A Few ‘Unmentionable’ Sewing Projects…

There’s been a lot of overly basic sewing going through my machine over the past months – and I’m talking about more than just masks.  The couple that wears handmade clothing stays together…did I get that right?!  Thus, I might as well spice that necessary stuff up a bit to make my practical sewing more interesting.

Not content with once around, the leftovers of one recent refashion plus some lace remnants were enough to eke out a special little sewing for my intimate wearing!  Then, some one yard novelty fabric remnants went towards making some quirky new boxers for my hubby.  Sorry if this is quite “too much personal information” to share, but I am proud of all the sewing I do and this stuff would never be seen otherwise if I didn’t post about it!  (That might be a good thing…anyway.)  I do think these look nice enough to share, especially my pretty bra, and yes – they are brand spanking new at this point.  It’s so hard to show how wonderful these items are without modeling them, but we’ll spare you that!  You’ll just have to believe our words and settle for my beginner’s ability to pull off an interesting flat-lay.  I paired the items with something that recalls the era of the pattern date.  You can see a peek of my silk true vintage 1930s pink bias slip as the backdrop for my bra, while hubby’s favorite vintage 60’s skinny tie and his monthly magazine subscription are the accessories paired for his boxers.

I think it is important to post about making underwear and lingerie so as to show others that it is much easier to make your own basic necessities than you might think.   These items are 100% more comfortable on us and much better fitting than any store-bought RTW items.  No wonder – they were tailored along the way to fit each of us, besides being incredibly personalized with the materials chosen, turning into an everyday treat to wear.  Also, everyone can see how pricey it is to buy quality, name-brand underwear and lingerie.  With remnants and under a yard of material, you can sew yourself something better than RTW at a very low or even free (if using scraps on hand) cost.  It’s a win all around.  Especially when these are such easy-to-make patterns, and vintage designs to boot!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  except for the little bit of lace on my bra, every item shared here is in comfy cotton – each one is just a different variety and weight of cotton (I’ll explain in further down in the rest of the post)

PATTERNS:  the brassiere – Simplicity #8510, a reprint from 2017 of a year 1937 sewing pattern (originally Simplicity #2288); the men’s boxers – Simplicity #5039, year 1963, from my personal pattern collection

NOTIONS NEEDED:  Luckily, I had the specialty bra making supplies already as part of a $1 grab bag of notions I bought a while back at a rummage sale.  Besides that, everything else I needed was basic – thread and elastic.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The brassiere was made –from start to finish – in 3 hours and was made in the afternoon of July 27, 2020.  His boxers were made here and there over the past few months and only took 1 ½ hours each to make.

THE INSIDES:  The insides of the bra are cleanly hidden, encased between the layers, while hubby’s boxers are zig-zag stitched finished along the edge.

TOTAL COST:  Each boxer cost about $2 to $4 (what a deal) while the bra materials are as good as free, being mostly leftovers from something 15 plus years ago.

So – where to start?  At first, the motivation for such sewing was both pure necessity as well as an inability to shop for such things in person (as we prefer).  But you know, what?  Somewhere along the line such basic sewing became more enjoyable.  We normally make sure to save my time and buy such items, yet the amount of 1 yard or less cuts that I have on hand are so plentiful and the perfect resource.  Besides, they both were quick projects that required barely an hour and so were practically perfect for the small segments of time I have for sewing recently!  It is nice to have a fast turnout item in between more complex projects, like the over the top dresses that my pandemic brain has been needing as of late (more on that soon).  It’s wonderful to have a completely handmade wardrobe inside as well as out, and it is also really special to be able to share that feeling.  I suppose doing such would be weird to share with anyone else but a partner, anyway!

I will start off with my selfish sewing.  The 90’s plaid skirt I refashioned to become this 1940s blouse had a basic cotton lining underskirt to it which was left behind.  It was a very small amount, about a half yard wide by about 25 inches long, but in simple A-line shape with only the two side seams so it was as good as a folded fabric remnant.  While it was out and not stashed away yet, why leave that good fabric neglected without a productive idea to match with it?  That would not be me!  So I reached for something that would need very little fabric, be different to make, and be something I could use at a practical level.  The basic ivory color and semi-sheer thickness dictated using the leftover lining cotton for some garment that was not to be seen.

This vintage year 1937 lingerie set has been a pattern I have been itching to try ever since I picked it up when it came out and so it was the natural choice.  Even though I was only able to use the skirt lining for a half set – just the bra (and the leftover fabric went towards two face masks) – this refashion was an immense success that makes me excited to pick up the pattern again and make a full set in a fashion fabric.  This is a very lovely surprise project, and a totally wearable muslin test.

As the lining cotton was a plain ivory and almost sheer (even with two layers), I realized mere dyeing to change the color would not add both a special touch and a bit of decency to this bra the same way layering it with some leftover lace did.  As the pattern is not complex and has very few seams I chose a posh French lace from on hand to layer over the outside.  Wow, does that lace addition really elevate this bra!

Yet, without realizing ahead of time, I found out it is a good thing that the lace was so delicate and the cotton was so soft and thin because it was quite hard to gather the middle seam of the bra down to the length the pattern intended.  As it was, I could not gather any tighter and that spot is still ½ inch longer than supposed to be.  If I had used a fabric any thicker this detail would have been even more difficult.  It is important to get this section as closely gathered as possible because it provides the bulk of the bra’s shaping, beside the small underbust darts.  The lesson learned (without having to recover from a failure) is to keep to lightweight, thin, and drapey for at least the brasserie half of this vintage reprint design.

Other than the challenge presented from the fabrics I was using, this pattern was a breeze to sew.  I found the size spot on and the instructions good.  The shaping of the bra is well done and the support is gives is just enough to do its job while still being comfortable to the point of feeling heavenly.  Of course you can see I upgraded to modern bra notions when it came to the notions used just so that this can be a vintage merge to get the best of both worlds.  There are times where I like to go all out vintage so I can both learn a new, different way of doings and also come from a historical perspective to try to understand how things used to be.  I did that already, however, for this earlier 1930’s lingerie set (posted here).  That aqua bra was finished the way the old vintage instructions dictated – with twill tape straps and such in the non-adjustable manner – and it needs constant tweaking to be brought back up fitting me as perfectly today as it did when I made it.  This time, I was determined today’s pretty little project was going to be more enjoyed than the last vintage lingerie, and what better way to do that than make it fully adjustable for my body and a touch more up-to-date?!

Next comes my unselfish sewing project!  This trio of boxers were very much mindless sewing I really didn’t have to think about how to construct.  They were pretty much the same as the 1940s pajama pants I had made him (posted here).  To save on interfacing for the front fly, I merely tripled up on fabric layers.  Interfacing and elastic still seems hard to come by, but luckily I had a pretty good stash of 1 inch wide elastic from my deceased Grandmother.  Thus, with the exception of the first pair of boxers I made for him – the animal print ones – which were two channels of ½ inch elastic, all the rest were a single piece of wide stretch waistband.  The instructions said to make two channels, but he seemed to find the dual channels of elastic would twist and line up wrongly as they get worn, so a single wide elastic waistband is always less fussy…and who wants fussy underwear?!

I gave myself a bit of a break when laying out the pattern for these boxers.  I laid the lower bottom edge out along the selvedge to save myself a bit of extra time to do hemming.  Also. I cut them opposite the grainline to save on fabric and better align with the directional prints on two of the boxers.  All of the pairs are cotton wovens that are not shifty and so going a bit against the rules of sewing and fabric isn’t a big deal, especially when you’re talking about mere underwear.  I normally never do such a thing so I was really in a special mood for such a disobedience to happen in my sewing projects.

Each pair is a different weight and kind of cotton.  As I said, I was not only using what was on hand but was experimenting to see what he would prefer.  The animal print ones as a tissue weight voile, the Captain America print is a medium weight quilting cotton, while the red print is something you might recognize, leftover Indian block print from making my sari ensemble choli blouse (posted here).  The Indian cotton was actually my part of a deal he made with me.  He encouraged me to not be feeling bad for placing a big fabric order from “Fibers to Fabric” on Etsy (yes, I honestly sometimes feel guilt for adding to my already generous sized stash of sewing supplies) as long as he gets a little something made for himself out of it.  I said I would use one of the fabrics to make him boxers, because I know how luxurious Indian cotton is, and underwear is the best way to appreciate good material.  It seems this is his favorite pair on account of the fabric – it is almost like a silk in the way it is very breathable, cooling, and weightless.

The voile is lightweight, yes – but not as silky the Indian cotton.  I know, he put up with me sewing him the animal pair, but I couldn’t help but think of Tarzan when I saw this one yard remnant.  Those were my crazy choice and my hubby has humored me.  The quilting cotton is a thick and tightly woven, as I’m sure many of you know (us vintage enthusiast always get tempted by its pretty prints for day dresses!), that has way too much sizing in it so it’s not the best choice for underwear.  Many washes will fix that eventually and break it in…and by then it might be looking almost worn out.  Ah, yes, I have a love-hate relationship with printed quilting cotton.  Yet, the Captain America print is so darn fun it has to be the winning boxer pair, though!  It is a print that is practically made for our family interests.  I actually ordered enough of this official Marvel brand fabric to make several face masks for each of us, with a yard still leftover to sew some pajama pants in the future for our little guy out of it as well.

The frequent wearing of loungewear along with finding ways to be self-dependent both are having a strong moment this year.  As we are all staying at home and outdoors more frequently, whether for work, play, or eating.  Crafting your own ‘unmentionables’ for your own personal comfort and enjoyment might just become as much of a thing as the “Nap dress” or food canning.  I love to be on trend using old trends.  Drive-in movie entertainment is coming back, so hey – anything is possible!

Handmade lingerie is really not as impossible a task as it might seem at first, and it is a fantastic way to use up small fabric scraps and bust that stash you’ve been holding onto, as well as be as sensible, sustainable, and thrifty as possible.  Besides, the holidays are coming and a handmade intimate garment would be an easy and cute little gift – just saying!  The world will never know how handmade your outfit really is when you make your own underwear…it’s merely a little undercover secret about your modern day superpower.

Winter Holiday 2017 Vintage Pattern Releases

For their 90th anniversary, Simplicity Pattern Company is really killing it with a plethora of amazing designs being reprinted from past vintage releases.  This year’s Winter Holiday collection is no exception from their trend of copious, interesting, and variable decade re-issues.  Vogue Patterns has come out with a stellar designer lineup which includes a single, but stunning, vintage “original” design as well.  As much as I am so happy to see patterns like these coming out and available to buy, yet at the risk of sounding like a whining, nit-picking critic, I still have some things to mention about the newest patterns.

 My disclaimer is that I just purchased these patterns and have not sewn with them yet, so with my critique, I am going by the line drawings and viewing the physical details of looking at the tissue pieces.  However, unless the pattern companies want very disgruntled customers, the line drawings should be good enough to go by and match with the actual design of the pieces.  As I could find pictures of the old original envelopes for these re-releases, it is comparatively easy to see any changes or differences in line drawings.  Here goes!

First, I’ll start with the newest vintage Simplicity patterns – a total of 12 actually, when you count the two that are obviously inspired by the past (the #8513 bodysuits and the #8534 dress from Sew Chic)!  That is just about 1/3 of the total 38 patterns this season’s collection.  This in itself is making a statement – Simplicity apparently knows their own strong point, listens to feedback, and recognizes a ready and willing market for vintage.

I’ll begin with the 70’s pattern and go backwards.  Simplicity’s new #8505 is a 1972 re-issue, originally #5315.  This is a wonderful pattern with an appealing cover image and two completely different options to sew.  I am so drawn to the solid dress with the exotic, fancy trimming…wouldn’t this be wonderful in a slinky stretch velvet for the main body!!!  The long caftan is equally appealing though, and someone’s version of it on the wiki page for the original pattern makes me want to whip one up for myself for summer lounging or dream backyard socials.  However, in the old original pattern, the caftan was one large pattern piece with a facing to finish the slit made for the arms.

Now, in the re-issue, the caftan is in two pieces with a seam under the arms at the sides, and simple turned under hem for the sleeve opening (original envelope on left, reprint on right).  I prefer the basic simplicity of how the caftan was originally drafted (less sewing of seams the better, right?), and will be adapting it, taping the two pieces into one, to cut and sew it like the 1972 version.  Nevertheless, this is a nice change from the rather basic 60’s and 70’s designs that they’ve released as of late.

The 50’s decade is well covered with a variety of garments this time around!  First there is the 50’s style “Sew Chic” #8534, which I hope to make into something similar to this vintage original dress so I can use up two smaller cuts of fabric from my stash!  There is a striking apron, Simplicity #8533, originally #2750 from year 1958.  Look at those handy, generous pockets!  However, what is so unusually special here is the way that the bib top can button on or off as desired.  This is all too similar to the convertible 1941 pinafore I just posted not that long back!

Simplicity #8509, originally #8449 from year 1951, is yet another to the long list of 50’s swing coats that they’ve released over the years.  This one luckily has a longer length version, and is indeed a lovely design with killer model photography.  The only change I see between the original and the re-issue is that the new pattern has pre-notched darts at the View C sleeves.

Simplicity #8507 is another pattern originally from year 1951, a “Simple to Make” #3655.  This is another unusual offering!  Sure, it is another pencil skirt, but the back pleating is stunningly tailored.  The stole might not be the most usable or practical item except for certain occasions and weather, but whatever…the way it is mitered with a point down the back and the slanted pockets at the end is such eye candy!  The skirt having bands for the stole to go in is an excellent way to keep it in place on the shoulders, I would think.  Wearing a belt over the straps when not using them for the stole would probably prevent them from becoming a nuisance, which I can see happening.  In my mind, I might make the skirt’s stole straps removable.  I find it funny that the re-issue actually adds a pattern piece for the skirt’s stole straps, whereas the old original merely has you cut a tiny strip so long by so wide.  Modern reprints seem to take nothing for granted and vintage patterns (to me) seem to trust their users’ capabilities a bit more.  Maybe modern patterns are just trying to make things easier and I just don’t see it but I hate keeping track of minutely small pattern pieces…I feel like they want to get lost in or out of the envelope somehow.

Now, for the lone but no less wonderful year 1948 re-issue, Simplicity #8508, originally #2323.  As much as I love this pattern, and I think this is the perfect opportunity to come out with this when women’s’ suits seem to be making a comeback, at the same time I am sorely disappointed by the terribly wrong proportions.  I’m sorry to sound like a vintage pattern purist, or a snob about images, but what was worn in the past has a reason and story behind it.   Fashions of the post WWII times were changing, yes, but the styles of 1948 and 1949 have a very distinctive air of creating the image of long, lean bodies with skinny waists and emphasized hips.  Hemlines were also an awkward longer mid-calf length not seen since the early 1930s – about 4 inches above the ankle.  Every nuance of most garments from 1948 and 1949 are masterfully crafted to achieve the ideal body image through masterful placement of proportions and garment details.  All of this is not Simplicity #8508.

This pattern re-print is not holding true to its heritage and instead appears as if it were an early to mid-1940’s suit with the barely below the knee skirt and higher suit hemline with high, tame hip fullness.  If you really look at the original 1948 cover of Simplicity #2323, the bottom button is at the waistline, and the first hip-lapel flap only begins below the button-waist horizontal line.  This way the mock pocket lapels are a sort of mock-peplum which compliments a longer skirt and defines the hips, therefore complimenting the waist.  At least this is how it should work.

Look at old photos of other similar suit sets I’ve found on Instagram, and they all have the same “mock-pocket flaps below the waistline button”, too. The line drawing of the new re-print stays true to the details of placement on the old original, but the model photo and the actual printed pattern inside the envelope has it wrong.  See how the top mock pocket lapel is above the waistline, almost level with the bottom button?  Together with the shorter skirt, what had been a 1948 pattern with a special silhouette has lost its identity.  What is worse to me is that the line drawing of the modern re-issue doesn’t match up with what the actual pattern will have you end up with.  Technically, I have nothing against the fit on the model on the cover of Simplicity #8508, but this design is better suited to different proportional placement, and untruthful examples of what one is buying is never good, leading only to possible confusion and disappointment.

If you like the higher pocket flaps and what you see on the cover of Simplicity #8508, then make this pattern as-is.  If you want a finished suit set which turns out both like the old original and the line drawing to Simplicity #8508, you will need to make a small adaptation.  From what I see on the pattern, you need to lower the horizontal angled cut which marks the beginning of the top pocket by 3/4 inch, and lower the line for placement of the second lapel flap by the same amount.  Please see my picture for guidance – my pencil is pointing to the true waistline.  The skirt also could benefit from about 4 more inches in length to truly become a 1948 style…a 27 inch length is a bit too short for that year.

Some of the same problems which apply to the last patterns also apply to Simplicity #8504. This is bittersweet to me because this is one of the most breathtakingly detailed vintage re-issue, especially from the decade of the 1930s which is not seen of as much as other decades’ fashion.  Originally this pattern was Simplicity #1140, year 1932, but for some strange reason the web page for the re-printed pattern #8504 wrongly labels it as circa 1930.  How do I know?  I’m not meaning to brag, but I currently have an extensive stash of old original patterns, with my oldest dating to 1926.  With an Excel spreadsheet of pattern info that fills in every year up until the 1980’s, I can now have somewhat of a database that helps me date and identify the original years of patterns.  A number Simplicity #1140 is definitely from 1932, not just relying on numbers alone, but also looking at the style…of the original not the modern re-make!  Like the 1948 suit above, the proportions of the model dress on #8504 and its actual pattern are so off, it is now more suited to the mid and late 30’s from the waist and below rather than an entire dress from the early to mid-30’s as originally intended.

You see, this general design is technically called a “girdle waist” (so I believe) and is frequently seen in the early to mid-30’s, especially when it comes to a garment that is designed for these shirred cap sleeves.  I have “preview posted” (something I’ve not yet blogged) on my Instagram – a circa 1935 dress, made from a vintage New York pattern, which has similar sleeves and waist styling to Simplicity’s new re-print.  My dress has its girdle waist added on in the form of a wide waistband, but the sleeves are the same, only my dress has a body fit, two-piece, bias skirt.  You kind of more or less need the body of a garment – especially the waist – to be slimming to compliment such overpowering sleeves. The new Simplicity re-print is dramatically different from the original cover and convoluted in such a way that there is bulk and gathers were it should not be, as I mentioned above.  “Long and lean” was the early and mid-30’s ideal, and all the girdle waists I see from this time period only have trim darts or tucks at the waistline.  Post mid 30’s, after 1937, hemlines were shorter with fuller skirts, with a wider silouette and more of a defined waist – like Simplicity #2527, a later version from ’37.  This latter is the style on the new Simplicity re-print and I think it harshly jars with the earlier puffy sleeves, totally wrong in many ways.

This isn’t even taking into account the fact that the arching, curved bodice seam should come down to the waistline at the side seams and it doesn’t in the reprint.  By having the bodice seam end at the waist, the skirt would skim out over the hips the way the original intended, but with the seam ending a few inch too high, I guess adding in a harshly obvious waistline with gathers was the “solution”.  Nit picking incorrect proportions is needed because small details do make all the difference to end up with a harmonious and complimentary finished garment.  This isn’t just my thought – even this dress from autumn of 1993 by the fashion icon Anna Sui has the same proportions and seam lines as the year 1932 original Simplicity #1140 (and it’s oh-so-stunning in velvet, too)!  Now this is a modern day reference that shows when things are done right, they never really go out of style.

My suggestion, if you want the pattern Simplicity #8504 to actually look like the original shown, is to slash the dress’ bodice horizontally through the bustline and lower the whole thing enough inches to get the side of the arched panel ending at or just above the natural waistline.  Pinch out the gathers of the girdle front waist panel and raise (shorten) the waist line the amount you lowered on the upper bodice.

At least Simplicity reprinted the sleeves the right way!  When I made my similar sleeves from that vintage original New York pattern, there was an under sleeve piece which acted as both the guide for the shirring of the upper sleeve as well as the support to sew the shirring down.  This modern re-issue is happily the same method.  It works out well, I must say, but gathering that many rows of shirring is not without its challenges.

The rest of the 1930s Simplicity patterns are to die for!  Finally, one out of the many “sleeves only” patterns which came out in the decade!  Look at Simplicity #8506.  With the “Year of the Sleeve” wrapping up, a pattern like this just might continue the trend!  Statement sleeves really can do wonders to the right pattern – here is one example of how I switched to an interesting sleeve to better match with the rest of the body design.  Why, oh why, does Simplicity again list this one as “circa 1930” though when it was originally Simplicity #1794, from year 1935?

Simplicity #8510 is another very welcome, good kind of different offering – vintage lingerie!  This set is so lovely and basic enough for sewists of any skill, as well as being something that should assimilate well into modern wear for those who do not want to also wear vintage garments over them.  Originally this pattern was Simplicity #2288 from 1937.  The only major updating I see made to this reprint is the practical fact they call for wide elastic across the back closure.  This makes the bra easier to wear and more understandable to construct.  However, my “purist” mind towards vintage pattern releases has me wish they had only shown this as an option because you really don’t need elastic down the back – the original wouldn’t have had it.  I tested this out for myself…I’m not just spouting.

Posted here on my blog, I have made myself a similar tap panty and brassiere set from a vintage McCall’s of a few years before, a 1934 #7823 which you can also see on my Instagram.  Granted, a non-elastic back requires precise, customized fitting and leaves no room for body variables.  But really, ladies – admit with me that elastic is the first thing to go out and show its wear on your underwear and bras.  A soft all cotton and satin bra with no elastic is actually very, very comfy, anyway, from my experience with my 1934 set!  Making yourself a custom fitting bra is not a bad thing, anyway!  My biggest “problem” with a vintage bra is non-adjustable straps, actually, but modern slide buckles never stay in place anyway (at least for me).  In the 1930’s, ladies bras would often tie closed at the top of the shoulder, that was how they were adjustable.  Single long ties sewn on each side of the front and back would be the old fashioned way of adjustable straps, rather than a one-piece over the shoulder strap.  I really wish Simplicity added more historical info to their primer inside so you can get to know your pattern and understand how it was used by real women of the past (which would help real women of today) rather than just opening it and following instructions.

Now the Vintage Vogue release is ah-mazing, and I plan on making my own micro-suede and animal print version in the next few months!  I’m talking about the new Vogue #9280, originally a Vogue #491, a “Couturier design” dated to 1948.  The week after the pattern came out, McCall’s was really advertising for it on their social accounts, showing how it is a “look-alike” to a Dior design from the year before – in 1947.  Dior was ahead of his time, setting the fashion trends others followed so it makes sense that this pattern is from 1948.  McCall’s keeps blatantly advertising this #9280 pattern as if it is something it’s not – it might be Dior inspired, but it’s not directly labeled as such and neither is it 1947.  Oh well – this is again, me, nit-picking, being the pattern purist.  Mislabeling is still confusing mislabeling, though.

Anyway, the design itself is glorious, with many options for Post WWII drama.  The actress Vera-Ellen in the 1954 movie “White Christmas” wears a coat which looks strikingly similar to the new Vogue reprint…hers is in a buttery yellow with an animal print scarf (see pics of it here).  The only change I see in the reissue is the lack of a lovely little detail – the back neckline collar seam having a triangular point to it.  The new pattern has a straight seam back to the collar seam – so boring, plain, and predictable.  How many patterns have that section in a geometric interesting point?  This little detail Vogue left out is one of the many reasons I like vintage patterns in the first place…but the rest of the dress is enough to excuse this change that I myself will add in on my own.  I have the perfect hat to wear with this dress, so stay tuned on my blog!

I hope the Thanksgiving weekend sales have given many of you opportunities to buy some or all of these patterns.  I also hope many of you even like these patterns enough to have heard me out on my critiquing.  What do you think?

This long winded post brings me to an internal question, “When is a copy no longer a copy?”  My studies with medieval and Renaissance manuscripts and paleography have made me aware of this viewpoint.  What makes a re-issue have the respectability to hold true to its ideal of passing down the details of the original where it came from?  Should a reprint or reissue have these qualities or are small details which are left out, adaptations, or personal changes admitted as a given?  The more vintage style in the hands of those who sew, the better for it in my humble opinion, but fashion is directly associated with history.  Fashion has the power to change behavior and attitudes.  Let’s get it right for a greater good.