Tribulations of the 400th

Sometimes the easy patterns really throw me for a loop and make a sewing project surprisingly, mystifyingly challenging.  It’s when I least expect it, of course, and it never makes sense why.  The added pressure of reaching a milestone number for such a project probably didn’t help, too.  This post’s vintage dress was unexpectedly a tough one to reach nicely wearable status as my 400th project since 2012.  I had our last vacation of the summer as my motive and encouragement to power through and finish it, at least.  I do love a new me-made item whenever we take a trip and this bold little tropical hottie is here to show off her grand day out for fun in the sun.

Back in the late summer of that year of 2012, I started sewing again in earnest after a few years’ break and started keeping a log of all the projects I was making both for myself and others.  Mind you this by no means counts the paid-for commissions that I do on the side (which you don’t see) and the countless projects I have been creating before 2012 since my first lessons at seven years of age.  Most of the logged projects do appear on my blog eventually.  Even still, 400 is the last big milestone before I hit the grand number of 500 in the future!  Meanwhile, I have a lovely success story to share here and some wearable proof to my dedication to sewing all these years.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a Hawaiian printed rayon challis

PATTERN:  McCall #5918, year 1944

NOTIONS:  all I needed was thread, a zipper, and a set of shoulder pads

TIME TO COMPLETE:  It was finished on August 22, 2019 after about 30 plus hours of effort put into the dress.

THE INSIDES:  A mix of French and overlocked (serged) seam finishing

TOTAL COST:  This fabric has been in my stash for so long I’m counting it as free, but I know it came from what used to be Hancock Fabrics many years back.  I always got the best deals from them so it probably cost me less than $15 for sure.

The dress pattern has an interesting story to it which I’ll explain first.  Back when I posted about making my mid-1930s lingerie set (post here) I found a random sleeve piece from a completely unrelated pattern with a date about a decade later in the mid-40’s.  It is a very clever self-faced cap sleeve I imitated when refashioning my nightgown (see it here).  Finally sighting the counterpart cover image had me speechless at its amazing details.  I posted about that mystery homeless sleeve tissue piece (here) and the kind seamstress Eszter at “Em Originals” let me know she had an original of the pattern that matched it. We exchanged pattern copies as a trade and now I have the whole dress!  Oh, the wonders of the global reach that the internet makes possible…

It was tough to feel out what fabric to match with the pattern, though.  I wanted something that screams daring and exotic and warm temps.  However, I also realized the lack of complicated seams would be perfect for a bigger print.  Letting go of this hibiscus blue-toned Hawaiian inspired rayon from my long time stash was quite hard to do, however.  It is such a saturated coloring in a print you don’t find but in vintage fabric.  Yet, I felt it was a perfect pairing.  Yes, the rayon provides great draping for the bias grain action and the neither the dress nor the design overwhelm each other, just as I had hoped.  Great fabric is meant for more than just ogling and petting while stuffed in a stash.  I think it deserves to be made into something to enjoy being both worn and appreciated no matter the risk!

The center front bodice completely carries this whole dress with it.  It is such a smart feature because it is not just for aesthetics but actually a really smart way to shape the bodice without a single dart necessary.  It made for a very interesting pattern piece that was good for my technical brain to see and understand.  The bottom of the V neckline ends at a casing that opens up the middle of the bodice.  There are ties that run through the casing and, when tied together, forms a little open spot that is so racy for the 40’s but low-key enough I don’t feel exposed.  The bust gets shaped from the center out this way in the best way possible, especially since the center casing is cut across the bias grain.  At the pattern stage, the front has the casing veer off away from the bodice so it ends up on different grain than the main body.  A double-fold, self-facing to finish the edges is included, too.  This one little detail more than makes up for the simplicity of the rest of the dress and was not as hard to make as it might sound.  I have seen this same kind of detail used on sleeves before (see here) so now that I understand how it works you might just see me try this on other garments in the future!

I had to dramatically grade up to make the pattern wearable for me, adding just over four inches.  While I was at it, I slightly tweaked the pattern.  To avoid breaking up the print even further and simplify the design even more, I joined the bodice and the skirt sections for a waist free back half.  The front has a skirt with the center seam cut on the straight grain to save room on pattern layout.  The darts to the back half met at the waistline anyway so I just turned them into one-piece “cat-eye” (also called “fish-eye”) darts on either side of the long, vertical center seam.  Changing the grainline in the skirt pieces works in favor of the dress I believe because there is now a bias which wraps around my hips for a wonderful shape and subtle flare at the hem.  I lengthened the dress as well to a ‘not very proper for war-time’ longer midi length because I personally liked how it adds to the silhouette.  A mid-length dress is more versatile and makes the most of the slinky rayon!

The main difficulty and frustrations with this dress primarily had to do with a new self-realization stemming from finding out that I had made a dress which was impossibly too small for me in certain areas…and I had absolutely no extra fabric to fill in for my oversight.  Cutting out this dress on just under two yards of fabric – even if it was 60” width – was extreme pattern Tetris.  A few inch wide scraps were all I had left.  I love being so efficient at using fabric but that means I have to be perfect with my cutting.

I do believe a third of my fitting problems with this dress might have been from tweaking the pattern the way I did.  The other third is probably from a dress designed with a very slim skirt – surmised afterwards both from the rather straight lines on the pattern and looking at the cover illustration (those two ladies have absolutely no hips whatsoever).  The last third of this dress’ issues originated from the frequent ill health I have been experiencing this year.  I only realized by making this 400th project that some of my body’s sizing has changed.  My proportions are slightly different now than what I have been for a good number of years.  My body had changed but the sizing I was drafting onto my patterns had not yet caught up because I didn’t know any better.  This kind of thing is never a pleasant pill to swallow and has been very demoralizing.  This 400th make was tough in more way than one.

Somewhere in the back of my consciousness, I had wondering why some of my garments had been fitting me differently just lately.  I’m sure it is the kind of thing only someone like me would ever notice, because I am merely talking about a few inches more in difference, particularly over my hips.  Even still, I hate having to spend my extra time tailoring my garments to accommodate illness aftereffects I don’t want but have no control over at the moment.  Yet, at the same time, I am extremely thankful that I can even do such a thing to ‘save’ my clothes in the first place.  Ready-made and store bought items with their overlocked insides do not provide the leeway for extra room that ¾” or 5/8” uncut seam allowances can give.  This is why I prefer time-honored finishing techniques over using a serger.  Taking out both side seams as well as the center back seam all the way out to ¼” from the waist line down gave me just what I needed for the perfect fit to happily have a wearable dress.

A large part of the success to sewing, I do believe, is all wrapped up in the tricky knowledge of how to fit and adapt clothing.  Granted, getting to that point of a perfect fit was literal hell for me – I hate unpicking, especially when I originally made lovely French finishing inside, like I did for this tropical dress.  This is why the bottom half of the seams to my dress are unfortunately overlocked along their edges…I know, I just preached against it, but I was tired, down in spirits, and desperate.  A French finish on tiny seams is not something I wanted to take time for on what was supposed to be an easy-to-make project.  I was running out of time to finish the dress before the trip, too.  Nevertheless, as disappointed as I am with how this dress came together and failing in my ‘normal’ standards of quality, this dress is a joy to wear.

The colors make me happy, and can pair with so many combinations.  I chose aqua and turquoise accessories for these pictures, but light blue items really soften the tone and navy blends in.  Black heels and a fancy necklace with simple earrings brings this dress up to evening wear standards.  Better yet, the comfort on this is first rate.  It feels like I never took off my nightgown.  I realize, now that I have been sick for an extended time, I find myself tending more towards easy-wear vintage pieces.  Sure, I still love my tailored pieces with cinched waists and perfect darts that require me to wear my old-style lingerie to keep a perfect form and stature.  Yet, something as ‘throw-on-and-go’ as this dress is priceless.  Great details are not neglected, though, thanks to the never failing wonder of fantastic vintage designs.  It’s no wonder I make my own clothes, because I have no idea where to find anything comparable in ready-to-wear, even if such a thing is out there.

“Retro Forward” Burda Style: ‘Spicy Stripes’ Knotted Front Dress

Making my new “Spicy Stripes” dress gave me yet another opportunity to have fun with a wild and funky print, plus exercising one of my favorite techniques – stripe/pattern matching. This dress also proves that a little hot dress doesn’t have to be entirely black or skin tight…and can certainly cover you up for winter and keep you warm too!

100_4375a-comp

There is a creative, open, wrap front with long ties to close the front of the dress. Those ties can be closed in different ways to change up the look. The dress also has a tapered skinny skirt bottom, ultra long sleeves, puff sleeve caps, and a slight gather at the center waist back.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  My fabric is a super soft and luxurious half rayon, half “pima” cotton knit bought from my local Hancock Fabrics store. The dress is lined in a very lightweight and thin poly knit in black, leftover from being used as lining for my “Gold Digger’s” style 1940 suit set.knotted_dress_drawing Sept 2013-cropped

NOTIONS:  I had all the thread and bias tape needed on hand already.

PATTERN:  Knotted Dress, #101B, 09/2013, which I downloaded from Burda Style.com

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was incredibly easy and quick once I got past the assembly and traced out the pattern. My dress went from pattern layout and cutting out to done and on me in about 6 hours. I was finished making this on November 21, 2014.

THE INSIDES:  My lining and my dress fabric are both non-raveling, so the edges are left raw, merely zig-zagged together in the proper “lightening stitch”. Only the entire front neckline into the ties was finished off nicely in bias tape and the back in self-fabric bias facing.

100_4381-comp

TOTAL COST:  My fabric’s total cost was about $14, but I have seen the same fabric (in a different fiber content) on Mood Fabric for a lot more dough.

This is THE dress that proves you can have it all exactly as you personally like it, but only when you make your own clothes, he he! The zig-zag fabric print has a bold fashion edge, the knit plus its lining together feels absolutely wonderful to wear, and the pattern’s shapely design makes me feels amazingly feminine and comfortable with my curves, all the while being nice and warm and cozy in chilly weather!

100_4846-compOddly enough, my Burda Style dress is named after a favorite soap which we made around the same time I made my Burda dress. Yes – every so often, hubby and I like to make our own natural “melt-and-pour” soaps, using only botanical oils and spices or extracts for coloring (our book is “Soapmaking the natural way” by Rebecca Ittner, but a free guide can be found here). The “Spicy Stripes” soap recipe we used called for certain ingredients which made a finished product which could share very similar adjectives to my “Spicy Stripes” knit dress. The soap has a base of glycerin, to make it soothing, and scents of Patchouli, Sandalwood, Lavender, and Ylang-Ylang, for an exotic, fresh, and warming type of spicy scent. Much like my dress, our soap has many uneven alternating layers, some a deep golden red-brown, and others a bright tan, colored with gold mica powder. My dress, however, also has a zig-zag stripe of turquoise, one of my favorite colors. Now, if I wash with the soap in a shower and then wear my knotted front Burda Style dress, my outfit will really deserve the nickname “Spicy Stripes”.

100_4374a-comp

Granted, I have another zig-zag printed knit dress (see this post), but this Burda Style project has a definite Missoni flair! Being printed on, lacking the weave of the knit to make the iconic multi-hued, crisscross, zig-zag print like a true Missoni, this fabric of my dress is a good-looking knock off, close enough for me to be excited and happy. Now for those of you that don’t know (which was me, too, until recently), Missoni was an inventive (at times shocking) pioneer of the fashion world. Missoni was a contemporary was another favorite fashion pioneer of mine, Pucci. Both Pucci and Missoni were vetrans of WWII and rose to fame at similar decades (the 60’s and 70’s) – in my mind these two are awesome! Being part of WWII (and henceforth being captured) actually seemed to be the catalyst for Missoni to find his fashion niche, as well as marrying his talented wife. Together, the Missoni knit and the Missoni design have given our modern times an all-too-often-uncredited amazing mix and culture, intricate design and bold attitude. Today, Missoni’s print has extended to home décor and accessories as well for a whole life-style, if desired, of his signature sedimentary heartbeat layered colors.

Burda patterns (for those readers who don’t know) need some assembly100_4208a-comp and tracing before being ready for layout on your chosen fabric. They can be bought as a downloadable PDF file, to print out, or traced from the leaflet included in a magazine issue. 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_4211compI left out the pockets to keep the skirt slim, otherwise there’s no change to the original design in my dress. The dress was indeed so easy, it took me more time to prep the pattern and cut the pieces out than it did to sew it up. For several reasons, among them being a shortage of yardage and a desire for a design change, I changed up the layout a bit, especially for the sleeves, cutting them on the opposite bias than directed. I was not going to cut out one piece of each on a single layer anyway and try to match them exactly, too. Call me lazy but for what looked like a quickie dress, I was not going to make more work for myself than what’s necessary. I took the most time lining up the two layers of fabric so that cutting on double thickness would yield matching pieces. It generally paid off – except for the back bodice where the alignment of the crazy zig-zag print is slightly wonky. This is because I had to add a center back seam to keep the print going the way I wanted. At the success of the overall dress and the crazy print being so busy, I (out of character) really don’t care about a small boo-boo this time.

100_4370a-comp

At first, I must admit I was highly skeptical the uber-gathered, puff-topped, overly long and very skinny sleeves would be likeable at all compared to the rest of the dress. However, I am amazed at how happy I am once the finished dress was on me. The gathered tops give plenty of extra room to move (besides the knit fabric being stretchable). There’s something about the puff-top sleeves that I think somehow ‘saves’ the overall silhouette of this dress from looking too daring like a fully clinging body-contouring garment – a little extra fabric in the right place can totally change a design. There is the tapered wiggle skirt with its skinny hem, giving barely enough room to go over the hips, and the plunging neckline of the front open wrap. Together these hot tickets are balanced out by the sleeves (so I think).100_4378-comp

One word of warning – I find the easiest way to get it on is to regard this as a step-in dress. Most dresses I put on over my head, but with the skinny hem and completely open front stepping in it is my preferred method.

Just like for my other knit fabric wrap-front dresses (see here and here), I stabilized certain parts of this “Spicy Stripes” dress to keep my garment working well, keeping its intended shape and lasting for years to come.  Firstly, the bottom skinny hem has stable cotton hem tape to keep it from stretching. Secondly the entire hem of the neckline/wrap combo is also finished in the same stable hem tape. The dress’ knit is very soft and stretchy, and if I didn’t stabilize the ties at least, I could see this picture in my mind of them getting longer and skinnier with each wear until I end up with ties so misshapen and ridiculous, so extended they would wrap several times around. Then, how would I replace them? Very exaggerated unrealistic thinking, I know, but I would like to suppose anyone who sews nearly as much as I do must have had some sort of “garment nightmare” amongst their projects, if only in forethought. No, really, the back neckline is still stretchy with self-fabric facing, but the non-stretchy hem tape starts and ends at the shoulder seam. The tough part of the hemming of the front wrap was the small, tight U- corner in where the two ties end and come together at about waistline height. This is U-intersection is also slightly bothersome inside on my skin sometimes, but that depends on how the front is twisted closed.

100_4377-compNow I’ve found three ways of closing this front – regular wrapping to one side then the other over and under (as you see it in the left pic), interlocking around one another (sort of like elbows in square dancing), and knotted. All of these ways of closing tie off in the center back, but I suppose one could even simply close the front by overlapping the ties and pinning them together, letting the ties hang in front. I haven’t had the nerve to actually wear this dress as I last mentioned (I’m afraid the pin or brooch would make a hole in the fabric) but it would look elegant and more daring. Versatility of looks in one single outfit is neat, rather hard to find, and I think helps to keep a garment more timeless, practical, and individual.

I am always intrigued by creative closures that employ the garment itself rather than using traditional methods of attached hardware of notions, such as hook-and-eyes, snaps, or zippers and such. This “Spicy Stripes” Burda dress is not the first one of its kind, but is still is plenty creative. This is why my dress is part of my ongoing blog series “Retro Forward with Burda Style”. The most detailed and ingenious of self-closing wrap front garments can most readily be found in the 1930s, 1940s, and the 1980s, with the top-of-the-line, mind blowing ones coming from the designs of Madeleine Vionnet. She mostly used the bias of fabric and basic geometric shapes to create simple but body complimentary, easy wearing garments likened to the ancient Grecian way of dressing (below,left), primarily in the 1930’s. Who knew simple could look so good – and complicated!

Vionnet 1930s -draped and wrap Grecian gown & dress, De Pew 30s pattern for blouse

The decade of the 1940’s had a number of dressing and dinner, or even evening gowns, in hot little two piece numbers which are connected by some sort of center front tie or lacing. Look at the iconic Charles James’ year 1941 Dressing Gown from the Met Museum (at right) or this gold Lame two piece evening gown for two stunning wrapped two-pieced numbers (actress Bacall also wore a midriff showing gown in the 1944 movie “To Have and Have Not”).

vintage 1980's twisted front polka dot dress&Simplicity 4228 year 1962The next biggest recurrence I see of twist/tie front garments is again in the 1980’s (see the pink one at right). Not that the other decades didn’t have similar garments (like Simplicity 4228, year 1962), but I just don’t see them as being as creative or even totally workable as a closure as the 30’s, 40’s, and 80’s used tie-front garment designs.

100_4365a-compWhat is “modern” sewing after all?! Trends and fads and styles come and go and are always changing. Past designs fuel inspiration for those who come after and styles get a new face and different look for each generation of buyers. It is a credit to everyone for each variant of each creative step ahead, and us fellow home seamstress are the one getting the opportunity to make these garments up!

Do you have a garment with a design that particularly strikes your fancy? Doesn’t it make you feel special to wear it, much less proud that you made it yourself?