Help me – I have fallen for a ‘new’ outdated era.  Dare I call it ‘vintage’ when I was born in that decade?

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  2 ½ yards of faux suede was used for the main body (exterior) of the jacket, with a cotton broadcloth (also 2 ½ yards) for the interlining and a cotton lightweight canvas weight (one yard) for interfacing; the skirt only needed on yard and was cut from a silk satin vintage Indian sari.  A dusty grey under toned purple silk Habotai was the lining for both the jacket and the skirt, as well as being used for the top…3 ½ yards was enough for everything.

PATTERN:  a “Vogue Paris Original” Givenchy designer pattern, #1665.  It is dated 1986 by Vogue on the envelope and 1985 by Givenchy (as pointed out by Jessika Ahlström on Instagram).  The top was made using Simplicity #1690, a Leanne Marshal pattern from year 2013 (used once before to make this lace crop top)

NOTIONS:  The etched gold buttons were 80’s or 90’s from my husband’s Grandmother’s stash that I’ve inherited, while the zipper was luckily on hand in my stash.  I luckily had 3 spools of the thread color I needed on hand as well.  The only thing I really had to buy for this suit set was the front jacket closures – 1 inch brass hook and eyes.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Not even counting the at least 15 hours it took me to tailor some of the pattern pieces (which meant re-tracing them out onto new paper) and the cut them out of all the layers and separate fabrics needed…the actual construction of the skirt took about 12 hours, the top 6 hours, and the jacket just over 30 hours.  All together that’s a total of about 65 hours!  Everything was finished just two days before Easter, April 18, 2019.

TOTAL COST:  The faux suede has been in my stash forever, and the sari was a birthday present a few years back so I’m counting both as free and also a stash busting win at this point.  Except for the jacket hook closures ($3), even the notions were on hand so I’m counting them as a non-cost.  The silk was an awesome find on Etsy from someone clearing out their stash…it was only $15. Perhaps I can also count my vintage 80’s shoes, specifically bought to go with this outfit, at $30.  So my suit was just under $50…a far cry from any ballpark cost for a Givenchy suit much less one this quality.  I’m so happy!

Now, I had some good preliminary practice with my Agent Carter “One Shot” 1946 suit to have so much more confidence and relaxation going into making this suit.  I knew what to expect and how to figure it.  Except this time, I went a bar above – this is a designer style, almost exclusively in silk, and a full three piece set.  Granted, I was in so much more of a time crunch with this suit not getting to it until the beginning of April, but even still – with all the no-stops care and attention to detail that I did, it was finished in only two weeks.  I think I can pat myself in pride on the back for this set both in time and quality, if only my achy hands and shoulders weren’t crying out something different afterwards!

As for the last suit, here I made the skirt – and the top – first.  For being just a one yard, minimal pattern piece patterns, both skirt and top took me so much longer than imaginable.  This is due to the fact that in order to match with the couture quality that a Givenchy set deserves, and to give justice to the deluxe materials I was working with, most everything here was sewn by hand.  Yes, you read right.  The side seams to the top were machine sewn French finished, and the skirt had machine sewn side seams with the raw edges encased in between the lining.  Everything else, though, was sewn as invisibly as possible by hand.  The skirt’s hem is “floating”, attached only to the lining, and the bias binding of the top was rolled and stitched “in the ditch”.  I guess I’m just crazy, too dedicated, or overly meticulous, but even if I’m the only one that sees the details, I’m happy as a lark.  I’m learning and growing through this, I know, and I love the source of pride and accomplishment something like suit making offers.  Couture tailoring of suits is a whole separate world with new terms and skills called for completely out of the norm for general home sewing or dressmaking.

I did make a few slight changes along the way to both the top and the skirt.  First of all, I cut the top on the bias grain rather than the straight grain (parallel to the selvedge) as directed.  This fits the otherwise boxy and oversized shape to my body better besides making the top easier to put on and much more luxurious to wear.  I actually went down from what should have been my proper size, too.  The skirt did not originally call for a little ease-of-movement slit at the knee.  As this is a tapered skirt – gathered at the waist and tapering down to almost a wiggle skirt from the hips downward – I feel much more comfortable and less confined with this little extra detail.  It also keeps the skirt appealing and feminine to a style that could easily look frumpy, in my opinion.  A little “oh la la” never hurt anything.

The original pattern didn’t call for the contrast placket that is under the buttons on my left side, either.  I added this feature to break up the busyness of the print, make the purely decorative buttons appear more purposeful, lengthen the visual line of the skirt’s silhouette, and to incorporate it into the jacket for an overall harmonious suit.  I actually used the underside of the faux suede for the added left side skirt placket.  The underside has a nicely low-key shiny satin finish in a slightly deeper, more dusty color green (than the creamier pastel of the suede side) that I love paired with the muted, varied tones of the skirt sari satin.  The only other place in my suit set where I used this satin underside is on the facings along the inside neckline and front to the jacket.

I don’t understand how a sari is worn, but it would help me understand why there was a cotton hem protecting panel running along half of the one long edge’s underside.  You see, a sari is a long 4 yard rectangle.  This satin sari had a big, square, artistic, highly detailed panel at one of the long ends and a matching border that ran along the rest of the edges, about 5 inches wide.  So far all the saris I have seen generally follow this pattern of design layout, and it’s so beautiful and interesting, but I would love to find the reason why.

The added-on cotton protecting panel ran from the square artistic end to half way down, and was obviously there to save that edge from wear and tear looking at the fading and color distortion around it, so I assume that area was above the back of the feet.  I actually used the fabric from this little add-on panel as the facing underside of the skirt’s waistband.  Otherwise, the rest of the portions I used for the skirt came from both ends of my sari – the front skirt was half of the wide, detailed square end, while the back skirt is from the other plain end.  The front therefore has most of the dusty purple undertones, matching with the color of the Habotai for the top and lining, while the back has the turquoise, lime green, and rich teal.  If it wasn’t for the rich complexity of color in this luxurious sari, I would have never thought of pairing purple and green as I did!  Luckily, I have plenty of sari left (3 yards!) to use to make something else in the future.

Inside out view of “the guts”…

Now the jacket was a bit less intense than the Agent Carter one because the faux suede was not lofty enough to pad stitch.  It was much too buttery of a material (so dreamy of a hand!) anyway and most of the seaming needed smooth flowing lines…not an allover firm body pad stitching lends.  However, my hand stitching game needed to be really strong because the suede also would make any thread ugly obvious.  Luckily, the interlining and interfacing gave me something to catch with my hand stitching so no thread is visible yet all the layers become joined together.  Thus, the credit of success for my jacket goes to precise hand stitching, seam allowance trimming, proper interfacing/interlining weight fabric, and meticulous ironing at every…single…step.  When I know (and see) that all of this makes such a day and night difference in ending with a professionally tailored jacket, it is not as much of a bother as it could be, no matter how exhausting those steps can be to execute.

I must say the pattern instructions were so very excellent at leading me through the whole process but my preliminary familiarity was necessary still.  Vogue designer patterns can be intimidating, but they are not impossible.  Their instructions obviously step up to meet your needs but seem to assume experience on your part, too.  Every piece of interfacing had its own pattern piece!  I mean, this isn’t something you see too often for home sewing!  I would expect no less, though, because why else would a designer pattern be special?  Luckily, my particular copy of Vogue #1662 came with a clothing label…hard to come by nowadays and a rare find.  I have two other labels with other patterns but this set really deserved it.  I splurged.  It made my home couture creation feel so verified!

What I have noticed with designer clothes (or in my case, home patterns for designer clothes) is the quality details that are low-key.  For example, this jacket has no side seams.  The front panels on either side of the center are stiffed and full of body.  Then there is a princess seam that joins the side panel to the front.  Those panels that attach to the front wrap around to the back to join a center back panel that is only interfaced across the shoulders.  Last year’s Sybil Connolly suit from 1976 had something similar, as well.  This time is freaking ingenious for such a fitted suit jacket.  It blows my mind.  Sorry, though, my seams are so smooth and flat (as they should be…) that the camera couldn’t really show it.  What really amazed me was the curving that was achieved in the seam side panel.  Polyester faux suede – even though this is the nicest version I have ever felt – is so hard to sew smoothly.  It’s a tightly woven material with almost zero give even on the cross-grain.  Preventing puckering of the seams which had extra ease (a.k.a. the princess seams and sleeve caps) was so very tricky.

There is hardly anything I changed to the suit jacket.  I kept it how it was.  The most visible exception is at the center front closing.  The pattern called for a strip of the suit fabric to be made, four large snaps sewn on it, and then sewing it along the left side facing so the right side of the jacket would close over the extension added to the left.  I didn’t like the idea of being tied down to always having the jacket closed if it was on me, something that the added front snap extension would do.  The oversized hook and eyes did the same trick just as nicely and I have the versatility of showing off my top with an open front jacket.  The front panels are so sturdy, I do believe the snap extension piece would have been overkill.

Other than that, I changed up the layering of the interlining.  Each layer was sewn separately, ironed out and layered on top of each other, and slightly pad-stitched over the main seams before being covered up by the lining.  The pattern called for each individual piece to be layered then sewn together which would only make for bulky seams that no amount of allowance clipping or ironing could fix.  No pattern instruction can be better than knowledge gained through previous familiarity of what does and doesn’t work for a technique.  It may be a designer pattern, but since it is in my hands, I am ultimately the final designer.  I can be the one to made what I deem are the best decisions for the appearance and material I have chosen, but for the designer patterns I have sewn so far I generally stay close to the original idea just to respect the designer.  Many times along the process of going from the designer’s idea to a final product the original design is tweaked, changed, and sometimes downgraded to adapt to how it is going to be made or offered, and I wonder if the instructions showing the interlining layered over each piece is something Vogue thought was more suited to a home market.

This was my first experience with suit jacket cuffs and I am fascinated.  It was smartly engineered to turn out fantastic.  What really helped was ironing down an interfacing piece that ran along the line where the cuff is turned under, giving a crisp folded edge.  It was ironed down after doing one of the long seams to the two-part sleeves.  There is a mitered corner to the cuff flap that folds over (the outside flap, not the one facing my wrist) so there is a wonderful clean finished point.  I love doing mitered points and wish more patterns included this detail.  The cuff buttons match with the three down the left side of my skirt and are merely decoratively sewn down to connect and close the cuff flaps, in other words non-working buttons.  Something new and different has been conquered.

This completely feels like the best version of me – between the custom fit, the colors and fabrics that are all of my choosing, and the labor of love spent to have a finished suit, I am comfortable in the 1980s like I never imagined.  After all, though, much of the 80’s, and especially in regards to this suit, has everything I love about the 1940s just in a different form.  The strong shoulders in particular are the most obvious common point, and even I’ll admit that sometimes the padding in the era was a little too extreme.  A nipped-in waist and slight peplum here save the shoulders from being overkill, as does the skinny, short, restrained skirt.  I think Yves Saint Laurent, Thierry Mugler, and Emanuel Ungaro designs of the 80’s all remind me of everything I like about this Givenchy design but you can see more of my favorite 1980s inspiration here at my special Pinterest board!  These shoulder heavy, hip emphasizing, leg baring styles are the friend of any hourglass shaped woman like me in particular.

Nevertheless, I think what I find so appealing about the 80’s was the attitude of the fashion, the boldness of combining experimental colors, and wide array of styles.  The confidence I see in the fashion advertisements is so refreshing, compared to the sickly, no-personality, smoldering faces of many models on the runways today.  The bright and fun colors, even on the ugly 80’s sweatsuits, are cheering enough to make you smile and laugh!  Much of what I see in designer fashion shows do not make me expressly feel happy like the 80’s can.  The stereotypical 80’s fashion is what turns most everybody off, but the more I did into the era, the more I see such a variety of styles – mermaid skirts, pencil skirts, pleated pants, tapered leg trousers, Grecian-like wrap blouses and dresses, and all sorts of past historical references such as military jackets, Victorian coats, and 20’s style French heeled shoes.  If I do say so myself, the 80’s had the best music, too!  (My post’s title is named for a popular tune by Pretty Poison, year 1988.)

Well, I hope I have not shocked you completely by entertaining the idea of the 80’s being appealing and even being vintage.  I am optimistic that I have inspired you to take another look at an era of past fashion that seems to be the easiest to criticize and dismiss.  As always, thank you for reading!

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Ms. Kelly’s Dress

Copying the fashion of famous people becomes interesting when you do it for one of the most iconic beauties – Grace Kelly.  To top it off, I’ve chosen to try and recreate one of her iconic dresses, as well.  Both she and I are called “Kelly”, after all – her maiden last name is my first.

I’ve copied a dress that was worn for the occasion that changed her life – the first meeting of Prince Rainier of Monaco in spring of 1955 (full story here).  Just a few months before, she modeled this same dress on the cover of the pattern book for McCall’s – it was pattern number 3100 from 1954.  She kept that dress from the McCall’s cover, and when there was no electricity in her hotel the day she was to meet Prince Rainier, this flowered silk taffeta dress was the only thing she had which didn’t need ironing.  She couldn’t fix her hair without power either, so she put it in a basic bun and added an ivy covered fascinator.  I’ve read reports that she hated the McCall’s dress, really, but she thought no one would ever remember her in this frock.  She never though so much would come from her visit with the prince!  I have a whole Pinterest board here full of more pictures of her and the prince from that occasion, if you’re interested.

Ever since I first saw an Instagram post on this, I realized I had in my stash a McCall’s pattern that’s 32 numbers more than Grace Kelly’s dress, yet (except for the neckline) it’s more or less the exact same dress design.  Now this was a temptation that I couldn’t resist!  Yet I knew I had to make my version of Grace Kelly’s dress quite nice in quality or not at all.  My cousin’s fall wedding gave me the reason and opportunity to make and wear something so fancy!  So several yards of the finest mulberry silk were bought on a fabric splurge, together with everything needed for fully finished insides, and I’ve now made what I think is one of my fanciest dresses yet!

I brought a little bit of my dear departed Grandmother to attend the wedding – the pink pearl leaf earrings are from her as well as the gloves.  My bracelet is made by me of Swarovski crystals and sterling spacers.  My shoes are the divinely comfy and yet fancy “Lola” heels from Chelsea Crew.  I was adding in muted pink pastels to soften up the otherwise dark greys and black in my dress’ print, and bring out its magnolia tree petals!  A real life English ivy vine is my headband, ‘cause why settle for fake when you can have the real thing?!

I feel so flawlessly chic and powerfully feminine in this outfit.  Even though I do not think this is the best design for my body type, the way the full skirt swishes around as I move (due to my added self-attached slip) and the softness and shine of the silk is unparalleled.  This is comfortable finery, the likes of which cannot be found to buy RTW without a hefty price tag.  I bought this dress pattern because it was different, cheaply priced, and appealing, but somehow I’ve always been mystified at how to make it work for myself.  If ever I’m gonna like this pattern, my Grace Kelly look-alike version of the dress is the best shot at that.  Even though I sense that my waist gets lost, and my hips feel as big as a house, once I think past my self-conscious insecurities while wearing this dress, it’s then that I love it.  Who couldn’t love being able to slip into a small taste of the charisma of Grace Kelly?!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% mulberry silk printed floral called “Spring Garden at Night”, lined in all cotton broadcloth, with a pleated polyester satin for the attached petticoat, and netted tulle for the crinoline

PATTERN:  McCall’s #3123, year 1954

NOTIONS:  I bought the invisible zipper for the back, but besides thread that was all the notions I needed!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My dress was made in about 18 to 20 hours hours and finished on August 29, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  Covered up by all the lining/petticoat, raw edges are not to be seen inside!

TOTAL COST:  The silk cost about $60 for 3 ½ yards, ordered from “The Hue Kiosk” on Etsy, with the lining cotton, petticoat skirt materials and zipper costing an extra $20 bought from Jo Ann’s Fabrics.  A total of about $80 makes this just about if not the most expensive dress I’ve made, but that still isn’t a bad price for a dress like this…it was totally worth it!

This dress pattern is labelled as “Easy-to-Sew” and it truly was incredibly easy.  Sure, I made the dress a bit harder to make by fully lining the body, and drafting my own petticoat, but even with all this, it was still way too easy for how it looks.  This McCall’s dress pattern also had remarkable fit that was spot on.  I was worried about fitting the hips correctly, so that they were almost snug but still loose.  The hips are pretty much the important part of this dress design because fitted wrongly they won’t hold the bodice and the skirt in place on the body correctly.  The area from the waist, through the hips down, to the skirt seam is really the only part of this dress that is fitted to the body anyway.  Grading up to my size according to the chart on the pattern back was right on, needing no extra adjustments.  My main caveat to this pattern is it had a very long torso.  I do not call myself petite, although I am on the shorter side, about 5 feet 3 inches high, yet I had to take out 2 inches horizontally from above the waist to bring the proportions up higher.  I also cut the top of the back neckline 1 ½ inches lower to also raise up the still long back bodice.  I never make toiles, or muslins, but I do frequently check pattern pieces by fitting them on myself first before cutting out.  I’m more glad than usual that I did discover the adjustments needed here before cutting on my good silk.

I made two small changes to the actual design.  Firstly, the most obvious one is that I made the short arm-baring sleeves on the pattern into deep kimono ¾ length.  I used another 50’s pattern from my stash as my guide for cutting because as simple as extending the sleeves might seem, I wanted to leave nothing to chance, no opportunities for mistakes if I could help it.  The elbows have small darts for shaping and are not cumbersome.  The bottom of the sleeves arch gently from my elbows down to my high waist on the dress, something you can see when my arms are out.  I realize that the longer sleeves add so much more volume to the overall appearance of the dress, yet I think the super short sleeves on the pattern strike me as jarring with the dressy air of the rest of the design.  I think my having a bit more modest sleeves not only makes my dress closer to the original Grace Kelly dress, but I think it brings out the dramatic plunge of the V-neckline.  Overall, as this is somewhat of a cooler weather dress, made especially for a fall wedding, I did not want to have to wear a sweater (with this? Yuk.), so the longer sleeves keep me more comfortable.  When trying to imitate other people’s style, I never like to compromise my own taste and personality either…after all, knock-off or not, I’m still the one wearing it!

The second change was to take out about 12 inches out of the amount of gathers to the skirt – and it’s still so full!  Many times a vintage 1950’s full skirt is really full, I mean so full your machine might not even want to sew through it, and I almost always take out 8 to 12 inches out of them and they are still quite poufy.  Also the length to the skirt of my dress would have come down to the floor had I not taken out more than 5 inches.  Even still, my skirt has a very wide hem, which actually kind of weighs it down and help the bottom round out nicely.  In all there was probably enough for a whole nuther dress in the skirt alone.  Once the skirt was sewn on to the bodice, working on finishing the dress felt overwhelming.  Have you ever felt like a garment project that has a lot of fabric “fights” with you to get under the sewing machine needle?  This was like that.  Thank goodness it was relatively easy to make.

As I was spending enough time and money to make this a very nice dress, I chose to have a modern invisible zipper down the back.  As much as I do like my vintage dresses to be vintage, there is nothing that beats a perfectly installed invisible zipper in a spot where a regular zip would be so very obvious.  The pattern called for the back zipper to extend all the way past the drop skirt seam, into the skirt itself.  I considered it, but ultimately didn’t want to try to take an invisible zip through that much fabric, so my zipper only goes down to just above the skirt seam.

The zipper was just one of several things I had to decide on for my finished dress.  Grace Kelly’s original dress has a belt at the drop skirt seam, and the pattern has a true waist belt, so I made an ultra-long belt that could’ve worked for either my hips or waist, but didn’t like how it distracted from the rest of the dress and brought the eyes to the wrong spots.  I was briefly even considering adding in light boning in the side seams to keep the bodice in shape over my hips, but I waited until my dress was finished to decide (thank goodness) and the heavy petticoat weighs down the skirt just enough to keep the dress from creeping up on me.  It is one thing to figure out how to properly shape and make a garment…it’s another to overthink problems (real or imagined) and over-engineer details.  I’m guilty of doing both.  So often the difference between those two situations is a very fine line that I struggle to find in many projects.

The extra finishing I did add to the insides really made a difference to this dress.  I tried it on at each step, without the bodice lining, and without the petticoat.  I did not like it until I had fully lined the bodice – it had more “body” and shape with it in, besides making it easy to finish the neckline, and a single layer of silk felt too sheer and delicate anyway.  The neckline pleats to the cotton bodice lining were stitched down – other than that it was cut and sewn the same as the silk bodice.  The skirt was too droopy without the petticoat I drafted – a nicely full skirt that holds its own really defines the rest of this dress design, besides preventing static cling.  I really thought about making the new Simplicity #8456 to go underneath, but having the petticoat attached with the bodice lined made wearing and getting dressed in this so effortless.  With just over 3 yards of fabric in this dress I needed to be able to wear the dress…not the dress wearing me.

My dresses petticoat was made from a mechanically pleated/crinkled satin that had a relatively heavy drape to hold its own against the light-as-air silk.  Long, 10 inch wide strips was tulle netting were cut and gathered above the hem of the crinkled petticoat satin.  Then the skirt was gathered and sewn on the other side of the waist seam, so that when the dress hangs or gets worn the petticoat falls down over the raw edge, covering it and in a sense pulling the seam allowance down for me at the same time.  I love engineering my dresses so I can be just as proud of the inside as I am of the out.  I am important enough to warrant seeing a finely finished inside.

I cannot say enough good words about the mulberry silk I ordered as well as the shop I ordered from – “The Hue Kiosk”.  They have my full recommendation!  First of all, I love what they have to offer, with reasonable prices, and great customer interaction.  A sheet of touch-and-feel samples they sent along with my order was really enjoyable, and helps me know what I want to order next from them once I catch up on my sewing allowance!  Mostly though, this mulberry silk is the best silk I have sewn, felt, and worked with.  Out of all the kinds of silks I’ve worked with so far (over half a dozen now) this is so impeccably wrinkle free –even straight out of the wash – it’s a miracle.  The best part is the lack of smell!  I know I have a sensitive nose, and as much as I love silk, both silk and wool have this smell, especially when wet, that is sort of repugnant to me.  Mulberry silk is the first that is smell-free!  I have read that it is considered hypo-allergenic because the worms have one sole diet of mulberry leaves.  Never mind the insect details, I am so sold on mulberry silk.  My only caveat is that a new, sharp needle is a must when sewing on mulberry silk.  A semi-new “sharps” needle was enough to create a few catches or runs in the silk as I was working – it has very fine threads and has a semi-tight texture.

When I thought about the history behind my dress after my cousin’s wedding, I realized an irony I hadn’t thought of before.  A dress that Grace Kelly wore to an occasion which led to a wedding, had be copied by me to wear to a wedding.  Maybe this dress when made of silk inherently wants to be a wedding dress?  Silly me!  Seriously though, I’ve noticed many drop-waisted dresses in the few years after 1954 (check out the McCall’s #7625 1955 Archive pattern or Vintage Vogue #1094 of year 1955 for two readily available examples, and see my Pinterest board “Drop That 50’s Waist”) so I realize this dress of mine as well as Grace Kelly’s dress were part of a mid-50’s trend for juniors and women alike.  It is not the most likeable style but it is memorable – especially when it has the name of Grace Kelly behind it!  I hope the modern Ms. Kelly – me! – has also been able to put a new and lovely twist on an old style.  Deep down I must be a princess at heart.

Please visit this Instagram post on my account to see my attempt at reproducing the old original McCall’s pattern book cover for the “Vintage Cover Challenge”!  Close enough to be convincing?

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A Fancy Feed Sack 1935 Dress Set

Something as commonplace as a vintage feed sack print gets an upscale upgrade when it came to planning and making my Easter outfit of the year 2014. I had made a number of 30’s era garments earlier than my 2014 Easter outfit, but an authentic and all-out-beautiful classic of the mid-1930s (one of my favorite fashion era years) was in order sooner or later in my plans. Here is my post about a sheer, flowing, silk chiffon afternoon tea dress with a under slip which has Art Deco lines. This 1930s silk set was quite time consuming to finish perfectly, but very fulfilling to make and even more lovely to wear.

100_2792a-compMy Easter dress for the year before this one was a design from the 1920’s (my 1929 hankie-hem dress made in 2013; posted here). For 2014, I merely went up a decade to the 30’s, to have some continuity of progression through the upcoming years.

THE FACTS:100_2800-comp

FABRIC:  The sheer feed sack printed over dress is an “Anna Sui Vintage Floral Silk Chiffon” (close-up at right) from Mood Fabrics. The under slip was made using a “Kiwi Color Solid Silk Chiffon”, also ordered from Mood.

NOTIONS:  I bought most of the notions that went into making my 1930’s Easter set. I had to buy several spools of thread, a package of stay tape, the buttons, and a skein of embroidery floss. I did have on hand the few snaps which were required. The belt buckle is a very old Art deco piece that I also had on hand, bought a while back from a vintage shop. PastPatterns#2303 SummerPartyDress ca1935

PATTERN:  My outer dress is a pattern from Past Patterns, #2303, “Summer Party Dress: Circa 1935”. The under slip pattern comes from the book “Vintage Lingerie” by Jill Salen, pages 46 to 49, the “1930’s Silk Slip”.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The outer sheer dress came together quite quickly considering, about 20 hours stretched out over 4 or 5 days. It would have been even less if I hadn’t caused more work for myself when it came to the sleeves (I’ll explain this down lower). The slip took…oh, my, very much time! It took long enough to get the slip wearable with the dress in time for Easter (April 20th), but much longer to do the final fitting, seam finishes, and embroidery details. I worked on the fine finishing details on and off for the next few months until it was finally done in August of 2014 (for a total of maybe 30 hours).

100_3408a-compTHE INSIDES:  All the inside seams for the sheer over dress are done in French seams, except for the bottom skirt flounce inserts, which were lapped on, and the skinny ¼ inch hems. My under slip had the bodice panels lapped on, similar to a flat felled seam. All the other seams to the slip were made in clean finished seams covered with a strip of stay tape for sturdiness (see left picture).

TOTAL COST:  I ordered 3 yards of the Anna Sui Feed Sack Silk Chiffon, at a sum of $38.40. Now the Kiwi Solid Chiffon was $39 for my cut yardage of 3 ½ yards, but I only used a yard and a half for the slip ($19.50). My total cost for the outfit fabric comes to $58, but…I didn’t have to pay for it! It was free as part of $100 gift credit, my prize for winning the “Butterick to the Big Screen Contest” in June of 2013. All I really paid for then was the notions, which might have been $10 or less! Score!

This was my very first time sewing with silk this fine and expensive. Boy, was I intimidated! I was so afraid of messing things up or having something in some way going wrong. But I knew I just needed to dive in and start learning and progressing. I did use my hubby’s Grandmother’s old Brother sewing machine because it has a smooth run, predictable stitches (besides, my favorite tried and true work horse machine was needing repair). I also started out with brand new “sharps” needles, and replaced one or two more needles on my machine throughout the outfit’s construction to eliminate any possibility of getting runs in the silk chiffon. Besides these basic steps, and just plain old being careful, thinking clearly, and taking my time, sewing with these silk was a truly a wonderful dream.

100_5771a-compI am still amazed at how easy the Anna Sui silk chiffon was to sew…much, much easier than polyester chiffon, with less runs and fraying than a poly imitation, too. Now I did find the thicker solid Kiwi Chiffon to be a bit more of a problem, but I think maybe it was just because I “wrestled” with making the slip work for so long, I may have a bit of prejudice towards it. At first, I also experimented with some scraps to do the method recommended on a few tutorials and blogs – keeping a layer of wax paper between the feed dogs and the chiffon. It was not working for me nor worth the trouble. All I did was stitch slowly and evenly, feeling out the bias of the fabric and being extremely careful to not stretch it in the least.

100_5786a-compUsing stay tape really helped add some body and help the feed dogs grip the fabric better, as well as stabilizing the seams for wearing. Stay tape was even sewn into every dart, and on top of the slip seams, because I didn’t want to rip or tear anything from the movement of wearing the dress. Look carefully in the picture at left of the dress’ insides and you can see the stay tape netting strips.  This was the best idea for my dress – the stay tape holds and helps all the seams, does not itch against the skin, and is just as perfectly soft and flowing as the silk. Thank you to the wonderful employee at my Hancock Fabric store for giving me the idea.

The Past Pattern for the over dress seemed to be close to my size, just a tad larger all over than what I needed. Knowing that, from my experience, many 1930’s patterns run small, I cut it out as is and it turned out just perfect. The one single change I made to the construction was to make single darts on each right and left side (a total of two) for the waist back instead of making them in pairs on each side (for a total of four) as the pattern instructs. Everything else for the pattern was made unaltered.100_5784a-comp

Believe it or not, there are only 4 easy pieces to make the afternoon dress. All the pieces fit and matched together perfectly. The sleeves and the skirt flounce inserts are cut on the 100_5776a-compbias and all other pieces (the front and back dress panels) are cut on straight grain. As you can see, I did choose the square neck option (over the V-neck). I love the gentle fit of the tiny double bust darts on each side of the front panel. What the pattern calls “cape sleeves” also have a tiny dart along the top of the shoulder coming from the neckline for a small touch of added shaping. There is a small opening a few inches in for a snap closure at the right neckline of the raglan seam of the sleeve, so the dress goes over the head easily.

I decided to add the sleeve hem ruffles, and it took several hours to do their hemming, gathering, and stitching down. After, the ruffles were on, I just could not like them. So…off they came after some serious time spent unpicking. My hubby generously did a good amount of the unpicking while I worked on the waist belt. I did end up having the trim a bit off the edge of the sleeves after the ruffles were out, just because the silk is too fine to not get affected by sewing and unpicking, so they are a tad shorter than intended. The belt 100_2805-compcame out wonderfully, but I wish it was a little longer. It was supposed to be my size but only hangs out a handful of inches past my old amazing Art Deco buckle. Oh well – as long as it makes it around my waist. The belt is lined in the same fabric as the under slip, making the belt pretty much reversible and similar in color tone as the rest of the dress.

The side closure is a simple button and loop style. I used the same “President braid” trim leftover from making my scalloped collar “The Artist” movie dress for the loops, and sandwiched them under some more stay tape for support along the one opening edge. On the other side of the side closure edge are tiny light pink heart shaped buttons to go with the feminine theme and pastel colors of my dress set.100_5773a-comp

Jill Salen book coverMy under slip pattern, coming from the book, had to be enlarged 200% in order to become full sized and usable. I had a local print shop do this step for me instead of my doing the re-grading by hand and ruler. I did my best at measuring the proportions of the slip to find out what size it might be. The patterns from the book were not made from other patterns, but from old vintage pieces themselves (I suppose whatever the author had access to or owned herself) so each piece in the book is a random mysterious size. Every time I use a pattern from this book “Vintage Lingerie”, it’s like taking a gamble. From what I could tell, the slip would be close to my size, so I added on seam allowances (5/8 inch) and cut it out as is. The entire slip is apparently and early 30’s design and meant to be worn under a bias dress, that is why it has such long lines and all straight grain pieces. The only bias to the slip is on the curved shaped edge of the upper bodice panels.

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My little dachshund is that dark thing on the floor at my feet!

Once it was finished, the slip was tried on and, yes it did fit but – wow – it was tight! My hips are about 35”, with my waist about 8 inches smaller than that, so I’m assuming this slip would comfortably fit someone smaller than me. My closest size estimate is that, unaltered, this 30’s slip is for a size 30” – 32” bust, 25” waist, and 33” hips. I was hoping to make the slip go on and off without needing a side closure so I needed to make extra room somehow. After some brainstorming with hubby, we came up with the idea of cutting out another two center front panel pieces from the slip pattern and adding it into the side seams. The center front panel is skinny with a slightly wider taper at hem end giving just the little bit of extra room I needed much like a godet. Adding in the side panels did add more seams for me to finish off, but so it had to be. I do wish the slip was a bit longer on me, and I think I’ll write a note to adjust the pattern, but I‘ve done enough work on it so I can’t complain.

100_5789a-compIn our pictures of me wearing just the slip, it actually fits tighter than originally when it was newly finished. This is because I didn’t wash the silk first before I assembled and wore it for Easter. It was washed later and now has a snug and complimentary body forming fit, but this was not intended. From the feel it, I am supposing the silk might act similarly to denim blue jeans: the fit is tighter once newly dried and out of the wash, loosens up again as I wear it, until the next time it gets cleaned when it shrinks up again. On the opposite side of things, the outer sheer overdress was not washed before the pictures were taken and it didn’t shrink much at all from washing it. The chiffon did change its finish, though, going from smooth and flat to looking like a seersucker after it was washed. The seersucker look is not a bad thing to have, and I like it enough to not iron it out…it was just unexpected. I normally wash every fabric before using, but now I know to make no exceptions (not even for silk, wool or linen) if I don’t want surprises.

100_3522a-compThe original blue slip shown in the book had more fine details, such as fagoting, drawn threads, and eyelet embroidery, than my own version. Making the slip was hard enough the way it was. However, I’m not really complaining, just happy the extra effort I put in comes to such a unique and special finished garment, even if (besides counting myself) it only gets seen on my blog! I don’t know if the front panel detailing was meant to be a monogram, and I was tempted to design my own, but it had a nice Art Deco design to it so I hand-stitched it exactly as the original in the book.

Afternoon Tea dresses have a style and beauty all their own. Soft flowing fabrics created a free-flowing, feminine, and comfortable garment – for summer it would be rayon, sheer cotton, and silk (if you had money in the 30’s), and for winter, wool crepes, rayon, and satins be in order. The swinging silhouette of mid 30’s afternoon dresses was achieved with flared bias panels and simplicity in design, like my own dress set, compared to day dresses which often had pleats and details like embellishments. Day dresses’ necklines had a utilitarian style, such as collars or front zippers and buttons, while afternoon dresses had simple, beautifully shaped necklines. Day or afternoon dresses were both quite decent as far as covering, but the “day” style was more utilitarian (for shopping or working at a job) while the “afternoon” style was for out of the home leisure, eating out, and other nice occasions. (Info from here.) A slim and sleek silhouette with wide but softly shaped shoulders is period appropriate for the decade of my dress with a belt necessary to define the waist, since the early 30’s drop waist look (of the 20’s) was definitely gone by 1935. My Easter dress set is indeed the perfect “tea” length which is mid-shin, iconic of the 1930’s…an odd length really, but quite complimentary once worn (so I think).

100_2787-compAfternoon dresses came from a time when there was a garment for different times of the day and occasions of life – day wear, afternoon “tea” outfits, house dresses, evening elegance, leisure gowns, negligée sets and nightwear. This did not last much longer past the 1940’s, but it sure provides an interesting variety of styles and garments to suit any person’s taste, body type, and need. History provides such a variety of vintage fashions. This variety enables “vintage” to be easily re-made (whether from a pattern – reprints and originals – or an old original piece) and worn in our modern times than many people realize. Try something new, and you might just find a new favorite!

Reuse and Refashion: Silk and Lace Takes a Second Life

Not that long ago at a resale store, I happened across a small stash of 100% silk, over sized, and slightly outdated “Victoria’s Secret” lingerie.  At the cheap prices they were sold at per piece I bought all of what I found, with the specific intention of refashioning, or at least reusing, the high quality silk and lace.

One item in particular has been refashioned first.  I transformed a black silk camisole into a pair of 1920’s style tap pants.  Even before I checked out I already knew, foresaw practically, what a certain item was going to become.  That foresight was one of those amazing “Eureka!” moments…I love it when they come because I know something great is in the making.

100_2161aTHE FACTS:

HISTORICAL FORTNIGHTLY CHALLENGE:  Make Do and Mend

FABRIC:  one size extra-large “Victoria’s Secret” camisole, in black satin finish 100% silk (original as I bought it in pic at right)100_2008a

NOTIONS:  I only needed to buy a few inches of black snap tape; nothing else but black thread and bias tape was needed, and I always have plenty of those on hand

PATTERN:  I didn’t use one!  I did have plenty of 20’s inspiration, though, which I’ll talk about below.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  the total time to refashion was not long at all – only 2 hours.  I finished them in one evening, September 23, 2013.  The final touch – my hand stitched Art Deco monogram – was done in an hour or two on January 15, 2014 

THE INSIDES:  The camisole had very nice seams, with French seams at the sides, so I made sure to keep all that by only adding on seam of my own – the waistband.  My new waist band seam is neatly covered in bias tape that also serves a channel for the draw cord.

FIRST WORN:  I don’t remember; but I do remember wearing my tap pants very soon after they were done.  I have been wearing them quite often!

TOTAL COST:  the camisole was only $3.00, and the snap tape was under $1, which makes my total for fine silk, vintage style tap pants less than $4.00!  What a deal.

McCall 7832 old tap pants patternHISTORICAL ACCURACY:  I cannot claim anything directly to definitively give a pinpoint answer.  However, I believe my refashioned tap pants are quite accurate for the 20’s, based on my research of period patterns, movies, and sewing techniques.  This 90 year old pattern envelope picture (at left), which I found during an online image search, was a big verification of the accuracy of how I wanted my tap pants to be refashioned.

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      My main idea came from watching the movie “Broadway Melody of 1929”.  There is one scene where the two sisters, placed by Bessie Love and Anita Page,  quickly (and shockingly) undress in public hall down to tap pants and tank top so they can try out for a part in a dance scene.  I find it amazing – how skimpy for early talkies, but so modern for us!  

I tried to emulate the “Broadway Melody of 1929” movie look in my pictures.  Believe me, I am not so keen on the idea of posing in something that gets worn under clothes.  In the spirit of being historical and thinking of this as a sort of “dance” outfit, my new silk tap pants do feel quite fun.  100_2162

Unlike the 30’s style tap pants I made Spring of last year (click here for link), these refashioned tap pants have the gathered waist and tighter fit like the black ones worn in the movie picture above right.  Getting this snug is all that my bum could manage…if the camisole was any smaller my re-invention would not have worked.  Talk about a close call!

To get a waistline, I cut across the top of the camisole, above the bust line, leaving the sides under the armpit intact.  I basically only took off 4 small triangles under the spots where the shoulder straps join at the front and at the back.  Then I also cut off the two straps hanging from the center bust closure and sewed up the entire front of the lace where the front was open.  Now there was one solid front and back.

100_2163     My biggest problem was how to get rid of (decrease) the excess bust gathers from the camisole front. Darts? Small tucks?  The right idea came to me when thinking, “what vintage sewing ways were used to gather in excess fabric above/below where it poufs out?”  I looked at my old early 30’s patterns in my file cabinets, and thought of shirring. See my back picture below right.  Doing the shirring was very fun, different, and not as hard as I expected, just a bit challenging.  Besides, doing this shirring gives me practice before I intend to do it on some really good fabric or on a bigger project.  I didn’t even have any glitches doing the shirring, but I did realize the importance of doing the rows of stitching and gathering straight and even.   I didn’t bother to pre-mark or measure my shirring rows, as I considered these tap pants an experiment to be worn under clothes.

The waistline edge had been folded under inside and covered by sewing down a skinn100_2164y strip of bias tape.  Since the area below the rows of shirring gave the perfect spot of generous room for my behind, I chose that for the back of my tap pants and made an opening in the side front of the waist casing for the tie.  The tie running through the waist casing also re-used, made from the two ties that had been hanging at the front of the camisole, tacked together, and made into one long waist cincher. 100_2028

Just to make bathroom trips not as much of a hassle, I opted to install a few inches of snap tape horizontally along the center hem to form the crouch of my tap pants.  Yes, kind of like an infant onesie (I guess as a parent of a little one, the idea for this closure is second nature).  I can’t find out how authentic to the 20’s this crouch closure may be, but, hey, they had snaps then, so let’s say I’m an innovative woman.  The snap closure gives me a tad bit more room than if I were to have sewn together the two bottom seams.

With such a snug fit and the shirring and snaps and everything you might think these aren’t that comfy and why wear them?  Well, actually you would not believe how comfy a well washed silk can be on a bottom, and they do make the perfect solution to any of my dark, shorter skirts and dresses.

Wearing tap pants does give a girl a sort of freedom.  A gal can still wear her feminine skirts and swishy dresses, but with tap pants underneath you can still be active and have all the fun possible while feeling incredibly fancy.  When it comes down to it, though, I find it hard to wear something meant to do dance routines in and not feel like kicking up my feet and dancing.

broadway-melody-1929_bessie-love-and-anita-page_5     How about the Charleston, anyone?!  I’m ready!  But I will leave my skirt on, unlike this funny “Broadway Melody of 1929” shot at right.

One last word…only recently did I get around to completely making these tap pants my very own with some hand stitched monogramming.  I drew out three different letter styles that suited the era and my taste, too.  As you can see, I picked the Art Deco letters ‘K’ and ‘B’, sewing to the left front side.  I think I’ll save the Art Nouveau and Moderne letters for another monogram, perhaps.

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