Punjab Finery

Punjab, famously referred to as “The Land of Five Rivers”, is located in the northwestern part of the subcontinent of India.  The word “Punjab” is made up of two Persian words – “Panj” meaning the number five and “Aab” means water.  This name was probably given to this land possibly in an era when this region came into close contact with Persia.  It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cultures in the world – a multi-hued heritage of ancient civilizations and religious diversity dating back to 3,000 B.C.  The Indian State of Punjab was created in 1947, when the partition of India split the former Raj province of Punjab between India and Pakistan. The mostly Muslim western part of the province became Pakistan’s Punjab Province; the mostly Sikh eastern part became India’s Punjab state (info from here).  As I am in the mood for earthy tones and since we are coming off of the Festival of Diwali, I am presenting my Punjabi inspired finery in the form of a refashioned vintage sari sewn into a 1936 kurta tunic which (I hope) unites both sides of the territory.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a vintage silk sari with a ‘zari’ goldwork brocade border

PATTERN:  Simplicity #2089, year 1936, reprinted by the EvaDress Company

NOTIONS NEEDED:  Nothing but thread!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This came together in about 10 hours (as there was a lot of hand stitching I did to finish the neckline).  It was finished in May 2019

THE INSIDES:  all French seams!

TOTAL COST:  The sari was a special find at only $25

Re-making a sari into a kurta or a long anarkali dress are two of the most common uses for a traditional re-interpretation.  Transforming this vintage sari by using a 1930s pattern was only natural to me as the next step.  The sari is printed and dyed with a very Cubist-Surrealist design, something which was very prevalent in the 30’s, even in fashion.  If I look at the design on the sari hard enough I think I see the face of a man sitting down weaving, but then doubt whether or not I am imagining what I want to see.  Isn’t that the beauty of surrealist art?  Cubism makes one’s imaginary pictures artistic.  Admittedly, I am not certain what era of vintage this sari is exactly – it could be anything from the 1990s to the 30’s.  Indian saris are meant to last generations and so they hold up very well if cared for, stored, and worn properly.  Their traditions are timeless.  Thus, dating them can be quite tricky.  I felt the 30’s was the best interpretation for what I had.

Furthermore, the media’s inquiring eye was on many of the ‘princesses’ of India in the 1930’s while other women of India were making headlines by breaking societal boundaries. Bollywood was coming to its own, and many of the greatest fashion designers were incorporating the country’s influence into their designs.  India of the 1930s was clearly edging towards its long-awaited partition already and many ruling women who could still claim royalty among the many dynasties dying out under colonial reign became a popular curiosity.  Named photographers were capturing the posed glamour shots of the fading royals, rich socialites such as Sita Devi, as well as popular actresses dressed in both the traditional or western-influenced clothing – they were no doubt a global influence.  In 1935, the French couturier Elsa Schiaparelli came out with an Indian inspired collection and a year afterwards the American couturier Mainbocher designed some very Indian influenced tunics (one such released as McCall #9082, see below far right image). 

The first Indian woman to fly an aircraft, Sarla Thakral, made history in 1936 at the age of 21 in her “Gipsy Moth” biplane.  After a hard-fought suffrage movement, about 6 million Indian women (only covering 2.5%) received voting rights in 1935 under the British Government of India Act, with Parliament even reserving seats for women in the lower house.  Women of India were achieving strides of modern progress in the mid-30s, making notable 21st century history.  These are only a handful of examples – I could go on!  It’s no wonder Western fashion took note, even though they sadly did not concern themselves with proper provenance.

This kurta tunic combines proper approbation together with a past time in the history of India.  In this past Indian-inspired outfit’s post, I addressed what is a kurta versus a kurti, but this site also defines the difference nicely.  The way this tunic is dressy and festive, as well as longer (knee length) it is decidedly a kurta.  The darker earthen tones with the orange and golden colors, as well as the distinctive “zari” goldwork along the border makes this a northern Indian heritage piece.  The word “kurta” has Persian origins much like Punjab region.  It means “a tunic, waistcoat” and the word dates to the 16th century (when the Mughal period began) even though its popular English usage is traced to the writings of the famous Lawrence of Arabia.  Nevertheless, garments very similar have been worn for centuries – it is basic and versatile in usage, and composed of simple shapes. The traditional Punjabi kurta is wide and falls to the kneesand is cut straight but today’s version is the ‘Mukatsari’ kurta which originates from Muktsar in Punjab. This modern Punjabi kurta is famous for its slim-fitting cuts and smart fit designs.  With the popularity of peplums and tunics in the 30s, this straight fit but very chic vintage design was a perfect choice.

Despite its deluxe appearance, it was pretty simple to make – quite rectangular with subtle curves and detailing like shirring.  It has a high sweetheart neckline and angular empire waist seaming.  There are loose and comfy cut-on flutter sleeves.  Simple shaping is achieved by a few rows of loose stitching pulled up to a slight gather over the tummy and at the sides of the neckline.  I chose to leave the back seam open for dramatic effect.  (I did wear a cropped cotton top underneath for comfort, though.)  The sari silk was really quite stiff and medium weight so this pattern would look different with a loose weave like a rayon or chiffon.  No matter – either way, this is a fantastic pattern which I will definitely come back to again, even if to only sew up something using the other high-necked, puff-sleeved view!

Contrary to many styles like this in the 30’s, this one is surprisingly cut on the straight grain rather than the bias, so it was perfect for taking advantage of the decorative border.  However, because of where else I wanted the border to be running, I also had to take the gold “zari” border and cut it out from the sari along what parts I did not use, then stitch it on other edges much like an applique.  The front skirt just below the waistline is the true border as well as the back skirt hem.  However, the front hem and the back bodice had their “zari” trim applied on.  Understand that the zari embroidery border runs the whole 6 yard length of either side to my rectangular sari, and is separate from the decoration on the “pallau” (the ornamental end piece of the sari).  In this post of mine there is a perfect example of a Gujarati sari with zardozi work along the border (see the red and blue one).

Zari embroidery is basically understood as thread traditionally made of fine gold or silver used in traditional Indian, Bangladeshi, and Pakistani garments, especially as brocade in saris, woven into fabrics (primarily of silk) to make intricate patterns and elaborate designs of embroidery called zardozi.  The Muslim (Mughal) invasions into Gujarat ca. 1300 brought in new textile influences and forced the dissemination of many weavers and their traditions into surrounding Punjab, but even as far as Delhi and Madras.  Even still, the town of Surat in the state of Gujarat (on the west coast of India) is still the world’s largest producer of all types of zari threads (thanks to government tariff protections put in place in the 1920s).  Zardozi weavers are special enough to be known as “kaigar”, which means ‘artist’, rather than by the common word for weaver, “jullaha”.  The very term for their work is a yet another Persian word recalling how gold specifically is used in stitched decorations, calling to mind the royalty and deities of their culture and religion.  Thus, the practice of zardozi is linked with northern India today, particularly the town of Varanasi.  It was this town’s famous golden brocades that the East India Company ‘took over’ the administration of so that Varanasi became a center for brocaded (zardozi) textiles.

It is hard for me to tell if the border of my sari is imitation, electroplated wrapping, or true gold when it comes to quality grade of the thread, yet is was most certainly machine work by the exact repetition of the intricate patterning of the embroidery.  Nevertheless, my sari border is quite stiff and substantial and was almost impossible to sew through (definitely stopped the machine needle a few times), so I have hopes that this might be the real deal.  Real precious metals are the traditional choice, besides the most practical one, for embroidery in a sari because nothing goes to waste and there is always something left to be passed down the generations.  Even when such a sari deteriorates or wears out, it can then be burned down to just the gold embroidery to be turned into jewelry or woven again into a new sari.  How smartly ingenious and touchingly poignant is this?!  If only the rest of the world’s fashion industry would learn from this we would not have many of the current problems of lack of sustainability as well as surplus unused excess.

The very fact that there is the gold embroidery on a silk sari transformed into a longer length tunic automatically makes this a fancy and special occasion item which is not formal either.  This makes it perfect for the holiday of Diwali in this years’ Covid-downgraded festivities.  This kurta also lends itself to the more elegant option of a skirt and not just trousers underneath.  After all, modern India’s younger set are all about a good spin on traditional wear!  I chose an older RTW bias cut brown poly crepe skirt, which has a wonderful 1930s air to it.  I had my burnout paisley satin dupatta shawl with me too, something I picked up from a Pakistani vendor on one of the trips to Europe when I was teen.

The real star of my accessories is the authentic Indian gold ruby bracelet, necklace, and earrings set.  It was something that came through my husband’s friends from collage of Indian heritage (and who are as close as family to us, and the catalyst behind my adoption and interest of India’s history and traditions). Long before my hubby and I met, he paid for her to bring back a precious jewelry set from their family jewelers on one of her yearly visits back to India.  It is very heavy jewelry and very impressive and beautiful!  This set was his investment in his family, though – it wasn’t just for me, although I am wearing the full set on loan for this occasion.  His mother was given the necklace, his sister the bracelet, and I received the earrings when I was married to him.  It was a poignant Indian gesture of affection to the women in his life, besides (for me) a lovely connectivity with the female in-law members of my family!

So you see now that mindful and symbolical use of what we embellish our bodies with has gone hand in hand with smart re-use and re-fashioning for years under one of the oldest cultures of the world.  The clothes of India may be complex in understanding, meaning, and manner of wearing, but the use of each individual piece is ingeniously versatile and simplistic.  The straightforwardness of their construction makes the details such as embroidery, weaving, and textile shine.  The simple elegance of the 1930s had an all new interpretation for me this time!  Anyway, look for a lot more varieties of Indian tunics to show up here on my blog.  Just to ‘wet your whistle’, all of them have amazing imported fabric, simple but elegant shapes of vintage inspiration, and intricate decorations that took me almost longer to add than making the garments themselves – and I can’t wait to show you more!!  

Out of all the regions and states of India, Punjab culture is so rich to a lover of history like me, as well as so beautiful to an American like me.  However, while I acknowledge the positive highlights to the province of Punjab, it also has one of the saddest facets of modern history as part of the transitions to the Partition of 1947.  It was caught in the surrounding genocidal massacres that sprung up around the newly created boundary lines and the religious divisions (also known as the “Radcliffe Line”).  Please read the links I provided in the sentence before this – even though it is disturbing or if it makes you cry as it did for me.  Here are some first-hand accounts from lucky survivors. This is important to read and take in regarding Punjab, and specifically in Jammu.  

Most estimates on the death toll of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs alike state numbers over 250,000, even up to 800,000…it is not fully known as many victims were displaced migrants.  10 million Punjabis had been driven away from their ancestral abodes making this the greatest forced migration in modern history – all in the course of a month or two!  It is a bitter history that the region has to live with and a major fact that is often ignored over the greater information celebrating the Independence of both India and Pakistan.

I truly hope this beauty of this kurda tunic brings an opportunity for others to hear about Punjab, discover its amazing history, see the beauty surviving amidst a painful history, and find a new respect for another one of the seemingly limitless magnificent cultures in our world.

Ready for Another Adventure?

Ah, I can’t help but interrupt my previously planned post for one that highlights Agent Carter…because she’s back!  Well, sort of.  Sadly, it has been confirmed Peggy will be back only in name only for the newest (and last) Season 7 of “Agents of Shield”, despite her romantic interest Agent Sousa being front and center in the most recent episodes.  I’ll admit that I have not been following “Agents of Shield” until now and I do despise the last ditch ideas of time travel which shows too often fall back on at the end of their run.  But if Agent Carter is back for some sort of relevant story continuation (which was cut short by the lack of an expected Season Three of her TV show), I’m here for it by adding more outfits from seasons one and two to my wardrobe and perhaps watching the new show.  I’ll pick up on sewin’ and postin’ more Peggy fashions, starting with recreating the first thing we see her in upon embarking on her new California adventure at the beginning of Season Two, “The Lady in the Lake” episode.  “Are you ready for another adventure, Miss Carter?” said Mr. Jarvis.  Oh how I do love having my own exciting escapades when in Peggy’s shoes!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a Matte Blue 100% Silk Batiste (sorry, but it’s sold out now!) accented my handmade bias tape of Dove White Cotton Sateen, both from Fashion Fabrics Club

PATTERN:  an adapted version of Butterick #6374, originally a year 1944 design, reprinted in 2016

NOTIONS:  I needed nothing extraordinary – just thread, a bit of interfacing, and 3 vintage buttons out of the stash of hubby’s grandmother.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Not counting the hour or two spent to re-draft the pattern, sewing the blouse took me about 6 hours.  It was finished on June 11, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  French seamed with a bias covered hem

TOTAL COST:  1 ½ yards of the silk and a ½ yard remnant of the sateen cost me a total of just over $30.

First off, yes, I am wearing separates – a blouse and trousers (which are the Marlene pants from Burda Style, posted here) – and yes, my pattern for the top half of my outfit was highly redrafted from a dress pattern.  You did not read the facts above wrongly.  I wanted to start with a vintage pattern, of course, and all the blouse patterns I had on hand were not remotely close to what I wanted.  Yet I did have the 1944 dress pattern which had a similar shawl collar and strong, slightly full, shoulders.  After all, Peggy Carter was known for wearing mid-40s fashions prior to her time out in California in the second season, so the dating would be perfect, too.  I was never a big fan of the original dress, although I might eventually try it in the future, but I bought it anyway a few years back on one of those $1-something sales.  This way I feel like it is not just taking up useless space in my pattern drawers.  It has now actually come in handy, just not in the way initially intended.  I might have a large stash of patterns, but I do not hoard…the patterns I have are cared for gently and often preserved and copied, but they do ‘work’ for their keep here and they are much more than a pretty inspiration!

I first had to trace out the pattern as it was, from hip length up, and then tweak it.  Next, I extended the collar to be wider, especially in the front over the chest, as well as making it roll over itself better.  The back collar was drafted by me to be just wide enough for the edging.  I am so happy to have ended up with a collar which was just what I wanted!  The shoulders and main body are pretty much the same as the original dress, but I added greater wearing ease all over so it would be blousier than the original slim fitting dress.  The back bodice had a dramatic re-drafting because the original dress had princess seams.  I combined the pattern pieces to become one piece, cut on the fold, with two vertical fish-eye darts.  Remember, it really doesn’t take much to change things up dramatically on paper for a sewing pattern…an extra ¼ inch may go a long way.

The semi-sheer batiste needed to be double layered to be an opaque blouse, which was rather hard to pull off on only 1 ½ yards.  This silk is so lightweight and breathable two layers is no big deal, though, once I was able to fit the pattern pieces in.  Silk is the world’s most all-season, easy to wear, and overall beautiful fabric in my opinion.  The listing for this fabric said it was matte finish, but there is still the loveliest shine along every soft fold.  Even a matte silk blend has the same lovely sheen.  Every time I create with silk, I find it is more imperative than other fabrics to use a new needle in my machine, otherwise it create pulls in the fabric as I sew.

Now both the silk and the sateen listings say to dry clean them…bah!  Only in a few exceptions – and vintage acetate is one of them – have I come across a fabric that is not washable.  I wash woolens, silks, rayon, cottons, linens, and of course any man-made (i.e. polyester), as well as any combo of those, and have never come across any unpleasant effects of doing so besides a few wrinkles, which a good ironing can easily remedy.  Even many decorator fabrics can totally be washed, although their first dip in water does shrink them like crazy.  Washing all of these fabrics must be better for them anyway over harsh, unpleasant chemicals of conventional dry cleaning!  When in doubt, I do try and wash a small, snipped off test corner first.  So, don’t be afraid to get your fabrics clean, just do so in the gentlest way possible.  For me, this means either hand-washing, or placing them in a zip-closed laundry bag before machine washing on the delicate cycle.  A cleaner garment means less attraction for hungry bugs that might like to eat them, remember!

I am still thrilled over the lovely novelty of self-made bias tape, as seen in my making of my last project, this multi-use apron/sundress/ jumper thing (posted here).  Especially when your bias tape will take a front and center stage, it is important to have a quality notion.  So I started with a quality fabric to edge this blouse the way I figured it, and I’m so glad I did.  The slightly heavier weight of the decorator’s sateen is perfect for keeping the collar in place and stabilizing the soft silk.  The slight shine on the sateen matches the finish on the silk, too.  The very slight off-white color is a gentler contrast than a pure white.  I just love it when an idea for a garment comes together as good as or even better than I expected!  It’s the best surprise.

This ‘blouse-from-a-dress’ experiment opens up all new doors for my pattern stash, now.  A dress can be tweaked to become a jacket, a vest can have sleeves added to develop a blouse, or a skirt can be reformed into pants when you approach patterns as a fluid tool with great potential to aid in creating anything with your hands.  This is the beauty of sewing.  It is all up to you – the skies the limit!  Anything can be sewn up anyway you like it.

With that said, I want an entire wardrobe of everything Agent Carter has worn in her TV series, and so my sewing creativity in this sphere goes towards personalizing and doing some historical basing of my ‘copies’ of Peggy’s outfits.  “Copying” an existing garment you admire can be every bit as challenging, if not more so, as trying to match your own individual idea.  Sewing is an exciting undertaking in its own way, and even small adventures are important in our times when there is so much wrong about the world today and a pandemic has forced too many of us into an unwelcome isolation.  Stepping into Peggy Carter’s shoes and clothes is my ongoing quest that suits me up with her spirit of independence, personal confidence, sense of equity, and – of course – great fashion taste.  How is sewing your special adventure?

“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!

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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