…At The River’s Edge

There is something so relaxing to me about being near where I can hear the movement of water.  Of course, as a city dweller I am never really that close to much water.  Maybe that why I appreciate it so much whether it’s a local rambling creek, a man-made fountain jumping enticingly in the summertime, the beaches of Florida (of which I’m a big fan), or the one man-made ‘river’ we have traveling through the heart of south city.  This ‘river’ was the perfect place to go relax, cool down, enjoy myself, and take a few pictures of my most recent sewing treat – a year 1951 dress with interesting seam lines, sewn using a true vintage rayon border print.

The flowers in the border print remind of some sort of tropical, lush beauties.  I like what the color of pink does for my complexion so I wanted this to be on the bodice, which wraps around me in a U-shaped fashion due to the cross-diagonal seaming.  Yet, the directional lines to the rest of the print first struck me as very animal-referenced, but maybe it is more like leaves on plant stems when I think differently.  The animal/stems lend a very proper post-WWII preferred-silhouette of a slenderizing, long and skinny skirt.

Whatever it is printed there, this slightly tropical dress is my new perfect summer dress, which is very ironic.  Usually rayon challis does not hold up well in our hot and steamy summers here – it sucks up too much moisture both from the air and off of me to become limp, wrinkly, and clingy.  Thus, my splurging on myself to use a true vintage fabric was one of my best, yet very wary, idea for trying something new for summer.  I don’t know what era this is from but it doesn’t wrinkle!  It is also a denser weave, and quite tightly stable yet so cool to the touch.  This is unlike any other modern rayon challis I have ever found.  I prefer past styles over newer ones generally already, but now you mean to tell me that old fabrics are much better too?!  I am glad to have this dress in my wardrobe and finally find out the benefits of old-style rayon.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% rayon challis, with a remnant of a modern poly lining for the bodice facing

PATTERN:  McCall #8376, year 1951

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed to make this on hand already – interfacing scraps, thread, bias tapes, buttons, and a vintage zipper from my Grandma’s stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Making this took me about 15 hours and it was finished on May 11, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  This dress has a clean and complimentary interior in pink and blue tiny ¼ inch bias tape along all the raw edges.

TOTAL COST:  Two yards cost me only $7…pretty awesome!

I felt extra pressure to be “perfect” with this make because of the vintage fabric I was using.  I found it at a reasonable price, and it is in very good shape so I don’t feel as if I have to be more careful wearing my dress. No – the pressure came from my respect for vintage and my knowledge that I had no back-up fabric to buy more of if I messed up.  Border prints are a specialty not to be found everywhere as it is, so finding a vintage fabric border print gave me even more of an expectation to find the right match of a pattern, too.  I had plenty of inspiration to go on which you can see for yourself as well here at my “Border Prints” Pinterest board.  The bodice of this earlier vintage year 1943 McCall’s pattern was my main inspiration, what I was going for with this year 1951 make.  Here, as my dress turned out, the floral border was too loose, oversized and not directional enough to make the U-shaped bodice all that obvious, as I wanted.  Oh well, it’s still just as pretty either way.  On the back, the border print runs along the bottom of the bottom of the bodice where it joins to the skirt.

The sizing on this pattern was weird.  Vintage McCall’s patterns are normally always so dependable, well instructed, with fine designs, and can be counted on to turn out great for me, but this one was one of the very few which I have found to run quite small.  I even sized up just to have a safety cushion “in case”.  Luckily, there were 5/8 inch seam allowances which I let out.

My dress’ pattern overall length also ran long, which I left as-is.  I think the longer length is most elegant and very befitting to the transitional 1948 to 1952 period when hemlines were a length they had not been since the early to mid-1930s.  A “several inches above the ankles” mid-calf length hemline like this now seems to be labelled as a “midi” dress nowadays.  It can be awkward on some garment designs, and it seems especially weird from a wearer’s perspective looking down, but generally I think this length is very flattering.  The triple pleats flaring out on each side of the center front skirt give a very gentle hip emphasis to keep the longer skirt from seeming like a straight pencil shape.

I’m guessing the major change I made to the dress pattern is pretty obvious already.  I eliminated the full button-up front closing to instead have a bodice only half-button front (with a zipper in the side, as well).  It wasn’t just because I was a tad lazy and didn’t want to do all those buttonholes and buttons.  I really didn’t want extra busyness to the print and besides – I actually didn’t have enough fabric for a button front!  Two yards was cutting it so close for this pattern…most of the tissue pieces were touching one another laid out on the fabric.  As much as I LOVE pockets, I also had to leave them out for the same reasons as for adapting the skirt.  Luckily I didn’t have to compromise anything else major (especially grainline!).

Eliminating a button placket is pretty easy for being such a visually evident modification to a design.  Most patterns have a vertical line that marks out the center front, the ‘middle ground’ where the two sides lap over and under one another.  It’s normally where the buttons would line up with the buttonholes.  The center front line is the line I placed on the fold, so that I would have one, large continuous front piece.  If you would ever like a seam line in place of a button placket instead, the center front would be the stitching line and a seam allowance would have to be added on.  Many pattern adapting techniques are a lot easier than they look once they are done, and this change-up is no exception.

The minor alteration I made to the overall dress was to add some slight “sleeves”.  Well, technically they’re not full sleeves, the shoulder line was merely extended slightly and the armscye adapted into a rectangle so that my arms would feel a bit more covered.  My upper arms are on the larger side and this seemed to be a feminine dress, so since I had the little bit of extra fabric I would need to make the change, I made easy half-cap-sleeves onto the garment.  This way I also used up every spare square inch of my lovely fabric, too, he he.

With the nice fabric I was using, I took my time with this dress to do only invisible hand work when top-stitching was needed.  This was worth it!  Finding the perfect color thread was not working out, and having a harsh, obvious stitching line was I felt not at all proper for this dress.  I had stitched all along the neckline and buttoning fronts to tack down the facing underneath.  This was the true test of how invisible yet regular I could make my needle do its job!  Also, I hand stitched under to the wrong side the skinny bias tape edge finishing along the armholes.  This was really quite challenging because there were sharp corners and right angles to the opening for the arms very much like another year 1951 dress I made before.

After all the attention I spent hand working on the bodice, I felt I would have been terribly remiss not to spend the same care on the rest – the bottom hem and the side zipper.   I am so ‘sold’ on stitching on hand picked zippers (except when it comes to the ‘invisible’ kind).  I discovered this ever since doing all the “labor of love” intensive work put into this 50’s dress. Such zipper installations turn out so much cleaner, and less bumpy than machine finished ones.  They are less noticeable so that they blend in with the garment as much as possible (unless it’s an exposed zipper!).  One can be so precise with getting a hand-picked zipper to turn out looking every bit as good as it’s intended, it’s worth the extra time every time I finish sewing one.  A bonus on the side is that it gives my machine a break, anyways!

This dress is a continuance of a segment of vintage fashion I suddenly feel I don’t have enough of to wear.  The early 1950s and late 40’s are my current fashion fascination in my sewing.  I love the in-between periods when styles where trying to find the right balance of details and not quite looking like the stereotypical silhouette.  One of my favorite ways of understanding history is to sew.  As I do have a plethora of killer patterns from this time, look out for more of circa 1951 here on the blog (although I must say this is one of the best I think I have yet made from this time period!).  How could I go wrong anyway with a wonderful vintage fabric…in a border print, to boot…sewn with my favorite vintage McCall’s patterns?!

Advertisements

Wrap Around the Border Print Dress

I suppose I’ve been watching Wheel of Fortune, the game show of hidden words and phrases, to come up with this post title!  It’s a “Before and After” line.  No really, border prints are my newest fascination this year.  When I’ve combined such a fabric with a wrap-on vintage dress pattern, my post title somewhat sums up the awesome result.

DSC_0343a-comp,w

Of all the dresses I have made yet this year, this is the dress that is hands down my favorite – that’s saying a lot!  It doesn’t sit in the closet for very long and gets worn almost every other week.  It is the perfect balance for me between fun yet classy, professional yet casual, cheery yet uniquely subtle, and totally easy to dress in yet body complimentary.  This dress is made with my ultimate favorite fabric –rayon challis – and although it is a wrap dress with no zipper, sewing it was still a very good challenge (which I love).  It fits me so well and is comfy as all get out.  I think that about covers all I could possibly want out of a dress!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% rayon challis, with a small scrap of cotton for the neckline facing

Simplicity 5034, ca. 1963, the wrap-around dress, comboPATTERN:  Simplicity 5034, year 1963

NOTIONS:  Nothing but thread and a little interfacing were needed, which I had on hand

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My dress was finished on March 21, 2017, after about 7 hours of time spent on it.

THE INSIDES:  I began by making all seams bias bound, but then I saw a few holes in the rayon so I lost heart to make extra effort on the insides and left the skirt seams raw and unfinished.

TOTAL COST:  This border print rayon was bought as everything was on clear-out when Hancock Fabrics was going out of business.  It was an awesome $2 a yard for about 3 yards – a total of about $6!

The fabric is mostly red, white, and navy blue making this my un-official Independence day dress for the “Colors of the Flag Challenge”, also known as the “4th of July Proud Dress Project”.  That’s why I paired my red coral bead necklace (made by me, as well) with my comfy and lovely leather B. Makowsky red patent, 60’s style pointed flats.  However, there are also small tinges of turquoise and golden yellow.  Also, when you look at it, the print is really three leaved clovers, like the wild and neglected greens which grow in my country’s roadsides, cow-fields, and backyards (in our case).  Now a plant that gets eaten, stomped on, and neglected has its time to look beautiful.

DSC_0376a-comp,w

The border print was only printed along one selvedge, and it is just about the widest I have seen (about 20 inches deep).  So out of all the inspiration images on my Pinterest board for border prints, I went with a basic layout of keeping the border along the hem and the sleeves.  I also, went for a longer midi length to this dress just so I could use as much of the full border print as possible.

Now, for being from 1963 this doesn’t look like the conventional 60’s dress does it?!  This is a tricky deceiver, again proving to me that the more I look at the early to mid-60’s, the stereotypical hippie style that this era is most known for was certainly not at all around until after the halfway point in the decade.  Before 1966, the overall era is still strongly influenced by the 50’s.

DSC_0355a-comp,w

This wrap-on dress pattern is also something I have had my eye on for the past two years before now.  Finally, I can actually have a wearable garment from my long awaited pattern!  It was one of those patterns I know I’m intending on buying, only it carries a price tag I’m not willing to accept.  So then I wait and selectively stalk the internet every so often just to find one (finally) find at a steal of a price.  I have a number of patterns that I’m doing this same ‘waiting game’ for, and I usually do end up finding an awesome deal eventually.

The actual sewing was quite easy, but the skirt waist pleats more than made up for that!  More on that in a minute, because before that the bodice, it’s facing and sleeves, then the full skirt piece with its pockets had to be sewn together.  The ‘side seams’ are not really on the side; they are off each side of the center front.  A few inches next to those seams, the pockets get set in like somewhat like a cross between a welt and a button placket.  With the skirt piece prepped, I now had one gi-normous rectangle to work with taking up my entire kitchen floor.

DSC_0351a-comp,w

Now, I have seen a few versions made from this same pattern, and most of them were fails because of the pleats.  I totally understand why!  The waist pleats tested the limits of my sewing understanding, and were actually blowing my brain.  This pattern is so ingeniously designed, but the most amazing details are so low key the dress only has an aura of classy simplicity.  To sum things up, a handful of pleats get made first, then another percent of the pleats are made over the ones already made, while rest of the pleats get layered in a opposite direction over only a few of the existing pleats.  I needed the skirt pattern laid out just under my fabric skirt so I could mirror the instructions because no amount of marking kept thing straight, and even still I barely made the pleats correctly.

DSC_0359a-comp,w

At first, the tailoring seems haphazard with no rhyme or reason but once the skirt was on the dress it suddenly made sense.  They were all carefully placed, after all – there are two darts at the skirt were it wraps under to keep things smooth, the biggest pleat layers are at the front hips to ‘hide’ the welt pockets, while the most basic pleating is at the back skirt wrap.  What I cannot figure out yet is the pouf of the pleats seen on the cover – perhaps that ‘look’ comes with a petticoat or using a stiffer fabric?

There are a few details worth noting about this pattern, so that if you do snag your own DSC_0361a-comp,wversion –and I recommend you do – you will be informed.  First of all, the bodice is quite long compared to other 60’s era patterns.  I realized that fact only after I was finished with the dress.  It is really close enough to not be something causing me to unpick and re-sew or detract from my overall fit.  As long as I keep decently good posture (which I should be doing anyway!) the waist is at a pretty good spot, but for my next version (Yes! It will be in cotton, too) I will shorten the bodice at the middle.  The center front neckline, for as high as it already is on me, was actually lowered by about ½ inch.  As much as I love a beautiful boat neckline, this is again something I am ok with as it is, but will slightly change and re-draft differently next time.

Finally, the V-back neckline does have the tendency to gape open and droop off the shoulders without some sort of small help.  My immediate step was to add snap-closed lingerie straps at the tiny shoulder seams to hook onto my underwear.  However I wanted another option not including anchoring the dress to my lingerie, so I sewed the tiniest size hook-and-eye that I had to the back neckline edges where they cross.  The DSC_0363a-comp,whook-and-eye was sewn just underneath and at an angle to the very edge to keep a natural, un-recognizably “tacked down” appearance to the back neckline, and they are just enough that I really don’t need to use the lingerie straps.  Yay!  Fitting crisis averted, style lines kept unaltered, and easy fixes found.  Although this wrap dress hasn’t got a zipper, it does end up having a great fit I never thought possible with a garment that just is thrown and tied on!

This is a project that definitely made me ‘work’ in a good way for a final garment that I love and feel proud wearing.  I would have never guessed a dressy house frock would have given me such a challenge but that is the awesome beauty of using vintage original patterns.  They always have much more than meets the eye…you just have to dive into them to find what good surprises they have to offer.

Speaking of surprises, my dress doesn’t exactly have as much of an overlap to the wrap as I would have liked and it does sort of open up to a ‘surprise’ flash when the wind blows.  Sometimes I safety pin the flap down, but most of the time I don’t…and then this can happen.  I hope the secret message of this photo tells all!

DSC_0344a-comp,w