Cerulean Streamline Moderne

If the last gasp of the Art Deco era could be a color, I would say it is unmistakably a pastel baby blue.  Many people do not know that a beautiful but mutated form of the geometric architectural style prevalent in the 1920s and 1930s was still strong in the WWII era.  We often think of fashion as being inspired by nature or movie costumes or world events but I see a correlation between the blue angled buildings of 1940s Streamline Moderne era and many of the powerful, angular garment designs of the Second World War.  There is no better example of this than the frequent use of plastron features on ladies’ dresses between 1942 and 1947.  Of course, I had to interpret such a pairing through my sewing…

This follows on the heels of my first post of the year where I shared a 1988 dress with a plastron front which has strikingly similar elements to this mid-1940s dress.  The 80’s frequently rehashed many WWII era points in its clothing styles but you gotta go back to the source to figure things out.  Firstly, I addressed what a “plastron” is in this post here – it is generally defined as a type of interfaced chest yoke that fills in the hollow between the shoulders and bust and frequently extends down to the hipline.  The fact that it was so popular in the 1940s can be seen in this 1943 leaflet, which has several different plastron style dresses, and Constance Talbot’s sewing book from 1947 which defines the word.  Just as Streamline Moderne architecture was seen as sleek, futuristic, and modern for its times, no doubt a plastron front was regarded in a similar mindset.

In our town, Streamline Moderne architecture is defined as the end of the Art Deco built environment, lasting between 1936 and 1945 (with a slightly earlier timeline for Europe).  The building behind me is a perfect, classic example of the American interpretation of the style despite the fact it is merely a façade front added circa 1943 (the year of my dress) to the lowest level of a brick late 19th century building.  Its “rounded and sweeping lines” of chrome-plated trim reminiscent the means of wind resistance used on trains, ships, and autos.  It has minimal ornamentation and color on an angular plan, highlighted only with the creamy blue glass tiles called Vitrolite.  Many Streamline Moderne buildings were made working through the last funds of the Public Works Administration, the second half of the New Deal agency that made grants for construction to local governments between 1935 and 1944, so no wonder it had an Art Deco air.  Even though the building behind me had been a small department store in its heyday, it has the same look of the Greyhound bus stations built across the U.S. during the Streamline Moderne period.  The idea of the style was to add movement and convey the sense of travel to something stationary, after all.  My photo’s location has been named the “Paris style” building ever since its 40’s refresh, to give us mid-west people a trip over the ocean to France where the Moderne style all ‘began’ (at the 1925 Exposition of Decorative Arts).

A plastron dress is not so unlike the buildings of its times.  Plastrons really widen the shoulders and slim the waist (especially when in a contrast color), just like what the 40’s and 80’s preferred.  Streamline Moderne buildings are impressive in a confident but pleasing manner, just like WWII women’s fashion.  A well-tailored garment can add complimentary appearance movement to our bodies – whether stationary or not – and can transport us to a happy, confident place in our internal mental vision.  A smartly designed garment can deceive and please the eyes with the visual appearance of a sleek form.  They are not much different after all!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a slub-textured, navy and oatmeal colored linen and rayon blend, with the solid contrast being an all rayon challis, and the entire dress body fully lined in a buff satin finish poly lining

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1777, reprinted in 2012, originally Simplicity #4463 circa 1943

NOTIONS NEEDED:  thread, a long 22” zipper, and interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Making this dress took me about 20 hours, and it was finished on November 4, 2014

THE INSIDES:  Nice!  The side seams and armscye are finished in bias tape, and the plastron facing covers up the center pleating, but all the rest of the seams are French.

TOTAL COST:  All the fabrics for this outfit came from the now defunct Hancock Fabrics, and were picked up on clearance.  I don’t remember the cost anymore but my total could not have been over $20.

For as much as I love this dress, it is a problematic re-issue because it had been significantly changed from its original 40’s design.  The blog “Black Tulip Sewing” has an excellent and very eye-opening post that clearly lays out the differences between her original (Simplicity #4463) and the reprint.

No wonder I had problems shaping the back waist (it ran long and wasn’t curved nicely)!  As much as I made a deal in the post of my Agent Carter dress about how full back zippers were apparently a real “thing” in the 1940s – albeit unusual – I had problems with all the curving that was drawn into the center back seam.  This gave me a suspicion something was off even before I saw The Black Tulip’s post.  There was supposed to be a side zipper or neckline closure.

Looking at The Black Tulip’s blog review, this dress’ skirt was supposed to be flared and have most of its leg room from the shaping in the side seams creating a general A-shape.  The reprint has a basic straight skirt, then added so much more pleating in the front, at and around the bottom of the plastron, to account for fullness and ease of movement instead.  However, it only made things quite bulky and challenging to sew (although the fanned out darts are quite beautiful).  1940’s patterns are generally pretty smart the way they are originally and such dramatic changing does not do anything but harm when you’re starting with something just fine to begin with.  Leave the good stuff alone, Simplicity.  Unnecessary fiddling is nothing but a waste of everyone’s time. Luckily, ever since 2016, Simplicity started staying true to the vintage lines for their reprints…only now, they are no longer giving us any past styles it seems – boo hoo.

That being said, I’m glad I persevered through all the quirks that made this a pain to sew and fit.  Fully lining the dress was probably not the best idea, but the linen blend material was thin and loosely woven so I didn’t have much of a choice.  One step which I am glad I did do was heavily interface both the inside (lining) and outside plastron.  If I hadn’t, no amount of clipping would have disguised or held up to the thick seam allowances sandwiched in between.  These older Simplicity vintage reprints often have smaller sized sleeves so I thought ahead and cut mine on the bias.  The sleeves are still closely fitted but at least the fabric is not restricting.  Besides, I really like the change in texture I get just by cutting the sleeves on cross-grain.  I do wish I had added a few extra inches to the hem length.  I only hemmed by adding bias tape on the edge and turning that under because I did not want to make the dress any shorter.  Can’t win at everything all the time!

What proper 40’s outfit would be complete without hat and gloves?  I even bought out my old shoes clips!  All accessories are true vintage, yet only the hat had a makeover before it could pair with my dress.  It was originally from the 1970s.  Those 70’s fedoras are close to a proper 40s hat…but as the saying goes, “close only counts with hand grenades”, ha!  It had a really deep pinch at the tippety-top of the crown that kept the hat sitting too high on my head.  Luckily, it was an all woolen hat.  These are easy to re-block with some hot steam!

I first stuffed the inside of the hat with a very tightly wadded up bath towel, rolled into a ball.  Some sort of inner base – be it a kitchen pot or wooden mannequin head or bundled towel – is necessary to both help shape and protect the hat as well as keeping it from shrinking too much when it cools down.  Then, with my iron on its highest steam setting, I kept shrinking the tacky pinches out of the crown.  You never really touch the wool (unless you cover it with a pressing cloth) only come close with the seam.  Being careful of my hands, I would reach in and flatten/reshape the crown in between good steaming episodes.  As you can see, I kept a fedora double ‘pinch’, but just made it more shallow and higher up on the crown. I made the mistake of coming too close to some of the fabulous iridescent feathers on the side of the hat and they shriveled up and wilted, needing to be cut off.  Thus, there are less feathers and more weird fluff than I would like to decorate the hat but at least I ended up with something I like better – and will wear more – than leaving it in its original state.

Unfortunately, both my dress and many 1940s Streamline Modern buildings are generally underappreciated today.  My dress was just fit when I first made it so many years back now, but my body has since changed slightly since then and I am no longer comfortable in it.  This post’s dress is currently hanging on my part of the rack where clothes go that need a bit of tailoring or repairs to be wearable again (it is a very small portion of my closet, fyi!).  Luckily, I have been holding onto a good yard leftover of my linen blend material, so giving myself a little extra room will be an unidentifiable fix the way I am planning it.

Sadly, many 80-something year old buildings which are being stripped of their ornamentation or completely torn down are not as easy to bring back to life as my dress.  Either in the rush towards ‘modern’ improvement or from neglect over time, such architecture is beginning to disappear (especially in my town).  When it’s gone, it’s really gone, because both the capacity to and general desire to recreate such things are missing today.  That only means that part of our story – the tale of our city, our collective history – is absent, too.  In the US, our societal account is not as ancient as Rome or Athens, for two well-known examples for contrast. Thus, it’s important for us to learn to appreciate the built environment that we do have and learn how to transition it into today while learning about what storied locations which have been lost to time and relegated to memory.  If making one simple dress can help me do just that, than I am pleased.  I love how finding such little hidden gems gives my research-loving mind a wonderful purpose to find out about and understand.  Here’s a toast to those awesome photo backdrops which make me feel like I’ve stepped back in time while wearing my self-made vintage!  Here’s a wish to having these great spots stick around all over the world so everyone else can visit and enjoy them, too!

Merry Mary…Quite the Contrary!

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Well, for Merry Mary, who has been passed over, forgotten, and unwanted for her 30 something years of existence, that is a tough pill to swallow.  Sure – she might be a bit gloomy and not the most striking upon first sight.  It hurts to be called ugly, though.  However, Merry Mary had faith that just the right ‘beholder’ would eventually come across her lonely life and see her inner potential…make her feel beautiful…wanted…fulfilled.  She was waiting for someone to tell her, “You are special to me…let’s make memories together.”  Ah, happy endings do and can happen.  Otherwise, Merry Mary would not be having her glorious feature story here on my blog!

You have just read the true yet dramatic story…of a fabric.  Call me crazy (don’t let me hear you say it, though) however anyone who has sewn long enough can understand that fabric can speak to you in curious ways.  This vintage fabric is copyrighted to 1988, carrying the name “Merry Mary” along the selvedge, and was a practically free find in a rummage sale.  It was too good of a deal to pass up – especially being a soft and harder-to-find rayon poplin weave.

Between the unusual print (looking so 90’s in 1988!) and the very useful two yards length, I soon found I was actually excited to sew something of it right away.  A general idea came quite effortlessly.  Of course it was much too tempting, but I paired the fabric with a year 1988 sewing pattern to end up with a project very specifically tied to a certain moment in time.  My first public wearing of the completed modern-vintage dress I made of the fabric completed in my mind the general emotions and background to such a long forgotten material.  Merry Mary’s story until now might be as drab as her muted colors, yet even if I’m the only one who likes it, that’s all that matters!  Beauty is in the eye of beholder and we should not judge others.

Of all the unusual and vintage styles I make and wear, I happily generally garner a pleasant, friendly, or at least curious response and attitude from those who see me.  It’s not that the feedback is what I am seeking when I choose to make what I sew.  I march to the beat of my own drum and create my own clothes to be true to myself and inner creativity.  However, the positive vibes I receive back certainly do help matters.  This 80’s dress is the first garment I have made which is obviously polarizing to passersbys.  Apparently, Merry Mary does not rub off the same way to others as she had for me.  ‘Too bad, so sad’ I independently think, because it is such a comfy dress that has just the right amount of a hot low neckline and a satisfying use of scraps.  Yeah, the gaudy 80s jewelry from my wonderful Grandma might be appropriate to the dress, but doesn’t help people love my look any better.  What can I say…I like to live big!  Nevertheless, it is quite interesting to try and figure out why those sour reactions are the case.  Revisiting the 80’s seems to be so polarizing.

Related to that, I’ll just come out with some personal info for sake of context.  In 1988, I was only just coming into the age when you start to remember life’s big events and exciting occasions.  Looking back at old pictures recently, I never realized my mother wore really classic 80’s fashions back then!  She sported all those wide and padded shouldered looks with the skinny skirts, power sets, and occasionally a wide collared dress.  Of course I am partial, but I think she rocked them quite well from my perspective today.  I do remember, coming from a non-judgmental child’s perspective, all I thought of back then was ‘how pretty my mom is’…no realization of what she was wearing (other than learning from and admiring her ability to fix herself up and put together an outfit!).  Perhaps we need to look at more of the 80’s fashion through more of that innocent perspective and stick to re-imagining it for the people we are today.

I know there are many right now who are all grown up and were children in the 80’s (like me).  I sense that the era is too ‘new’ for that bunch to do anything but find a gag reflex to those styles.  It is common to hate the era you feel is associated with your childhood or awkward teen years!  There were some bad fashion decisions then, I know, I’ll be the first to admit it, and yet I like to keep an open mind.  Check out what the great designers were creating.  Take a fresh outlook on it like I do, interpret it how you would like to have it instead, and own it for our current times.  Look out for the details in 80’s clothing which originated from past decades you do like (such as the 40’s or 50’s).  Realistically, it’s now 40 years since the 80’s and it is due for a refresh to be popping up at some point of this 2020 decade’s ‘fads’.  I’m just sayin’!  Nowadays, what comes ‘in style’ isn’t always what people want – things become popular out of social circumstance and Hollywood influence.  When that does happen, I’m already here for it.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% rayon twill for the floral and poly faux suede remnants (leftover from making this 70’s jacket and sweater vest) for the front and back middle contrast (I used the satin side out)

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8736, year 1988

NOTIONS:  I had all I needed, which was nothing special – thread, interfacing, a 22” zipper, and bias tape

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was finished on December 18, 2019 after spending a total of about 8 to 10 hours to make it.

THE INSIDES:  all cleanly finished in bias tape

TOTAL COST:  A total of only $2                                                                             

This was a total experiment kind of project that I’ve ended up liking because it’s different, it’s comfy, doesn’t look at all as terrible as I was worried it might be on me, and also on account that I took the time and thought to make it in the first place.  If I saw such a dress on the rack of a vintage store, I confess, I probably would not be appealed by it, as it really only comes to life once on a body and fully accessorized.  I took the dive for this design mostly on account of knowing a plastron works on my body and is yet another feature of the 1940s which the 80’s refreshed.  My curiosity of fashion history frequently can only be appeased and sorted out if I create the object in question.

Making my dress was so unexpectedly easy.  It helped this experimental project not place too much stress on being a big success because the time investment was low.  There is no lining, minimal facing, and it is loosely fitting so no precise tailoring was needed.  Also, I was somehow able to make this out of two yards when the envelope back grid suggests to use 3 yards!  Every single piece was butted up against the other, with no room for error, but I did not have to compromise on grain lines at all, luckily.  I only had to shorten the hem line by a few inches.  The front contrast just barely made it out of the remnants I had from using the faux suede twice before, which was very lucky.  Many times I think ahead and plan to leave space around my cuttings for what I might be using in the future…such foresight was not here.  There was nothing but inconsequential shreds left over of both fabrics after some extreme pattern Tetris.  I do love it when a project I don’t hope to revisit doesn’t add to my scrap bin at all!

Due to the loose fitting design (such as those ah-mazing batwing sleeves!), I made a straight size, despite usually grading between sizes for the bust-waist-hips for most other patterns.  The only thing there is to fit is to make sure the hips were no too tight and find a comfortable elastic waist length.  Yes – it has an elastic waist…eww, right?!  That’s what I thought, too, until I realized it is not seen, only covered by the attached waist band which comes out of each side to the pointed bottom of the plastron.  I can deal with that!

It was quite tricky to make sharp, cornered points at the bottom of the plastron because the waistband, the front skirt pleats, and the elastic casing all ends at the same spot on either side, as well…so there was a lot going on there!  I had to do some stitching of those spots by hand to be precise and avoid frustration from trying to lay my dress under the machine just perfectly.  If the rest of the dress came together in the blink of an eye, I don’t mind spending a bit more time on the only detailed spot to the dress.  I didn’t have to deal with a installing a zipper, after all, as this a pop-over-the-head dress.

I found a photo shoot location setting which calls to mind the American suburban shopping malls.  They sure saw their heyday in the 80’s.  Those were the days when you could do more than clothes shopping there – does anybody remember the game rooms, toy stores, pet shops, very Punk-Goth looking “Hot Topic” stores, and “Glamor Shots” photography studios which were in malls during that decade?  Don’t forget the hanging out with friends, and the great people watching!  Ah, those were the days.  That is what I love about re-making the clothes of the 1980s, it brings back good childhood memories I can reminisce in.  I can image myself back in the 30’s, 40’s, or 50’s wearing my older vintage outfits based on what I know and have learned, but I personally did not relive those decades like I did the 80’s and 90’s.  First-hand experience is everything.

I hope I’m re-creating the 80’s in such a way that makes it more appealing than the initial go-around of the decade.  This was a project which stays true to its original date more so than many of my projects, and yet by making it – in what felt like a flash, too – I felt that I owned it in my own way.  I loved letting my full head of hair and dated accessories go towards my advantage to channel the full 80’s effect!  This is probably only a late fall or winter dress due to the colors and suede material, which is good because my cold weather wardrobe is significantly smaller than my current amount of warm weather clothes.  I want to fill up the yearly slots on my decade page for the 1980s anyway!

Stay tuned for a look-alike outfit to follow on the heels of this post’s dress.  As I mentioned above, this style calls back to the 1940’s, so I will be sharing a WWII era twist soon!

In the Spirit of the Rani

Even today, women of India grow up with the name of the Rani, a warrior for Independence and queen of Jhansi (circa mid-1800s), as a household celebrity and role model, so I have heard.  Now that her inspiration has transcended the continent of India, thanks to some authentic representation through Hollywood (the likes of which has not been seen before), women of American can now also love the exciting historical story of Laxmi Bai.  “The Warrior Queen of Jhansi” movie, released November of 2019, is purported to be the very first United States movie starring an Indian woman as the main character, besides being produced, written, and directed by the mother-daughter team Swati Bhise and Devika Bhise.

As the manifestation of finding a new personal hero, this vintage mid-60’s style dress is the visible result of me channeling my own inner “Spirit of the Rani” since I first found out about Queen Laxmi Bai a few months back.  This outfit mirrors both the traditional clothes of Maratha province of India, besides imitating the outfits worn by the leading lady in “The Warrior Queen of Jhansi” movie.  Now more than before, I am fully invested in continuing to add to my wardrobe of Indian inspired fashion (see my 1947 Independence Remembrance dress here and my 70’s inspired Sherwani jacket here).

I love the beautifully rich complexity that every Indian inspired outfit offers – a whole new aspect of their culture and history is opened up every time I dig deeper into the traditions of every different region.  I am in awe of the detailing and thought that goes into the practices and the fashions of India every time I sew something related to it.  This dress is not as culturally compelling as my last two Indian inspired garments and the ones I have plans for next, but the feelings behind it are just as strong as for the others…especially with the Rani as my muse!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% rich-toned cotton print with gold foil accents; the bodice is fully lined in an all-cotton broadcloth

PATTERN:  Simplicity #5702, year 1964 (Is it just me or does the middle woman in black remind you of Sophia Loren?)

NOTIONS:  All of what I needed was on hand already – zipper, thread, seam tape, bias tape – but the authentic Indian trim which is on my sleeves was ordered from “Fibers to Fabric” on Etsy.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was made in about13 hours and finished just in time – November 13, 2019 – for us to see the movie on its premiere weekend for United States showings.

THE INSIDES:  all either cleanly bias bound or covered by the bodice lining

TOTAL COST:  The foil-printed cotton fabric is something I have been holding onto since the late 90s or early 2000’s.  It came from the now defunct Hancock Fabrics.  I always received the best deals from Hancock but after about 20 years in my stash, this fabric is as good as free to me and more than deserves to be seen and worn – finally!  My only cost was the lining cotton and the trim…$15 or less altogether.

The actual design lines to this dress are deceptively simple.  It is basically a standard sheath dress with a few lovely tweaks for a very nice fit.  The neckline is a rounded boatneck, the skirt has a mock-wrap look with its deep-set asymmetric knife pleat, and the full back zipper makes this easy to get on.  It fit great right out of the envelope, after only slightly shortening the rather long bodice.  I left the length long for more elegant air.

I do believe it is the rich-looking, detailed print of the thick cotton I chose (look at all the colors in it!) as well as the proper ethnic accessories which add so much to my dress.  There is no sense making an Indian inspired dress without the proper attributes!  Except for my shoes, which are vintage-style Chelsea Crew brand, my vintage golden belt, and my hair comb, which I made myself, all else was bought from local stores who carry ethnic sourced items.  Although this is a modern merge of Indian traditions, I would be remiss to leave out a dupatta shawl.  This one is woven rayon from India.  My necklace is composed of beads made from recycled sari remnants and my earrings are blue agate beads – both handmade in India.  However, my prized and proper, true ethnic addition is the mirror-work trim sewn down to the sleeve hems of my dress.  This was ordered direct from India out of a shop that specializes in supplying traditional buttons, trims, as well as woven and natural dyed fabrics (Fibers to Fabric on Etsy).

Looking back, Indian inspired fashions had seemed to explode in the global fashion scene in the 1950 era, especially so in the 1960s.  Sewing patterns (particularly ones idealized for border prints) which call for saris as suggested material and saris made into fashions according the mode of the day can be easily found popping up in vintage selling spheres today.  Sadly many such designs lack any sort of traditional approbation.  (See this Pinterest board of mine for some visual examples.)  These are great examples of the many ethnic influences which were prevailing in the Mid-Century Modern times.  I am wondering if the Indian influence of these decades past is due to something else besides a general outward-focused interest or desire for foreign inspiration, perhaps.  Maybe there was a steady influx of immigrants from India sharing their culture in America and elsewhere?  If so, was this maybe because of good visas abroad or because of some homeland political upheavals popping up in the decades following the 1947 Independence?  I have so many unanswered questions.

Either way, my dress follows the norm of such loosely influenced Mid-Century designs, with greater attribution coming from my accessories and idealism of the Rani.  Even the foiled cotton print is something which would have been very popular for the times as well, with fabric pioneers such as Alfred Shaheen bringing such a basic material up to a whole new level of classy with metallic accents and rich, vibrant colors and patterns.  Not everybody knows that old cotton prints in their pristine gloriousness can put contemporary versions to shame.  A cotton dress was by no means plain in the Mid-Century – I mean look at this vibrant Valentine’s Day dress I made of true vintage 50’s cotton!  This dress is only made of a newer version of an old style.  Yet, as I stated above in “The Facts”, the cotton I used for this Indian dress was edging dangerously close to becoming modern vintage in its own right, though – it has been in my stash for the last 20 years!  All the more reason I am so happy with my new dress!

For someone trying to make something from practically most of the last century, finding a pattern that appeals to me from the year 1965 is still a will-o-wisp I cannot capture.  Nevertheless, this year 1964 project is a satisfying close-call.  After all, 1965 designs seem to be either quite plain or a mere repeat of the same styles I see in the years both before and after, such as this Pierre Cardin design, Vogue Paris Original no.1443 from 1965 (also with a pleated, mock-wrap style skirt to the dress).  I’m hoping the right year 1965 pattern will eventually fall into my lap, but in the meantime I’ll secretly be counting this dress as close enough to the middle of the 60’s.  There are other projects with a louder siren call to listen to!

I really did not see or plan for this project in my sewing plans queue, but was an easy make, an opportunity to learn more about my favorite foreign culture, a very good use of some lovely materials (if I do say so myself), and fulfilled my personal ‘need’ to honor the Rani at our viewing of such a wonderful film.  Many critical reviews are scathingly hard on it, but ignore them…the movie was beautiful. I cannot stress how important such historical and ethnic representation like this is to have today.  Besides the inclusiveness this film affords, the historical fact that the Rani – a woman – was the first popular freedom fighter and one of the top icons for Indian nationalists is not something only one country should acclaim. She believed women were just as powerful, smart, and worthwhile as men in a time (1850s) and place when she was fighting every side of societal and cultural norms for those ideals, not to mention standing up for her homeland first in diplomatic relations then in valiant battles to free it from the grip of the East India Company. Please make an effort to see this film for yourself or at least learn about the wonderful life of Rani of Jhansi.

Happily, my Rani inspired dress has prompted some discussions and sharing of my limited knowledge about her to those who happened to compliment me on my outfit the night I wore it out.  Any woman with an independent mind, courageous will, compassionate heart, loving temper, and patriotic fire inside manifested outwardly is the “Spirit of the Rani” today.  Not to be reckoned with lightly, such a woman is a powerful force in the world of today.  When women believe in their worth and capabilities they can do whatever it takes to fulfill their destinies and bring any dream to life. The Rani became more than a heroine, she became an idea.  When someone acts on an idea, anything can happen.  When the men around the Rani did not believe they had a chance of successful rebellion, she set up a formidable women’s corps to fight…which idea was also repeated during WWII with the ‘Rani of Jhansi regiment’ under Lakshmi Sahgal.  Let’s follow the Rani and act on those inspired ideas for the good of ourselves and others!  I started with only a dress, in this case

Little Letterman

A little bit of necessary and unselfish sewing which had been finished in time for the arrival of cold weather is my new pride and joy.  After all, it is worn by my little pride and joy!  The fall and winter holidays are all about family and appreciating those in our lives, after all!  My son needed a warm yet dapper winter coat and I more than stepped up to the challenge.  By using a vintage pattern with scraps leftover from other projects, I came up with a no-cost classy children’s coat unlike what any store has to offer with all the benefits of vintage and the longevity of brand new.  When a utilitarian garment like a coat can be as much as a fashion piece as a great shirt or a nice pair of pants, then outerwear is no longer an unwelcome covering merely necessary due to the weather.

It rather alarms me how successful my project was because of how grown-up this new jacket makes him seem.  Being that I see him on a daily basis, it takes something out-of-the-ordinary on him in a photograph for me to see our son in a different light.  I think kids’ clothes are way too casual in general today – kids are underestimated.  Dressing nicely in no way hinders them…rather the opposite. Children can be so cute all polished up and put together in something nice and halfway grown up.  It’s a good practice to get them in the habit of doing so every now and then, anyway, it gets them in a good frame of mind.  Sadly though, it is hard to find them dapper and somewhat fancy clothes in the ‘normal’ RTW circles.

Children’s clothes lacking attitude, lettering, and brand logos are hard to find today; however, letters were popular in vintage kids and teens clothing too (30’s to 60’s, peaking in the 50’s), with a different purpose.  Back then it was all about school pride, name initials, and occasionally movie stars like Roy Rogers (for one example).  Most of this lettering went on outerwear, like the well-known Letterman jackets and sweaters.  This particular jacket I made is very much a combo of the youthful Letterman style mixed with the more grown up Gabardine style.  A men’s Gabardine jacket is about hip length with little to no shaping at the hem (straight cut), regular set-in sleeves, and a collar (normally).  It was popular in the 1940s.  A letterman jacket for the youthful crowd often had two-tone colors going on with the sleeves – frequently raglan style – being a different color than the body, a banded bottom and collar.  Both styles have front welt pockets.  The pattern I used is a quaint “Father and Son” mini-me design after all, so I love the way the adult and the child features combine to make my son look like the little man that he is!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  the plaid is a rayon suiting, the forest green accents are a vintage cotton corduroy from my paternal Grandmother, and lining is a combo of fleece quilted to a poly lining

PATTERN:  Simplicity #7744, year 1968

NOTIONS:  I only used what was on hand – thread, interfacing scraps, leftover fabric, and even a zipper which was cut off an old RTW sweater of his which has been long ago been thrown away after he wore out.  I even had the snap system leftover from doing the placket on this dress of mine!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  After 30 plus intense hours over the course of just over a week, the jacket was finished on November 4, 2018

THE INSIDES:  Full lining means “What raw edges?!”

TOTAL COST:  Nothing, zero, zilch is pretty much the full cost.  Leftover materials from several other projects plus using material given as a gift for the other half of it means this coat of his is as good as free!  How’s that for a homemaker’s dream!

What I particularly love about this project is that because I am using up remnants for it, besides emptying my stash, my son and I end up matching each other just a bit.  Let’s fluff off the “Father-Son” look the pattern advertises and give a big ‘yay’ for a not so commonly seen “Mother-Son” pairing!  My 1945 Glen Plaid me-made skirt suit set left just enough leftover – one yard – to be more than just a scrap.  At first I was thinking of using it for a purse, but rayon suiting it too nice for just an accessory I probably won’t use all too often.  Great fabrics need to be seen, worn, and enjoyed!  By chance I asked my son if he liked it – he sometimes likes to “pet” my softest fabrics and his opinion is normally quite thoughtful and interesting.  His positive enthusiasm lined it up for something for him.  A winter dress coat was the next big thing he needed, and one yard was just so close of a cut for my chosen pattern so it seemed like those two were meant to be together.  It is not too obvious of a mini-me look (compared to my suit) for him to mind but it is still enough of a pairing that I am thrilled!

It also continues his mommy-made wardrobe sort of like a theme.  If you look at the 1940s overalls I made him a few years back and his recent 1960s house coat, leftovers from both projects are in this coat – one seen and the other unseen.  The forest green corduroy for the jacket’s sleeves and trimmings are leftovers from the overalls, which is already leftover from my Grandma’s stash.  She used this corduroy to make things for my dad and his siblings when they were little so I feel all choked up over how special it is for me to carry on the tradition.  The puffy lining to the inside of the jacket was made possible by the leftover “lily pad” fleece of his house coat.  I mock-quilted it to the poly lining in angled lines that meet at the back center for a bit of a decorative touch to something very practically meant to merely keep our son warm and toasty.

It’s the details that make a garment standout and stand the test of time, just like all the vintage items that are loved by so many or like the high fashion items crafted by design houses for superstars and runway shows.  There is something to the love for the beauty of sewing – or the love for the recipient, too – manifesting itself in the excess time which goes into fine details.  Such details make creating in the first place have a bit more easily visible worth, sort of like a proof of time well spent, remotely tangible for those open to appreciating them.

Such reasoning is why I spared no amount of effort in my zeal for a fantastic, professionally finished coat.  My first mission in this goal was to make the best welt pockets I have done yet.  I normally am not adverse and stressed out by a sewing technique as I am with creating welt pockets, even though I know how to do them.  The pressure was especially hard because of several irreversible steps before the pocket needs to be created and if I messed up, well…the coat would be no more.  However, I happily feel that I succeeded in not ruining my project, but still failed in making the best welt openings ever.  I am just overly critical on my own work, so to every other eye they are great welt pockets.  Working with tiny and precise seams in corduroy is not by far an easy thing.

That fact also applies to setting snaps though corduroy.  I had to make several “test run” tabs, complete with interfacing to mimic the thickness, and we failed with a few settings before we both realized we were running short of snaps and rather finding the right pressure to use on the press mechanism.  These sort of things – much like welt pockets – get to a point where you just have to take a deep breath and just go for it!  We made one ‘male’ snap on the hem tab itself and two ‘female’ snaps on the coat to give the option of pulling it in…or not, if wanted.  Having options to one’s clothes is lovely!

We did not want to push our good luck with the snap settings, and I wanted something lower key, so I stitched down large, black, easy-to-handle snaps at the sleeve cuffs and neck closing.  As much as this was mostly my idea, and my creation, I was thinking of him throughout the process.  I made sure the large snaps were something he could handle all by himself.  I made the front pockets bigger (they reach all the way to the front zipper and end at the bottom hemline) because I know all the things he likes to stash in his coats.   The front zipper is recycled off of an older garment he wore out and grew out of so I knew it worked for him.  Even the choice of green corduroy was really his choice – he could have chosen navy blue or burgundy cords, too.  I did think ahead and made the sleeves just a few a few inches longer in the hopes of this jacket lasting an extra winter.  The way he eats more food than us, though, and grows like a weed that thought is just a hope, perhaps.

Ironically, or maybe appropriately, the pretty fall backdrop for these photos is his school’s front entrance street-view grounds.  This was soon after he went back into a new year of school and after class picture time.  Sometimes, those school pictures are not always the best so we had a good excuse to take good shots of the jacket – going out and try to capture the real side of him in a much more ascetically pleasing look than a uniform.

For a jacket that resembles the symbol of the elite in a school, he really is nothing stuffy no matter how nice he may look.  He is just an eager, individualistic little man who is still trying to get the hang of finding the words for everything he has to say (it’s a LOT lemme tell you!) and the letters that form such.  Thus, he has no logo inscriptions.  I appreciate the fact he does seem to be forming another sphere of his life at the same time – a rather dapper, fun style for himself in his non-school-uniform clothes.  Sometimes we have to remind him on weekends to reach for the printed tees in his closet and not his plaid dress shirts!  If I can encourage and help him along in this sphere (especially since, for the moment, he likes my taste and I enjoy his), than my sewing is very worthwhile to be such a means of expression for one of the most important people in my life.  Never underrate the power of a boy and his mother.

In the Military Style

So often we hear that imitation is merely a form of admiration, yet many times one does not feel like such is the case.  One only feels plagiarized, copycatted, or even misappropriated (when it comes to culture).  However, no matter how cliché, it is a very true that imitation is a form of respect when it comes to my own military-inspired style, especially when that involves either camouflage or anything related to WWII.  In this case, my post’s outfit includes both!  In honor of Veterans Day, and to find a way to express through fashion the admiration, appreciation, and respect I have for those who have served and are currently serving to protect all that we hold near and dear, I’m joining in – just a little – on their military style.

I am weirdly very preferential when it comes to camouflage and military greens.  Everything in either department all looks really good to my eyes but I do have favorites.  Wide and blotchy disruptive patterned camouflage in darker earth tones is my failing, hence why this pullover sweatshirt totally makes me giddy!  Along this vein, my true military favorite camouflage preferences are ones that are of a similar pattern – the 1942 WWII United States “Frog Skin” mottling and the 1937 dotted German “Platanenmuster” variations for vintage examples in my highest esteem, and the 1990s era “Central Europe Camouflage” of France, the “Desert Camouflage Uniform” of the USA, and even the “Soldier 2000” of the South African National Defense Force all following in second place.

Part of the reason for my pickiness probably has to do with my dad’s job (referred to here at the end of this blog post) but also I love a camouflage for how it can work for our local environment to make one blend right in and be ‘hidden in plain sight’.  At every WWII reenactment we’ve attended in our home state, the Germans are the ones hardest to sight when they’re sneaking up to ambush and a camo which succeeds that well impresses me.  Perhaps 90’s era camouflage gets to my heart because of memories.  My dad was working so much overtime during that decade to support our military as a government employee with a specialized job and my mom and I were going to events – me in a homemade “Betsy Ross” costume – to give our service men and women the encouragement and civilian support they needed in our own way.  I even was on the nightly news for such an event when I was 10!

My pants are the best of the best – they are true vintage WWII mens’ military bottoms!  My pair have a production date of 1947 stamped on the label, so they are a post-war production of the war-time style.  The label says they are cotton sateen, but I have ever seen such a study version of such a material.  They are super sturdy thanks to being as thick as a heavy wool yet extremely soft, well broken in (by now, they should be), and a joy to wear.  If they were not almost 80 years old I would want to wear them all the time.  The WWII military green colors are my favorite anyway.  Their olive greens are not overly dusty or are too dark.  A soldier would not like to hear this but I dare call the colors ‘pretty’.  Yes, this is one of my more eclectic outfit combinations – a little bit of modern paired with a truer vintage than anything I could make, also indeed a military style in more ways than one, as I said!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Two one-yard cuts of all-cotton knits for both the sleeves and the printed main body, fully lined in a lightweight polyester interlock jersey.  The cuffs and bottom band, as well as the neckline, are a heavyweight poly knit leftover from making this 60’s dress.

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1317, a year 2014 pattern

NOTIONS:  As this is a knit no interfacing was needed, just thread.  The decorative add-on studs were something I’ve had on hand for a few years, saving for the right project.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This only took me 3 hours to make and it was finished on November 8, 2018

THE INSIDES:  all cleanly serged (overlocked)

TOTAL COST:  The fabrics for this sweatshirt had been bought several years ago when the now defunct Hancock Fabrics was going out of business so it was really discounted…also part of the reason I had to make this on two small remnant cuts (I could not go back and buy any more).  The poly knit lining was a new purchase from my local JoAnn store.  The studs were from Hobby Lobby for a few bucks.  All supplies counted together, this sweatshirt probably cost me just about $20.  Pretty good deal, huh?!

Making the actual sweatshirt was a breeze.  It is so versatile – the velvet one on the cover compared to the more casual ones and the one with the fringe all show that this top can be anything you want it to be.  Two small remnant cuts were all I needed, don’t forget!  I took a bit more time on my sweatshirt to line it, but this could easily be a one afternoon ‘have it ready in under a few hours’ project.  Even better, all the reviews I saw online when considering this pattern looked so very good.  This is really a no-fail pattern…I would think even if you sew this badly it would still look great, I dare to assume.  A sweatshirt is such a chilly weather staple item, and with everything this pattern has going for it there is no reason to buy a RTW one.  I can’t wait to use this pattern again.

The only thing I did consistently notice was that the sizing seemed to run between true to size and a little small for most people, and I feel this is true.  I wanted a loose and relaxing fit for my camouflage version and I found just that by going up one whole size, so the fit much be right on.  There are two neckline options and I went for the more closed, rounded neck of the two.  I like that the neckline is close enough the keep me cozy yet open enough to not sense I am confined in it like most RTW sweatshirts.  I like when my collar bone is exposed and I can show off a neckline if I want or wear a turtleneck under this if I really want to layer up…all perfect with this.  Even the width and fit of the cuffs and bottom band are perfect, not too tight but loose enough to be comfortable.  This is an awesome pattern for a modern one, and this is coming from someone who primarily works with vintage designs and half expects to be disappointed by new ones!

I fully lined the sweatshirt for extra warmth, comfort, and a nicer appearance to the outer cotton knit.  I have used a similar all cotton knit for several projects now, and by now know the best way to go beyond my half-hearted hate of that material with the perfect pairing of a secondary fabric.  100% cotton knit is very finicky to sew, doesn’t drape well on its own, and has the tendency to be sticky”, both to itself and other fabrics and lingerie like Velcro fastening tape.  Pairing that knit with its opposite – a slinky poly jersey – is like a match made in heaven.  The two materials stick together, but the poly makes the cotton act and feel better than it is on its own.  Besides, a little extra ‘oomph’ in the seams actually makes the cotton easier to stitch together.  Check out how well such a pairing worked for this dress!  Now you know my hot tip, an insider’s secret.  You’re welcome.

Oh, how I love what I did to jazz up the neckline, if I do say so myself!  I love the look of studs but didn’t want the commitment of the true metal kind that cut through the fabric they sit upon.  A cotton knit like what I used ravels easily and acquires holes effortlessly, even from stitching.  I could not count on my fabric to stay together through washings with regular studs added so I used these plastic sew-on kind that I had been hoarding for the last several years.  They can also be considered as ‘sew-on stones’ or ‘backless buttons’.  They are frequently found in the button section of the fabric stores, after all.  I was tempted to go full bling and use all of them up but I spaced out half of what I had to strategically stitch down in place how you see them in my pictures.  Sadly, in most lighting they blend in a bit too well put they are a low key shine that I wanted to let my top’s camouflage take center stage.  Only in the glowing, golden hour of a late autumn sunset do the studs show off.

It is very important to be yourself yet remember to respect others.  I think forgetting such is where all sorts of problems stem from…be it wars or hurt relationships, sadness or anger, selfish politics or the whole slew of ill events and feelings which can happen in life.  This also applies to my pet peeve and the main enemy of truly original artists out there – plagiarism, copycatting, the stealing of ideas, and especially doing such for profit.  Closely related is the approbation of a culture, a certain way of life, or mode of dressing out of laziness to pursue greater understanding.  Not meaning to get too heavy here on the heels of Remembrance Day in honor of all the beloved veterans who have been taken from us, but I just wanted to clarify my military style is not at all meant to be a knock off of what the best humans our world has to offer wear in their official duties.  Let freedom ring, but also let kindness prevail.  Remember to thank a veteran, today and at any other time.  Let all people know they are respected and appreciated by what you do and say before they can no longer hear you.  So I’ll just post here about my love for camouflage out my awe and respect for the success and ingenuity of the brave military who need to wear a bit of ingeniously patterned cover to save their lives.  More power to them!  I want in a piece of that awesomeness and bravery if I do say so myself.