Remnants, Scraps, and Leftovers, Oh My!

With the refashions and sewing projects which need small cuts that I’ve been doing lately, some deep questions have arisen in head.  Primarily, what constitutes a fabric remnant?  When is a scrap piece of material considered rubbish?  When it is no longer useable?  Who is the judge of that?  How has our estimation of when the leftovers from creating a garment are considered unusable changed over the years and why?  Is figuring out such questions another key to truly sustainable fashion and new creative possibilities?  I have a feeling these questions are not easily answered nor can they be figured out in one blog post, but perhaps this outfit project is a small example to part of the solution.  It is made from two less than one-yard linen remnants and a handful of notion scraps, for an on-point 1960s era set which defies the modern disregard for its ‘waste’.

Only half a yard of 45” width novelty linen fabric was turned into this interesting pop-over crop top.  Just under one yard of linen became the slip dress to complete it.  If a remnant can make a full garment, should we still consider it scrap fabric?  My last post featured yet another half a yard top.  I suppose remnants used to be considered as those tiny pieces that became 1930s era crazy quilts, the stuff that is thrown away at all the sewing rooms, fabric stores, and homes of other seamstresses I know.  I love how the end of the bolt is a gold mine waiting to be dug because they are almost always deeply discounted and do work with more sewing designs than realized.  The 1940s, 50’s, and 60’s were really good at having sewing patterns that boldly advertised they would work for one yard or less.

Having more than a yard to work with is needed for many sewing projects, but it is not automatically a necessary luxury.  Refashioning my unwanted clothes, or taking the time to mend and alter, is on equal par with the indulgence of making just what I want to wear when I make it work with unwanted scraps.  In my mind, it’s because I like to be responsible and caring and appreciative of what I have.  I can turn this outlook into something fun and creative, catering to my individuality, by being the maker of my own fashion.

To continue this handmade, sustainable, and thrifty outfit theme, I would like to also point out that I also made my necklace out of a cheap, assorted bead pack I found on sale recently.  I am freaking infatuated with purple and pink, and lately orange as well, so this whole outfit is like my dream colors…but purple is my hands-down favorite.  Thus this necklace set is my new favorite accessory!  Each of the two necklaces are separate so I can wear the assorted seed bead one with or without the fancier, Czech glass, detailed one for a flexible look.  I brushed up on some beading skills learned back as a teen and had a blast making these necklaces.  I get to wear just what I imagined for a fraction of the cost and much better quality than I could possibly find to buy.  My bracelets and earrings are true vintage.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% Linen all around, so pardon the wrinkles!  The top is from a novelty, multi-color, open weave linen and the solid under dress/slip is a cross-dyed semi-sheer linen is a reddish pink color.

PATTERN:  a true vintage McCall’s #8786, year 1967, for the under dress/slip and a Simplicity #1364 “Jiffy” blouses from the year 1964 (originally Simplicity #5262)

NOTIONS:  Everything for this outfit was scraps from on hand – the thread, bias tape, interfacing, and ribbons!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Both were made in only about 2 ½ hours each, and were finished on August 15, 2019.  These were definitely easy and quick projects!

THE INSIDES:  As linen frays something awful and that fraying gets scratchy, my top is bias bound while the dress is French seamed.

TOTAL COST:  The linen for the top had come from JoAnn, and was only $2.50.  The cross dyed linen slip dress had been purchased for a few dollars as well when Hancock Fabrics had went out of business.  All together, the whole outfit cost me $6 at the most!

This is an awfully good classic, proper set for coming directly from the late 1960s!  The only slight giveaway to its era origins that I can see is in columnar, straight-line silhouette of the slip dress and the boxy shape of the top.  I love how cool and comfortable the set is and how versatile each item is on its own.  The underdress goes well with my modern bias flounced wrap dress, yet I do have some sheer pink floral chiffon in my stash to come back to this pattern and make the matching given overdress.  It is humorous how confused the 1967 pattern seems to be at what exactly to call what it has to offer – is it a camisole top dress, a slip, or just a dress?  The top goes with all sorts of bottoms, but especially my 1980s pink shorts!  These particular linens are such soft, sweat-wicking champions that layering them up like in this outfit is not a problem but rather feels quite good.  You just have to roll with the wrinkles, though!

I did just a few adaptations to the pieces’ to both make them fit and be as easy to go on as they are to wear.  First of all, the slip dress was in junior petite proportions and a too-small-for-me size.  Thus, I had to readjust the bust-waist-hips spacing and grade up at the same time.  Luckily this was a really simple design – one front, one back, a few fish-eye darts for shaping, tiny spaghetti straps, and a wide neckline facing.  I went a bit over and above what I needed in extra inches because I wanted the slip dress to be a closure-free, pop-over-the-head type of thing.  If I was planning on wearing this as both a dress on its own and as a slip, I didn’t want a stinkin’ zipper in the side.  I already have a 1940s and a 1950s slip that both have zippers, so I’ve been there and done that.  This linen was too soft and wonderful to confine into a zipper anyway.

Going along with that aesthetic, I went up a size larger when cutting out the top (and was forced to make it shorter based on the half yard I was working with).  I wanted it to be closure-free and easy, breezy, too.  It’s such a refresher to do without a zipper.  I really don’t mind sewing them in at all and they are a must in the structured garments I love to wear, but it is nice to do without both from a maker’s standpoint and as someone who likes simplistic fashion sometimes.

A few little details were all my two pieces needed to elevate this basic set to a chic, coordinated set.  To tie the slip dress in with the top and also make it look a little less plain, I used two random pieces of leftover ribbon from my stash for decorating along the hem.  They secretly cover up my hem stitching!  The lavender velvet ribbon is true vintage and all cotton, still on its original card, and out of the notions stash I inherited from my Grandmother.  The cranberry sheer ribbon is modern, leftover from this dress project made many years back now.

My top needed something to pull the boxy shape in just a tad, so I stitched a button down at the bottom point of each side seam then made a thread loop three stripes away to pull the hem in.  I love how this ‘fix’ compliments the striped linen by making a lovely V at the side seam point (where the bust’s French dart and my back pleat is pulled in).  This ‘fix’ is nicely non-committal, too.  I can also wear it either way – full boxy or slightly tailored when buttoned in.  The notions I used were two leftover buttons I had cut off my son’s worn-through school pants before they were thrown away.  I’m proud of how I let very little go to waste around here!

“The Frade”, a stash swapping website where you can buy/sell/trade fabric, yarn, sewing projects and all sorts of maker supplies, states the statistic that approximately 15% of fabric is wasted when a garment is cut and made.  I do not know if they were referring to the industry or homemade clothing, but from the layout suggestions I see on modern patterns, for one example, I would personally think that percent would be much higher.  As long as grainlines are followed I see no reason for following a computer program’s suggestion for laying out pattern pieces on fabric compared to ‘playing Tetris’ to find an economical fit for minimal waste.  On average, I find I can make most patterns work with at least a half to ¾ yard less than the suggested amount needed on the envelope chart and end up with about 5% or less leftover.  Of course, all this does not apply to many vintage patterns, especially from the 1940s when they knew how to make the most of what they had on hand.

Sustainable fashion practices when sewing new from scratch might be more of a challenge or test of both patience and skill, but the results are worth it in the end.  Voracious fast fashion is ruining the world we live in and destroying appreciation for quality.  According to this article at the Fast Company, “the average number of times a garment is worn before it stops being used has gone down by 36% over the last 15 years (yay!), and yet many consumers wear their items for less than 10 times.”  This is bad news for efforts to limit waste in the fashion industry (info also quoted here @RightfullySewn)”  because over the last 15 years, clothing production has doubled.  There is a problem.

Whether or not we go through sewing projects just as fast as we might with store bought fast fashion, we sewists have the perfect opportunity to be smart about what we make, just as open to the kind of accountability we want – or should expect – from big business.  We can create with supplies that are either vintage, secondhand, or in our stash, and make items with a quality that we will enjoy for years to come.  We can mend when it is needed, tailor as our body demands, and finally recycle in one of the many modern means when all of those options are not viable.  Please, I beg you, choose natural fibers, anything other than a plastic or chemical based material.  We who sew have the answer to sustainable fashion just by our creative capability, and sustainable fashion absolutely needs to happen.  Might I suggest there is a duty attached to sewing, because ‘with knowledge comes responsibility’ as the saying goes.  Maybe we can kick start that with a change of mentality towards the good old-fashioned regard of remnants.  A good creative challenge never hurt anyone, either.

“Retro Forward” Burda Style: Scrap-Busting Bustier Dress

Ah, yes – fabric scraps. I don’t know what they mean to you or if you even keep any, but my fabric scrap bins are a seamstress’ version of a gold mine. They silently scream out to me a siren’s call of the allure of an interesting project. Being able to use up every last inch of my fabric as well as re-incarnate something from past projects with a new makeover is a very fun and enticing duo which leaves me with a very happily successful feeling if my ideas turn out alright. This post’s dress is the product of one such idea born from the “call of the scrap bin”.

100_5751a-compOur photo were taken at the local park’s handball court. Handball isn’t something I do. My hands take a beating enough from sewing and typing so much, but, when the courts are not in use, they did make for a clean and sporty backdrop as well as a nicely contained area out of the weather for our 3-year old to run back and forth to burn off extra energy!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The fabric is a trio of fabrics with similar contents. The floral skirt portion is a linen-look polyester cotton blend, the middle is the same fabric just in a plain white color, and the top bra-like part is a 100% cotton denim. The floral skirt was made from one yard leftover from my 1961 Party Dress, the white linen-look is leftover from a 1940’s blouse (not posted yet), and the denim is from my 40’s arch waisted jeans.  My lining fabric is a 100% cotton bleached muslin from on hand.

Burda Style Color Blocked Sheath Dress 6-2015 #114NOTIONS:  I only needed thread and a zipper, and I had these on hand already.

PATTERN:  Burda Style Color Blocked Sheath Dress #114, from June 2015

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Altogether, the dress probably took me a total 8 to 10 hours of time. It was finished on July 23, 2015.

THE INSIDES:  Most all of the inner seams are covered by the lining, except for the skirt seams which are bias bound.

100_5798-compTOTAL COST:  Just about nothing is the monetary total when using scraps like I did here. Buying from scratch wouldn’t cost that much anyway because of the small amounts needed.

Similar to my Burda Double Layered Tops, this dress is another change of fabric types: its pattern called for material with stretch and I made it work for the opposite…a woven. Actually I made the mistake of not noticing the pattern was for knits until my fabrics were cut out and ready to be sewn together. To compensate for this I sewed all the vertical seams in small ¼ inch seams and doing so actually gave me just enough extra room for my dress to fit perfectly. My pattern, as I traced it, originally gave 5/8 inch seam allowances, which I kept on all the other horizontal seams. Besides the change of fabric from a knit to a woven, my only other change was to raise the neckline about an inch higher and spread this up halfway in the straps – it’s so much better for me this way!

Burda Style Bustier Dress 6-2015 #112Now, my dress is part of what Burda Style labels as a “master piece” to the June of 2015 release of patterns. Using the main design of this dress, there are a very close variations, with a few features added or subtracted to the pattern to make several differing styles, such as the “Bustier dress #112” and the “Corset dress #113”. My dress follows the pattern for the “Color Blocked Sheath Dress #114”, but as my project highlights the bust panel more than in the model picture, I still think of it as a “Bustier dress”, like #112.

My pattern had come from the European magazine issue, but a downloadable version is also available on the Burda Style website. Either way, the Burda patterns (for those readers who don’t know) need some assembly and tracing before being ready for layout on your chosen fabric. A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a finished pattern prepped. This is the stage where I pick out my size, tracing out only the size I need to use, including any grading and adding seam allowances.

100_5759-compThe pattern itself was actually pretty easy, just a tad tricky and time consuming. The tricky part comes from two parts: when you have to turn the shoulder ties right sides out and then when you have figure out which bodice middle pieces go which direction and where. The ties are small work and the middle sections require a close visual inspection, so neither part is impossible to accomplish. I myself had to unpick a few times to get the middle sections seamed up correctly together. The dress’ darts and many seams make for the time-consuming part, as well as the fact there is a full bodice lining going inside to face all the raw edges. I don’t recommend leaving out the inner lining because it does provide a more stable garment, a better shape and hang, no see through when your middle panels are light colored like mine, and also very nice finish. Believe me here – after all I did try on the dress (just to see what the difference would be) with just the top lining and didn’t like that at all until fully lined. As tricky as the middle lower bodice panels made the construction, I admire shaping of this section – it has a curving which I normally see on many patterns from the 1950’s. Real shaping means a piece of clothing made for the curves of a real woman, unlike many patterns from “The Big Four” which are more straight lines than anything else.

100_5753a-compNotice the darts which tailor the back of the dress skirt section just above the booty. They slant at an angle between horizontal and vertical coming out from the center back where the zipper is installed. I love this part of the dress! My lower back just above my booty is a spot with a lotta’ curve which I always have to watch out for in making my own clothes. Oftentimes I get wrinkles at that spot in my clothes from the wrong fit before I tailor them and this Burda dress with its special darts is the answer to my ‘problem’. I’ll have to remember this new kind of dart and add/adapt it into other patterns, too.

The skirt’s shape is slightly tapered in much like a pencil skirt, but the back vent helps keep it from being confining. Happily the back vent is a fold-over kick-pleat style so it is generously cut yet still decent.

100_5755-compThe shoulder ties are the unique feature that really makes an already cool dress go up a notch in style. Truth be told, I did have a hard time tying the two knots in such a way so that they were not uncomfortable. I had to tie knots that were relatively flat like a box and find the right length for the straps at the same time. Some trial attempts and frustration was involved here…

Shoulder ties are nothing new as a style feature but still special, popping up in fashion though the past decades. In light of my “Retro Forward with Burda Style” series, see my collage with patterns from the 1930’s and up. I love the way the 30’s did tie shoulders such as New York #238 and McCall #7746, from 1939. The 1940’s don’t seem to have as many tie shoulders, but look at Simplicity #3833, year 1941, and a Mail Order pattern for two examples.New York #238 30s sundresses-McCall 7746 yr1939 button front sundress with tie shoulders-40s Mail order playsuit-Simplicity 3833 yr1941McCalls 3514 50's Bateau Neckline Tie Shoulders, Wrap Around Dress&McCall's 7148 from 1960sThe 1950’s have a plethora of examples of tie shoulders (McCall’s #3514, for one), as do the 1960’s (see the McCall’s #7148). Basically the only decade tie shoulders don’t seem to me to be prevalent are the 1990’s.  Out of all the decades, I see the heaviest influence of the era of the 50’s, though, in this Burda dress.100_5750a-comp

I don’t know how much shoulder-ties on garments are utilitarian, versatile, or pure gratuitous, but it certainly makes things interesting and fun, adding a bit of interest in a place not as commonly expected. “Fashion” might come and go, but “style” persists through the test of time. If the shoulder tie feature has lasted most of the 1900’s, than there must be something worthwhile. Once you make one, you might be unsure (as I was), but I hope you’ll tend to agree with me that shoulder tie garments are worthwhile and a very good different. Different is good for me in my sewing…I think it keeps skills sharp and piques interest.

I don’t mean to dish out a selling line to you good readers, but – really- there a lot to offer here with this dress. Anyone who has a stash of relatively small portions that could use a makeover and thus see the light of day (this is many of us, I’ll bet) should definitely consider this Burda Style pattern. This in itself will make any “stash-saver” happy and think of it as a big “mix-and-match” game. Also, any woman who has curves, too (and isn’t that every) will benefit from the illusion of the panels and their shaping. Besides all this, it’s not all that hard to make. You’re using a style history-tested and proven worthy. I’ve told you enough about my own take on this pattern, so here’s you turn. Try it for yourself and let me know so I can read what you think of your own version. I love seeing other people’s creativity.burda butier dress gif 10times 25%

Speaking of creativity, I’ll end my post with my first attempt at a gif file. It’s kind of like a happy head shake.

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This post is part of my “Retro Forward Burda Style” series.