Winter “Petal” Gown

One of the main things I miss the most during winter is the lack of blooming beauties of nature.  How’s a warm-weather-loving girl supposed to survive months without green grass, pretty flowers, and the comforting sound of rustling leaves?  Even still, I will admit their dormant and withered state has its own loveliness.  Winter’s withered vegetation holds onto its amazing potential for future blossoming under the cloak of an unassuming, bland, natural-toned exterior.  Scientific explanations aside, it is rather like an annual miracle, a kind of superpower, if you think about it in a child’s point of view.  Let me celebrate the awesomeness of nature in winter through some high fashion for this year’s “Designin’ December” challenge, sponsored by Linda at “Nice dress! Thanks, I made it!!” blog.  I am channeling the great American couturier Charles James, and hopefully looking like a drooping but elegant winter petal doing so, with my muses being two famous gowns from circa 1950. 

The way I understand it, there are definite phases in Charles James’ life.  In the 1930s, he had moved from millinery to making garments, designing pieces ahead of his time inventing wrap dresses and “sculptural fashion” such as a futuristic puffer jackets.  He also took control of the Charles James brand by licensing his company under his name in 1935.  In the 1940s, James made important marketing connections, working with Elizabeth Arden, Lord & Taylor, and Bergdorf Goodman as well as being photographed by the famous Cecil Beaton for Vogue.  “Mathematical tailoring combined with the flow of drapery is his forte,” Vogue noted of James in 1944, as he continued offering luxurious dresses despite war-time rationing, at times even using inventive fabrics.  Then, there is the man of his first (of two) COTY award of 1950 in which his work was defined by over-the-top, 10-something pound full-skirted evening gowns – equipped with caging and immense boning since they were almost always bare shouldered – that only high society’s wealthiest women could afford.  This last and most defining period of his design is what I am channeling with my sewing, although I think the first 30’s portion had the greater talent because I respect the avant-garde.  Charles James retired in 1958 and died in 1978.

Unfortunately, I cannot personally connect to either time period of James’ life, as he is not remotely on my list of favorite designers.  It has been said he would lock his seamstresses in his shop if he felt they were not “working hard enough”, and being the fiery personality and obsessive perfectionist that he was, made very few friends he could keep.  Between his irresponsibility in financial matters and his inability to ever deliver an order on time to a client, I feel too distracted by the drama of his life’s story to fully appreciate his work, and I do not welcome the erotic undertones he subtly included in his dresses.  By all means, nevertheless, please do your own research on the life, the works, and ingenuity of Charles James so you can make your own opinion.

His design house did not outlive him so he is not known as well as his genius warrants.  Charles James was an influence not worthy of being so largely unacknowledged.  He inspired the likes of Christian Dior, Salvador Dalí, and Balenciaga while Chanel and Schiaparelli (one of my top favorite designers) were included in his exclusive list of clients.  Thus, I admire his work and ingenuity enough that some of his creations warrant my saving pictures of them for remembering later.  Other things he is famous for actually repel me – I must respect my natural reaction.  Thus, it is a big deal for me to even be attempting this designer imitation in the first place.  Do not anticipate any other direct Charles James inspiration to be seen here again on my blog, unless I happen to remake James’ famous “Taxi” dress of 1932.  So enjoy this probable one-off Charles James appreciation post here, and come delight with me in the monotone loveliness of nature in winter.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% cotton thick novelty ribbed velveteen, lined in a poly crepe, for the top and a polyester nubby ivory shantung for the bottom half of my outfit

PATTERNS:  Simplicity #1409, a year 1955 original, from my personal pattern stash, for the ‘petal’ top and a Butterick “Retro” #4919, year 2006 reprint of a 1952 pattern (originally Butterick #6338) for the skirt portion

NOTIONS:  lots of thread, bias tape, and two zippers                                                           

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The shantung dress worn as a skirt was finished on April 9, 2021 in 15 hours while my bodice was finished on December 16, 2021 after 16 hours (8 hours hand stitching, 5 hours by machine, and 3 hours of re-drafting the pattern).

THE INSIDES:  My top is fully lined while the shantung part has its raw edges zig-zagged over to reduce fraying

TOTAL COST:  The novelty velvet for the top was a remnant found on clearance at JoAnn fabric store at $4 for 7/8 of a yard.  Lining for the velvet was a no-cost choice – it was a bed sheet originally and leftover from sewing this 90’s era sundress.  The shantung was bought 10 years back from a local store, which is out-of-business now, so I no longer remember the cost.  I did buy 4 yards of the shantung and I always bought fabric from that store on some sort of discount…maybe I spent $7 a yard.

The iconic “petal dress” of 1951, in cream and olive toned satin, was my main inspiration ever since I happened to acquire my Simplicity #1409 pattern.  The pointed hip detail was an unmistakable reference.  James described the the dress as a “curving stem of velvet…above 25 yards of blowing, billowing (silk) taffeta.”  According to the Chicago History Museum, which has a black and white version in its collection, “If James were not so clever, the Petal’s twenty-five yards of material would have created an undesirable bulk at the waist. He solved this by stitching most of the material to petal-shaped hip panels and only one layer to the waist seam.” It makes the torso appear as an upside down stalk, with the hip points being what is technically called the “sepal” to flowering plants, with the skirt becoming the petals.

Later, I happened to stumble across an image of another Charles James dress from the year 1950 on which the red velvet bodice had the same “W” notched neckline as my Simplicity #1409.  This red and white Charles James dress was famously worn by Mrs. Barbara Paley, the wife of the founder of CBS, as well as Mrs. Dominique de Menil, a rich art patron in Texas, besides being featured in the 2014 “Charles James: Beyond Fashion” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute.  Now I had a stronger reason to blend both features together, just as the pattern has it, which was actually just the way I liked it!  I noticed that both had velvet bodices and know that both have much more complex technical detailing than I realize from only looking at pictures.  I was not doing anything that couture in the one week I had to recreate this.  There was also a black and white variations James made of this inspiration dress, as well (see it here).  However, I gravitate towards James’ versions with more color.  My intent with my simpler, blended version here was merely to do my best work and capture the spirit of both dresses in one.

My dual inspiration garments were both dresses, but here I have turned my interpretation into a two-piece set.   You’d never guess, would you?!?  Charles James was inventive and came up with unusual combinations, so I thought my choice might be (remotely) along his way of thinking.  A big difference between us might be the way I was driven by a desire for versatility and practical finery, and not a desire for pure extravagance with my ‘copy’.  Only this month (yes, very last minute), when I decided on this particular designer project, it struck me that a vintage 1952 dress I sewed in ivory shantung earlier this year was the perfect color and silhouette for pairing with a Charles James “petal” dress look-alike.  Wearing it skirt-style, with the wrapped bodice portion hanging inside, saved me the time and money, and is just what I wanted anyway!  The full dress will receive its own post very soon because it is just so good, so versatile when worn as intended, and a sneaky movie costume look-alike, too.  It is a 4 seamed full circle skirt with a wrap bodice which is the most useful evening gown you could ever want.  I am ecstatic over it…but for now, the ‘skirt’ will not be addressed anymore in this post.  So stay tuned!

I have actually been sitting on this Charles James inspired project for the last few years.  There is a perfect time for every one of my sewing projects – I let inspiration happen when it naturally comes or when my free time allows.  Up until now, the tweaking that my chosen pattern needed as well as the lack of easily finding the “perfect” fabric has together discouraged me from tackling this idea.  The pattern I had for the ‘petal’ blouse was a Junior misses (teenager) pattern in petite proportions as well as a tiny bust-waist-hips ratio.  It needed dramatic resizing before being useable for me.  I had to trace the two bodice pieces out to tissue paper and cut, splice, and tape it all back together into something for my measurements.  I wanted the set-in shoulders to hug the outer point of my real shoulders so I cut and spread open the sides of the neckline to adapt.  The original red 1950 gown hugs the end of the shoulders but has a flap-like collar, too, while the classic “petal” gown is mere skinny straps – neither were to my taste.  I always stick to my personal preference first over any desire to copy verbatim any original – no matter how good that may be.  

I made so many tweaks and customizations to my tissue paper pattern ‘copy’ I feel as if it is my design now more than something directly owed to the original vintage pattern.  I recognize that my chosen pattern is from a date which is several years later from the Charles James original inspiration dresses, but he was fashion forward and home sewing companies no doubt had their hands full keeping up with all the great designs that were exploding right and left during the 1950s.  I have read from reputable sources that Charles James ‘revived’ the Petal design in 1958 as a ready-to-wear dress for the junior market, but I have yet to find solid proof of this.  So I guess my Simplicity pattern from 1955 was both ahead and behind for its time, coming after the original 1949 Petal dress but before James’ release for teenagers.

As I mentioned above, my favorite (and the one I see the most) of the “petal” dress has a sort of brownish, earthy, green velvet bodice.  I had a novelty velvet on hand, only recently bought, that was an olive-toned tan with an ombré sheen – very deluxe looking and close enough in reference.  It is obvious Charles James apparently liked working with velvet, and his 50’s era creations were highly structured.  I figured this thick ribbed material – which was almost like a heavy corduroy – would be very suitable.  I did not bone the seams or add any internal structure to the bodice because of the sturdy weight of my velvet.  I figure I can come back and add boning channels with some hand stitching if I choose to at a later date.  Inside is merely a lightweight lining to give it a fine finish and smooth feel against my skin.  The lining also helps stop the way the raw edges were disintegrating into little fuzzy lint balls everywhere I was working.  It was a messy project that definitely added to our normal household amount of dust.  It turned out looking so cleanly tailored when finally finished, though!

I expected this velvet bodice was going to be easy-to-make – so I thought.  There were only two pattern pieces, few seams, and the pattern (since it was re-drafted by me) was exactly my size now but it became a beast that I could hardly bear to finish.  The points of the hem and the neckline, the sharp curves around the arm openings, and a mirrored pairing of the lining with its velvet bodice all severely tested my normal desire for perfectionism.  I did so very much hand stitching on everything but the internal darts and right (zipper free) side seam for the sake of my said desire for perfection…I guess I am not too completely unrelated to Charles James as I may think. 

My fingers have never before been so sore and torn up from the hand stitching through the layers of tough velvet…I was to the point of tears only halfway though.  At the same time, I am never very comfortable using a metal thimble and would rather adapt my stitching strategy by using a different finger.  I tore up the skin of almost four fingertips by the time I was finished.  Yet, I have a boundless determination to not leave my sewing projects hanging.  I try not to have unfinished endeavors.  I also had a deadline for it to be part of the “Designin’ December” challenge!  As you can see, I powered through, with stitches that are not as perfect as I might have liked but still finely done, for a top which turned out just as wonderful as I had happily imagined.

Additional versions (circa 1953) of the Charles James dress originally worn by Babe Paley – see the Victorian influence?!

Early on, the hip hem points vaguely reminded me of Tinker Bell, the fairy in Disney’s 1953 animated Peter Pan movie.  Fairies are forest creatures and protectors of the woods, after all and often modeled after flowers in the visual arts.  Even more so, though, my two inspiration dresses are very much reminiscent of the elegant open necklines, close fitting bodices, liberal use of luxurious material, and artful skirt drapery of women’s older historical clothing.  The Victorian bustle era, 1850s caged skirts, the 18th century court gowns with hip panniers, and the corseted shaping of the Edwardian period all were sources of inspiration for the 1940s and 50’s gowns created by Charles James.   He just did a more modern, individualistic interpretation of those old styles, but the principles of boning, caging, draping, and overall artful reshaping the female figure are still there.  Every famous quote from every other designer about wearing a dress – such as “What is important in a dress is the woman who is wearing it” by Yves Saint Laurent or “It’s not about the dress you wear but it’s about the life you lead in the dress” by Diana Vreeland – is blown away by the overwhelming power of a Charles James frock.

My personal recreation is nowhere as extreme as what the courtier who was my inspiration would have chosen, although I am wearing a heavily boned original 1950s body fitting brassiere underneath.  Comparing my version to the original dress, I am now also half-wishing I had worn a couple of my floofy 50’s petticoats underneath instead of just one.  My outfit seemed very grand with a grandly swishy skirt when I was wearing it for these photos – I was knocking things over!  As I’ve mentioned before, this is meant to be my practical, made-in-one-week, using-what-was-on-hand version of something extremely high fashion.  Since this turned out something less dramatic than the original yet still immediately recognizable, I am very still proud I was able to pull off what I did.  I am very proud I worked through the pain and trouble to perfect those points, corners, and invisible hand stitching, too.

This was a tough sewing project for me to end the year on, but one that – just like my other “Designing December” entries from past years – is something which ends my year of sewing on a grand note.  It’s like going out in fireworks to have my last project of the year be about attaining for myself those seemingly unattainable designer pieces I languish over as a photo on my computer.  Now all I need is an excuse of some event to wear this glamorous outfit somewhere…soon!  Petals are the showiest part of a flower after all, and this “Petal” set is just begging to be seen at a dinner party or dance somewhere.  I will be a walking bouquet!  Until then, this dress will be only live vicariously through this blog post.  So I’ll send off 2021 with my special “Petal” outfit, to offer some natural beauty for entering into the cold and quiet darkness I despise about January.  I wish you a New Year a peace, health, beauty, and happiness.  

Tree Skirt

As much as I love Christmas trees, I am always so drawn by what is under them…and I don’t just mean the presents!  I mean the displays of nativity scenes, tiny winter dioramas, scale train sets, or even just a tree skirt that is made out of a fantastic material.  Every tree is as special and wonderful as each one of us are!  So here I am imitating the tree as well as staying warm “in the bleak mid-winter”, all the while finding a way to be fancy for the big holiday with this ankle-length, uber-full, 3-tiered, velveteen skirt.  It is a plush forest green color accented with delicate gold mesh ribbon trim…to me, a wearable version of all the glitz and glamour I love about a Christmas conifer!  Worn with a metallic yarn sweater (not made by me), poinsettias, and even ornaments, I am the second tree, I suppose.

This over-a-decade old skirt project is something I am quite proud to still be wearing.  This was a something I made for a Christmas circa 2006.  I realize it is often frowned upon to both keep and wear clothes for this long, but my skirt is made so well (not specifically meaning to brag), nicely treated (it gets worn maybe twice a year around Christmas, thus in newly made condition), and is a such a basic design that I feel is perennially elegant.  Besides…it still fits me anyway! 

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a cotton blend velveteen lined in pastel mint green poly

PATTERN:  McCall’s #5005 pattern for skirts, year 2005

THE INSIDES:  cleanly serged (overlocked)

From what I remember this was an easy make that became challenging due to the copious amount of fabric (3 yards in total) and all the gathering.  How I afforded that many yards of fabric back then I don’t remember so I must have found it at a steal of a price or convinced my mom to pitch in for me.  This is a really nice, heavy, fluffy velvet that makes you want to cuddle up with it.  I was on a velvet “kick” back then (see this wine velveteen skirt I also made way back) and I still have some of my acquisitions from that fabric buying high sitting in current stash, so one winter yet I will go on another spree of sewing more velvet creations.

As usual, I adapted the pattern.  My change only was to make my life easier back then because I was not 100% comfortable with zippers, much less invisible ones.  I went a size up higher for what had been a faced, form-fitting waistline of the top panel so that I could add elastic to make it a pull-on skirt instead.  There is a casing to my skirt with elastic for only the sides and back ¾ of the waistline so that the center front over the belly could be smooth and bulk-free.  In hindsight, I am glad I made a waistline that is adjustable – because of it I’m probably able to wear this for 12-something years.  However, I did not bother to finish off the top edge of the waistline because I really never tucked things in to my skirts or pants at that time (I mostly liked to wear stuff at my hips as a teen, anyway).  Now that I do tuck more tops in and am not as afraid of a defined waist, and wish I had bothered to take the extra time to do that art of my skirt better “just in case” my style changed.  Oh well, the rest of the skirt was done nicely!

My second major change was to make the bottom third panel of the skirt longer.  I did not like the idea of the bottom tier being an obnoxious ruffle, which is the way it would have been had I stuck to the pattern as-is.  By lengthening the third row, it appears to be more like another panel to the skirt rather than a hem ruffle, besides making it the elegant ankle length I wanted.  I am so glad I made this adaptation.  This skirt brings out the inner princess in me the way it swoops, swishes, and covers a staircase when I walk down steps.  When I hold my skirt up to turn or walk sometimes, it reminds me of the way Cinderella or Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” hold their dresses up while dancing.  Twirling is especially great in this skirt…the sweep is tremendous!  I suppose I’ll never grow out of my old childhood dress-up dreams!

As velveteen (just like corduroy) has the tendency to “stick” to other materials worn both over and under it, I fully lined the inside of the skirt with a slimmer two-piece bias skirt out of the mint colored polyester.  The lining’s A-line shape does not match the width of the velvet skirt, I know, but a full underskirt would have only poufed out my velvet skirt in a way that would not have made it as wearable, only more costume-y.  The slim lining skirt underneath lets the gathers hang on their own and actually keeps my body heat in nicely.  I can totally wear some skinny knit pants under this skirt when it is really cold out and no one would know the better.  Between the poly lining and velvet, dressing up doesn’t mean I have to compromise class.

I don’t exactly remember how I cut the velvet out, but I must have cut each of the tiered panels on a different nap.  This is something I would never do today, but I do quite like it on this skirt.  Because the plush of the velvet brushes a different way, each panel has a slightly variable color to it.  The middle panel especially has a frosted overtone to it that I love because it reminds me of the most picturesque part of winter – snow!

I really don’t frown upon my older and earlier makes even though I shake my head to see how far I’ve come and smile at the same time to see how I appreciate my work at any level.  I like them nonetheless for not being up to my current sewing standards.  I’ll admit, I had a “thing” in the 2000s for skirts that were flowing and feminine due to bias cut panels, ruffles, gathers (like this one), and all in longer lengths, more so than today.  However, three rectangles of fabric can’t be that old-fashioned (can they?) and the 90’s and 2000 look is coming back today in conjunction with the 70’s hippie style, anyway.  So here’s to rocking your own personal style in handmade fashion from whatever skill level you are!  You made it…be proud of that and own the fact you created something wonderful.  Respect those older sewing makes.  Christmas is a time (besides many other things) for me to celebrate family and memories, and wearing this skirt lets me dress up in comfort while remembering my past and ruminating over the present.

I hope all of you had a wonderful, joyous Christmas that filled your heart and your mind with good memories, peace, and happiness.  From my family, to you and yours – warm Holiday wishes!

The Outfit of a Christmas Past

Some of my pre-blogging outfits are like ghosts peeking out to appall my current taste in clothes when they are seen from a less frequently visited garment rack or out of a storage bin.  Others, in good number, are still worn by me and occasionally trickle visually onto my blog.  These ones are the ultimate tried and true standbys in my closet, and although I have some reservations about them deserving to be on my blog, this site does feature things I made and if these garments have lasted me this long…hey I’ll give them their moment in the spotlight!

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Here’s a Christmas outfit I made for myself back in 2006.  I must say this is one I am still quite proud of – besides, it has good memories attached.  My aunt’s house was being featured in a Christmas neighborhood tour, and I was delighted when she chose me to be the guard/helper for the occasion.  Being one who sews, of course I used this event as the perfect reason to whip up a new outfit (the one in this post).  How could you get any fancier than two lovely tones of velvet?!  Also, too, I figured correctly that the velvet would keep me warm the week after for the midnight church service my parents and I attended that year.  Even with my coat on, you can still see the prettiest feature of my skirt sticking out from underneath since it’s so long.  Oh yes, I was doing some calculating with this outfit, and it might be a bit dated, but it’s still a winter winner!

My hat was bought to match my outfit, a Christmas gift that same year (2006) from my thoughtful dad.  It has a velvet ribbon around the base of the crown to continue the theme of my outfit.  My matching boots leather suede “Hotter” brand, a gift to myself a few Christmases back.

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THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The skirt is a 100% cotton velveteen, lined in cling-free polyester;  The top is a polyester stretch crushed panne velourB4230-knit bell sleeve-shawl collar-topbutterick-3654-year-2002-bias-flounce-hem-skirts

PATTERNS:  The skirt used Butterick #3654, view C, year 2002, while the top is from Butterick #4230, view B, year 2004 (whose bell sleeves went onto this 20’s tunic and this 1970 dress).

NOTIONS:  Just basic stuff from on hand was needed here – thread, elastic, bias tapes, and some spare ribbon.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Neither of these took very long to make, but I do not remember exactly anymore – I’m guessing about 5 or 6 hours for the outfit.

100_7051a-compTHE INSIDES:  Both top and skirt were made at my parents’ house so I took advantage of her serger (over lock machine) for all around cleanly finished edges.

The patterns for the top and skirt are great – easy, quick, fit right on, and turning out exactly as pictured.  There is a refreshing lack of both facings and closure notions.

My top was made without any changes or adjustments but now I wish I had lengthened the bottom hem a bit.  The bertha-style collar has the tendency to curl, but I believe that is 100_6986-compdue to the panne velour…it just loves to curl like holiday ribbon run over the edge of a scissor.  Bell bottom style sleeves prevent this top from being worn under a sweater, kind of a bummer because the poly panne is a lot thinner than the skirt and not as warm.  Besides, the panne has a nap that seems to go in every which way at once so it sticks like Velcro to whatever clothing is over it.  This is the only down side to this top, really.  Otherwise, I do love how this is a dressy top without being stiff or stuffy.  Mostly, I believe I choose this ivory panne because I love how the look of it reminds of the beauty of a cold frost spreading, crusting and settling over a window on a cold winter’s day – part of the reason we took our pictures in a snow shower!

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My velveteen skirt had several issues along the way to as you see it now.  When I was first making the skirt, I had miss-read the proportions and lengthened the skirt.  However, it didn’t need it so I ended up taking out the added inches by making a folded over band above the bottom bias flounce.  I think the skirt looks all the better with that band above the flounce.  A few years later, I finally got around to refashioning the waistband so it wasn’t an all-around elastic band-type.  There are two off-center darts down from the front of the waistband so the belly will be smooth, with the elastic going around the back and sides from front dart to front dart. Last year, I realized one of the front darts were crooked and longer than the other, so I adapted that.  The lining inside is free hanging attached at the waist of the skirt.  Its hem ends at just above the bottom flounce of the velvet skirt because when I walk the ruffle above my feet flips up in a rather curious but pretty way.  If the lining was lower than the flounce it would show when I walk.  This might appear a simple skirt, but it has seen its share of tweaking through the years I’ve worn it.

100_7000a-compThis outfit brings to my mind a topic I’ve wanted to bring up on my blog.  You see, when a garment is made by me, I make sure I both like it enough and that it fits me well enough that it gets worn for as long as it will last.   This includes any mending, repairs, fitting adjustments, and even includes the possibility of re-fashioning.  I crafted it for myself and spent the time and money on it, thus I feel no one else but me is better qualified or has more vested involvement to make sure a handmade garment gets loved and appreciated.  Granted some of my past makes are eye-sores to me now, way beyond any ideas of re-fashioning at the moment, and make me shake my head at what I was thinking.  At the same time, I will admit I do like keeping these currently unworn eye-sore garments because it helps me see how creative and individual I’ve been with my fashion all these years and (most especially) see how far I’ve come with my skills.

100_6984a-compAm I just a lone wolf doing this long-term interest in one’s own wardrobe?  This idealism is mostly associated with the war-time rationing efforts of the decade of the 1940s, but I do not see why it should be so ‘cubby-holed’.  Modern “fast-fashion” has no staying power – it comes and goes out of fad every few months, it is commonly made with extremely low quality, and is not made to your fit and taste like a sewn garment can be.  No wonder charity shops are overflowing with unwanted ‘stuff’.  Handmade garments have more lasting qualities, so why give up on them and get rid of them like any old “ready-to-wear”?  Even if you do have store bought garments, or even vintage pieces, you can still take care of them to keep them in fine order rather than letting a fallen hem or frozen zipper be forgotten by being donated away.  In my early 20s, experimenting with store bought clothes which did not fit me well was how I taught myself the ins-and-outs of tailoring.  Sure, clothes might be a cheap commodity nowadays, but it wasn’t always so.  If you have them, use those awesome sewing skills of yours to do more, given the time and gumption of course.  If you don’t sew, it never hurts to learn how to create with scissors, thread, paper and fabric.

What do you think?  Would you rather start anew with a project?  Working on something existing can drag one down.  Does the thought of fiddly repairing send chills down your spine?  Do you (like me) rather enjoy the satisfaction of knowing you invested in your wardrobe after a garment repair has been made?

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Vintage-Style Red Velvet

Yes, red velvet is definitely lovely, and it’s a sweet treat whether it’s a cake for consumption or a fabric for wearing. In this post, it’s a 1927 blouse!

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Shirts and blouses are a staple to the human wardrobe for ages, so there’s much to change while still staying the same through the past decades of the 20th century. Totally un-like a red velvet cake, this blouse is no-calorie and very appropriate for a party. It’s also made from a lovely, basic, vintage pattern which lets the fabric shine! In this case, I chose a fancy, deep burgundy burnout velvet to make an outfit for a St. Valentine’s weekend wedding we were attending.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC: A 97% polyester lycra stretch panne velvet, with a floral burnout design in deep burgundy red showing a black netting underneath. This fabric was bought from Fashion Fabrics Club.McCall's 7250, year 1927 re-release-comp

NOTIONS: Everything I needed for the blouse was on hand already – the interfacing, the thread, the hem tape, and the buttons. I did buy the beaded ribbon for the belt from a Hancock Fabrics store just a few days before wearing it, but what I used to finish that was also on hand.

PATTERN: McCall’s #7250, a circa 1927 modern re-issue

TIME TO COMPLETE: This blouse took me about 8 hours to make and it was finished on February 11, 2016.

THE INSIDES: All the inner seams are in French seams, except for the armscye which is left loose and raw. Oh, and the drop shoulder seam is covered in hem tape.

TOTAL COST: The ribbon belt cost about $5.00, and the burnout velvet cost about $19.00 for just over 2 yards, so $24 in total cost.

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I am very pleased with this blouse and its pattern. The pattern is some modern re-print or re-issue from based on the McCall archive drawings from 1927, and I found it is easy to sew, simple to understand, and fitting true to size. I was technically in between sizes, so, looking at the generous finished garment measurements, I decided to go down to the sizeSears 1927 catalog broadcloth shirt smaller. Perfect! The blouse is loose enough to have the proper 20’s style bagginess, but yet somehow it seems to me to be just fitting enough to also be my size. There is a slight curving shaping in the side seams, which further impresses me as well as the lovely gathering at the dropped shoulder seams in the front. My fabric is a non-authentic polyester, I know, but rather proper-looking, and much easier to sew as a ‘burnout’ than as a regular panne velvet. My velvet also has a wonderful weight and droopiness which makes the sleeves so very elegant. However, I can also see this blouse being wonderful sewn up out of a soft handkerchief-weight cotton or linen (see the 1927 Sears ad at right from here) as basic starting point for an ‘everyday’ 1920’s wardrobe piece, going with a suit set, a jumper, or a skirt.

Even though I was working with a burnout stretchy velvet panne, I still sewed it like it was a woven in the way I did not let any of the seams stretch. The seams are stabilized with hem tape and/or multi-layers of tight straight stitching. The velvet blouse is slightly heavy because – of course – it’s a long sleeved tunic with a lot of fabric and it needed to hold its shape. Everywhere else there is room for the fabric to give, just not at the seams and I believe it really works best this way when using a fabric with stretch for this pattern.100_7058-comp

A special interfacing went into my blouse. Being a burnout and slightly see-through, I used a black interfacing. However, the interfacing was also a lightweight, 100% cotton fiber content, iron-on style. I thought this was an odd combination and picked up just enough for the sleeve cuffs, the collar, and neckline facings of my blouse. I really liked how this cotton interfacing stuck nicely to the back of the velvet as well as being especially stable (being a cotton) to keep things in their proper shape. Yet, it doesn’t seem to turn out as stiff as other interfacings. I wish so much I’d bought more because I haven’t seen it again in my local fabric stores, but I know now that it is nice stuff to work with, so I’ll keep my eyes peeled…or just break down and order some online.

The sole fault which I have noticed to this blouse has to do with another one of its best features…double-cuffed sleeves. They are very nice but somehow travel around my wrists as I am wearing my blouse, strangling the sleeve around the rest of my arm. This uncomfortable situation is especially apparent when I wear a coat, for some reason. I have a suspicion that this twisting habit of the sleeve cuffs is mostly due in part to the fabric, but not all blame goes to this factor. The sleeve cuffs are nice, I will admit, but sort of a bottom-heavy weight compared to the rest of the blouse. When it’s hanging up, I have to pick up the sleeves and drape the cuffs on the cross-bar of the hangar so the blouse doesn’t get its shoulders pulled down. Once being worn, the heavy cuffs aren’t noticeable but I still think not closing them tight enough around my wrists, combined with their weight, makes the sleeves twist around my arm. This isn’t something that makes me like this lovely blouse any less, it’s just a tendency that I thought it might be good to mention in case others who make this pattern find the same issue.

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I did slightly alter a few minor points from how the pattern instructions show to do things. My changes have to do with finishing, not design and fitting. Firstly, I left out stitching in buttonholes through the cuffs. Stitching through four layers of fabric (with interfacing sandwiched in, too) did not sound like anything other than a headache, possibly ruining my fabric or machine and therefore making my project seem less than classy. Besides, I wasn’t totally convinced on the given method of folding the cuffs. As my hubby pointed out, why go to the effort of making double cuffs only to fold each cuff out in half (even with the edge where it comes into the sleeve)? Doing so creates the look of a single cuff, albeit one that is very thick, and your effort and the design seems wasted. Thus, I staggered the double-fold of the cuff at about ½ inch down (out towards one’s hand) from the edge of the cuff meeting the sleeve for a more obviously layered appearance. Then I merely took my chosen buttons and sewed them through all the layers where cuff-links would normally go. Now I am not irrevocably committed to the cuffs being one way or another. I know this method might sound cheap or sort of like cheating but the cuffs don’t feel 100% right just yet and my being happy with my own garment is one of the highest priorities in my personal sewing. The cuffs look no less elegant, so I think, for their lacking buttonholes and a little change in cuff folding. They are actually quite nicely fuss-free this way.

100_7069-compSelf-fabric belt loops are the only other item I left out in the original design. I wasn’t entirely sure I always wanted to wear a belt, or even that I wanted to always wear a belt at that same one exact spot every time. So they were left off of the side seams. I figure I can always sew in thread loops, which I think I would like better anyway as they are more low-key compared to self-fabric loops. For now, I merely use and existing belt in my collection or, as with the fancy beaded ribbon I used as belt in our pictures, use a safety pin inside to tack the belt in place at the side seams. This is another non-committal answer, I know, but one that makes me happier with the versatility and non-complexity of the blouse in the end.

My beaded belt was a last minute improvisation a few days before the wedding event we were to attend. I felt the blouse need a little extra oomph to snazz up the look while still being subtle. A matching belt in the same burnout velvet seemed like overkill and would not be seen, but a basic belt or even a modern one didn’t feel right – this beaded sheer ribbon did! I used basic black satin scraps leftover from making my Christmas Burda Style draped front skirt to make fabric “caps” to cover and support the ends of the ribbon. Between the beads and the fineness of the ribbon I sewed the satin caps in place by hand. One end cap in twice as long as the other so as to close in the center with a loop and button. The button is something I picked up a while back at an antique store, and even though I do not think it is authentically vintage is darn sure looks the part of a 1920’s piece. It has the words “Costume Makers” imprinted on the back.

I feel McCall’s 7250 is an excellent pattern in my opinion all around, but especially for100_7064a-comp those who are just getting started into vintage or even those who are acclimating themselves to the styles of the 1920 era. It can pass as completely modern, or completely vintage, and even somewhere in between depending on how the blouse gets worn and styled with hair, fabric, accessories, and bottoms. I stayed as true to the late 1920’s as I could, with my long strand of black trumpet beads, my two-tone t-strap shoes, and my high-low hemmed, double layered under dress (a high-low hem was something which was a transition fashion easing the 1920’s into the 1930’s). However, I was also nodding to the popular Spanish-influenced or Tango fashions of the late 1920’s with my authentic 20’s era large jeweled hair comb.

My outfit was just enough to be authentically vintage but not too much to look like a costume. This says, to me, that I found a winning piece with McCall’s 1927 blouse. Almost everyone likes a tunic top, and with this pattern there’s no more of that common “I can’t do the 1920’s” excuse anymore. You can rock the 20’s!