Cranberry Comfort

I feel like I am barely making it through most days lately.  There, I said it.  Why hide it?  I think I speak for many people.  So, all I felt like making most recently was something really useful and unpretentious from my go-to decade of the 1940s.  I have a whole slew of fantastic things to make, all ready to get put together, but they sit there intimidating me at the moment.  Something as basic as my days have been, an item which helps me feel like myself, is all I wanted out of my newest sewing project.  

It has been a long while since I last had a new 1940s shirtdress but I’m back with another one finally!  The way my chosen cotton complements the local fall season foliage cheers me.  The relaxed feel but refined appearance to the thrifty 40’s era design suits any sort of occasion.  Not that I have many formal ‘occasions’ to dress up for anymore, but sometimes that means getting put together for myself because my well-being matters.  My most recent event which called for this post’s dress included taking a stroll through the neighborhood to find this amazing Dogwood tree at the height of its seasonal colors.  I rather wish I could stay hidden in its beauty but the leaves are nearly gone now by the time I write this.  

The color scheme here alone helps me find joy by reminding me of some favorite seasonal homemade comfort food by the rich cranberry color of my dress and the orange hues of the tree.  I love making homemade cranberry sauce with a hint of orange zest (no canned version for us).  Also, there is a fabulous roasted beet and mandarin orange salad I make with a red wine and olive oil vinaigrette poured over a bed of fresh spinach leaves.  Besides, these dishes, there is my yearly “upside down cranberry sour cream cake”, which is a family favorite I try to bake each November.  Mmm – are you hungry yet? 

So excuse me if my palette for this fall is exceptionally inspired by both nature of the moment and what’s cooking in my kitchen, but now you will know why after seeing the dress that started my current color scheme.  Look for more golden, earthy, rustic, rich tones to come!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton print, probably vintage from the 90’s or even 80’s, with the brand of “VIP fabrics inc.“ printed along the selvedge

PATTERN:  McCall #3828, year 1940

NOTIONS:  I used lots of thread, one side seam zipper, and three vintage Bakelite buttons out of the stash of hubby’s Grandmother (There was fourth button to the set which has been sewn down the front of my dress.  It is on an older me-made project – this year 1940 velvet hat, posted here.)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finished on October 16, 2020 in about 6 to 8 hours.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound

TOTAL COST:  This was a 3 yard piece out of box of about 50 something different cuts of vintage fabrics, all of which I bought for only $25.  So this was one incredibly cheap dress!

There’s really not much to say about making this dress other than praise.  It was pretty basic to sew but I can brag this is probably my best made collar to date.  The overall dress turned out perfectly without any fitting tweaks needed (although I did grade up in size).  I will get much use out of this because the color, fabric weight, and ¾ sleeves will lend this to being an all-season item so I my 8 hours spent to make it was very worthwhile.  This can be dressed up with pearls and heels or dressed down with tennis shoes or sandals.  The dress is deceptively as comfy as a nightgown but makes me look oh-so-put-together in the blink of popping it over my head.  Altogether, it is nice casual wear that is the golden ticket to versatility – so very hard to find in RTW.  I know I am partial, but my opinion is that the decade of the 40s does this style of dress best!  We are so lucky to be still enjoying the benefits of such smart fashion, born of the trials of the WWII era, in our own times.

The buttons might be the coolest part to this dress, being prized vintage Bakelite notions from the sewing stash inherited from my husband’s side.  They are purely decorative because I was apathetic enough to not even bother to make proper buttonholes.  “As long as it’s wearable…” I felt so very below my normal par.  Honestly, I almost felt bad using them on such an everyday style dress I (nicely) whipped up.  Weird, right?  It’s the kind of the feeling of wanting to save them for something better.  Yet, I really think there is something to letting ourselves enjoy those really special things in seemingly not-so-special settings.  Don’t wait for the ideal tea party to feel the thrill of connectivity when using your Grandmother’s antique china.  Why wait for the right occasion to make yourself up if you think it would make your day nicer?  You are worth it, even if you are just at home.  Enjoying something special in a regular setting is better than never at all.  Yet, as these singular buttons were the perfect complement for this dress, I’m just going to let them be one of the many reasons why I want and need to wear this dress frequently!

My dress’ details are surprisingly low-key given the date on the envelope – year 1940.  Vintage McCall’s patterns are always such wonderful designs but this one is a little different than the norm.  I appreciate the fact that the collar is a lot smaller than the traditional 40’s era overpowering one and the sleeve caps are not as obnoxiously puffed as most from the time.  It slightly bothers my mathematical perfection tendencies that the front overlapping blouse-style bodice leaves the seam off-kilter to the center seam to the skirt.  No matter – I can get over that but I have come to expect a bit more precision from a vintage McCall!  The skirt’s front box pleat and the back skirt’s 3 panel seaming is classic early 40’s feature which keeps the skirt looking slim but gives me plenty of room to move easily. 

At some future date I may come back to embroider an arrow point to stabilize the top seam end where the pleat opens up.  Apparently, I’m expecting to wear this out soon enough!  Such a detail might bring this dress up a par, so until it is needed, I will not add it.  This has to stay a stress-free creation that fulfills a need for the moment.  I also realize now after the fact that a good project which grounds me is just what was needed after all the super fancy dresses I have been sewing in secret behind the scenes…subtle hint for a vintage princess themed series to come!   Not that I have any qualms about going out in a strongly vintage outfit or over-the-top frock, but it is always nice to have something to wear which doesn’t scream my presence as loudly as other new items do in my closet of today.  As I said above, this way I’m camouflaged with my favorite fall tree!

I added something old, something new, and items dated in between the two when it came to my accessories.  My leather woven belt and leather Naturalizer brand heels are from my teen to early 20-something years.  My earrings and watch are late 40’s from my Grandmother, when she was a teenager herself.  However, the one add-on that stealthily steals the show is my handbag.

The purse I am using is a true vintage mid-40’s telephone cord treasure, also known as a “plastic cord bag”.  (See this excellent post at the “Dusty Old Thing” blog page for more history to these!)  The ivory and brown version I have creatively has a different design layout for the cord on either side (which you can see if you look close at the details of our pictures)!  I used to always think these kind of purses were too novelty for me and I never intended to buy one.  The bright red, blue, white, and yellow combination versions turned me off by being so garish (in my eyes).  However, I came across a perfect condition one locally for a steal of a price (they tend to be very pricey) and I couldn’t resist.  Owning one for myself now, I have found a true appreciation for their quality, besides the fun and statement-piece like quality a “plastic cord bag” has to perk up an outfit.  A basic outfit needs a bit of a pizzazz, right?

I can’t just finish up this post without giving you something extra.  All this cranberry and orange colored saturated color goodness can’t go wasted.  I know you are curious about some of my favorite cranberry recipes, right?!  As Thanksgiving will be soon upon us, I’ll give you the recipe I use for homemade cranberry orange sauce.  This is a ‘from scratch’ recipe which is super-easy and it calls for healthy ingredients like applesauce and a touch of maple syrup.  Enjoy and please do let me know if you try it and find yourself liking it as much as I do!  Here’s a toast to all the goodness around us, whether we are able to realize it or not, which is upon us this season.

Peony Blush

Peony buds are so pretty but quite fussy to appreciate in their prime beauty, much like finding the perfect ripeness of an avocado.  The peony bushes are one of my favorite spring blossoms in our backyard except they have a very small time frame before they get musky in smell, with wilted petals and droopy stems.  It’s as if they are either bashful beauties or merely overwhelmed by their own superfluity.  This year though, we not only were able to photograph that ‘sweet spot’ for our peony bushes, but I also matched with their particular color, too!  So – small, urban backyard ugliness be darned – I happily sported my newest vintage-style make for the occasion.

This simple dress has all the qualities to be a chic, versatile, comfortable, yet easy-to-sew wardrobe staple item.  There is no interfacing and closures needed (no zippers, hooks, snaps, or extra notions) so it’s perfect for these Covid times when sewing supplies and mail deliveries are hard to come by.  You pop it over the head and you’re good to go!

Only two yards was enough to work with (no matter what the envelope back says) so it is not good for smaller remnants – unless you use one fabric for the front panel and a different one for the back…just a wild thought!  Crazy prints, large scale florals, and hard-to-match designs are all great fabric choices for this pattern as there are basically two very large cuts with nothing to break them up except for two, small, French-style bust darts in the front panel.  Unlike many of the other “Jiffy” line of patterns in the 60’s and 70’s which I have tried, this one does have the best shaping and fit out of all of them.  As you can tell, I am completely sold on this pattern and wish I had sewn this dress a few years back as I originally intended!  I am so glad I finally got around to whipping it together.

The shoes (60’s era), bracelet (80’s from my childhood), and earrings (from my Grandma) to my outfit are true vintage items, but the flower accessory you see along the waist was made by me.  It is a trio of airy rosettes composed of lime green chiffon leftover from this retro dress project.  It was a quick and relatively easy accent to assemble that I think provides the right contrast to the overwhelming amount of pink in the print.  As I used a duckbill clip on the back, I can also wear this in my hair if I please!  There is a Threads magazine tutorial which I used as my guide – you need no pattern – and a scrap of heavy muslin or interfacing as a base.  It’s all in the article “Coming Up Roses” by Kenneth D. King from the Threads magazine #142.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a sheer polyester crepe print fully lined in a solid light pink sheer cotton batiste

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1356, also sometimes numbered as S0567.  It is reprint from 2014 of an original Simplicity #8125, year 1969

NOTIONS:  All I needed was lots of thread!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Making it from start to finish took me about 6 hours.  It was finished on May 3, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  What insides? All raw edges are encased by the cotton second dress I sewed inside lie a lining.

TOTAL COST:  I really don’t remember.  I bought this on deep clearance when the now defunct Hancock Fabrics was closing.  Two yards of each fabric probably didn’t cost me much!

Sure, this might be a pattern from 1969, but I think it is quite timeless in design, if a bit unusual.  A kind and knowledgeable reader commented on this post on my wrap-on, 70s era, apron-sundress to let me know about Andrea Zittel and her “Smockshop” project of 2006.  Andrea Zittel’s basic smock pattern – with her simplified outlook to the basis for creativity – is really no different than this vintage pattern when you look at the basic outline.  A little tweak here and a tweak there to Zittel’s basic idea and we have this pattern.  I am not saying that either copied off of the other, but I’m just sharing a different way to look at this style of garment.  If you Google all the amazing versions artists and creators came up with using Andrea’s smock pattern (A wrap-on evening gown? Yes, please…), I am envisioning all the different ways this vintage 1969 pattern could be tweaked to make something completely different than where it started.  This pattern has so much hidden potential. Certain slight details to this dress have won me over.  For instance, I am completely enamored by the squared neckline.  It is such a subtle feature yet so different and appealing.  Something I never expected from making this dress is the way the back wrap half opens up when you walk or when the breeze blows and gives the impression of an overskirt.  The front skirt half fully wraps around to the back for full coverage and no fear of a peek-a-boo of thigh, but at the same time this makes the skirt seem more slim fitting than the back half which wraps over it.  Yes, the fact that I used a solid contrast color to fully line the inside of this dress emphasizes the impression of an overskirt.  But either way, this pattern’s neckline and lovely skirt were two surprises I did not see coming when looking at the tissue pieces as I was cutting it out.  Beforehand, I looked at plenty of other reviews on blogs as well as Instagram, with no hint or mention of these features, so perhaps it has to do with the very lightweight fabrics I chose.  Yet, I believe it has more to do with the slight changes I made to the pattern.

The most obvious change is the fact I added sleeves.  Sleeves to a wrap-on dress are not the norm, and you all know I like a challenge!  I traced out the little cap sleeves which are part of this mid-1940s dress because I liked how the ‘hem’ is really a fold so that there is two layers, i.e. self-faced sleeves for a pretty underside.  For a wrap dress, pretty undersides are important because fabrics’ wrong sides and any raw edges are easily seen unless the garment is fully lined or has French or bound finishing.  I slightly altered the sleeve pattern to have a longer armscye to work with the wrap under the arm and I also added more curving to the shoulder portion so as to match with the dress’ non-40’s style of a sleeve which is set further into the main body.  It was really much easier to add on than I expected and completely upgrades the overall appearance to the dress from saying “summer fun” to also “chic” in a really subtle way.

As a side note for clarification, I keep calling the solid light pink cotton side of my dress ‘a lining’ because I do not like polyester against my skin.  Because of that, I only intend on wearing this with the floral side out.  Technically, this dress is completely reversible, and the pattern intends it to be that way but I just do not really like this solid color when worn on the outside.  I look too washed out and think the dress seems more like nightwear that way.  I have a few reversible dresses already (here and here) and so I felt I did not really need this particular one to be yet another.  The blush pink is pretty enough as a sweet flash of a contrast.

The second major change I made to the dress is how I redrafted the tie closures of the front to be just above my waistline.  The pattern design has the front ties end at an empire level, just below the bust.  I am not a big fan of the empire waist on myself unless I am wearing a historical Regency clothing, or a style with similar proportions.  So I lowered the arching of the front overwrap, which is on the back panel, by just over 2 inches and redrew the curve.  I am so glad I did this adjustment but – as I said above – I do think it changed how the overskirt lays.  Even if some small intricacies to finished dress’ features came out as a very good surprise to me, I did engineer the rest of the features to be just how I wanted them.  Those turned out just as nice as I expected.  Every little tweak you do to a pattern has an effect on other parts to the overall design you might not expect.  Sewing is so interesting, exciting, and complex, isn’t it?!

The appearance of the dress can be slightly changed up just depending on what you do with the long closure ties.  If I want more of a loose and straight A-lined dress I merely tie the front ends in a bow or leave them hang.  If I want more of a defined waistline I wrap the long ties around my waist twice and knot in back.  I did choose to make my ties half the width as the original pattern.  To be clear, one tie cut out according to the original pattern gave me two ties because I cut the width in half.  They are just as long still, but I personally like the delicateness of skinnier ties.  They are much easier to tie anyway than wide ones, even though skinny ties are miserable things to turn inside out when making them.

The back closures you don’t see and the dress length were the last things to mention that I also changed.  I added a whopping 8 inches to the hem.  Yes, it might have been overkill, but I am all about midi length dresses at the moment and I like the elegance of it on this dress compared to the very 60s style shorter length of the original.  After making this 40’s era wrap top, I knew I didn’t want a repeat of the fussy way it closed behind my back.  This 60s pattern called for the same deal – two sets of ties.  The ties on that 40’s top tend to come undone on me after some time of wearing and if I make a sloppy bow they are a tad bulky.

Thus, for this dress I made small loops across from oversized buttons for a secure and simplified closing that is super easy to execute blindly behind my back.  The top closure to my dress felt better on me with an extra extension so I added a second loop for more than one option of comfort.  I was also able to make useful two random, mismatching, oversized buttons, too!  I know I said this dress was wonderful because it needed no closures, but then I go and add some so I can sound like a hypocrite.  Ah, anyone who has sewn long enough can sympathize with how sometimes a project can take an unexpected turn.  However, I suspect I secretly love to overthink things sometimes.  That is life.  I forget I tend to be a perfectionist.

To talk about trying to think about everything, not only did I come up with a clip-on flower, but I even made a face mask to match my dress!  This mask and all the ones I make have several layers for protection (one is polyester, two are cotton, with one extra interfacing layer).  I only had enough of my dress’ floral print scraps to make a second copy of this exact mask for my husband’s mother.  The pattern I use for all my masks is a free download from here (youtube.com/anjurisa), and I highly recommend it.  I slightly altered the pattern to give more room in the nose (many members in my and my husband’s family have a more endowed schnozzle than I) and figured out how to save on elastic by having most of the strap be a fabric tube, except for a little 2 inch stretchy section in the side of the mask.  Yes, here I go overthinking again.  Yet, my efforts do yield a very good, full coverage, highly filtering mask I do believe!

They are a necessity of the times, and all the other colors besides pink in this particular floral print – the green and purple – help the mask co-ordinate with plenty more outfits besides this one.  I personally don’t completely mind matching my mask so exactly to my outfit of the day, yet it brings up my self-consciousness that I am making it way too obvious to viewers I am wearing a self-made outfit.  Not that this is a bad thing, because I am proud of what I sew and am personally confident in my creations, it’s just I have been careful not to be overwhelmed by mask making efforts.  If you highlight the fact you make masks, there is the chance you can get inundated by peoples’ orders.  My stress levels have been high over these last few months and that is causing all sorts of unpleasant side effects to show up on my body by now.  Mask making stresses me out further, but I do realize over the past months, it is one of the most important efforts one can perform using a sewing machine.  Self-care is also very important in our world today, too, so I limit my mask making and keep up my sewing projects in between everything.

This is so far off from where I started talking about how peony flowers are like avocados, isn’t it?!  I’ve covered everything between my inspiration leading up to this outfit, making a flower brooch and a mask, to Andrea Zittel and her ‘Smockshop’.  It just goes to show that things are not always what they seem, nor do my ‘simple’ projects always end up so straightforward.  It is often the more basic sewing which leaves room for extra creativity, anyway.  After all of this, I hope you pick up this 1969 dress pattern and find your own way to personalize it the way I did so you can enjoy this easy but cute wrap frock the way I am!

Peggy’s Faux Bolero Dress

It was the day after that terrible, unexplained explosion at the Isodyne Energy Facility.  She was fighting through so much internally and externally – confusion, loss, blame, and a gut suspicion of a truth that she cannot prove.  At least she was the only one who had the humanity to get to know the missing scientist, no matter what his skin color.  Although she did not have the time to establish the connection she was inherently hoping for, she did understand him enough to mourn that he was only another senseless innocent in the long list of persons she seems to be the cause of their destruction.  Rightly or wrongly, those are her feelings.  Yet, the rest of the world around her only wanted the ‘facts’ about last night tied up in a nice little package, so that the truth for them was what they expected to hear.  SHE was the one needed by those in power to sign off for their lies – willingly or not was the threat.  What might our heroine wear for such a scene?  How can her fashion translate her strength showing through her weakness, her conviction to stand for veracity as the sole woman among a sea of lying, well-connected men?

Luckily, Peggy did have some true friends to turn to in such an hour.  Fortunately, also, the wonderful costume designer Gigi Melton has already come up with the perfect, amazing, and striking answer to a scene such as this, as well as other incidents just as powerful.

The heroine, Peggy Carter of the “Strategic Scientific Reserve”, dons the signature color of her female adversary – purple.  As someone who perennially wears blues, reds, and browns, she combines it with a new-to-her tone from the other end of the spectrum…green.  A professional looking faux two-piece outfit becomes a convenient one-piece dress.  Bold but sensible courage is manifested in Peggy’s fashion as well as character. Now, with my sewing capabilities, some fabric remnants, and an old pattern, I have my very own copy of Marvel’s Agent Carter’s dress for the above described scenes from Episode 3 of Season Two, “Better Angels”.

I love how Peggy’s words perpetually cut through the crud around her and are searingly direct, like a hot knife in hard butter, especially for this scene.  Truthfulness with others is what she is best at, and those scenes in which this memorable dress is worn, she oozes an assertive yet feminine, complex yet simple, and full on 40’s look!   “Better Angels” episode helps demonstrate why I have such respect for her and why I admire her character – an everyday superhero capability is tinged with a very relatable humanity and touching empathy.

April 9 is the anniversary of Peggy’s birthday, and it’s annually a day to celebrate a character that has brought so much into our lives by taking part in the “International Agent Carter Day”.  This is one of my favorite days of the year!  For such a day this year, I will post one of my very favorite Agent Carter outfit “copies” I have done.  It also happens to get the most compliments everywhere I go wearing it!  All this was made in one yard of deep eggplant purple gabardine and a few scraps of bright China silk leftover from a past project.  I adapted a true vintage 1946 pattern to both keep to the era and find the real historical version – thus I’m not just copying a Hollywood garment.

Of course, anyone who knows me knows I love a great pair of shoes, especially one that perfectly matches a color in my outfit.  Thus, I set out to find some true vintage shoes which would parallel the olive green B.A.I.T brand heels in the show.  There are some more modern decades, such as the 60’s or 70’s, which mimic 1940’s shoe styles, with slightly different heel shapes.  They are frequently much more wearable because of their not-so-fragile-as true-40’s footwear, however.  So, after much searching, I found a pair of lovely suede and polished leather, woven front, peep-toe heels in my size, in the exact matching green as my center bodice!  These are so comfy and really complete the outfit, yet they sadly blend in too well with the grass to be seen when I’m in a yard!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a rayon/cotton blend gabardine, combined with china silk (leftover from lining this 40’s jacket-style blouse) for the contrast, and full lining in the bodice with all cotton broadcloth.

PATTERN:  McCall #6377, year 1946

NOTIONS:  I had all the thread I needed, and I used interfacing scraps and a zipper from on hand

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finished on September 10, 2018, in about 10 hours.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound

TOTAL COST:  The one yard of purple gabardine was a remnant found for about $5 at Wal-Mart, the silk was scraps (I don’t count the cost of such small pieces), and the “American Classics” cotton was yet another remnant, this time found at JoAnn for a few dollars.  This dress cost under $10!!!

Faux boleros on a one-piece garment or even just color-blocking – like this dress – seemed to have been a ‘thing’ starting in the late 1930s through 1940s, from what I have found so far through extant garments and similar sewing pattern designs.  This collage is only a small portion of what inspiration I have come across.  These are all a very smart – perfect for using small cuts of fabric, but nevertheless make the most fun out of fashion as well as the most streamlined outfit ever!  The bottom right extant late 1930s dress is the one that I specifically channeled here with my tweak to add a bit of Agent Carter my vintage pattern.  That inspiration garment had the arched, faux cummerbund mid-section as well as the shiny silk contrast bodice panels which worked perfectly with my need to fit every pattern piece on small remnants.  The more concise the pieces, the better to fit onto scraps!

Getting my bodice to look like a faux bolero required me to retrace it out onto paper, cut out that copy, and re-draft it into a few extra pieces.  Yet, to keep all of those pieces together nicely – besides validating the accuracy of my re-drafting and provide a clean interior – the bodice lining is the one-piece design of the original pattern.   I was so happy to be using my lovely leftover silk in a project which would highlight it.  As I had only used it for interior lining in the project before, this silk literally now has its opportunity to shine.  Yet, the silk is so much lighter compared to the substantial thickness of the gabardine, it sometimes appears quite wrinkled.  China silk is not the best at holding its own on a fashion design.  There’s exceptions to the rule as you can see here, but it really is best as a lining.  I wouldn’t trust the China silk to not rip or tear apart on its own if I hadn’t lined the bodice.

The best part of sewing a two-tone dress (total irony here) is having to switch between colors with the spools and bobbins of thread in my sewing machine.  It is a real pain!  This is why I did the side zipper and several other sections by hand.  Not to brag, but I can use whatever color of thread on whatever color of fabric and make the thread invisible!  Such a technique is a very useful skill, just sharing a heads up!  I kept the machine top-stitching to the purple portion of the bodice only because gabardine doesn’t look as terrible showing thread as silk would.  Silk is such a fine fabric, I feel like it deserves better (most of the time) than machine stitching!  I know, silly me!

There’s something to be said about dressing in character.  When you try to copy someone else’s wardrobe, no matter how much you like it on that other individual, you are not dressing for yourself until you own it and make it yours, whether through a tweak to the garment or a change of mental outlook for example.  I – and many other wonderful women who call Peggy Carter their heroine, like me – find that Captain America’s “Best Girl” only raises us up and makes us stronger and more confident in ourselves when taking on her persona through wearing her wardrobe.  Agent Carter is such a special character to emulate.  She is so relatable and inspiring in so many ways that to imitate her is like manifesting a braver and bolder version of yourself, which needed Peggy’s help to show itself.  Let’s all “know our value” today and every day!

Working in the Quad-angle

I recently realized a gap in my winter wardrobe.  Amongst all my warm self-made dresses and cozy skirts in lofty wool or tweed, none are from the 1930s decade.  My trip in February to Los Angeles (and Las Vegas) gave me the perfect excuse to amend this discrepancy!  We were to stay at a grand Art Deco era hotel “the Biltmore” – an early home to the Academy Awards ceremony, the Oscars.  You all can tell how much I love an appropriate background setting for my vintage adventures, so I came prepared with a wonderful mid-30’s boucle dress which now fills in the gap in wintertime gear!

This dress completely plays upon my combined love for Art Deco geometrics and the mathematics of sewing.  It is a dress chock full of right angles.  The boucle has darker brown threads in perfectly right angles, and the faux pockets continue the play.  There are gusset panels at the underarms.  My gloves have zig-zagged cuffs and my chest decoration is dashes.  Even the buttons I chose are squares.  This circa 1934 dress is on the very cusp of the shift in the decade’s dresses going from so very angular and Art Deco Influenced to soft, flowing, and feminine after 1935.   Even my hat refers back to the early 30’s with its close-to-the-head fit that pairs with a short hairstyle, much like the late 1920s, and it has very linear velvet trimming wrapping around the crown.

Granted, most of the pictures in this post were taken when back home in our town, because sometimes we’re too busy having fun on a trip to stop for photos.  However, it just goes to show that this dress is much more than just a splurge creation for a special trip.  It is a new favorite!  My accessories – all vintage except for my shoes – are also mostly acquisitions from the same trip, as well.  (Any color in gloves which are older than the 1950s is hard to find in town, but I prefer trying them on before buying, after all.)  It felt like this outfit was just meant to be, and although it has been hard to wait, apparently ‘now’ was finally the perfect time to pick up this project and make it wearable.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  an acrylic blend, fuzzy, chenille-like boucle; contrast pieces in a light polyester crepe; bodice and collar lined in crepe poly lining

PATTERN:  Excella pattern #5288, from circa 1934 (no later than 1935)

NOTIONS:  My buttons and my side zipper are true vintage from the 30s or 40’s.  Other than that, all other supplies are new and mostly from on hand – embroidery floss, thread, bias tape, and interfacing scraps.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was sewn in about 20 hours (yeah, it gave me a bit of trouble) and finished on February 12, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  The bodice is fully lined, but the skirt seams have clean bias bound edges.

TOTAL COST:  This dress cost me under $5!  The buttons, zipper, and floss were my few recent expenses and the only ones I’m counting.  Everything else (all the fabrics) was either scraps or came from on hand in my stash for what seems like forever…so there as good as free!

This dress has subtle (but fantastic and unusual) points to it that set it a bit apart from the run-of-the-mill 1930s design.  The skirt pleats are folded oppositely to the norm – the side panels are folded in knife pleat manner towards the center on top of the middle panel.  I have not yet found another 1930s design which has underarm gussets…combined with the wide, cut-on, kimono sleeves this style of bodice is what is considered traditional for the 1950s!  The collar does not extend all the way around the neck and ends in an angle on either side of the collarbone to leave the front button closure standing alone all the way down the center front bodice.  If I want a slightly different look than an all-buttoned-up neckline, I can open up the top button hole and give the appearance of a collar (thanks to the full lining).  The belt is an extension of the bodice in the way the belt carries on the descending buttons.  A back view is rather plain comparatively, with a basic two piece skirt and a bodice with waistline pleats for a slight pouf above the belt.  The era of the 1930s never ceases to amaze me with its curious variety of fashion, but even still, this is a rare bird of a style, I believe!

Finishing this dress was an old commitment finally fulfilled.  The project idea had been in my sewing queue for several years (and the fabric for at least a decade before that) but I knew my chosen design would require some real pattern work before being usable.  Firstly, I needed to trace it out so as the grade in wider (more modern) seam allowances.  Besides, I’d rather not take the chance of ruining the old original tissue pieces.  Secondly, it was incomplete.  Sometimes I can get a good deal on patterns which would otherwise be pricey by being open to ones which are missing pieces and in danger of being thrown away.  Pattern drafting feels so worthwhile when it can go towards bringing these old pattern gems back to being usable and complete again.  This way it’s also done not for money but driven only from dedication.  Granted, this dress did not have any major pieces gone – only the collar, facings, and decorative corner panels – but just drafting them successfully from scratch feels like a big deal to me now that the dress has come together!

Excella Pattern Company was a subsidiary of Pictorial Review Patterns, so if it is anything like its parent corporation, I’m assuming this dress is a higher-end style which is either from epicenters such as Paris and New York, or knocked-off of a designer’s creation.  Even though I see that the pattern number points to the probability that this is 1935, the design is so very 1934 (which I played upon with my hat which can be definitively dated to the same year).  This is weird because these patterns were usually ahead of the curve when it came to the newest styles.  Nevertheless, for as simple and “easy” as this might seem upon a general glance (especially when compared to other Excella & Pictorial Review patterns of the time) I could tell it was a high-end design by the way the small details that you don’t see demanded so much extra time.

I didn’t need the missing neckline facing pieces as I went ahead with my own plans and fully lined the bodice.  Yet the contrast collar, faux pockets, and belt were actually part of my never-ending scrap-busting attempts.  You see, I had bought some reproduction 1930s style, high-waisted, wide-legged trousers for my husband a few years back and they needed a very deep hemming job for them to be his length.  The fabric was a lovely, thick, crepe finish material and I had two big 6 by 24 inch-something rectangles leftover which happened to match so very well with this boucle.  I figured so very correctly that those pieces I wanted to be in contrast wouldn’t need much fabric anyway, and the dull crepe is a perfect non-flashy but pleasing material to do the job (a ‘pretty’ brown tone can be so hard to come by).   Yay for making the most of every little bit I bother to save!  My husband finds this use of those scraps amazing in the way I even so much as kept track of those remnant pieces, and then remembered my fabric stash (and planned projects) well enough to figure such a pairing.  As I said above, I feel this project was meant to be!

Perfecting the details took up more time than to bring the basic dress together, but I do believe such attention makes a world of difference from merely handmade to the Parisian chic Excella and Pictorial Review patterns were known for.  Perhaps the most obvious detail is the decorative stitching added onto the front chest faux pockets.  Rows of thread are shown on all the angular panel pieces on the pattern cover, and I was (still am) unsure how much I like the detail, so I kept it only to the chest panels.  No need to bring more attention to the hips, so I heard when I asked for advice.  I used embroidery floss for the job, and stitched it by hand during the car ride across the desert from Las Vegas to Los Angeles.  The instructions seem to indicate the rows of thread are to be tiny, close to one another, and stitched down by the machine, but I wanted something much more decorative than that…something that shows off my time and handiwork.

Additional embroidery floss went towards stitching on arrow points at the opening of the skirt pleats.  The boucle is very loose, and the skirt is unlined, and so the arrow points not only add a bit of couture finery but also make sure the fabric stays together at one of the most stressed seams to the dress.  There are hand stitched thread belt loops all around the waist to keep my self-fabric skinny belt in place over the bulky waist seam.   All hems and the neckline edges, as well as the zipper, were also hand stitched in place for a dress that has very little visible seaming thread showing.  The only semi-shortcuts I took is to make regular stitched buttonholes as well as making the belt front closure not a true workable button – there is a hidden double hook-n-eye.  These are not really shortcuts, I know, but I worked on such fine finishing everywhere else, so I had a silly sense of guilt.

Sometimes I wonder why I bother to go to such lengths.  Maybe it’s for the satisfaction of creating something beautiful to the best of my ability.  Perhaps it’s merely the perfectionist in me.  Maybe I’m trying to fill in for the lack in quality that RTW nowadays does not generally offer.  Deep down I want to make something that will last, something that will be treasured, something alike to what makes vintage garments so appealing and enduring even today.  Every time I doubt myself yet still take the time to construct something well, I see the finished look and love it – it makes it all worthwhile.

Anyway – back to the dress before I wrap up this post!  It might seem a bit out of the traditional season for rust toned ochre.  However, orange isn’t just for fall (I have a whole Pinterest page dedicated to this).  As much as this dress can come across as an autumn season frock, I see it more as an apricot color, or a warm, earth-toned beige.  It’s a lovely, cheerfully muted color for a very early springtime for some pleasant February days.  It’s also a color I most admire in the built environment of our home city, too.  I love decorative terra cotta elements, the fine crafted brick work that our town is known for, and the combination of a glorious sunset blending its colors with the rich architecture.  Now I have a dress that matches well with that!  Even though I probably will not be wearing this dress any more this year until autumn comes so many months away, I have this wonderful 30s dress waiting for those cold days ahead so I can rock the Deco Era no matter what the weather!