Jungle Animal Pink Knit 1950s Wrap Blouse

As I just had my WordPress blog’s anniversary, I’ve become nostalgic for the good old days of blogging a decade ago.  Even without being reminiscent, at the beginning of every year I think of the sewing challenge “Jungle January” that the blog “Pretty Grievences” began in 2013 and hosted for several years afterwards.  This year, for some reason, I especially miss it.  Thus, I’ve sort of been doing my own little adherence to that theme anyway this 2022.  I always seem to have animal prints on hand, and even though it is no longer January I would like to share something I made last month in the spirit of the challenge.  I previously posted my son’s tiger printed pants so it is my turn back in the spotlight with my variation on the theme! 

On a whim, for a last-minute getaway we had a few weekends back, I whipped a new top together out of a one yard knit remnant and a “quick ‘n easy” vintage pattern which has been on my radar recently.  This simple little project was everything I hoped for to take with me for the getaway – it was cozy warm, cute but classy, comfortable yet fitted, and sewn in a few hours…what could be any better?  It has a fantastic, artistic array of animal spots in a soft, feminine color combination!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a thick brushed finish knit which is 90% polyester and 10% spandex

PATTERN:  Butterick #7640, from spring of year 1956, original vintage pattern from my personal stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  I just needed thread, some bias tape (which I made myself of a pink satin fabric remnant from on hand) and two buttons (salvaged off of a pair of my son’s worn out school pants before they were thrown away)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This took me 6 hours in one afternoon and evening on January 8, 2021

THE INSIDES:  left raw

TOTAL COST:  This was a discounted one yard remnant for JoAnn Fabrics, bought for $8.25

I always itch for something new – no matter how small – to bring with me to wear for every trip we take.  I do not buy ready-to-wear, so I sew for this desire just as I do normally and almost always use what is on hand.  I’m awfully practical, even when I splurge.  Honestly, I do not want to add to my existing fabric stash at this time, yet sometimes a little something new and fresh from what is on hand can be just what I need for inspiration.  We’ve hardly been anywhere since early 2020, thus I especially wanted something new even though we only had a little more than a week’s advance notice for the short trip we were to take.  Having spent $8 on a remnant roll makes my sensible side happy.  The way my top is an easy to make and easy to wear vintage design while still looking very modernly chic makes the rest of me happy.  This was a new fabric indulgence I discerned what to do with immediately so it never went to my stash and is being enjoyed in my wardrobe right away. 

The easy-to-make vintage pattern I used was even more simplified by using a knit.  However, there was only one way that using such a stretchy material worked out here rather than the called-for woven crepe, taffeta, faille, or chambray.  My pattern was a size too small for my measurements and I didn’t feel like grading it up!  Nevertheless, as a knit needs negative ease to account for stretch, the small size worked out in my favor here.  I found a perfect fit in the end after all!  What is still not accounted for is the fact that the envelope back calls for 1 5/8 yard of material and I was able to easily squeeze a long sleeved wrap top with a peplum out of .97 worth of fabric – less than a yard!  All the details I listed to the top are fabric hogs, but by flipping some pieces wrong side up I easily made it work with no compromise to the grain line or pattern layout. 

I did not have enough scraps leftover to tie end closures so I adapted by having both ends close with a button and thread loops.  In lieu of facings, some bias cut pink satin scraps on hand were folded in and used instead as a pretty way to keep the neckline stable yet still use up something on hand.  When I said I simplified this pattern, I really meant that in an extreme sense.  However, I find any 1950s dolman sleeved bodice (where the sleeve is cut as one piece with the main body and tapered in at the wrist) like this one is always easier to be more efficient for both layout and fabric amount.  They are also comfortable sleeve drama that was popular in the 1950s, which I may have something to do with the fact there are so many 1 yard or less projects from this era.  Everything about this project working out on one yard was only possible because the selvedge width was 54” wide and I was using a smaller size pattern.  Anything narrower in width and I would have at least been forced to go with ¾ sleeves or cull the peplum.  

I had no real choice but to abridge the pattern to a point because almost everything was missing from the envelope.  I believe this was one of the many patterns in my life which have been handed off to me by others looking to downsize their own stash as I do not remember buying it.  Either way – there was nothing but the main body front, main body back, and one waistline tie end present.  The long sleeves had been cut off the main body at the short sleeve lines, and I felt very lucky indeed to have them still included since everything else was missing.  I had to draft my own peplum pieces basing my design off of both the garment measurements and the drawings on the envelope back.  I would like to revisit this pattern again in the future (with a lovely vintage striped cotton in my stash) and give myself a reason to draft the rest of the pieces – the collar, neckline facings, sleeve cuff, and second tie end.

For such a cheap, quick project I wanted to spruce it up a bit with something extra handmade.  I had picked up 3 strands of turquoise dyed Wagnerite (a natural mineral) over the Black Friday JoAnn sale last year at $2 a pop.  In an hour, I finally turned those pebbles into a double strand necklace to bring out the beautiful aqua undertone in the print as well as match the handcrafted earrings bought from a gem, mineral, and fossil show.  I love crafting my own jewelry for outfits.  It showcases just another of the many aspects to my maker’s talents.  It is also an unexpected way to continue my self-made closet besides personally curating my individual style.

I paired my blouse with a ready-to-wear wool tweed bias cut skirt that I have enjoyed in my closet for the last 20 years.  It mimics the figure hugging skirts styles that were a not so well-known fad of the 1950s.  French fashion of the era in particular, but in general the higher end fashion scene worldwide, revived the curve baring, slim fitting, bias cut skirts of the previous 1930s decade for an elegant variation on the more widely known “wiggle” look.  I felt my top’s peplum would complement my hourglass body type in such a skirt.  Along this vein, I am wearing my 1930s inspired ankle boots from Hotter shoe company because the weather that day was cold, rainy, and messy for traveling. 

I will not be straying too long from the jungle, so if you love this top’s print as much as me you will not be left hanging.  I love animal prints too much to not come back to it soon enough.  I have an amazing rayon knit border print that has an animal theme and I intend to finally sew a summer dress using it this year.  If nothing else, I hope I have given you yet another idea of what to make with those smaller sized vintage patterns that seem to be so plentiful on the market…sew them up in a stretchy knit and take advantage of the forgiveness the material bestows!  This is an especially great way to use one yard cuts (my favorite challenge to conquer) as those smaller sized patterns use even less fabric…every little bit counts! 

Next up on my blog, I will feature the opposite of this simple knit top while still using one precious yard, though.  For a full teaser drop, it is a very complex blouse design made using a fine silk with the upcoming Valentine’s Day as its subtle theme.  Until then, have a great February 14th!  

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.  

A Pre-Raphaelite Reverie

My avid, life-long research into medieval studies, especially when it comes to manuscripts, is distinctly tied to my fascination for the revival of its tales and artistry through the Pre-Raphaelite movement, which spanned the 1850s to the late 19th century.  The term “Pre-Raphaelite” is associated with the much wider and long-lived “Brotherhood” of English painters, poets, and art critics that included both men and women in its ranks and influenced architecture, music, and literature, as well.  They developed a particular taste instead for medieval and early Renaissance art made ‘pre’, meaning before, Raphael, focusing on working from direct observation with dazzling, sparkling colors and incredible attention to detail.   It is full of romantic idealism, old-style stories, and classically draped damsels in distress…perfect for a princess at heart!

My particular favorites are the pensive, realistically styled images in the latter half of Pre-Raphaelite art, particularly those of medieval characters or fictional fairytale damsels produced by Brotherhood members such as Rossetti and his followers William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, and Evelyn De Morgan.  The women in such art always have hair and clothing that are total romantic perfection while the men are yearning, staunch, and heroic…I’ve been entranced since my childhood.  In a recent post, my sewing was inspired by the classical, flowing, Grecian style of Disney’s Meg from the 1997 animated film “Hercules”.  Here I am continuing that idealism with posting the making of a dreamy, draping 1940s era “Goddess gown” with matching bolero and jewelry, all inspired by the medieval inspiration behind the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood.

How did I link paleographic manuscript studies to both an art form and fashionable clothing?  Well, just like Pre-Raphaelite art, my outfit has a blend of the medieval with the elements of other eras tied into one.  The floral printed silk of my dress and the canvas print of my bolero are veritable copies of the beautifully scientific style of accurately painting nature as can be seen both on the pages of late medieval illuminated manuscripts as well as a tapestry of Burne-Jones.  It was often in the page margins or borders of illuminations that such texts (primarily early 15th century) used flowers and insects so as to heighten and add depth of meaning by their symbolism.  

This is no less the case with Pre-Raphaelite artistry where such a lush amount of detailed flora and insect fauna was frequently added in abundance (especially on tapestries).  Doing so was not just to add beauty, although that is often the extra benefit.  Both this 19th century art form and medieval manuscripts used the visibility of nature to aid and enhance our understanding of ancient stories and the people of the past.  Every moth, every fruited berry, and every flower had a symbolism, a meaning that added to the message of the art, sometimes even hinting at whether well-intentioned or full of irony.  Our modern times have forgotten much of the rich underlying meanings to such beautiful creations, and I say we need to relearn this knowledge!

So why channel this classical idealism through a 1940s gown?  I wanted to emulate Madame Eta Hentz, a designer born in Budapest and educated in Hungary who immigrated to the United States around 1923.  She presented her distinctive masterpiece collection of Grecian themed gowns in circa 1943.  Please click on over with the provided links to see Ms. Hentz’s “Athena gown”, her black and gold “Clytemnestra gown”, her “Iconica” pleated dress, her “Walls of Troy” butter yellow gown, and her unnamed but strongly classical evening gown, one in ivory and a version in black – all from the same Grecian collection at the MET museum.  They are flowing, draping, asymmetric creations resembling either an ancient chlamys, a Roman palla, a column in the Pantheon, or a pleated Fortuny toga. Such a beautifully simplistic style of dressing has been around since the beginnings of civilization, but I love how the late 40’s and 50’s Hollywood puts its own subtle high-fashion spin on such a garment.  Yes, there have been many other designers from many other eras who have created according to ancient inspiration.  Yet, 1940s gowns are already elegant to begin with, and to combine such a trait with the references to the classical past gives a very winning result I had to try for myself.

Furthermore, the post-WWII (40’s into 50’s) boom of Biblical, early Christianity, and ancient history related films also resulted in the popularity of the sensual, sultry “goddess gown”.  In 1949, the year after the pattern I used for my gown, Cecil B. DeMille released Samson and Delilah, a picture that became the biggest hit of that year.  This was one of the very first big epic films made using the latest technology that ushered in the height of the Biblical silver screen drama so prevalent thereafter in the 1950’s. 

Even before the popular quasi-religious films of the mid-century, however, Grecian style gowns were a go-to choice for either elegant evening wear or a classical themed costume in Hollywood at that time.  In 1947, the year before the pattern I used for my gown, the famous Rita Haworth was seen in a sexy, one shouldered goddess gown for playing the part of a Grecian Muse in the popular musical film “Down to Earth”.  Also in 1947, for a Christmas dinner party, the actress Gale Storm graced the screen during the movie “It Happened on 5th Avenue” with an asymmetric goddess gown.  Next to the works of Eta Hentz, this goddess dress heavily influenced my own version.  Similar to the one shoulder strap which mimics a climbing vine on Gale Storm’s evening dress, I incorporated me-made leaf jewelry as a compliment to my outfit.  The accessories I crafted to match are a further nod to the sneaky Pre-Raphaelite inspiration of my outfit besides being a very classical touch.  More on this further down in the post!   

A goddess gown is usually a one-shoulder dress that is made from a quality fabric that drapes gracefully, simple in lines and inspired by the togas of old.  It is so effortless, so ageless in style, and it’s wonderfully flattering for all!  I went with a sheer floral silk underlined with an opaque rayon for my version to turn my goddess gown dreamily feminine rather than just architectural, after the stylizations of Waterhouse and Rossetti.  The bolero is like a condensed minuscule version of the printed silk, and turns the dress into a refined look, with a bit of added interest, while also not disturbing the aesthetic.  My bright green jewelry and vintage green suede heels freshen up the tone, saving it from being too dark.  However, the black background for both pieces to this outfit keeps it moody and somber, just like a Pre-Raphaelite painting.  We happily tuned into that for the photo shoot location.  What could be more melodramatic than old building ruins around a pond with giant lily pads (just like John William Waterhouse’s painting “Ophelia by the pond” from 1894) or gliding into a weeping willow tree at dusk?!  I’m living a dream.  

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  2 yards of sheer 100% silk chiffon, digitally printed. Fully lined in 2 yards of all rayon crepe for the dress. The short bolero jacket is an amazing Rifle Paper Company 100% cotton duck (from Spool and Spindle as part of my prize from the 2018 “Designin’ December” challenge) fully lined in a sage green polyester.

PATTERN:  Butterick #5136, a year 2007 reprint of an original 1948 pattern

NOTIONS:  lots of thread and one zipper

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress took close to 30 hours to make, while the bolero only took 3 hours.  Both were finished in October 2019.

THE INSIDES:  The bolero is fully lined, so there are no seam allowances showing at all!  The entire dress and its rayon lining (which is separate, free flowing) are both finished in French seams.

TOTAL COST:  The silk on discount and was ordered direct from Hong Kong through a shop no longer in business.  The rayon crepe and the poly lining for the bolero are as good as free as they were leftover from past projects and came out of my stash. The bolero fabric was free, but I had to pay the shipping.  So, between the silk, the jewelry I made, and the shipping cost to the bolero fabric, my total cost was about $40.

Of course (knowing me) I slightly adapted the design (of the dress) to accommodate the border print of the silk, but other than that I made this entire outfit as-is out of the envelope…and it is to be highly recommended.  Some vintage reprints have strange amounts of ease or finish different than the cover image, but not this one.  It was indeed easy to make, as it says, too.  It’s only because working with a silk or a rayon crepe is never easy that my version was more challenging.  The bolero’s most challenging part was being precise with the stitching (and then trimming) the curvy seams around all the edges. 

The one slight change I made to the dress can be seen when I walk away.  I think the contrast panel train I added is a beautiful touch!  I had to add a gored godet to the center back of my dress’ skirt because working with two yards of border print material wasn’t enough to go around the bottom hem.  The one selvedge to the silk had the floral border I used along the hem while its opposite selvedge had a dense line of paisley ‘almonds’.  I used this paisley along the other selvedge for the back skirt godet add-in, and drafted its godet point to start where the center back zipper ends and curve out past the hem to be a train. 

Here’s a close-up of the right side seam bodice gathers.

The bodice was cut out of the material in front of the paisley selvedge where the underlying print is more spread out with only a few random bugs and flowers.  I actually had to seam together several smaller pieces of rayon to make my remnants work for lining this dress, but as it is inside underneath the silk, the odd excess seams are unnoticeable.  This was such close call of a project!

As it turned out, the heavy rayon lining sort of pulls the dress down on the one open-shouldered side, and I half think that adding boning as well an inner grosgrain ribbon waistband would’ve been a worthwhile idea to improve upon the bodice.  It is just fine without such ‘improvements’ too, though.  A structured bodice would bring this dress closer to the silhouette of a 1950s era dress and deviate the dress away from the soft, flowing overall appearance I was aiming for originally.  It’s often good to leave what’s well enough alone.  At least I did made sure to sew seam tape into my stitching along the top neck edge and into the dual skinny shoulder straps so these spots don’t stretch out of shape at all.  As I’m my own garments’ maker, I’m naturally going to be hard on myself.  I realize this much.  Any small ‘faults’ cannot in the least make me love this outfit any less.

The bolero’s fabric was a happy find that just happened to match because, I’ll admit, it was only made as an afterthought.  When first creating the dress, I discounted the hope of finishing a complete set as I had no idea what would be a good pairing.  Would a solid color bolero overwhelm?  Would a black one underwhelm?  I was at a loss.  What would remotely ‘match’ the printed silk enough to seamlessly blend in with the dress?  Upon browsing the “Spool and Spindle” site after receiving my “Designin’ Designer” gift, I was looking through the Rifle Paper Co. fabrics (something nice I would never buy on my own).  I happened to see a fabric print so similar to the silk goddess dress already made and jumped out of my seat.  Serendipity had decided for me a matching bolero was on the table!  Luckily, I only needed half of a yard for the bolero.  Rifle Paper Co. fabrics are pricey and my certificate voucher just covered it.  Yay!  I loved putting my prize fabric towards a very special outfit like this.

Beautiful seams, amazing details, and clever construction are all packed into this little jacket.  A backwards closing bolero comes across as very unusual to me, first of all.  I added two shiny, faceted black buttons to close this behind my back neck with hand-stitched chain loops.  The back opening lets the dress just barely peek from underneath.  As if these features aren’t cool enough, there is that slight cowl neck front neckline fold, the front hem curve notch, and those perfectly curved cut-on cap sleeves which all totally vie for my “favorite garment feature ever” title!  What makes this little jacket even better (if that’s possible) is the fact that it is slightly longer than most boleros, and actually comes down to the waistline, so it pairs with other things in my wardrobe, such as my black Burda pants (posted here)…among other things!  Not that I ever wholly mind a one-way-to-wear-it outfit, but multi-use sewing is such a wonderful payback.

My handmade jewelry includes a full bracelet, earrings, and necklace set.  The necklace is the main piece.  It was two sets of enameled leaf ‘charms’ from the “Gilded Age Timeline by Bead Treasures”, a Hobby Lobby line of vintage and Steampunk inspired jewelry supplies.  They were on deep clearance, probably due to having the date of 2013.  Each pack made a chain of 7 inches, and I knew the base of my neck (measuring around tightly) is 15 inches…this would be a close call.  The lobster clasp and loop closure, as well as the front ring that combines both leaf chains, added another 1 ½ inches so I ended up with a perfect length for a closely fitting necklace.  The two leaf chains fan away from one another yet meet in the middle front and back of my neck, so my necklace ends up looking like a Grecian or Roman coronet. 

In medieval imagery, a laurel leaves symbolize peace, tranquility, and the power of a promise.  A simple internet search has shown me that 15 inch enameled leaf necklaces were not only existent but also popular, primarily in the 40’s and 50’s, so I was onto something era appropriate anyway, it seems!

As there weren’t any more of the necklace leaves to be had, I improvised to make something similar to complete the jewelry set.  I chose green glass teardrop beads in the same deep but bright green color as the enameling on the necklace leaves.  I made the bracelet and earrings reference the necklace by interweaving small metal leaf beads above each glass teardrop.  I rather love the look of how this jewelry set turned out.  There’s nothing quite like an outfit that is all handmade, excepting the shoes (and underwear), of course, ha! 

This is a project into which I put a lot of thought and meaning, since not only have medieval subjects been a lifelong interest but I am also much more artistic on paper than I let on through this blog.  Perhaps that’s what helped my outfit to be just as dreamy and romantic as the inspiration behind it, though.  I could have expounded upon several points in detail but I reigned myself in to keep on topic! I only hope I conveyed some of my thoughts, inspiration, and construction notes in a clear and intriguing manner enough to maybe even interest you in finding a channel for your own goddess gown. 

It really does take a lot of effort to come up with a completely me-made outfit and also make it look just like what was dreamed up in one’s own head.  That is perhaps the hardest part to sewing up something based off an exciting idea…to have what you end up with be just as you had hoped.  It doesn’t always happen that way for me, yet even still, I always make sure to be proud of what I made and even enjoy the surprises along the way.  Not here, though – it’s all that and more!  You know, the definition of a “reverie” – as used in my title – is “a pleasant state of abstracted meditation or fanciful musing; to be lost in a fantastic, visionary, or impractical idea.”  I see that it is said reveries often never come to fruition, being often negatively labeled as only a daydream.  Bah.  Anyone who believes that has never sewn.  To be able to swish and glide around in this 1940s set the same way as I had hoped to be able to as I saw it in my mind’s eye is a fantastic thing.  Make that reverie work out in real life for you – it’s worth it!

Wearing the Colors of the Wind

Of all the Disney princesses, Pocahontas is perhaps the most underestimated and impressive, in my opinion.  She is the real deal, straight out of American history!  Not that an animated children’s movie did the best possible job at transferring a real life impression of her true story.  However, it is still a visually appealing treat and well-crafted interest point from which to find an incentive for reading up on the factual tale of Pocahontas.  She is portrayed as resilient, compassionate, understanding, beautiful in her selflessness, and remarkable in the way her life had a notable impact.  Yet, she is relatable royalty, and quite down-to-earth for a princess, er…daughter of the Chieftain.  For all of this, Pocahontas is coming sooner than later as part of my ongoing “Pandemic Princess” blog series.    

As a girl who has grown up with a deep love for getting out into the local wilderness to enjoy the wonders of nature, the 1995 Disney version of Pocahontas is my sister spirit.  I for one certainly know the ‘river is not steady, but always changing’ after exploring the same waterside haunts all my life.  I never know what surprise will be waiting for me each time I go.  The creek never looks the same for each visit.  There is always different animal activity.  Yet, for as much as I relate to, and enjoy the song “Just Around the Riverbend”, this outfit is more inspired by the theme of the movie, “Colors of the Wind”.  My top has a Pocahontas-worthy magical breeze of leaves sweeping across it, complete with a sneaky silhouette of both Flit the hummingbird and Meeko the raccoon.  My skirt is a rich color akin to the natural ‘gold’ of the earth the Native Americans prized so highly – ‘Indian corn’, also known as maize.  My earrings are vintage turquoise cabochons from my own grandmother, a hint towards the necklace Pocahontas wears which was her mother’s.

Yet, because the sequel in 1998 “Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World” is my favorite over the original, we took our pictures in a winter setting.  As much as I feel ‘at home’ visiting our local waterways, I especially love the hushed, majestic beauty of a wintertime creek.  This way I could wear cozy boots and also take full advantage of the combo of prevalent snow and mud to do some critter tacking!  Being inspired by the ‘post-John Smith’ part of Pocahontas’ tale prompted me to make some related outerwear to go along with this outfit.  This outerwear will be in a follow up post.  Hint – it will be London inspired!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  top – a custom printed Spoonflower polyester crepe de chine; skirt – a golden mustard color slubbed linen-look polyester

PATTERN:  The blouse was made using a “Quick and Easy” Butterick #7490, year 1955, and the skirt pattern was Simplicity #3626, year 1961.

NOTIONS NEEDED:  one long separating ‘sports’ zipper, a waistband sliding hook n’ eye, a vintage metal 7 inch zipper, bias tapes, and lots of thread

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Both pieces were quick to make – the blouse took me 4 hours and was finished on January 25, 2021.  The skirt was made in 5 hours and done on November 5, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  Both items have cleanly bias bound edges inside.

TOTAL COST:  The Spoonflower fabric was about $20 for one yard (with a sale discount), and the skirt fabric was a remnant cut from a rummage sale – thus practically free.  The long separating zipper for the blouse was a bit of a pricey buy, so my total for this outfit is about $27.

Just like the last time I sewed this same blouse pattern, my Pocahontas set is an outfit composed up of two different one yard cuts of fabric – so economical!  The skirt was easy-to-make.  These one yard pencil skirt patterns from the 50s and 60s always look nice, are so versatile, and are pretty simple to fit.  Yet, the pocket details alone took up most of the sewing time spent.    The blouse was comparatively fail proof as I knew what to tweak this second time around so it would fit me perfectly.  It’s happily comforting to have standby separates to sew, but they are even better when princess inspired!

I steered away from any ethnic references for this “Pandemic Princess” outfit (out of respect for the Native American culture).  Instead I stuck with pure aesthetic reasons.  To me, Disney’s Pocahontas inspired clothes should be earthy in tones and comfy to wear.  Here I have both needs fulfilled with a dash of vintage class through choosing two favorite styles of mid-century era patterns in my stash.  The added fact I was working with one yard cuts of fabric was also a great restriction.  It forced me to hone down my separate pieces into both a wiggle skirt and a simple, cut-on sleeve blouse.  However, I was not forced to scrimp enough to leave out the fantastic skirt pockets – yay!  I also made the most of the top’s border print, too.  When my arms are open, it seems as though I have a wave of wind going across me to send off as a goodwill blessing, just like in the end of the first Pocahontas movie.

There isn’t much I changed, eliminated, or added here – just the almost-unnoticeable small details.  First, I’ll talk about the blouse.  To accommodate the border print for the blouse layout I desired, I had to slash the underarms to make the pattern resemble a “T” shape.  I probably would have done this adaptation anyway, as this pattern needed reach room.  It’s no fun to pull out your tucked-in top just to move your arms up to take care of your hair.  Then, I took out 2 ½ inches vertically across the back to shorten the long waist. 

As I learned the hard way the first time I used this pattern, it has a very generous shoulder room which never works well when there is a center back zipper.  As my last version of this top had a back zipper that reaches only 1/3 of the way down from the neck, I chose to make this top stress-free to be dressed into.  No wiggling and struggling is necessary here because I adapted the back to have a center separating zipper.  Even the neckline finishing was simplified, too, with bias tape used in lieu of proper facings.  The fabric is so sheer that a wide inner facing would’ve been obvious from the right side and distracting from the border print.

The skirt did need some piecing of the pockets for me to keep them in my pencil skirt.  As I was so focused on just trying to squeeze a successful skirt out of leftover material, I half-heartedly ‘forgot’ to make the pockets deeper.  As of now, they are shallow pockets.  I should not complain because pockets of any size are useful and appreciated, but it’s handier to have them to be more akin to mini purses.  Out of a desire to make construction simpler and keep the tapered wiggle line shape to the skirt, I left out the back kick pleat.  The seam is all sewn up.  This doesn’t make the skirt harder to walk or move in – the hips and thighs are roomy enough.  I had to shorten the hem by about 3 inches due to lack of fabric, so the hem is a bit wider than originally intended anyway.  As you can see, it did not prevent me at all from exploring around my favorite creek haunts to capture these pictures.

I must have done this princess outfit right because the wildlife came to me as we were taking some of our pictures.  It’s too bad for picture taking (but good for them) that the wildlife is camouflaged with the environment well enough to not be noticeable behind me.  In the following post, you will more clearly see the one creature which amazingly came up to check me out!  My Pocahontas vibes must have been strong.  “Come roll in all the riches all around you, and for once never wonder what they’re worth”, so she sang in “Colors of the Wind”.  Spending time outside in appreciation of Mother Nature is priceless.