“Wilderness Stripes” – A 1944 Day Dress and a Hat Re-fashion

The varied colors of the forest are layered like a sedimentary rock in this year 1944 dress I made. Earth tones, leaf tones, and a basic white found on mushrooms or in the sky can be found on my casual and comfy vintage dress. For a complete outfit, there is even a special hat re-fashion I made to match…one with an open brim which now lets the sunlight in! Hint, hint, there is something also very forest related in plain view on my dress – look at my close-ups and if you’re not a pro at seek-and-find I’ll reveal it down later 😉

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This dress is such an effortless piece, more like a past make, my 1945 “Daily Life” dress.  Having a dress (and hat) that looks nice while making me relaxed enough to play in the outdoors (where I enjoy myself the most) is indispensable to one like me that adores vintage fashion.

The soft rayon is a dream to wear and the pockets are so fun and utilitarian. Style features on the pattern I used are rather unique to one made from “Hollywood” or “Du Barry” pattern brands. No classic ‘40’s blousy waist with gathered shoulders’ or ‘slim lean shape’ here – only tailored darts, unfussy seams, and basic simplicity (many other “Hollywood” and “Du Barry” patterns I see are princess-style fitted and traditional convertible collars). The Rayon print I chose is bright, and makes the most of my pattern and my sewing capabilities with its stripes.

100_6322-cut-compMy dress, hat re-fashion, and shoes are all late war, mid- 1940’s. It is also more of a youthful, almost “junior” look, especially with the hat (more down later). That youthful aura is ‘saved’ by the totally edgy and adult wedge sandals with studs. Footwear with platform soles, with studs, and in sandal form were a fashion forward trend in the 1940’s (see Lauren‘s blog post here for more) in some part brought on by rationing (see this ad here or this Time Life picture of alternative material shoes from 1943).  Although accurate, my shoes are new re-makes (“Cherub” by “White Mountain” brand – most comfy and soft and in real suede).

THE FACTS:

FABRIC: a 100% rayon challis for the dress; a 100% paper hat for my re-fashion, bought ready-to-wear100_6213a-comp

NOTIONS: The thread, bias tapes, and shoulder pads sewn into this dress were from on hand already. The side zipper was newly bought to match, and the buttons are a vintage find purchased a few months back. The hat’s ribbon was from my stash on hand

PATTERN: Du Barry #5840, year 1944. (DuBarry were a branch of Simplicity patterns, printed for about 15 years and sold only at Woolworth ‘five and dime’ stores, info from here.)

TIME TO COMPLETE: Total sewing time was probably 10 hours, but contemplating the layout before cutting must have taken 2 hours in itself. The dress was finished on October 1, 2015.

THE INSIDES: Inside is a combo of some French seams with mostly bias bound seams.

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TOTAL COST: Not counting the buttons (since they were bought a while back, and just to have on hand), my dress cost me a total of about $12 or less for about 2 ½ yards of clearance fabric, the bought notions, and hat.Aug. 21, 1943 ad for General Tire in the Saturday Evening Post

As neat as my dress turned out, I originally intended on the stripes in the fabric to go vertically up and down on my dress rather than how they are horizontally. It was an embarrassingly brainless mistake…I was so completely wrapped up in making sure the stripes all lined up and adding on the slight grading needed, I forgot to change the direction of the stripes. Duh! Oh well, I still totally like it, I’m just frustrated I didn’t see what was in my face. It’s hard for me to admit, but clueless moments do happen and at least I didn’t make a mistake that rendered my dress unwearable…finding those ”silver linings”, you know!  Now my dress’ stripes are more like the one seen in the 1943 General Tire ad at right.

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Making my first “Du Barry” pattern was a happy experience. The dress construction was super easy (yes, even though it’s an unprinted pattern) and I liked the instruction sheet. Nevertheless, I found the sizing to be very large, as in a whole size too large, at least. I had to bring in the side seams about 1 inch on each side and the dress is still generous on the top potion. The hem too was very long – I had to make a 6 inch hem to get my dress the length you see. A hem this large would never have been war-time ration acceptable, I know. As my first “Du Barry” creation, I can’t say anything definitively but I wonder if this is a tendency of this line of patterns. Does anyone else know…what do you think about “Du Barry” sizing?

Here’s another question – have you figured out the forest item which is on my dress? It’s100_6320a-comp my vintage buttons! They’re like giant acorns. The way they are grooved reminds me of the stripes in my dress. They also match with the era, as well as matching theme-wise. On a practical scale, there were three of these acorn buttons (just what I needed) and the only remotely matching color on hand. They are not really “working buttons”, as my dress is loose enough with such an open neck that I sewed down the front by merely stitching them down through all layers. Nevertheless, these acorn buttons are a special find, very pretty, and a nice statement piece.

I could not for the life of me decide what to do when it came to choosing what bias tape to use to enclose the raw edge of the neckline (as the instructions recommend doing). Do I want the possibility of the bulk and further stripe craziness with self-fabric bias taping? Maybe. Do I want a contrast? No, I didn’t want to highlight just one color from the print and limit the sweaters, belts, shoes and accessories which I could wear with it. Thus, in the end, I abandoned all of my ideas, stitching bias tape down and turned it under like facing. It sort of makes a blunt finished edge which I’m not sure if I like, but I didn’t decide what exactly to do. The neckline is nicely simple and dramatically open with a nice finish inside, so it good enough for me for now. There might be changes to the neckline in the future.100_6319-comp

Check out those pockets! Could something so useful be so neat? Yeah, only in the 1940’s. My dress’ skirt stripes are matched across under the pockets (quite hard to get right). Harder sewing techniques are only seen as a challenge to me, one which hopefully improves my skills and learning with each attempt.

100_4868-compMy hat was such an easy and cheap re-fashion. It was bought for one freaking cheap dollar anyway! Luckily it was actually paper to make it a bit more authentic, since straw imported from Italy ceased in 1940. Luckier still, the hat was assembled of woven strips stitched together so my refashion was simply a matter of unpicking thread from the crown to a certain point. The thread used for the stitching on the hat was thick cotton thread, and what I unpicked has been saved for use at a subsequent time.

100_6323-compBrowsing through the info and pictures on “Vintage Dancer” blog (page here), I decided I wanted a sort of cross between a “Roller Hat” and a “Bonnet Hat”, with an open crown. Once I unpicked the hat to make the new open-crown, I had several ideas of how to accessorize the hat but liked them all so I went non-committal and simply have the ribbon as you see it pinned into place inside. You’re probably thinking, “There she goes again with more indecision.” I figured it was a matter of which outfit I wanted it to go with or which “look” I wanted. The simplicity of the wrap-around ribbon style you see goes well with my bold, busy dress print. However, I also had planned on having the ribbon end pinned at the center front crown, then going across the top of my head to separate and tie in a bow at the back crown, but this only made me appear as a 1940’s school girl junior (cute, but not exactly what I wanted). I was also tempted to further the forest theme by adding on a corsage decoration of leaves and such to my hat, but no – I’ll make a floral corsage at some point, I think, but pair it with another outfit. There are so many styles and options with 40’s hats, I’m envisioning more effortless hat re-fashions such as this one for me to make in the future.100_6312-comp

There is a literal wilderness out there of ideas, inspiration, pictures, patterns, fabrics, and techniques when it comes to the realm of sewing. It can be hard to swim through it and find what fits for you and your particular project, like me trying to decide how exactly to refashion my hat or make my dress. Enjoying the process and just going for what seems best works for me…but it is intimidating that there is so much fun and creative things to do with so little time! What do you like to conquer in that ‘sewing wilderness’ – challenging techniques, tricky fabric prints, detailed designs, or novel ideas? I enjoy making anything, but specifically relish in sewing projects with a relaxed lived-in, easy comfort and fine details. What makes you happy to sew?

Going Back to a Past (1940’s) Challenge

For last week’s ‘Challenge of Re-Doing a Past Theme’ I choose the week of May 21st to go back and fulfill – ‘the 1940’s Challenge’. This was a rather easy submission, as I sewed my dress in the late summer/early fall of the year 2011. However, this suit-style, collared dress was my first in a new obsession with vintage patterns, and, as it turned out so well, I have worn it A LOT since it was made. It looks so good with a pristine head topper from my old hat collection…and gloves!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC: linen-look rayon/poly blend (the fabric is very soft, rather classic looking, and has a nice texture) from stash, so basically free

NOTIONS: bought matching thread and bias tape and a zipper. The cost? not much…maybe $6

PATTERN: Simplicity #2744, year 1949, bought at a vintage clothing store for $4; I picked this pattern out, along with a few others, when out shopping on my Birthday…it was a gift for myself!

FIRST WORN: to the city’s Saturday (Soulard) Farmer’s market

TIME TO COMPLETE: maybe 10 hours- I took my time to enjoy sewing this, wanting to do it right and making sure I was following the instructions…what’s a slide fastener’ anyone?!?

As with vintage patterns, it only had one size, and this one was the size I needed for my bust. I figured it would be an easy fix to adjust it to give me more room in my hips and waist. If I can’t grade up like a traditional “modern” pattern, I will do it myself!  Well – to my surprise – the pattern been used already by someone who knew what they were doing and someone who was also my exact size. How do I know? The pattern pieces had been cut out by a pinking shears (I don’t think they’re all that popular anymore though I do use mine on occasion). The pieces had also been sliced and folded open in all the right places to add in 1 1/2 inches – just what I needed. My work was done for me, already. This was a first!

Simplicity 2744 was a joy to sew together, quite easy and straightforward. I didn’t even have to do any interfacing. It was surprising that not even the collar was supposed to be interfaced according to the instructions. At first I was going to do interfacing anyway, but I thought, “if it worked for women in the 40’s, I’ll try to be authentic, too”. I do not know if the lack of interfacing was due to America crawling out from a World War or the fact pattern companies wanted something very simple for a housewife to throw together. Perhaps specifically saying to add interfacing was taken for granted – women of those knew what needed to be done and didn’t need to be told. The collar did turn out extremely well. It lays very flat, doesn’t bunch up without interfacing, and fits so very nicely onto the dress neckline.

As you can see in the picture, I added carriers to my dress so I can wear a belt, with the back carriers in a fancy crisscrossed X shape. Completely my idea…

The only problems I had sewing this were pretty minor: the fabric and the sleeves. I am glad I covered most ALL of my seams with bias tape because the fabric was shredding everywhere and was sort of a mess. My sleeves had way too big of an ease to fit in the armhole, and no amount of stretching or gathering could help me get the two to fit at all together. At that point, I took it upon myself to add small pleats, every 2 inches, across the top shoulder cap of each sleeve. Then the sleeves sewed in nicely and I am very happy with the result. I think it is much better over some messy, forced gathering. Look closely in the above picture and you should be able to see what I did.

What is funny are the instructions to use a ‘slide fastener’ sewn under the armhole along the side seam. I just used a zipper instead. If anyone reading this knows what a slide fastener was, please let me know.

The bust – which was the only part of the dress I expected to fit when I was done – was still big. Maybe it was meant to be worn with those war time body shaping underwear forms. (Those were all designed by men, by the way, and the Hollywood actresses that wore them cursed them as torture. I’m thinking of the bra designed by Howard Hughes for Jane Russell in the 1943 movie The Outlaw). Nevertheless, to fit the modern ME, I sewed in the darts to fit, extending them all the way to under the collar very much like princess seams.

Now it is a circus trick to wiggle in AND out of the dress, between the close fitting bust and the small side zipper. Oh well! This dress looks great and fits quite comfortably once it is on myself. I can pretty much wear this dress all year, too, because of the fabric. My husband always tells me how good I look when I wear this, so there’s a good incentive to put this on frequently!

Enjoy your Holiday sewing everyone!

P.S. I don’t plan on wearing something like this underwear with my vintage dresses anytime soon, just to make them fit. Behold the 40’s and the 50’s undressed below…

This display in the picture above is from an exhibit called “Underneath It All” going on at our city’s History Museum. It is a very interesting display on the “distinct changes in the fashionable silhouette of women’s dress over the decades, made possible by undergarments.” It is tastefully done, and begins with the Pre-French Revolution/Colonial era dress up to modern ‘barely there’ times. As a sewer of vintage clothes, I really appreciated this and learned a lot.