Red Roses for a Vintage Style Lady

Admittedly, for someone that briefly worked as a florist, I’m not much of a real roses fan.  Don’t misunderstand, I regard them as simply beautiful, and when in quantity add up to a good day’s total at the cash register.  As a customer, though, they just wilt too quickly for their cost.  Even the outdoor bush and plant variety always seem to soon enough become sick or mutated and die in our yard, sadly.  Now I have the kind of roses whose beauty will last and make for a great deal!  Heck with the old song, “Red Roses for a Blue Lady”.  These are roses for a lady who likes vintage styles!

Here is yet another garment where I’ve repeated what I know I love in a project – channeling a feminine ‘Betty’ outfit from the television show Mad Men again (second season this time; other Betty dresses here and here) and also using a true vintage fabric (my most recent one here).  As good fashion never really goes out of style, I do think this dress has the same qualities as the costumes of Mad Men, period-appropriate but also timeless and fashionable even to modern viewers.  I paid attention to details like I had all the time in the world, and did tons of hand stitching, even adding seed beads, for a dress which is my own perfect Valentine’s Day treat!

My fabric choice is a pristine condition, polished, printed cotton from the 1950s (surmised from many recurrent similar extant garments of that era).  I found it as a lonely piece at a steal of a price thrown in the corner of an antique mall shop.  How could I just leave it with its saturated red goodness at that cost?!  So – a good fabric deserved a really great pattern…one that has intimidated me every bit as much as I adore it.  I came upon a find, I saw a perfect project in mind, and I have conquered it!  However, the finished wiggle shaping ends up making my body look like a very shoulder-and-hip-heavy hourglass ‘Joan’ silhouette that I really am not used to but am completely taken by nonetheless!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a true vintage cotton lined and contrasted in a solid black cotton broadcloth

PATTERN:  Simplicity #2727, a ”Slenderette” pattern, year 1958 (I plan on coming back to this and making the jacket, yet!)

NOTIONS:  The basics I needed were on hand – thread, interfacing scraps, a hook and eye – but the zipper (22”) and the beads I bought recently just for this as I realized exactly how I was going to detail it!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  It took me about 10 hours to finish, but I actually spent a handful of hours just on figuring out the pattern piece layout before cutting out…there was no room for error…or the pattern pieces, really…

THE INSIDES:  A fully lined dress means all inner seams are not to be seen…

TOTAL COST:  This vintage fabric was only 8 freaking dollars, people!!!  The cotton lining I received for free, and the beads were only $2.  So this is an under $10 dress!  Such a deal.

Why, oh why is it that the best fabrics I find seem to frequently come in small cuts?  It’s like some sewing Karma wants to test me at every turn and always make sure my projects are a challenge.  This rose fabric was in a ridiculously small 35 inch width (one of the reasons I can estimate the vintage) and was a hairs breath under 2 yards long.  Under the envelope back listing for 35” width fabric, it says I needed 3 yards for this dress.  Yikes!

The only way I could make things work was to piece together a full one side back bodice panel and to add a horizontal waist seam to what had been intended as a smooth center front.  The print is complex I do not think the extra seams are noticeable but I know they are there, nonetheless (well, so do you now).  The center dress panel change especially makes me a bit sad (seen or not) because I loved the streamlined look of it with one-piece, streamlined, princess-style drafting as on the original design.  Not too shabby of a compromise, though, and at least the lining was cut properly without extra seams!  Granted, every piece was butted up against one another when laid out, so it’s a lucky thing I did not have to grade up in size at all.  The skirt had to be shortened by about 5 inches and the kick pleat eliminated to make things work, so I was literally left with nothing but tiny triangles of scraps leftover.  Although stressful, even mind stretching, it feels so good to be super-efficient and determined with a project idea!  If there’s a will, there’s a way, as the saying goes.

I am glad I had put off tackling this sewing project until now when my sewing skills are where they are at.  The overall dress was not hard to make.  It was the detail points that were the challenge, which was a difficult one that I have not had in a while.  Luckily, I had some practice ahead of time to help me out on the trickier spots of this dress.  A few of the projects I have made already have had some of same the details I encountered in making my red roses dress when all of them were in one project.  The underarm bodice panel/kimono sleeve combined into one element reminds me very much of my 1955 Redingote, as does the belt attached in at a front waist dart.  The side paneled bodice shaping is just like on my recent 70’s style Burda jumper.  The pleats which cover up a seam, like the ones at my waist, are call to mind the pockets on my “Spring Green” Easter suit of 1954.  It is good to challenge oneself, but at the same time I want to stress it is beneficial to work up to that scary hard pattern by finding projects ahead of time which prepare your skills for a successful turnout.  A fruitful finished sewing creation makes all the difference in confidence and estimation of worth in time and effort.

The bodice panels turned out the best I’ve ever done yet, happily, thanks to knowing what to expect.  I do love the way such a design element in the garment provides the best ever shaping for ones bodily curves, besides being the most comfortable form of a kimono sleeve…better than one with underarm gussets.  Look for something similar to try for yourself – you will love the way it wears!  Only, I thought the bust for this pattern ran large until I put on the period-appropriate longline bustier.  Then, suddenly I had that curvaceous 50s figure and a perfect fit that put me in awe.  So, a word of warning – in a 50’s pattern, beware that their curving accounts for more than what modern women are used to with the lingerie of today.  Unless you are willing to try a different style of underwear, or unless you find such a design element in a pattern from another decade closer to now, the wonderful shaping which you will find with a bodice panel/kimono sleeve combo might be more than you expect.

Those front waistline pleats where the belt is attached were the toughest part to tackle.  It took me about 4 attempts to figure them out correctly…but just look at them!  They remind me of the interesting pleats which can be found on some 50’s or maybe 60s couture garments.  Two of the pleats that provide the slight hip poufiness are angled out and folded down.  The pleat that encloses the belt and bodice side panel seam is perfectly vertical and folded towards the other two pleats away from the center front…so confusing on paper but awesome finished properly.  The fabric makes it really hard to photograph these details as clearly as I see them.

I’m not complaining about this wonderful fabric one bit, though!  Modern cottons are sadly missing out on the lovely sheen which vintage polished cotton has, not to mention the saturated dying process that makes it almost reversible.  Yet, vintage polished cotton is a bit sheer and stiff on its own, thus another solid opaque layer was needed under my dress for a non-transparent and natural-bodied hand to the fabric.  Besides, I am silly and would rather make a whole second dress as a lining so as to have an impeccable, second skin finish inside…not just to cover all the seams but mostly to eliminate the fussy neck facings.  Having more than enough cotton lining gave me an opportunity to cut the dress out the way it should have been with no adaptations.

Except for the major seams inside, all else to this dress was hand stitched invisibly.  This has been the first garment where I really sense that my hand sewing skills have grown to be similar to my machine skills – accurate, fast, and efficient.  The lining is hand tacked to the zipper (which was also hand installed to the point it is as good as invisible); the neckline, sleeve hems (after a machine added ¼ inch bias binding), and skirt hems (after lace tape added to the under edge) hand finished.  Not that it matters – who else but me really sees inside or even gets close enough to notice the details?  Whatever.  It’s that choked-up, happy emotion I get inside seeing the unnecessary extra particulars so fine as I’m dressing.  It makes you feel special, and reminds me that the beauty inside a person, like a garment’s inside, although unseen, is the best part.

It’s these same sentiments and the urge to try something new that prompted me to add a bit of beading to the neckline.  Not that the neckline is not a statement in itself!  This is one of the best fitting boatnecks I have come across, and the little notched front heightens the neck and shoulder emphasis by centering under the pit between the collarbones.  I merely added some clusters of 4 to 6 seed beads at a rose center which might be near the neckline center top edge, with a few smaller 2 or 3 bead accents on some petal tips as shading.  I was tempted to go and add the whole package of beads so it would show up better, but there is something I love about the understated elegance to not going overboard.  I do not want gaudy or distracting details to subtract from the dress and its fabric, and the more I bead, the more there is pressure to turn it into some sort of defined design…then my beading skills have to be better.  I did attempt to make a simple 3-D flower out of strings of beads to add on the end of the back waistband.  It’s not perfect, but pretty nonetheless, and just the perfect touch if I do say so myself.

Vintage is admired and long lasting because of its understated quality and beautiful ingenuity…these are the details I miss the most in modern ready-to-wear.  So, if I can bring a small part of that back in my own life and be the example, then I am happy.  If I can remind others they are worth feeling good in their skin by a wonderful dress, and that creating is good for the soul, than my garments are beneficial to more than me alone.  Hopefully with the time, attention, and care I put in towards my dress project, this red roses vintage fabric will have a lovely new life for many more years to come!  I know this dress will be seeing more than just a Valentine’s Day wear!

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City Wildlife

January is the depths of winter here and right now we are getting bombarded with frozen precipitation.  Yuk…this is not ‘my thing’.  As an August baby, I need a reason to remember the warm days when I could wear my favorite skin-baring sundresses!

I have not forgotten late last years’ beginning of my “Indian Summer of the Sundress” series, and so I’d like to add another installment to it with this post.  I figure it might help those of you in the depths of winter like me as well as inspiring those in the warm weather at the opposite side of my location!  This time I have a ‘modern-does-late-mid-century’ look in an animal print maxi.  It’s a properly classy yet subdued unruliness made to visit the animal and human wildlife for an event in our city zoo over this past summer.  Happily, a giraffe was more than willing to oblige to be in the background of some of our pictures even though I am wearing leopard (these big cats can be their predators in the wild).

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a super soft quilting cotton print fully lined in your average soft cotton unbleached muslin

PATTERN:  Simplicity #2180, year 2011

NOTIONS:  all I needed was a lot of thread, a bit of interfacing, and an invisible zipper, all of which was on hand

TIME TO COMPLETE:  about 15 to 20 hours went into making this dress; it was finished on August 25, 2018

THE INSIDES:  full lining means, “What seams? I don’t see ‘em.”

TOTAL COST:  As this has project idea been sitting in my stash for a while now, with the fabric bought a few years before that, I’m counting it as free by now.

This dress has been on my “to-make” bucket list for about 5 years now.  I remember it was one of the projects I wanted to tackle in the early days of my blogging, yet some of the details to it intimidated me at that time, so it got shoved to the back of the queue.  No longer!  However it was a good thing that I did put off making it because this sundress was challenging…not so much to make, just to fit and tweak to point where I am happy with it.  None of my changes are really noticeable when you look at the original design, though, so they are nothing major.  No, I wouldn’t do that to it – I love the style lines too much to really change them!

The back bodice triangular tied-together style is something I’ve seen again and again in mid to late 1950’s extant vintage dresses for sale at shops online.  I enjoy the fact that it is revealing yet you can still wear conventional brassiere under it!  It’s not like being completely backless but it sure gives off that air…so sexy with its teasing!  I can’t tell from the pictures whether or not the true vintage dresses really tie or are sewn shut in imitation.

Nevertheless, to make things easy for myself, I made the center back of my dress sewn down together.  The pattern calls for a tie back, but that sounds fiddly to me besides possibly creating a knot for me to sit back on – ouch!  I also didn’t want the complexity of ties to cover up the back design because I think the simplicity of the back is just beautiful.  It’s also perfectly airy for a hot summer day.  For my fix, I merely corrected the angle and left off the tie straps, which originally were and extension of the neckline facing.

I did not like the original neckline finishing though.  It was too wide and appeared stifling compared to the rest of the dress.  So I made my facing half the width.  I like the slightly more open neck and low key element to my version of the neckline facing.  However, I did have to slightly customize the shape of the front neckline because the bust (cutting out what should have been my ‘correct size’) turned out quite large in the chest.

To aesthetically correct the generous upper bust, I made two cross-bias darts that end at the upper bust and come out of either side of the bottom center neckline front.  This fix is something which is a fashion dart in my old tailoring books and you don’t see it on many garments.  Only (boo hoo!) it blends into the fabric print.  It takes out the excess right where it was at yet changed the neckline facing into something slightly more angular.  The original design has the neckline quite high with the wide facing and boat neck wide in style.  Personally, I like my version better (no surprise) but it was all just alterations I made along way of the construction process…in other words not planned ahead of time.  It is amazing how little ‘failures’ are only opportunities for happy creativity which makes things better you’d than hoped!

Now, the back bodice might be a 50’s element but the rest of the dress makes it seem more 1960s to me.  The long slim skirt with gathered waist and the high banded middle distantly remind me of Audrey Hepburn’s black Givenchy dress from the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” of 1961 (it’s my big hat – see picture below – influencing my perception, too).  Ever since that famous costume, early 60’s fashion had recurring but occasional long slim skirts to dresses, especially when circa 1964 combined these with an empire waist for a resurrected Recency Era fad, thanks to the creations of Norman Norell (see the “Josephine” dress), the great Dior, the innovative Bill Blass (then working under Maurice Rentner), and Mod Mary Quant.  These designers made such a silhouette the mark of high fashion.

This sundress’ skirt is really very straight rectangle on paper, and only appears a lot slimmer than it is when my legs are together or one knee is jutted out as I shift weight when standing.  I actually went up two size larger than my size because I didn’t want this dress to be too confining to walk in.  The above-the-knee slit helps movement freedom (and adds to the sultry aura of the dress, certainly) but I don’t want to rely only on that…I like my sundresses to both look nice and be ready for moments of family fun!  I was able to ride the jungle animal themed carousel ride with my son that day, but only side saddle for fear of ripping the side slit sky-high!

As the printed cotton was ivory (light colors tend to be see-through) I took the extra time to fully line the inside of the dress and it was so worth it!  It makes dressing in this so much more simplified not needing a slip, besides so soft on the skin.  I like a good layer of natural fabrics during summer, it wicks away moisture and breathes unlike any polyester, so I don’t mind doubling up on a good quality cotton.  Besides, the inside looks so professional even if it is just your average muslin lining!  Sandwiching a perfect invisible zipper up the side between the layers and matching up all the horizontal seams was tricky, though.

At first, I was afraid my outfit would be a bit “too much” but I had a happy time in comfort, received lots of smiles and a few compliments from passer-bys, and stayed classy despite my day in the hot sun wearing my sundress make.  I can’t wait to get more wear out of this sundress as soon as our weather turn balmy again!  It’s funny to realize I never used to enjoy animal prints as much as I have in the last few years, but when I do use them, for some weird reason it always tends to be leopard!  I have a Dior inspired late 40’s wool coatdress with leopard printed flannel accents which I plan on making this year, so my habit of using one kind of animal print doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon!

There is an interesting article I’ve read recently called “The Trashy, Expensive, and Contradictory Reputation of Leopard Print” and as much as I enjoyed the info it made think about why I tend to leopard.  Strangely, it’s not because I feel any of the stereotypes associated with it – power, exoticism, eroticism, punk, or glamour, probably why most of my leopard print makes are relatively tame.  I think I like it because I see it as a mere print, more like a curious twist on polka-dots, even though I know it is the natural camouflage of an animal skin, to a wild cat that needs respect and protection.  So there – either I’m admitting to a watered down mentality, or I’m fully duped by fashion idea of leopard, or perhaps merely admitting to agree with Dior (which makes me cringe a little to say, but that’s for another post).  He used leopard print as a “house motif” and mainstreamed the usage of it as more than an unnatural item and not just a fur (continuing the practice to this day).  Since such a print can be found on practically any material nowadays (thanks to advancements made in the 1930s) – from cotton to faux leather and scuba knit – my mind is so far removed from the actual idea of the real fur…don’t know if I’ve ever seen real leopard clothes nor would I ever want to buy or wear them (and probably couldn’t afford them, anyway).  Dior is quoted as saying, “If you are fair and sweet, don’t wear it.”

What side are you on when it comes to animal prints, because I realize I am some weird in between…I like wearing fabric based fashion reproductions but they by no means are my favorite nor do they garner my repugnance.  It is good on an occasional basis for me.  Do any of you animal print lovers also favor leopard like me?

Undomiel and her Numedor Knight

Fantasy worlds can be quite lifelike and believable.  Fiction can seem more convincing than reality, especially when – in book form – the writing is realistically superb.  Then the reader’s imagination is traveled through space and time by the magic of the written page.  This can be especially true of stories which have make-believe creatures that have been known for centuries, such as dragons, elves, dwarves, and wizards to name a few.  The stories of the great J.R. Tolkien stand high as a remarkable, memorable tale of very credible and well-crafted fantasy, even rising to the likes of a cult classic.  To tell you the truth I am more of a C.S. Lewis Narnia gal, but I am almost as equally ‘into’ the Lord of the Rings world, as well as my husband.

I have been wanting to recreate something from the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings movies ever since all three were out, thus this project is very fulfilling as it has been so long in coming!  Even better yet, I was extremely happy to have my son want to jump on board with my costume and match me for yet another themed Halloween!  Recently, the film trilogy had been out again to re-watch in the big theater near us and my son has now seen snippets of them, as well, so the fire for these films were renewed for us.  With a medieval and renaissance themed event going on at our local Science Center, too, and everything I needed for my own outfit on hand (thanks to having everything ready to whip the dress up for the last 14 years), I felt now was the time to make good of an extended sewing project plan!

Besides the fact I saw the films again now, why am I just writing about our Halloween outfits when it’s almost Christmas, you may be wondering (guess if you weren’t thinking about it before, you are now).  Well, as other detailed oriented Lord of the Rings movie fan will understand it is around the middle of December that the trilogy films were always released.  Everyone who has seen our outfits always guesses my son and I are supposed to be Guinevere and King Arthur (kind of a gross pairing for us when you think about it), so I’m wondering how many die-hard fans of Lord of the Rings are out there today.  Unfortunately, Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” trilogy most likely killed off a good part of the fandom (those movies are SO bad, it’s no wonder).  Yet, I merely remember that the enduring beauty of the original written tales still remain and there are many more of Tolkien’s stories yet for me to read and many more costumes yet to be remade for myself, he he!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  My dress – crushed panne polyester velvet, red hammered-finish crepe-back satin, and a golden small mesh netting; My son’s ‘chain mail’ tunic – silver oversized mesh netting

PATTERNS:  My dress – Simplicity #4940, year 2004; My son’s tunic – no pattern but my own…self-drafted!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My dress took about 20 hours to make and my son’s tunic took about 3 hours both were finished at the end of July 2018.

THE INSIDES:  all clean from serged (overlocked) seam edges

TOTAL COST:  Having all the materials on hand for my dress since over a decade cut down on costs, and the grommet setting machine (more on this later) was paid for with a birthday gift certificate, so the only costs were on my son’s ‘chain mail’ – about $10 or less.

These outfits were incredibly fun to make, they turned out great (better than expected, actually), and were much easier coming together than envisioned.  I actually can’t wait to dive into more medieval and renaissance garments, because these time periods are my favorite specialty to study and research in non-fashion related fields.  I’m contemplating a 14th century low class woman’s set and a 16th century noblewoman’s gown, besides more Lord of the Rings costumes that are still tantalizing me.  My son would look so cute in a jerkin and doublet, I think, and I’d love to turn my hubby into a 14th century pilgrim on the El Camino de Santiago.  There’s too many ideas in my head and too little time!  Luckily, my hometown is actually a small hub for what we call “Medievalism studies” and “Creative Anachronism” so we would definitely have places to wear such old historical fashions and reasons to study them if I want to wear and sew more! Yay!

I realize that there are many historical inaccuracies to both of our outfits.  But hey – these are costumes based on a fantasy movie, and made with the purpose to go out and have fun, so I love the fact that the craving to do thorough research beforehand, like my other historical creations, as abated and I could merely sew our outfits to completely please ourselves and have them finished sooner than later.  This is my first dive into a new era of clothing and I couldn’t be happier!  If both me and my son don’t want to have to take our outfits off once they are on, but continue to swirl around and pretend play, than that is the best sign of success I could hope for.

It might be selfish of me, but can I just start by addressing my Arwen gown?  It was the more involved to make anyway.  This was inspired by her famous “Death dress”, worn when her strength was fading away as she is becoming less elf and more human in “Return of the King”.  “I wish I could have seen him (Aragorn) one…last…time…” she says in this dress as her Evenstar falls and shatters.  That scene was so emotional in the movie.  There is a large influence of early medieval Celtic in the swirling detailing of the Rivendell elves and so I incorporated much of that into my version as well.

However, I could not reconcile myself with (nor achieve) the long and perfectly shiny and wavy tresses like Arwen, so I choose a more historical, half fictional (Star Wars, anyone?) hairstyle option of braided side buns option I liked better on myself, anyway.  The chiffon headcovering was left off for some pictures so you can see the gown better or just to make this outfit easier to play in, but a medieval woman would not have went without one!  My simple ‘crown’ (as my son calls it) is a brass sheeting strip from my father-in-law toolbox of scraps leftover from old jobs.  We folded it into thirds and rounded into a headband ring.  I have a faux leather strip taped to the inside otherwise the brass turns my forehead green.

The main body of the dress has some a-mazing shaping (see this Instagram post of mine), especially for the upper body, thanks to the multiple princess seams (which are a big ‘historical’ no-no for medieval gowns, but whatever).  I sized down so I would have a snug fit since I knew my fabric, the panne velvet, was very stretchy.  Choosing this sizing was a good idea here.  There is over 4 yards of material just for the dress body and most of it is the full, flare of the dress’ panels below the hips.  This makes this such as elegant dress with lovely, princess-like swing as I walk, but the dress is very heavy.  I had to raise the shoulders by just over an inch to accommodate the dress being pulled down by the skirt portion.  I am secretly wearing my 1905 Gibson Girl era petticoat under this dress.  “Kind of weird” you might say, but the dress looked like an awkward, limp, wet rag of a thing hanging on me without the mid-calf fullness the 1905 slip provides.  With the slip, there is a much better silhouette overall plus it keeps the back train from tangling up under my feet!

Now onto the dramatic sleeves!  It took some training while wearing to figure out how to move, think ahead, and overall deal with these kinds of sleeves, but once you learn how not to clear a table mistakenly, get your arm stuck in a door, or drop them in a toilet (all of which I’ve done), they are so poetic.  I loved finding ways of doing fight scene moves so that the hanging sleeve would swirl around and look awesome, like what the actress Bridget Reagan did in the tv series “Legend of the Seeker”.  My ultimate sleeve action inspiration is from the Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi and what she was able to do (playing a blind girl) in the beginning action scene to the “House of the Flying Daggers” 2004 martial arts movie (watch it here).  I know it sounds silly to play-act with your sleeves but movies have a strong influence and with all this odd amount of extra fabric, you have to admit that sounds entertaining, right?!

The fashion folds that are holding the top forearm extra sleeve length out of the way of my hands were directly inspired by both Olivia De Havilland’s costumes in the year 1940 “Robin Hood” movie and this Balenciaga coat from the fall of 1950.  It was a simple matter of tacking the sleeves down at regular intervals to a stable runner (like ribbon) underneath.  I think this is much, much nicer than a tie gathered casing (as the pattern calls for) and much better not having a sleeve top seam (I cut on the fold, instead).  I did make the sleeves a lot longer (by about 12 inches) than the pattern calls for, too, in order to do this pleating.  I also lengthened the hang of the sleeve bottom so it would end closer to the floor and could come to more of a point than a rounded curve as the pattern dictated.  The inner seam through the bottom sleeve drape was flat felled as it is visible.  I guess you can tell already, but I chose the satin shine for the outside and the crepe for the inside.

My sleeve’s upper half (bicep portion) has so many layers to it!  The first layer is the panne velvet, the same as my dress.  Then it is layered over with a golden mesh material.  Finally, my fancy ribbon (expounded on the next paragraph) was stitched along just on the other side of the seam allowances at my shoulder top and lower sleeve seams.  Next to the neckline – which has multiple layers of fabric with the facing, interfacing, and woven golden trim stitched along it – the upper sleeves are the thickest and most complex to finish parts to the dress.  I needed to add little snap-closed ribbon lingerie straps inside the tiny shoulder seams of this dress just to keep the sleeves from slipping off.

The ribbon I used for both my belt and sleeve trimming is the pride and joy of my whole outfit.  It looks like a reproduction of the margin decorations from the Book of Kells (800 A.D.) combined with the saturated tones of a 16th century Safavid manuscript and is amazing…quite heavy, rich in color, and detailed…woven like a tapestry.  I had about 6 yards of it stashed away since about 2004, and I must have found it at an incredible deal or else my mom would not have let me buy it (she never liked me spending a lot towards something I liked without an immediate plan to use it).  Its swirling designs are just like the crowns worn by Arwen or Galadriel.  This ribbon is subtle enough to not overpower, yet detailed enough to add a touch of complexity and finery suited (so I feel) to an Arwen inspired dress.  There is actually a heavy nail sewn to the bottom hang of my belt to weigh it down.  A snap connects the elbow of the Y around my waist.  I know a belt is not part of Arwen outfit, but just like my hair, it is a bit more of a historical touch that helps my version please me better than an exact copy.

There were no corsets but a natural look for women of 14th century dressing, and the lacing to their clothing closings were just that…closures.  From what I have seen, back then eyelets would have been hand worked or (later) metal rings sewn on along the edge for the lacings to go through.  I needed to make about two dozen eyelets and wanted the flashy prettiness of golden metal modern ones.  Only, I was not going to hammer each one of them in by hand, but that was the only way I had available.  Thus, I put a birthday gift certificate to good use, did a last minute run to the fabric store, and splurged on a mechanical hand pressed hole punch and eyelet setter.  It looks like a pliers on steroids!  I chose the “Crop-A-Dile” by “We R Memory Keepers” brand tool and it is so ridiculously easy, makes very uniform eyelets which are sturdy, and it has so many useful function options (it can even do snaps!), I love it.  In 30 minutes I did all two dozen eyelets cut and set through four layers of fabric with interfacing in between.  It was so fun to have such a helpful tool that takes any stress out of a complicated technique.  I have been disappointed by fancy tools before but this might be the one that has worked so much better than expected – best gift ever, even if I did pick it out.

Now, for my son’s mock chain mail tunic!  From close-up, the mesh material reminds me of tiny backyard fencing.  I had been looking for something for a while beforehand and this was the best, the most reasonable, and most available material we found.  I do believe it conveys the jist of a chain mail tunic well enough though, and when it gets wet (it rained Halloween evening) it only becomes all the more sparkly!  He loved his tunic, most importantly, but I’m glad the medieval event we attended in our outfits had examples of the real deal armor, weapons, and chain mail both on display and on re-enactors so he could get a hands-on realization of the genuine thing!

I traced a pattern for a two-piece kimono sleeve tunic off of an existing t-shirt that currently was a tad roomy.  This had to be a pullover so I added a bit extra room around the t-shirt, besides seam allowance.  The shoulders and side seams were the only thing I stitched (the edges don’t fray) and I’m glad because sewing such a stiff metallic material that was mostly open was a pain.  I used mesh seam tape to give the stitches something to hold onto.  Next, his hood was drafted using the proportions of and existing hood, and then changing the shape so it would cover his neck and fall over and around his shoulders and chest.  The hood was lined in black cotton to keep the mesh from scratching his face and keep the texture of the material in the spotlight.  He wore a black turtleneck top under the tunic, and quilted black pants which kind of reminded me of a fencer’s padded practice gear.

His serious face cracks me up. Anyone recognize the Monty Python reference?

His armor is admittedly cheap plastic but it really added a lot to the tunic and it makes him feel oh-so-tough.  For my dream outfit (which are quite extra sometimes!), I was really tempted to find some fake bird wings in white to add on the sides of his helmet or even a black capelet so he could be more clearly a Numedor knighted guard of Gondor (the White City).  Yet, I realized that no one would “get it” and the extra fuss would be make his costume more complicated…meaning less fun for him.  For example, when we came home Halloween evening after trick-or-treating, hubby was trying to get decent pictures and our dachshund was incredibly curious and acting hurt at being left out, so our son, with his armor on, only began using his imagination.  It’s the tale of when our “killer” dachshund came with “vicious plans” to lick to the death (ha!) and my brave 6 year old knight threatened with his sword and shield to rescue the fair maiden. My hero…

Fiction is very much intermingled with the truth when it comes to history, for better or for worse, and the older you go (like medieval) it is even harder to separate the two.  Sometimes you have to accept them both when it comes to manuscripts because some legends, whether true or false, were part of those time’s belief system and culture.  To take such fanciful understanding away would leave a blank spot in our modern understanding of ancient pictures and thought processes.  A large percent of manuscript illuminators and textual writers were monks who never left their monastery walls, after all, while the rest were mostly young students with an extremely fanciful and active imaginations (margin doodles are sometimes quite shocking!).  The difference between fact and fiction is something we still have to define and process even today with all the information availability we have at every turn.  Perhaps our modern medieval mish-mash costumes are seriously more perfect than if we had be wearing veritable real thing.  I still open up wardrobes with a playful curiosity which makes me feel I’m in Lucy Pevensie’s shoes and can clearly picture the mischievous, animated face of Bilbo Baggins!

Savoring the Harvest Sun

Not too many years do we have the chance this year is giving to shop for pumpkins and Thanksgiving items with a balmy feel in the air.  Despite the fact we did receive about 5 inches of snow less than a week ago, little more than a week before that I was wearing a sundress just to stay cool.  Not only are we having one weird fall season here, but it is also a wonderful extended summer.  I love this because I can wear more of my favorite bare shouldered garments…but I am a warm weather girl at heart, after all!  Thus, for this second part to my ongoing blog series called the “Indian Summer of the Sundress”, here is a rich harvest-toned vintage 1950 sundress and sheer redingote set.  It has all the colors that the falling leaves and cornucopia fruits of the earth both sport for fall so I can feel ready for Thanksgiving no matter what the weather outside us is saying!

Now, just to clarify right off the bat, I only made the sheer redingote (also the hair flower and jewelry) for this ensemble, so this post will mostly be about the portion I crafted.  I did not make the sundress.  It is handmade by someone else.  I know – what an oddity here on my blog!  It is a display “inspiration” garment from the “Cloud 9 Fabrics” company, and was made by a certain Catherine Zebrowski using their “Sow & Sew” organic cotton collection from designs of Eloise Renouf.  (Follow the link and you can see they made this same dress in a blue, grey, and black colorway, as well!)  For this dress, the “Sprouts” print is the contrast along the bodice edge and waistline while the “Herb Garden” is used for the rest of the dress.  I love the take they took on this pattern – it’s a complimentary boldness that is cheerful and intriguing, besides being a different, unique take on understanding the pattern.  I’m so pleased to have the opportunity to acquire this dress, give it a happy home, and let it shine by completing the vintage pattern set with my redingote!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Redingote – a brown-toned Goldenrod colored poly chiffon from a big-box fabric store chain

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8252, a reprint of a year 1950 Simplicity designer pattern #8270

NOTIONS:  I needed thread, a large hook-n-eye, and some stiff, sheer organza

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The redingote came together more quickly than I expected.  It was made in about 6 hours and finished on September 19, 2018

THE FINISHINGS:  A sheer dress deserves only the prettiest (and the strongest) seams that you could see on a see-through chiffon!  French.  The bottom hemline was yards and yards long (being so full skirted) so I used an overlocker (serger) to make tiny rolled hem edges.

TOTAL COST:  about $25 for the whole set!

Cloud 9’s vintage dress gave me a much appreciated boost for making this Simplicity re-print.  I have been wanting to make it, but my mental caveat was saying “there is a lot of fabric needed (a couple yards) for each piece”, and I knew each one would take a good amount of time to finish.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not against spending whatever time is necessary to make the outfit I set my mind to making!  I just didn’t relish the idea of spending the time it would take to sew a completely indulgent and unnecessary item like the sheer redingote after making the sundress, too.  The sundress was what I primarily wanted and will wear the most out of the pattern but knowing it has a matching cover-up that goes with it sort of ‘guilted’ me into feeling like the redingote had to be made as well.  I am hoping that I might wear the redingote over something else in my closet so I that it, too, sees more wearings than if it only is paired with its matching sundress. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed making something based off an idea I love from another creative maker out there!

There were some minor changes I made to the pattern.  My adaptations only made the redingote easier to make!  Firstly, the skirt portion is insanely full…a total fabric hog (nice to twirl in though).  The tissue pieces are almost out of hand, especially the skirt fronts.  They are quarter circles that make the front twice as full as the back.  Thinking about the skirt of sundress underneath, I realized that it has all of its gathered fullness in the front while the back is smooth and paneled.  This would mean that the redingote for over it would practically be the same way – most all of its fullness in front.  I didn’t like the idea of doubling up on poufiness in the front, so the redingote’s skirt was changed to be the opposite of the sundress.  I added an extra half-width panel into the skirt back and I folded the patterns skirt fronts in half to cut them out smaller.  This way there is partial fullness in front and more in back to even out the poufiness when the set is worn together.  My adaptation not only evens out the layers of the skirts but it also makes cutting out the skirt portion a little more manageable.

Secondly, I did not cuff the sleeves but chose a wide hem instead.  I ended up rather liking the way the longer sleeve ends looked.  I felt they widened my shoulders illusionally, thus complementing the waist.  Not cuffing the sleeves really made things easier anyway.  No really, I did like to look better…I just wasn’t being lazy.

Finally, there just a few last cosmetic changes to list!  I eliminated the center seam to the bodice back and cut it on the fold instead.  In lieu of using interfacing in the sheer collar and taking the risk of either having it be obviously in sight or changing the chiffon color, I used transparent organza to shape and stiffen it.   The organza is wonderfully invisible sandwiched in between the golden chiffon and it adds enough body to keep its shape but still be flexible.  Lastly, I ditched the fussy front ties shown to close up the front bodice – they’re too distracting if you ask me.  I merely put one big hook-and-eye at the waistline, tucking it inside the seams.  An open bodice to the redingote shows off the neckline to the sundress underneath.

I did make sure that the waistline on this sheer over-dress was nice and strong so that a hook closing wouldn’t rip anything.  As I mentioned in “THE FACTS” I did all French seams, even for the waistline.  To make the waistline stronger, I turned bodice over the French waistline seam and stitched it down on both sides.  It ends up looking rather like a belt, in my opinion, because of the thickness from all the layers of fabric.  Besides, anytime there is gathering into a French seam things can feel a bit bulky, so stitching it down made it more comfortable to wear, after all.

My accessories add a rust tone to the browns, ochre, and dusty grey and pink flecks by being a deep, burgundy red.  My bracelet matches with my earrings – both I made using Czech glass teardrop beads ordered from Etsy.  Since clip-on or screw-back earrings are vintage, I used some old-style blanks that I ordered from a jewelry supply shop in China and tied a handful of the beads so they look like a cluster of berries hanging down.  In lieu of a hat, the hair flower is made by me with just two, oversized fake chrysanthemums attached to a hair comb with floral wire and floral tape.  Happily, practically the same tone red, described as “sunny terra-cotta”, can be found in my lipstick, “Happy“ from the Besame cosmetics “1937 Anniversary Snow White 7 Dwarfs Collection”.  My necklace and gloves are true vintage.

Finding, wearing, and buying someone else’s me-made has helped me appreciate others’ sewing.  It has also made me realize just how spoiled I am by doing my own sewing…this handmade dress was the only way I felt comfortable and happy buying something new and ready-to-wear!  But really – the fact that it was a vintage design fits perfectly into my style.  Vintage styles are the best way for me to express my style and feel at ease in what I am wearing.  I want to say I don’t think I could have done better, though.  It was luckily sewn in my size!  I’m impressed by the details and lovely construction to this pattern – they even sewed in an invisible zipper up the side!  Besides, I haven’t yet splurged on organic cotton for myself.

So – on top of all the other benefits I’ve already listed, this dress is a real treat.  People don’t know what they are missing.  If you can’t make it yourself, the feeling of having something made for you can’t be beat.  Make what you wear, handmade or store bought, “yours” in some way, even if that something is as little as a family jewelry piece or a full out sewing project like I did.

Extending heartfelt wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend!  Don’t forget to be thankful in both word and deed because “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” – William Arthur Ward

Two 1956 One-Yard Sports Blouses

A sewing project that calls for only one yard is good, but two vintage patterns – from one common year in the past – that are unique designs is even better!  These are casual blouses which I reach for when I need something nice, yet comfy, and sporty.  Their timeless designs possess a sneaky vintage air that is very much ‘me’.  I like to be different yet also blend in.  I appreciate vintage yet want to be fashion forward.  I like fine details yet don’t want them to flag people down, and with all that these two tops help me ride that balance in my me-made style.

The one blouse was specifically chosen firstly to match with my husband.  The other blouse was made because I realized I had so many fancy clothes from the 50’s and not enough casual options!  Both are go-to easy separates that work with a variety of bottoms, both skirts and pants in all sorts of colors, so they are super versatile.  From a sewing standpoint, they were just challenging enough to be good for me yet still easy enough in certain ways to not feel like a project that requires commitment.  They have been seeing some good wear recently, with the plaid even going with me to Florida earlier this year, thus it is long overdue to post about them!

Not content with just making my own clothes, I – more often than not – enjoy making jewelry to match.  Look for my vintage 40s and 50’s style chili pepper necklace!  It was made from little glass handmade charms ordered from Etsy.  Then they were attached at intervals to a slightly oversized brass chain to have a very authentic reproduction of a very popular style of jewelry from back then.  It was so easy to do, and is such a cheerful, bright novelty to spice up an outfit!  The rest of my accessories are true vintage pieces.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The green and ivory plaid is as soft as washed cheesecloth in 100% Madras cotton while the zig-zag print is a Waverly brand thick, textured, decorator’s cotton

PATTERNS:  Butterick #7771 and Simplicity #1782, both from 1956

NOTIONS:  Amazingly, I had everything I needed on hand already…yes even the long separating zipper for the striped blouse’s back closing!  The buttons on the green plaid blouse are true vintage from the inherited stash of my husband’s Grandmother, while the buttons on the zig-zag striped blouse are new, and one of those cheap multi-pack of half a dozen buttons for only $1.99!

THE INSIDES:  bias bound

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The green plaid odd-collar blouse took me about 8 hours and was finished on July 22, 2017.  The zig-zag Waverly blouse took about the same amount of time and was done on May 1, 2017.

TOTAL COST:  Both tops cost less than $3 EACH as they only needed one yard and both fabrics were on clearance as a remnant.

I had practice for the green plaid blouse after doing hubby’s shirt with the same collar.  Again, as I said in the post about his version, I believe this is called an “Italian Front” closing, but I cannot concretely verify that.  So, until then, I will say I could be mistaken.  The back of my pattern’s envelope calls this a “two-button horizontal closing”.  What I find most interesting is that the men’s pattern for a shirt with the same collar came out before the women’s’ version.  I wonder if it was due to popular demand or just plain fairness on Butterick’s part?  Anyway, I do see many more copies of the men’s version pop up on the Internet for sale, but the women’s is much rarer with one showing up here or there.  I wonder if the women’s version was an unsuccessful release, but maybe Butterick merely did not print as many copies.  The ladies version was a dime cheaper than the men’s version (45¢), where you get multiple views….surprising because most of their patterns in the years before and after 1956 were about 50¢.  Butterick #7771 only has one view – this style neckline blouse is the only thing this pattern offers (besides the obvious long or short sleeves), something quite unusual in an era where most patterns had two or three different options to make from them.  Either way, “if you wanna help sell it, reduce the price”, must have been Butterick’s idea.  I love this pattern, between my husband and me we see a lot of interesting options to tweak this wonderful neckline in the future.

I do wish they would have made it the same collar construction as was designed for the men’s version.  This ladies’ version is more complicated and fussy with the collar being a separate piece from the facing – the men’s was all-in-one!  I call for equality!  At least I knew what to expect, because it was much harder than my first time and would’ve lost me completely if I had made this before the one I made for hubby.

Part of the impetus behind this was of course, as I mentioned, the gushy matchy-matchy factor with my sweetie, but also because I had to give away an old favorite top that didn’t fit anymore which had the exact same color plaid Madras.  Granted, the neckline on my old top was not anywhere this cool, but it’s okay to have things better than keep it the same, make it all my own.  Unlike my old green plaid top, mine is meticulously matched up!  I am not used to the boxy, shorter, untucked blouse shape of this, but it is comfy and easy to move in, but only works with body hugging skirts and pants.

Now, the other blouse is very curve-hugging in a way that forgives the horizontal striping!  I really think I had some strong luck on my side for this blouse because, as the cotton is a woven, there was to be no forgiveness and a perfect body skimming fit was necessary here.  There was no way I was doing a muslin on such a basic project.  A pattern tissue fitting on myself seemed promising, but those are not always accurate as paper doesn’t fit like fabric.  Take note that this is a Junior’s pattern for teens.  I did not re-size the overall top like I probably should have, as I both didn’t have room on my one yard of 45” width fabric and I wanted a close fit.  Beyond a bit of tweaking and resizing as to the dart placement, and lowering the underarm portion of the side seam slightly, this top turned out great as-is, as you can see!  The fit is snug, but the pattern is first-rate for being an “Easy-to-Make” design because it is still easy to move in.  I love the fact I can have the classic 50’s hourglass shape in such a basic tee!

This was ridiculously simple – one front piece, two back pieces, and some fun little details.  No sleeves to even set in!  As you can see in the pattern front for Simplicity #1782 there are lots of options, so I mix-and-matched to make a combo of three views.  That’s what those options are there for, after all.

I definitely kept the cute little “mock-placket” feature up the front chest.  It is really just a glorified strip of fabric that is sewn down in a very interesting way.  There is an open loop in the top of the tab at the neckline, and when my neck is a bit chilly in the evenings, that tab is great for holding one of my vintage silk scarves, just as the pattern front drawing shows.  As bold as the buttons are that I chose, I love the crazy fun they add to my top.

The one little arm pocket felt a bit ridiculous to make and add on, but hey – I love pockets and they are useful no matter where they are placed or what their size.  Granted, I like to wear this top with an old favorite RTW skirt that has giant cargo pockets (in the pictures) – but I digress.  I will not be pocket prejudiced.  It is just enough to fit a few fingers in so it normally holds some spare change or a nose tissue.  My little pocket seems to hilariously bother my husband who likes to check it every so often when I wear this top.

I added the hem band as an afterthought because I needed a few inches extra to use this matching blue separating zipper that I had on hand.  I was determined to use such a special notion on my blouse because there was no way I was doing two separate closures as the pattern called for – a side zip up to the armpit and a small 5 inch neck zip behind.  A basic, sporty, and easy-to-sew garment like this needed some modern simplicity in order to be enjoyed both wearing and making!  This way all the curious details are not solely in front, either!

Our pictures were taken in the middle of doing our living…between errands for the one and at a semi-pro soccer game (football, depending on where you live) for the other.  It’s awesome to wear what I make to everyday events that are the bulk of the memories that stay with you.  Admittedly, I am always a sucker for making a special outfit for a special occasion, but I find myself appreciating the ones that are there for the commonplace events and prove their worth like an old friend.  I like making friends with the ordinary and unpretentious side of the mid-1950s!