Shopping at the Old Arcade

Most people generally know twenties clothing as being tubular with drop waists.  Many also frequently think of the twenties as having beading, sheer fabrics, and fringe, but that was for evening and special occasion.  However, do you know what the turn of the decade, year 1920, actually looked like for everyday wear?  When I started doing research on this I was surprised.  Very high waists, overly exaggerated hips (many with ruffles and ridiculous pockets), slightly awkward long mid-calf length hems, and loose but lovely bust-less blouses.  Yes – this was the year 1920, when women were wearing fashion which was both a carry-over from 1918 – 1919 that was also finding its way for changing up styles in a new decade.  Here is my sewing creation interpreting the year 1920, as a woman in her nice, almost sporty, and nothing-too-fancy clothes to go do some window shopping.
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Actual teens era/1920s hand painted glass buttons (close-up picture here on my Instagram) were included on the blouse I made, as well as several hours of decorative hand stitching on both neck and sleeves.  My hat is a thrift store purchase, which already had straw flowers, but I piled on a wide lace band and silk flowers for an old fashioned style.   I also made the skirt and the purse, as well as some of the authentic lingerie I’m wearing underneath.  This ensemble did not look right (silhouette speaking) until I had the correct undergarments, so I will definitely show you what I wore (and made) in a future post.

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Period authentic doesn’t have to be old-fashioned or un-wearable today.  Because it is all cotton and not body figure conscious, this is really quite comfy to wear.  Sure, it’s different, but yet lovely and tasteful enough for me to only receive kindly smiles from strangers who saw me.  I love the subtle complexity, the understated richness, and the odd femininity to the style of my 1920 pieces.  The ideal of beauty and the popular silhouette for women has changed so much throughout history, and this is just another incarnation that I am glad to have learned to appreciate through sewing it for myself!

THE FACTS:McCall 9412 & Pict.Review Overblouse, both ca. 1920, fm Past Patterns

FABRIC:  100% cotton specialty twill for the skirt, 100% cotton for the blouse, and a tapestry remnant (mystery content) for the purse lined in a burgundy Kona cotton leftover from this project.

PATTERNS:  Past Pattern’s No. 8268, Ladies’ Overblouse, from Pictorial Review circa 1920; a Past Pattern’s No. 9412 “Ladies’ Skirt with Hip Pocket Effect” from McCall Company circa 1920 , and a Vogue 7252 year 2000 patternVogue #7252 from the year 2000 for the purse

NOTIONS:  The notions for this came from everywhere.  The detailed, Art Nouveau-style brass buttons were a Hancock Fabrics’ store brand item, bought when the company was closing, while the old vintage blouse buttons were from our favorite antique store.  Most everything else needed was on hand – I even had the tassel for the purse in my stash!  

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The skirt was made in about 6 hours and finished on October 21, 2016.  The blouse took 8 to 10 hours, with 4 more hours for the hand embroidery, and was finished on February 26, 2017.  The purse was made in about 2 hours on February 28, 2017.

TOTAL COST:  The skirt’s fabric was bought at the now defunct Hancock Fabrics for less than $2 a yard…and I only needed 2 yards here.  I have 2 something extra yards still left for another (upcoming) project.  The blouse’s cotton was bought at JoAnn’s fabric recently for maybe $10.  The brass buttons were expensive even with the Hancock Fabrics closing clearance – maybe $17 – while the old buttons on the blouse were only $5.  The tapestry brocade came from I don’t know where from I don’t know how long ago, thus I’m counting it as free, but the cord handle was bought at JoAnn’s for about $4.  So, my total is about $40 something.

DSC_0232,p,a-comp,wWorking with patterns this old presented plenty of unknowns, but the primary one was in regards to fit.  What kind of body, what kind of peculiarities, and what ease do these patterns account for?  It’s one thing to get something to fit, but historical garments need a particular fit (as well as the right underwear) to be authentically worn.  I did have the assurance that my pattern came from Past Patterns Company…every single garment I have made from what they offer is a wonderful success I am most happy with.  No wonder they’ve been in business almost 40 years!

Let me start by talking about the bodice.  After some figuring, my estimated bust measurement of the blouse pattern as-is (in the size 38 to 40 bust) is 45 inch around.  This led to my figuring the wearing ease to this blouse was about 5 inches over and above the bigger of the two sizes (bust 40).  I can see that the bust is supposed to be bloused and roomy (over a flat chest) so I went down to a generous measurement for myself and ended taking out a total of 4 inches around hoping to end up at what would be the next size smaller for this pattern.  The side seam allowance is 1 whole inch so I figured I had plenty of room to fix a wrong calculation is sizing, but still…it’s easier to  take out some extra than it is to be stuck with a garment which ends up too small.  I totally feel like I nailed the right fit!

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I realized that this is an overblouse that I am not wearing as an overblouse.  This is not the first time I have made an over blouse only to wear it tucked into a skirt – see this 1958 project.  When I received my pattern in the mail Saundra Altman kindly included a tutorial page on how to add in a stay-belt inside the blouse.  As I am just getting the feel for teens and early 20’s dressing, I kept the construction of my blouse simple from the waist downPerry, Dame & Co Catalog, New York styles, fall and winter 1919-1920 because for now I plan on only wearing it as you see it.  At some future point I hope to make a year 1920-style pleated skirt and wear this same top as a proper overblouse, and at that point I might come back and add the welt pockets and a stay-band to the waist.

I did use my oldest (1930’s) sewing machine to do all the button holes along the front opening, but I also splurged and used all cotton thread and self-fabric bias tape for the neckline.  After I had made the button holes I decided I really didn’t want to subject the buttons to the wear and tear of pushing them through every time.  So, I still sewed two at a time connected like link buttons but they’re on there permanently for now, and if I want them off I’ll just cut the linking threads.  I did try to make these buttons linked by a metal loop with a connecting chain but I had disaster strike doing that.  The back loop on one broke by cracking right off, but it is a molded part of the rest of the button so it cannot be fixed unless I glue some loop or such on it.  I never guessed these were as fragile as they seem to be.  Until I figure out how to add something to the back of this broken button, I will sadly made-do with one at the top closure.  This is the risk of working with, or even wearing, old original items from many decades back – they are unique and fragile, but deserve to be seen nonetheless, so using them is a risk that also could only garners appreciation.

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My decorative hand stitching is I know not the best compared to many others, but this is so much better than I used to be able to do.  Whatever my skill, the stitching does take my blouse to the next level, I think, besides show casing an old time-honored practice that modern garments are so far from.  Hand stitching was very much needed here because of the rather plain color of the blouse’s cotton.  I made my own design, and after several unsuccessful Art Deco drawings I settled on the softer more feminine floral on my blouse.  After all King Tut’s tomb would not yet be discovered for a few years from 1920!

The skirt probably would’ve fit me pretty much as-is, but I did add one extra inch to the waistband only to be on the safe side for fit.  I did not change the rest of the skirt because I wanted the gathers to be a bit looser.  Looking back I wish I had made no gathers across the center front of the skirt – the pockets and the hip panel would look better.  No matter, I like it just the same! DSC_0297a-comp,w

The skirt did not need any special closures for the left side opening – the placket kind of conceals itself because of the side seam pleat overlay.  Only hook-and-eyes keep it together at the waistline.  The waistband is quite neat.  It is a two inch band against my skin on the inside, with a 4 inch waistband gathered horizontally on the outside so it looks like a cummerbund belt.

DSC_0220a-comp,wTrue to the era, the back of the skirt is just a long rectangle for a small taste of the slim and skinny.  What a contrast for the front!  Along the front geometric pocket edge I made my own self-fabric “ribbon” to decorate, finish, and stabilize the edge.  At first I tried a brown velvet ribbon for the edge, but, no – I didn’t look good so I took it off and went with the matching fabric.  This pocket edge needs to be stiff enough to stick out on its own and define the hips so I was tempted to add interfacing.  My skirt’s twill fabric was thick enough that three layers along the edge (1 – the skirt, 2 – the ribbon edging seam allowance inside, 3 – outside of the ribbon edging) was plenty good.

Needless to say, as much as I love pockets, these take the cake! My skirt’s pockets are like mini suitcases.  I can keep everything in them and it doesn’t even make a difference the skirt is so roomy and meant to be billowy.  Yet, the only thing that mystifies me about my 1920 outfit is the pockets, mostly because the purses and hand bags were so tiny!  Pockets and purses were still relatively new items to 1920, and both signifying the independence and progression of women, but to go overboard with such a contrast between the two in interesting to me.  As you can see, I did take a slight shortcut and have the pocket opening close with a snap rather than a real working button and button hole.

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Patterns for both the skirt and the blouse both seemed to run very long.  I made the shorter length of the overblouse, which was just over 10 inches shorter than the full-length option, and it is still falls about mid-thigh on me.  For my skirt, I took out 4 whole inches from the length because as-is the pattern falls to floor length (I’m about 5’ 3” height).  Now, take into account the fact that these two garments are meant to have deep hems, especially the skirt.  My skirt does have a wide 3 inch hem to it which helps to weigh it down properly besides bringing it to the proper just-below-calf length for the year 1920.  Skirt and dress lengths of 1920 seem to be just enough to show the ankles, just enough to move freely in, and a tad shorter than just a year or two before (1919-ish).1916 purses

My purse is something so easy but I’m so tickled at how lovely and cute it turned out.  The pattern I used is a real unknown gem with lovely designs straight out of the teens and 20’s.  I remember my mom and I being so excited when this came out!  Look at this comparison between a 1916 handbag poster for comparison.  In a 1926 catalog, I’ve even seen a strikingly similar version to “View C”!  They are all really quite simple designs but I like the fact they give the tracing designs for all the beading and decoration.  My purse doesn’t hold much but came together so quickly.  Trimmings and de-luxe materials seems like the way to go with this pattern and a remnant was all I needed.  I will definitely be using this again!

In the 1920’s, handbags were often just enough room for a few small essentials (including lipstick and keys) and often geometric in shape, like my own vers ion.  Mine is probably way too stuffed than what a 1920 woman would have carried, yet as it was I didn’t have room for everything I needed!  Also in the 1920’s, handbags weren’t necessarily meant to match with an outfit but carry their own tasteful, individual, and often ostentatious flair…quite different from modern times!

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By making my purse (a ‘reticule’ style) from tapestry I am harkening back to a popular type of “daytime” purses of the 1920s – ones made of richly complex fabric carpet bags and delicately flourished needlepoint.  Handbags from these materials seem to either be meant to show the wealth of the one possessing it or the talent of the maker, as many of these types of purses were often handmade by either the woman herself or someone for the company that sold it and some were quite expensive.  By having a decorative tassel at the center bottom point I’m aiming to narrow this to a primarily early 20’s piece.  To read and see more, this “Vintage Dancer” page has a wonderful overview of all the ways 1920’s women carried what they needed.  There is so much history to this littlest part of my ensemble!

All the materials I used for this outfit are just a dream to wear and were wonderful to sew.  The twill for the skirt is a lovely weight and hand – almost as heavy as a denim, slight body, but drapey and soft enough to hang nicely.  The low-key design of the fabric adds interest and keeps the olive and brown tones to it from being too drab.  The cotton of the blouse is so soft it doesn’t really wrinkle all that much and it’s just sheer enough to be pretty.  The tapestry of the purse is so rough, textured, and stiff it provides a nice contrast to the blouse and skirt.

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The place of our photo shoot is something quite special.  Not only is it a city landmark and the town’s best example of Gothic Revival architecture, but it is a National Historic Landmark.  I’m talking about the St. Louis Arcade/Wright Building, opened in year 1919 as one of the very first indoor shopping areas of its kind in the country, a very early, but much more elegant version of the modern American suburban, indoor, covered “Mall”.  Just think how extraordinary this is from a historical standpoint – plans for this steel and stone skyscraper was begun in 1913 before World War I and many of the materials needed for this building were rationed.  Federal officials closed and postponed many construction operations during WWI.  It is rumored that the principle contractor apparently had a simultaneous deal with the government at the time, so I suppose he was able to pull a few strings.  The Arcade was the tallest building in the world for a number of years.  Besides, the architect, Tom Barnett, was something quite important nationally.  This multi-story hall was recently renovated (after being vacant for several decades), preserving much original pieces so that the Arcade can still give visitors a taste of what it might have been in its heyday when people came here for high-end purchases such as jewelry and fine china.  Being able to walk through and visit places like this in period authentic clothes makes sewing this outfit a very worthwhile experience.

DSC_0295aa-comp,wP.S. Good news…you don’t necessarily have to sew if you want this ‘look’!  ReVamp vintage has re-made an amazing year 1921 oversized pocket skirt very similar to my own, the “Prudence” with brownish olive twill and lovely details!  Although, there are a few ways to wear a modern take on such a style – “Dress Romantic” on Etsy marketplace has a neat version that’s my favorite!  As for ready-to-wear 1920 style blouses, ReVamp has lovely options but any loose modern blouse with lace and/or feminine details would work – my favorites are this Anthropologie yellow blouse, this J.Crew cream colored pleated neckline blouse, or this sheer smocked neckline top.  There’s always old originals out there, too, (like this one) for a taste of the real thing!  Will you be channeling the early 1920’s for yourself, or have you already?

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The “It’s No Longer a Funnel-Neck” Corduroy 1968 Dress

I would like to post a cozy winter vintage dress that I made for myself this past cold weather season.  What was originally a 1968 funnel neck sheath dress turned into a week and a half’s worth of frustration.  I’m glad this dress finally ended up as a great fitting, good looking success.  Its profile has a classic A-line shape with a…well, “not-sure-what-to call-it-neckline” that is rather complimentary.  Persistence definitely paid off with this project!  I still can’t believe something so awful has turned out so well – another reason why I love to wear this retro dress.

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THE FACTS:

FABRIC: a tan tapestry print of 100% cotton, small wale corduroy; brown poly cling free lining for the inside; both fabrics I’ve had in my stash so long I don’t remember where they were bought or for how much, so they’re being counted as free.

NOTIONS:  I already had the thread and bias tape; just needed to buy a long 22 in zip for the back.100_1080a-comp,w

PATTERN: Simplicity ‘Jiffy’ pattern 7673, year 1968

TIME TO COMPLETE:  finished on February 9, 2013;  I spent at least 22 hours on this darn dress, stretched out over a week and a half’s worth of night work every day.  Those hours doesn’t count the NON-SEWING frustrated times ( many times my dress got thrown into a corner, rolled in a ball, when I didn’t know what more do to it ), but I knew I would pick it up again and do some more adjustments:)

100_2175-compTHE INSIDES: They are very nice and smooth with not a seam to be found exposed!  This dress is fully lined…meaning I more or less sewed two separate and identical dresses then connected them at the neck, sleeves, and bottom hem.  I was very careful not to twist up the sleeve linings, match all darts and seams so the lining is aligned, and the inside bottom hem is covered with hem tape (see picture at left).  Beat that, you RTW clothes!

Jiffy patterns now make me a bit suspicious after using this one.  Granted I knew the bust was too big for me, but the finished size still would have made the correct sized woman (this was a 34 bust pattern) swim in the excess fabric.  My surmise is that this ’68 Simplicity pattern basically did not have good shaping or correct proportions.  The waist and below was the only part which fit me.  The shoulders and bust were humongous, and even the funnel neck look was impossible to achieve without interfacing the way it was designed.  Not calling for the use of interfacing was part of the ‘Jiffy’ idea, I guess.  It was a bad idea because you couldn’t get the envelope drawing appearance, but it was good for me since I did so much altering to help this dress fit and look alright.

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Sewing my corduroy ’68 dress was so hard mainly on account of the fact I was fully lining this dress.  Every alteration I did to the corduroy dress had to be precisely measured, lengthwise and width wise, and sewn in exactly the same way, in the same place, into my separate lining dress.  This is part of the reason all my fitting adjustments were so slow and done in agonizing increments – because I didn’t want to make an alteration which I would have to spend extra time to rip out because it was too much.  The routine went like this: I would sew and inch or two here and here, try the corduroy dress on myself, see how it fit, then do the exact same fitting to the lining, and repeat all over again. 100_2173-comp

I ended up taking in a whopping 5 or more inches around the bust.  The shoulders of my dress hung too low (affecting the bust darts) and were raised up several inches to make it properly proportioned.  An invisible dart was even sewn in vertically down the front center, from the neckline to just below my waist, and this took out the last of the extra bust room I didn’t need.  You would never guess that front dart is there…I made extra sure to match up the center front print!  The back zipper is even “professional-style” covered up by the lining inside (see picture above right).

My biggest hack on this winter dress was to the funnel neck.  After the whole dress FINALLY fit me, I just could not like the way this funnel neck looked on me with the dress’ design.  Knowing I still wanted it to cover my neck (because a warm winter dress is hard to find), I played around with different shapes while the dress was on me.  I ended up with this finished neckline by merely pulling down the front panel of the funnel neck down to my collarbone.  The ends of the neckline self-facing is covered in bias tape, and folded over inside (see picture above), so if I do decide to change the neckline again at some point, I can do so easily.

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I did an internet search for my pattern to find if anyone else has tried making this 60’s dress.  I found only one woman who made this same pattern and her dress turned out so badly she hacked it into becoming a darling jacket.  Both she and I made the best of a bad pattern.100_2176-comp

Here’s a close-up of the vintage pin I added to the front of my dress in some of my pictures.  I think it compliments my dress well, and makes it look like the blond wearing the purple mini dress on my pattern envelope’s drawing cover.

I did some research on the history of the funnel neck fashion -it proves to be quite interesting (all history is interesting to me).  It seems that funnel necks made a comeback with coat fashion in 2007, but they were at a height of popularity in the 60’s.  Futurism was big during the 60’s, due in large part to the new Space-Age spawned from going to the Moon.  Crazy patterns and large brooches often went with such basic A-line dresses, such as my own corduroy ’68 dress.  For some more very interesting fashion history please visit this link and you might learn something fun to add to your retro sewing.  Fashion-era.com also is another great website where I got some of my info about for my ’68 corduroy dress, as well as info for other projects.

100_1103-comp,wThe snow picture included in this post is from a surprising Easter week snow we had earlier this year.  It was warm enough outside that the snow was incredibly wet and heavy, but it did not last even 24 hours because, as you can see, I didn’t need a coat.  It was cool to catch the falling snow in our pictures!  Beware…I’m forming a snowball to throw at my hubby/photographer in the picture below.

Whether there’s snow or no snow, I am prepared and ready for the cold with this cozy retro winter dress.  I hate to part with it long enough to go in the wash machine.  The more I wear this corduroy dress, the more I love it, but at the same time it makes me laugh at the amount of frustration and disappointment that went into getting such a wonderful finished project.  I am glad I can laugh now and be thankful.

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Gold Tapestry UFO Dress

This wrap dress had been made by me several years ago, probably 2007, as a last minute decision for Christmas/New Year’s fancy occasion wear. I think this was my first real dress project on my own and from scratch. I do not think I really knew what I was completely doing back then, but, looking at this dress now, I did sew it quite well, interfacing and all, despite never finishing it!

I now have the perfect fancy vintage style dress for all seasons and any nice occasion.  We happened to have our picture taken professionally when I wore my dress to hubby’s work’s Christmas party.  There’s nothing like a handmade dress to feel happy and confident!

_CMD2956      I remember the sewing machine needle kept catching the fabric and pulling runs – and the fact never hit me to think of changing the needle. Wow! I feel badly admitting this, but it also makes me feel like I’ve come a long way with my sewing skills. I’m just glad the fabric survived its torture well enough to still look good.
My parents had resurrected this dress from my old stash in their basement in the fall of 2011.  I decided to do the finishing touches it needed to be wearable.  There was no way to close it – no snaps, hooks, or even a tie, but otherwise the body of the dress was done. So I looked at the dress’ original pattern, Butterick 5030, and I also looked at a similar vintage pattern, Butterick 5152, before I decided on making a cummerbund.

Somehow, among all the millions of scraps between here and my parents’ house, I had found the few handfuls of the dress’ fabric pieces left. There was just enough fabric to make a cummerbund, but no solid long scrap, so I had to plan for side seams. The side seams gave me an idea to gather the cummerbund sides instead of a making a plain waistband. This gathering of the cummerbund looks good, except it was quite difficult because of two factors: 1) I double sided the cummerbund for a finished band; 2) the fabric was shedding and fraying all over (just like I remembered from before). I used the right needle this time, by the way…100_0461
I found a large antique gold button at Wal-mart and thought to attach the cummerbund to the dress and so close both at the same time! I basted the cummerbund on by machine, but most of the gathering and attaching to my dress was done by hand.

I really like the metallic gold elastic I braided as the button loop.  The elastic loop’s raw ends were stuffed into the gathered end of the cummerbund and hand tacked into place.

My only regrets for this project are the hook-and-eye closures I sewed on the front of the dress to minimize ‘exposure’.  The hooks catch everywhere on the dress’ open weave. In some spare time in my sewing future, I think I will change this so I can be completely happy with this dress, but, hey, I can wear it now, so how it’s finished is good enough.
After wearing my UFO dress, it occurred to me that the reason I balled it up as a wrinkled mess in ’07 was not just because of the sewing problems, but also the nagging thought that maybe this looks like a fancy housecoat. That word “housecoat” still nags my brain, but my tapestry wrap dress fits so well and looks elegant, it can’t be all that bad!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  some sort of rayon/cotton blend; guess I could do the burn test on a scrap

NOTIONS:  just the big button and gold elasticButterick 5030 cover

PATTERN:  Butterick 5030, view B, year 2007; I am impressed with everything about this pattern – it fits great, has a versatile design, and a moderately easy construction

FIRST WORN:  out to a St. Louis Symphony concert. Didn’t get there as early as needed to get the free tickets, so we just hung out at my parents’ house and watched a movie (“Follow the Fleet” Astaire/Rodgers movie to be exact); later, I also wore my dress to the Christmas party were you see us in the first picture of my post

TIME TO COMPLETE:  back in 2007 for the dress, maybe I spent 10 or more hours; in 2011, for the cummerbund, about 4 hours

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