Year 1933 McCall’s Reprint Set

With all my recent criticism of modern “Big  4” pattern companies’ reprints of old original patterns, my budget is nonetheless limited when it comes to buying all the old sewing patterns I would like.  (Guess you can tell my ideas are bigger than my budget!)  Thus, in the spirit of being open-minded as well as needing a resource for more variety of past years to sew from, I do still use the re-releases with some misgivings.  Recently, in my effort to understand and sew the early 1930’s, I have used two of the first releases from McCall’s “Archive Collection” – a skirt and tie-front blouse for an ensemble from 1933, worn with my vintage 30’s Dr. Scholl’s brand shoes.

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Both pieces, and particularly the blouse, do have the classic 30’s look of easy sophistication with ‘simplicity-yet-smartness’ of its design.  Both are feminine and flowing yet a bit structured in their own way.  The blouse is one of the many designs of the early 30’s which had interest going on over both the chest and neckline (visit my Pinterest page for some visual examples).  Adding such details gave illusionary body lines, as well as ways to play with dramatic, inventive, interesting, or just plain weird ideas of how many ways to avoid a plain fronted blouse or dress. This skirt, as well as my previous 1930’s skirt, is in line with the style of Lucien Lelong, who in 1925 debuted his “kinetique” line of clothing.  Lelong over saw the creation of slim silhouettes with inset pleats that would pop open when the wearer was in motion but fall back into place at rest (quote from page 82 of the 2014 book of the FIT museum exhibit, “Elegance in a Time of Crisis, Fashions of the 1930s”).  This outfit is from the beginning of “sportif” clothing – the first modern means of dressing with both comfort and style for a new-to-the-30’s type of female…an active, independent, and collectively important woman.

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THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The Blouse – a 100% cotton Swiss dot fabric in a deep dusty peacock turquoise color; mccalls-6993-7053-ca-1933-pattern-compThe Skirt – a heathered tan oatmeal-colored 100% linen 

PATTERNS:  McCall’s #7053 for the blouse and McCall’s #6993 for the skirt, both “Archive Collection” patterns circa 1933

NOTIONS:  I used all of what was on hand – a vintage metal zipper for the skirt, vintage bias tape given to me from my Grandmother for the skirt, as well as thread and interfacing that I had already.

dsc_0519a-compwTIME TO COMPLETE:  Pretty darn quick – the blouse came together in 4 or 5 hours and the skirt in about 5 or 6 hours.  The first was done on September 23 and the second on September 26, both in 2016.

THE INSIDES:  The blouse inside is left raw (it doesn’t fray) and the skirt is clean inside with all bias bound edges.

TOTAL COST:  Both fabrics were bought when Hancock Fabrics was going out of business so both fabrics were only a few dollars a yard.  My total is probably about under $20.

I am quite happy with my finished outfit.  My all over outfit is completely authentic to the times with the fabrics I chose (especially the Swiss dot), the colors will span seasons and match well with what else I have in my closet, and the fabric textures add interest.  Early 1930’s patterns from the time of the NRA are expensive (to me), a bit harder to come by, and considered more collectible (at least from what I see) so this outfit is a welcome and oh-so-very wearable addition to my wardrobe of this decade.  I am itching to make the other long sleeve cowl neck view on the blouse pattern – it looks just as practical yet lovely for my growing amount of 30’s clothing!

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However, I do have lingering doubts that these are 100% true carry-overs of 30’s patterns as they are quite fabric hogs.  I know the 1930s patterns demanded more fabric than a 1940s pattern, but this was still Depression times and almost 3 yards for a blouse seems like almost too much.  I am not certain my claim is worthwhile because this was the era of both an aura of elegance and superficial extravagance, even if only to “keep up appearances”.  I have read other bloggers who have mentioned ad-for-1933-achive-collectionthis seeming incongruity of era and fabric demand seen on the envelopes.  These 1933 pattern re-issues also include a vest and a jacket, but each were released as their own individual pattern.  (Why? To make us spend more money?  It’s quite rude to do this for the Archive Collection when the regular patterns have sets in one piece!)  I am guessing this whole 4-piece suit could have been in one complete pattern set originally – this was common practice in the early to mid-1930s.  I have yet to find the original for these patterns, so for all I know I’ll have to believe McCall’s…for now. 

I did have some problems with the fitting of both pieces – they seem to lack good fitting in odd places and run quite large!  I needed to dramatically take in both the blouse and skirt as well as add more darts and shaping.  Generally, I made the same sizes I would have chosen had these been McCall’s traditional modern pattern, and the blouse and skirt are not the same as them nor are they the fit of old 30’s patterns I have sewn up before.

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First of all, the skirt needed more curving added in to both make the hips and waist smaller and more fitted.  Even with an extra two inches taken out, I still could have taken out more and curved in the waist better because it has a weird placement on me.  I sewed my “normal” McCall size – that’s what makes this fit so weird.  Since the waist is not fitted to my body while the hips fit better, this skirt hangs from the hips while the waist kind of floats in place.  Anyway, it is comfy being loose, and what I feel with the fit is (I think) not noticeable on me.  The cover drawing makes it look like the waistband panel should be snug and at a high point across the middle…I wish I would have achieved that with my version.  I tried to do so, I really did.

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Secondly, the blouse’s shoulders were incredibly droopy on me.  As the perfect fix, the back of the blouse has a Y-shaped dart system where the horizontal “arms” of the Y come up and over my shoulders and down into the wrap front.  The blouse is designed with a Y paneled front, why not do it to the back when it is the best option to achieve a well-fitting blouse?  Of course, this blouse is supposed to be loose and kind of baggy, but too much hanging in the wrong places and a garment just appear poorly made.  Once ironed, my Y darts became invisible – yay – and each dart picked up the shoulder by an extra 2 inches to make the lantern sleeves puff out over my elbow right where they should be.

dsc_0485a-compwWhen the front wrap ends are held out they look like some sort of wings.  I think they are pretty and a good kind of different but having a blouse with fabric hanging down the front does take a little getting used to.  When I sit down at a table with food in front of me, I have to remember to place my arm across my front to keep my blouse’s fabric from dipping into the plate and making a mess.  The same thing goes for being over a sink to wash my hands.  I have heard this pattern design referred to as always wearing a napkin under your chin to catch any mess and generally be in the way.  I do not think it is as bad as that – the wrap front with its hanging ties can be tacked down permanently if you would so like because you do not need to undo it to put the blouse on oneself.  This doesn’t need any zipper or closure, for goodness sake!  For as easy to make as it was and as lovely a blouse as it is, this pattern is definitely worthwhile…as long as you’ve got 3 yards of fabric for it.

We kept with the time period with our background and went to take our pictures in the Continental Life Building.  It is a scrumptious Art Deco gem which was built in 1930.  It has had a tumultuous history and more recently saved from demolition by being turned into an apartment complex.  The lobby that you see behind me is such an over-the-top way to give a visitor their first impression – so classic of the wonderful architecture of the 1930s.  I just love the awe and tingling happiness it gives me to be in these types of buildings, especially when I’m in period clothing!

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In the competitiveness and eagerness to move ahead and be “modern” it seems many towns, especially ours, glazes over architectural history as if it was a hindrance rather than a necessary link to connect us with the past.  This can be the same situation when it comes to clothing styles seen in the stores to buy.  Past fashion trends are always being re-used and re-hashed but once recognizing where they came from and why they were first used, the reason to admire or wear a new type of detail becomes a source of learning, knowledge, and sense of the bigger picture.  (Hint – has anyone else seen a whole lot of 1930s era sleeves on the fashion scene since the last several months?!  Check this out for one example.)  Somehow, I feel like I’m doing both the building and my outfit due appreciation when I am able to pair a ‘me-made’ outfit with its time period counterpart place…and learn in the process.  Also, I guess I’m just venting appreciation for every historical gem of a building that gets saved, just the same as for every vintage fashion trend treasure that gets re-made, re-worn, loved and respected anew.

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A ‘Double-Duty’ 1931 Day Dress

This “new” vintage dress which I have recently made is an all-around transitional piece, in more ways than one.  It offers a print and fabric and colors all perfect for the varying temperatures of both fall and spring.  At the same time, as a vintage/historical garment, my dress is a mix of styles and fashion ideals which were used through three decades: the 20’s, the 30’s, and the 40’s.  Wow…that’s a lot to go into something to wear!  It might be unusual, and certainly different – but a neat different.

100_3967a     Two different fabric types and the ability to snap on (or off) matching long sleeves make this 1931 dress a versatile winner in my wardrobe.  My dress has the appearance of a separate blouse and a skirt in one neat vintage project. I really love the way I can dress for cooler weather without wearing the “traditional” dark colors associated with it (see this post for another floral fall/winter dress of mine).  This is an all-around comfy, easy-care, nice but casual dress.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The olive green bottom half is in a rayon poly blend linen-look fabric, while the top bodice and sleeves are in a peach floral Swiss dot cotton.  The lining for the bodice Swiss dot fabric is a orange-peach cotton broadcloth.  All of these fabrics were bought at Hancock Fabrics store.  My 1 1/2 yards of peach Swiss dot fabric was bought 7 to 10 years ago.  It’s been in my stash for a while, and I am very glad to find such a wonderful use for it – finally!  The linen-look fabric was bought spring of 2013 (last year) when I had originally hoped to get around to making the dress.  This year (2014), I bought the broadcloth for the bodice lining.

NOTIONS:  I had on hand an old 30’s buckle, the thread, interfacing, bias tapes, and snap tape that I needed.  Buttons for the long sleeve cuffs, extra snap tape, and a side zipper were the only notions I had to buy.

PATTERN:  a year 1931 McCall reprint from Past Patterns #6611, a “dress with waist yoke” in several sleeve and fabric combination options

100_3995TIME TO COMPLETE:  Well, 8 to 10 hours were all it took to finish the dress, and it was done on August 23, 2014.  The matching long sleeves took at least 10, maybe 12, hours to be finished on October 3, 2014. 

THE INSIDES:  All seams except the side seams and neckline are covered with bias tape.  The neckline is self-enclosed by the lining (I’ll explain later how this worked) and the side seams are left raw to eliminate extra bulk and to make it easy to do fitting adjustments.

TOTAL COST:   As the Swiss dot fabric was bought so long ago, I’ll count it as free.  As for the only expenses, the linen-look for bottom and the other notions I bought, the grand total probably comes to $12.00 or less.

The main body of the dress, without the sleeves, was very easy and quick in coming together.  As you can see in the pattern picture above at left, the assembly instructions were themselves very simplistic – just one page of layout breakdown with about 8 sentences of directions.  However, looking at the dress pattern pieces together with the ‘cover envelope’ picture rather makes construction self-explanatory.  The only construction detail that is entirely up in the air for you, the seamstress, to decide is how to put the dress together.  A basic, but semi-thorough, knowledge of different seams is needed to know (for instance) that the middle front and back panels of the dress are best when added to the skirt in a lapped method.  Bias tape was also wonderful to cover the curvy seams of both the inner edges of the middle section and the bottom hem to what is a half-circle skirt.

100_3972a     I love how these old patterns allow you to learn, expand, and use your sewing skills by providing such simple instructions.  I feel it gives seamstresses more respect than laying out some detailed, dreary, and possibly confusing directions.  Granted, I know complicated instructions are needed and quite useful sometimes.  It’s just that sewing in an advanced form used to be common knowledge years ago, thus old patterns were created for such a person.  Those of you that feel comfortable with your skills, will also enjoy making these old patterns with simple instructions.

There are only just a few points in constructing my 1931 dress where I deviated (just a bit) from the assembly diagram to personalize and accommodate my taste.  To start with, I sewed the front and back neckline first – yeah, first.  I wanted the neckline to be nicely self-enclosed in between the Swiss dot and lining cotton by sewing the seams right sides together, clipping the curves, turning out, then top stitching in place.  As I had raised up the scoop neck by about 1/2 inch, I had trouble fitting my head through, so I had to unpick several inches in from the neck to add a snap placket to the left shoulder seam (see picture below).  I hate sewing in snaps…this part of the job was tough.  The length of the skirt was also extremely long which necessitated a chop off of about 3 1/2 inches to reach the proper mid-calf length.

100_3993     Fitting is very important when it comes to making this pattern reprint.  The dress needs to be slightly roomy everywhere else except the hips. I saw on the front of the ‘cover envelope’ drawing that the pattern specifically pointed out that “this garment fits closely at hips”.  O.k., I thought to myself, I need to grade the pattern down to my size, so I’ll make sure to get close but maybe just a little big when it comes to the fit.  You can always take something in, but when something too small…well that’s a problem.  Just so as to make fitting this dress to my body easy, I did something different from the construction instructions – the entire front pieces and then the entire back pieces are sewn up in two separate, full dress length panels.  This method left the two side seams (with a zipper in the left hip/waist) the very last thing done to complete the dress.  With three sections composing the length of the dress, there would be no way to adjust the sides if done otherwise.  In the finished dress, my down grading sizing turned out fitting perfectly, but I finally realized (once it was on me) how important it is to fit snug on the hips.  The bottom skirt is rather heavy, and, without the tight hip fit, the whole dress gets weighed down, thus losing the proper “blousing out” of the upper bodice.  There is a delicate balance trying to find a good hip fit for this dress – tight enough to hold the dress where it should be but not too tight to rip seams or make the dress wrinkle up uncomfortably.  After a handful of trial and error attempts, I feel I have found the perfect hip fit (for now at least).

100_3986a     Having a belt, especially when you can use an old 30’s buckle like I did, also helps to hold the dress up in place and balance out the harmony between the two fabrics.  I finally did an experiment with the belt I made to match my dress, one which has been in the creative “back-burner” of my mind.  Before I sealed off one end, I slipped in a venetian plastic window blind slat in to the long belt tube.  Of course the blind slat is stitched in place at the ends, but at least this way I have a bendable but sturdy belt on which there is no top stitching or interfacing.  It sounds strange, I know, but it works, and I like my idea…although I probably will not do it again.

I really find the silhouette of this dress even more dramatically interesting with long sleeves.    This dress does nothing for the bust or the shoulders (a very 1920s characteristic) while the long vertical emphasis of both the fit and the design of the main dress body stresses the hips (also of the 20’s) and lengthens the body (late 20’s).  With the long sleeves on the dress, they further the vertical emphasis, but widen it slightly, by beautifully drawing attention to the hips in a very unique manner.  I can’t figure out the reason for the three horizontal pin tucks – I can only think that they balance out the vertical lines of the dress.  The little bias flare of the bottom gives it a slight 30’s touch and the blouse top with its kimono sleeve style and U-neckline is definitely very 40’s (see my version of this blouse).  Besides all the styling, the use of Swiss dot fabric is very authentic for the era.  See this post by Marianne at Fintage for a classic example of the 30’s beautiful use of Swiss dot fabric.

100_3757     When it came to making the sleeves, there are absolutely no instructions whatsoever.  As long as you know how to make sleeve cuffs, this is not a problem – how to achieve the look of the cover drawing was the cause of consternation.  The pattern pieces do not clarify how many pieces to cut out of the cuff and the sleeve band.  Thus I ended up cutting out four of each cuff and sleeve band (two for each sleeve) and one each of interfacing.  According to the cover drawing, the cuffs looked like they are supposed to be in a turned back style, so I was going to face the cuff and sleeve band pieces with interfacing inside to achieve that look (see the left picture).  I believe my method to be the correct way to have done the sleeve cuffs, and, although I can’t guarantee this, the way they turned out is truly lovely with the way they curve.  The stable sleeve cuffs make for a nice finish for the poufy “bat wing” style sleeves above them.  At first I was concerned that the sleeves hang too low on my arms by the way the seam ends an inch or so below my elbow.  Looking at the cover envelope drawing again confirmed for me that they are supposed to fit that way.  The sleeves take a bit to get used to once they are on just because I’ve never had anything like them, but it doesn’t take long to love wearing them!

Tiny 1/4 inch coral pink buttons close up the inner cuff of my sleeve band.  Since I didn’t included a closure method when the cuffs were made, I got inventive to make something work.  Braided thread loops are great but are time-consuming.  Time was something I wanted to cut down on at this point.  So, I threaded a tapestry needle with 1/8 inch light pink satin ribbon and wound it through the cuff seams making three loops.  It looks dressy and it was easy at the same time.

100_3991     My idea for snap on and snap off long sleeves came from seeing this feature on an old 1920’s pattern.  How ingenious and versatile, I thought!  Nothing extraordinary was needed to do – the short sleeves were hemmed like a normal sleeve, and the long sleeves had a small band sewn on to both finish the edge and give room for the snap tape.  Sewing on the snap tape to the sleeves and getting both sides to match snaps was a long, time consuming, hand sewing torture that was made better by getting it done in the car.  Nothing like getting the most out of my passenger time to get my hand sewing done!  It really made all that hand sewing fun to do it in the car.  I want to do more sewing during car trips!  I’m wondering if a 1931 lady would have been able do sew as a passenger in their cars.

This project was unknown territory for me. It certainly brought me out of my comfort zone which is a good thing.  I thrive on a challenge and it helps me hone in on my skills.  My 1931 dress is one that is a surprise to me.  Every time I wear it out and about, I get a bit unsure and self-conscious thinking that it is too-vintage or unusual, but then I always seem to receive a positive compliment.  All I know is I think I’ve re-discovered a piece of history long over looked and forgotten.  I’m a lucky girl to get to make and wear such a piece.  Anyone care to join me and sew up their own version?

100_3978     Our photo shoot’s backdrop is a neighborhood apartment complex, which has the name “Crystal Tower” due to a superb use of decorative glass in the vitrolite tiles and blocks.  It is wonderful example of how everyday living had a touch of Art Deco glamour in the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s – the three decades included in my dress.  Perhaps, if you search in detail behind me in our pictures, you should see the “Crystal Tower” logo with its nautical cursive theme.  Even though the building was actually built in 1940, towards the end of the Deco style period, the building materials and design had been used similarly for a decade or two before, so our backdrop is authentic to my 1931 dress (historically speaking).  There is an excellent blog page at B.E.L.T. Stl which shows more details of the “Crystal Tower” apartments, if you’re interested.  For using such a homey, down-to-earth place for a photo shoot, I certainly think it neat to see such forethought and attention to detail in vintage construction.  Look forward to more of these Art Deco era living places in some upcoming blog posts.

As always, please check my Flickr site, Seam Racer, for more pictures.