“Orange Flower” Sheer Cotton Dress

I’ve seen sheer dresses for 2016’s Summer trends, but I’m not one for following new fads.  However, it is a good excuse to make a new dress for myself!  Thus, using a modern pattern I’ve put my own spin on the trend to harken back to a past time when feather-weight sheer dresses were the most beautiful way to be covered up in the heat.

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THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a sheer handkerchief weight cotton/poly blend print

butterick-5951-pattern-compNOTIONS:  I used all notions from on hand: thread, a zipper, and vintage cotton bias tape given to me by my Grandma.

PATTERN:  Butterick #5951, year 2013

TIME TO COMPLETE:  It took me 5 or 6 hours to make the dress but then a few more added hours to fit and adjust the sleeves.  My dress was finished on April 22, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  A combo of French seams and bias bound seams make for a super clean finished and nice looking inside for my dress.dsc_0342-comp

TOTAL COST:  This fabric was bought when our local Hancock Fabrics store was closing so it was dirt cheap.

This pattern is a really interesting one that seems to have escaped the official labeling as “retro”.  It is pretty much as good as a vintage reprint, though.  I love the options and the details – no sleeves, quarter sleeves, or long sleeves, different necklines, skirt options, smart gathering, and streamlined seam lines.  To entice me even more, all the other versions of this pattern I saw on everyone’s blogs look so ‘to-drool-over’!

The design features to this pattern’s styles are akin to dresses from the 1930’s, 1940’s, 1950’s, depending on which options you choose an how you tweak the design.  Go see my brand spanking new Pinterest page where I have a board dedicated to designs from and similar to Butterick 5951.  The way I made my dress is more like something from the late 1930’s, especially since I made mine from a sheer fabric.  The blog “Just skirts and dresses” makes this same point on this page, where she pairs the modern Butterick with a 1938 dress drawing.  “Witness 2 Fashion” also has a post on sheer dresses of August 1939 (link to the post here), where you can a DuBarry pattern (#2319B) with very similar design lines to it modern counterpart.

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I must say right off – the fit on this dress pattern is awful, whether it’s really modern, or vintage or hybrid.  To me, the fit seems to run quite small all over, but especially in the waist and hips.  The sleeves are designed very badly, providing zero, zip, zilch in reach room.  The high arched neckline, for me, needed some adjustments to become what the cover drawing portrays.  Beyond these frustrating quirks, my finished dress is something I’m decently happy with, but I feel vintage original patterns have offered me better results.  If you can find a similar old original pattern, go try it first.  However, don’t shy away from this modern pattern, though, if you can tolerate extra time fitting or perhaps altering the dress.  I know I will use this pattern again, at least in parts, as the base for creating some other 30’s and early 40’s dresses I want to make, but cannot afford the pattern price to actually buy.  Has anyone else had problems with this modern-does-vintage Butterick pattern?

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On the envelope cover, one would be led to think that the skirt options offered have lovely shaping, but I just don’t see it in the pattern as it is made up.  I made the paneled skirt version, and it does not have a bias flare to bottom hem that the envelope made me believe.  It is quite straight-line!  Other versions which I see made up look the same, and I’m supposing the only way to achieve the drawn version of the skirt is to go against the layout instructions and actually cut the skirt panels on the bias (across the grain).  Having a bias skirt would actually be more comfortable for this dress, anyway…live and learn, so I say to myself.  The four piece flared skirt option looks like a cross between a 50’s and a 40’s thing to me in the drawing, looking at the actual pattern pieces and other version sewn up out on the internet.  This is very confusing and disappointing to see such a promising pattern that is seemingly deceptive by not living up to its cover.

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There are a handful of both changes and adjustments I had done to make the dress more vintage and accommodate my limited fabric amount of only 1 ¾ yard (50 inch width)!  Firstly, I eliminated the center back zipper.  Instead, my dress has a short back neckline placket that ties closed together (via self-fabric ties) paired with a ‘traditional’ vintage method of side zip closing.  As my fabric is sheer, I did not use the given facings and merely used bias tape to turn under at the raw edges.  As the sleeves were tight and restricting, I ended up adding in a rhombus shaped gusset for more room.  Without any substantial fabric scrap sizes, I had to make the sleeves work as they were.  I just wish I didn’t take it for granted that they would fit.  Adding the gusset gave me just a bit too much room so I added lightweight shoulder pads to fill in for and pick up the extra fabric in the chest

dsc_0699a-compTo complete my dress, I made a skinny tie-on belt out of a remnant of basic black chiffon, and decorate it with a fabric flower.  Many 1930’s fashions seem to always have a flower as part of the outfit, whether it’s on the belt, the shoulder, the neckline, wrist, or even the hair.  I also adapted my modern sheer mesh sunhat to become more vintage-ish by pinning the brim back, just like what I see in many movies, fashion pages, and pattern covers from the late 30’s to early 40’s.  Ribbon laced Chelsea Crew brand sling-back heels, orange mid-length gloves, and a handmade-by-me polished rock necklace finish my ensemble.  I’m really quite comfy and cool in this while feeling so nicely put together.  The whisper-thin cotton blend material feels so delicate, like nothing’s on…oh my!

When wearing a vintage-style sheer garment, something nice and not your regular run-of-the-mill slip will do under these fashions.  For my year 1935 sheer silk chiffon dress, I made my own detailed matching slip to be worn as the foundation.  For this dress,dsc_0341a-comp I wore my prized vintage 1940’s bias black rayon slip underneath because it is about the nicest I own, first of all (besides my 1942 rayon princess seamed slip), and also because the dark color provides opacity.  Plus, the black slip gives a nice contrast, I feel, and makes it just a bit more obvious that the dress is sheer.  (Colored, opaque slips were popular as a visible part of a multi-use ensemble in the mid-1930’s to early 40’s – see more about this here – look for Butterick 7405.)  My last sheer dress had its slip or under dress in a floral and it was attached, but not only was it from the 60’s era, but it was also was poufy, made in man-made fabrics, and not as casual and comfy as this post’s late 30’s style dress.

A see-through garment of course shows off the intimate apparel worn underneath, and although we are overly used to this fact in modern times, this is sort of weird when you think about modes of dressing in the past 20th century.  Strong corsetry and many layers were being worn by women for several decades since sheer fashions had begun to be worn around the 1900’s with the introduction of lace bodices and dresses. “Intimate apparel” ceases to become “private and personal” with transparent, gauzy, or lace fabric.  (More can be read about this here at this “Witness 2 Fashion” post.)  Perhaps the reason why this subject is interesting to me is the way I see vintage fashion knowing how to ride the fine line between classy and trashy when it comes to wearing see-through fabric.  Vintage transparent fashion sure knows how to make showing off your underwear look feminine, tasteful, and understatedly lovely.

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“Blank Canvas” – a 1939 Hollywood Dress and Re-Fashioned Hat

Allie J's Social Sew badgeEvery blank canvas is a starting point just waiting, pleading for personalization and a touch of color.  My creation happens to have soft, white linen as the canvas, and all the colors added (in controlled moderation) for a culturally-influenced dress and hat.  I even made my own earrings from buttons to match!  This is part of Allie J.’s Social Sew #4, theme “Vintage”.

Mock embroidery, courtesy of some appliques, a wildly striped scarf belt, and my bright coral “Chelsea Crew” T-strap shoes liven up a white dress.  Subtle features and lots of bias cuts take the backstage to complete the dress.  My Tyrolean-style, dome-crowned straw hat was another successful experiment in more modern hat re-fashioning.  Together, I am again finding myself loving the year 1939 fashion – part 30’s and part 40’s combined into one lovely and comfy outfit.

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My dress and hat happen to have a wide variety of Hollywood personas related to its making – the famous Lucille Ball is the “star” of the dress pattern I used, an “Agent Carter” character Ana Jarvis was another inspiration, as well as actress Joan Blondell’s fashion, especially as worn in the 1939 movie “Good Girls Go to Paris”.  My more basic sources were 40’s and late 30’s pattern covers plus an extant 1939 garment from Jonathan Walford’s “Forties Fashion” book.  My first 1939 dress (blogged here) was also directly patterned after a dress from his book.

Simplicity #4203 & #2070, Walford book's 1939 Mexicali dressThe “Forties Fashion” book chapter which shows my inspiration dress (Chapter 1) addresses the subject of culturally inspired fashions of the early 40’s/late 30’s.  Much of the Mexican, South and Central American themed clothes, aprons and embroidery from those times stemmed from President Roosevelt’s ‘Good Neighbor’ policy from the early 1930’s, but as the decade went on, Bavarian and Alpine themed fashion and headwear grew popular universally.  I would also like to think of this dress as further inspired by both the classic ‘Guayaberas’ or Havana shirts and the Phillippines’ version (called ‘Barong Tagalog’) that I’ve seen on the men (and some women) in old movies such as “The Lone Wolf” series.  These shirts are made for warm weather and are often of a type of linen, have lovely details, and have frequent floral embroidery.  Havana and Panama were of course known for their straw hats, too.   Thus, my outfit combined several cultural influences for ‘39.

As far as Hollywood influence, 1939 was the year that Lucille Ball stepped out as something 1939 Hollywood inspiration collageother than a mere radio voice and a B movie actress when she starred in the film “Five Came Back”.  One of the main ladies in that film actually wears an identical hat to the one I made!  I’ve also seen similarities to my dress in the other ’39 movies like “Star Reporter” (same bodice) and “Good Girls Go to Paris” where Joan Blondell has similar puffed arched sleeves, Tyrolean hats, and cropped boleros.  Currently, though, Ana Jarvis from the Marvel television series “Agent Carter” Season Two wears many ethnic inspired fashions, and in “A View in the Dark” (Episode 2) she wears a cream colored blouse with floral vine embroidery.  I know Hollywood is not a good example of what the everyday woman might have worn, but it sure is awesome to bring into one’s wardrobe!

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I have yet to decide on what bolero to sew up to match – one with the large collar in this Hollywood pattern for my dress, but I’m tempted to go with Vintage Vogue #8812 for a simpler look that would go with my later 40’s fashions.  Something else for my already long bucket list of future projects!

THE FACTS:Hollywood 1773, year 1939, front cover-comp

FABRIC:  Thick pure white 100% linen for the dress, polyester chiffon for the scarf belt, and a basic modern hat made out of straw for my re-fashion

PATTERN:  Hollywood #1773, year 1939

NOTIONS:  Floral appliques, thread, bias tapes, and two different zippers – all bought last year when I originally planned on making this dress

THE INSIDES:  All bias bound

TIME TO COMPLETE:  maybe 10 to 15 hours to make – it was finished on July 14, 2016

TOTAL COST:  Everything was bought when a Hancock Fabrics store was closing a year ago, so everything needed was bought on deep discount and amazingly just what I needed for a perfect match.  For several yards of fabric and all my notions I think I spent maybe $20.

DSC_0973a-compHollywood pattern #1773 was an amazing find at an amazing deal which was obviously too good to be true.  It was almost like hell in paper just attempting to sew it into a dress like the one on the cover.  First of all, it was in a very large size for which I had to grade out 4 inches besides taking out 4 inches from the length of the skirt hem.  However, the real problem was the fact the pattern was cut into and changed dramatically.  I really don’t know what someone was trying to do but after studying the line drawing and doing much detailed mathematics,DSC_0972a-comp I had to re-draw in about 3 to four inches added for the center front where someone cut out scalloping.  After all this, the instructions were disintegrated to the point they were in about 5 crumbly, delicate pieces.  All the instructions have now been scanned in and saved as files on my computer for a permanently safe copy.  Still, the instructions added to the multiples of problems, although I am glad that at least the tissue pattern pieces were in good shape.  Gotta be positive especially after a (finally) successful result!

Luckily, after all the trouble leading up to making this dress, sewing it was a breeze.  There are no darts in the skirt portion, as both the front and the back are cut on the bias.  The back bodice has no waist tucks and there are only two small ¼ darts at the neckline.  The front bodice has all the details, with its ten 3/8 inch tucks (five on each side) on the shoulders and two simple waist pleats (one on each side).  The sleeves are also cut on the bias and are tightly gathered at the cap tops.  This dress does have double zippers – a decorative metal one down the front neckline and one on the side at the waist.  For some reason the pattern had the front waistline dipping down low.  I sewed it like that at first, but did not like it and unpicked to level out the waist, instead.  The seam allowance gets cut off along the neck and the sleeve raw edges so as to cover with bias taping.  My prized vintage all-cotton ¼ inch bias tape from my Grandmother was used for the sleeve and neckline edges while modern store bought (yucky) poly cotton blend was used for finishing the insides.

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The appliques are my cheat-shortcut to all the hand sewing necessary to do real embroidery.  Anything more than a little hand stitching bring out my carpel tunnel issues.  The appliques I had are actually meant to be iron-on, but I merely stitched it down by hand.  I don’t want to ruin the fabric nor make it that permanent by ironing it down.  The flowers on the design remind me of Mexican Bird of Paradise (yellow), moss rose (pink), and milkweed (orange/yellow).  The two appliques which are on either side of the neckline are the largest and longest of the set – I have four other smaller half size ones that I am tempted to add on the rest of the dress.  I sort of like the simplicity of the appliques just at the neck.  I’m afraid that with the bright scarf belt, more appliques might make the whole dress look overly busy and tacky.  For now, I’ll leave it as-is.

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It was really the scarf belt that started this whole outfit.  I was so happy and surprised when I happened to find this chiffon in the same color tone and striped pattern as the on inspiration dress in the “Forties Fashion” book!  It was one of those great “Eureka!” moments that told me I needed to make this dress.  The belt is one long bias scarf cut from two opposite corners of 1 ½ yards with the raw ends finished off with a touch of fray check liquid.1936  Purple felt hat, FIT museum

My hat started out as another one of those basic one dollar non-descript pieces that I’ve re-fashioned before (here and here).  I started out by making two tapered darts about two inches apart up the crown where I chose the back to be.  Then I brought those two darts together in a tuck that extended into the brim and topstitched the excess down.  A light steaming from and iron as helped further shaped the hat.  The darts shaped the crown while the tuck brought the size smaller so it would sit higher up on my head and have that cup-like center top to the traditional ‘cone crown’ of a Tyrolean Hat (like the purple one at right from FIT museum).  To keep my hat on my head, I took a ribbon and knotted it together at the sides and used an upholstery needle to wind it down and through the straw so I can tie the hat around my hairstyle.

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This outfit so completely reminds me of some sort of summer resort wear, something meant to keep one looking great and moving comfortably in searing temperatures, and…yes, this dress does fit that bill!    I tested this out, as the day on which I wore it for these pictures was extremely, oppressively hot.  Linen is a super sweat wicking fabric, yet it kept me cool.  The linen kept absorbing the sweat off me, yet it did not feel soaked and it was a cooler temperature than I was when it was wet.  This particular linen has zero scratchiness and is lacking that “hemp-like”, raw feel which I find in many other linens…only softness so there is another high comfort here!  However, my favorite benefits are the no-see-through thickness of this linen as well as the way it does not change color or show however much I might be sweating to death, like many dark fabrics.  This linen dress definitely does not just give the impression of being cool but also helps that along.  To top things off, my hat ‘perches’ lightly on my head, keeping my hairstyle underneath pristine and cool, yet the brim is enough to keep the sun off my eyes.  I was doubtful that this outfit would be that great in steamy weather, but I am a converted believer in effortless summer fashion a la vintage with linen and straw!

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It’s funny, in the fabric stores I go to the bolts are always full and untouched when I buy linen.  The employees that cut my fabric often seem mystified that I want linen and tell me that hardly anyone buys it.  Do you wear linen?  If so, have you found it to be as lovely of a trooper for wearing as I have?  If not, what are your reservations to this natural fiber?  Why is linen overlooked as a fashion fabric?

Putting a Feather in My Hat

badge.80The title phrase for this blog post is the literal truth – I put another “feather” in my sewing “cap” of projects under my belt recently by successfully making and fitting a vintage wool hat.  Not just any hat, mind you, but a hat designated to a certain style which was popular in a particular time period -the mid 1930’s to early 1940’s Tyrolean style.

This post is counted as part of my 1940’s “Agent Carter” sew along.

100_4093a Here I’m wearing my hat with a garment that hits the midpoint in the era of this Tyrolean hat –my 1940 “Gold Diggers” style suit dress and jacket.  My hat also matches well with my 1937 peacock blouse, for another option of pairing the hat with something from the very beginning of the Tyrolean style.

From all I can tell off of old fashion plates and catalogs, as well as what I have read from books and other bloggers, the Germanic/Bavarian/Tyrolean Cultural style lasted from about 1935 to the end of the war, 1945-ish.  There is a wonderful blog post here at “The Vintage Traveler” were this fashion is expounded upon and explained better than any attempt of my own.  I perfectly agree with the author of “The Vintage Traveler” that the Germanic styles lasted because of a very basic reason – it was popular before the war, then the war-time shortages forced it to stay.  If a lady had a wardrobe of these styles when WWII broke out, she wasn’t going to acquire many new styles and/or fabric for the next several years, so those were the clothes she had to wear.  However, I would also like to share my strong suspicion that this fashion prevailed before and around WWII because of the amount of fashion designers fleeing into America to escape ethnic isolation and persecution going on in their homeland territory.  See this link (or see We Sew Retro’s review) that will show you an exhibit about one such designer. Those designers seemed to strike a cord with the Hollywood industry (becoming popular with actresses like Marlene Dietrich).  The Tyrolean/Bavarian style was also regarded as exciting with its new, fresh styles of easy button front dirndl skirts, fun jumpers, and bright colored fashions bringing back a youthful ideal from overseas in our very own America.

THE FACTS:Vogue 8175, yr 2005

FABRIC:  My Tyrolean hat is made from an 100% wool felt, in a golden heathered yellow tan.

NOTIONS:  None needed to be bought; everything was on hand.  All I used was thread (the same color used for my linen 1920s tunic), a ribbon (which was easy, as I have a generous ribbon stash), and a feather I’ve had on hand for a while to use on a hat.

PATTERN:  Vogue 8175, year 2005, (now out-of-print).  Beautiful cover pictures, Vogue!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  With only three simple pieces in this pattern, it was together in the blink of an eye and took me only 3 hours from start to finish – 45 minutes to sew the crown and brim together, an hour to hand sew the brim’s hem, and just over an hour for the cutting out, sewing on the inner band, and other finishing touches.  It was completed on October 25, 2014.

TOTAL COST:  The full price of the wool felt, bought from JoAnn’s, was $20 a yard, but I had a coupon for half price, and I only bought half of a yard, so my total cost was only $5.00.  Making my hat only used up half of what I bought, so in reality I actually only spent $2.50!  How’s that for dirt cheap pricing for high quality?!

Millinery skills are my new ‘thing’…another world yet unexplored for me, at least as successfully as this time.  You see, I have actually made two hats before.  Several years ago, I had made a basic fleece hat, which did turn out very well, except the plaid print does not go with much in my wardrobe so I haven’t worn it.  That fleece hat did provide some faith in my potential for hat crafting.  Flashback to sixteen years ago when I had bought some very nice winter suiting fabric and planned on making a matching “tulip shaped” skirt and “bucket style” hat set.  The skirt half of the project was finished perfectly, and I still wear it nowadays.  The hat, however, was also made perfectly…only it didn’t fit.  Boo hoo!  It was lined and interfaced, and lots of time and details were put into that hat.   When I was done it was way too huge and too well made to be picked apart and salvaged.  Frustrated and devastated, I ended up giving it away (now I wish I had kept it), and have only now regained my hat making confidence again with my wool felt Tyrolean hat.  Enough said!

100_4070 With a pattern this easy and simple, at first I was doubtful as to how it would work out.  As you can see above, it takes only three simple, unusual shaped pieces to become something amazing in no time at all!  The rectangle sort of piece with the notch in it is the crown, and the crescent is the brim, and the tiny band is the loop for my feather.  The brim piece gets a dart along its length (if you look closely you can see it marked on the felt).  Then you sew together the long ends on each side of the square notch.  Next, that notch turns into the crown’s asymmetric side pleat/indentation by opening it up a different way and sewing it together.  That’s it!  It magically turns into the crown as you see it on me and the pattern envelope cover.  For the brim, the slanted ends get folded under before it is attached to the crown.  This part was tricky, but still much easier than expected with the brim and crown matching up and fitting perfectly.

I was wary of the sizing, and actually terrified I was going to choose the wrong size.  I looked up about how and where on the head to measure your head size for hats and measured my head accordingly.  I ended up with a measurement of about 22 or 22 1/2 inches, which was no big surprise as I have noticed labels on the inside of my vintage hats listing the same sizing.  This Vogue #8175 pattern is divided into small (21 1/2), medium (22 1/2), and large (23 1/2) sizes.  I went for the medium size and – bingo! – perfect fit.

100_4103GoodGirlsGotoParis cafe scene-a After much discussion together with a sewing friend of mine who knows about hat making, I opted for a wireless brim edge and I am quite happy with my decision.  As an example, the actress Joan Blondell wears a Tyrolean flared hat very similar to my own in the 1939 movie “Good Girls Go to Paris” (see her in the middle of the left picture). Joan Blondell’s hat was rained on, smashed, rolled up, and generally beat up, but she would pull on her hat, fold it into shape, and it still looked good.  Now, I’m not saying I want my hat to go through the treatment her hat received, but I get the general idea that these hats are supposed to be easy care, easy wear items that have shape, but do not keep that shape by means of stiff, constrictive support.  Besides, the wool felt fabric I used for my hat is so very luxurious, tight, and finely made that it is supple yet able to keep its shape at the same time.  Hand sewing under 1/4 inch hem on the edge of the brim took me longer than sewing the hat together, but I ended up with a very nice appearance, especially after it was ironed.  This hat’s edge is the perfect lightly stable finish to match with the rest of what the hat has going for it…effortless style!  Vintage truly does things right!

100_4097a I did fudge a bit on the inner ribbon band.  Proper vintage hats should technically have Petersham ribbon, which gives the correct flexibility and fiber content to provide the best support and authenticity.  Apparently you’re supposed to iron the ribbon into the curve of a smile as pre-shaping before sewing it into a hat – this way there are no wrinkles in the close of the curve which you get with ribbon or grosgrain.  However, I was impatient to have my hat finished and be able to wear it, especially when it was coming together so quickly.  I did not want to wait the amount of time necessary to order some Petersham ribbon, and find myself agonizing at the mailbox every day just so I can wear my new hat.  At some point, I do want to order some Petersham ribbon and do an inner crown’s band properly.  For this hat, I chose some wide ivory satin ribbon and hand-stitched it on, easing in the wrinkles.  It still looks nice inside, but like I said, I’ll do better on my next hat.  Hey, listen…I’m talking about making more hats!  Keep watching my blog.

100_4101 My hat’s feather comes from a mystery bird, as far as I know.  I’m guessing it’s a turkey feather.  I bought it from a vendor’s tent at a “Lewis and Clark” 1812 Historical encampment which we visited a few years ago.  I had bought another, second, even more interesting feather, to be added onto a “Jane Austen” era bonnet of mine.  Only thing is, that second fancy feather had been eaten up by an insect, and this smaller one I used for my hat was the one I have left.  I didn’t know bugs liked feathers.  If anyone can recognize the bird my hat’s feather comes from, leave me a comment and enlighten me, please.

Once you feel that you can make hats, it opens up a whole new facet of the vintage world.  Now you can perfectly compliment and complete that vintage garment you sewed up with a hat that suits the individual’s taste, wardrobe needs, and sizing.  No more biting the bullet to fork out a lot of dough on an old original for sale – most vintage hat patterns I have seen take about 1/2 yard or less, so you can generally get some very nice fabric for a decent (if not cheap) price.  Making something yourself is sensible in more ways than one.

From my experience, I think hats seem so much more intimidating than they really are, and once you actually get into making one (as long as the sizing is right) you’ll be happily surprised.  After this Tyrolean hat was finished, I know I found myself saying over and over again, “This was it?  It’s done already?  Look at how great it looks!  I can’t believe I made a hat!”  Everyone deserves to have a sense of this proud amazement over what they make.  I have a suspicion it comes from successfully completing a challenging and unusual sewing project.  By overcoming my fear of not being able to do a certain skill, I have found a way to indeed add another “feather in my cap”…the first of others, hopefully!

There are more views of my wool Tyrolean hat on my Flickr page.