A Skirt-Blouse and a Dress-Skirt

The second installment for my 2020 “Alter It August” is a featuring of this crazy but coordinated and happy display of me wearing things in the wrong place.  Ugh – that just sounds like need to relearn how to dress.  No, I just like the sewing success I find when thinking a bit differently when attacking my tucked-away mending pile.

What I started off with were two vintage pieces in their own right.  I’m wearing what had been a skirt from the 1990’s as a newly refashioned blouse of the 40’s WWII style.  Then, I also salvaged what was left of a true vintage 30’s era dress into becoming a skirt which pairs nicely with my new blouse.  Yes, I’m all over the decades and every article of clothing I started with is now something else.  Yet, somehow, what I ultimately ended up with is these wonderful separates that I can wear and enjoy for years to come.  I think I can rock this sort of upside-down dressing!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a soft cotton with a hint of spandex is the fiber content of the skirt that became my blouse, while the true vintage dress that became a skirt is a lovely rayon gabardine finished off with a matching color modern cotton sateen

PATTERN:  Simplicity #4528, a year 1943 vintage original pattern from my personal stash, was used for the blouse

NOTIONS:  some interfacing scraps, thread, two true vintage buttons for the blouse, and a vintage metal zipper for the skirt.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  It only took me about an hour or less to clean up the dress and turn into a skirt.  The blouse was finished on August 1, 2020 in about 4 hours.

THE INSIDES:  The insides of my blouse are cleanly bias bound, while I kept the original (pinked) seams of the vintage dress-turned-skirt and merely finished the waist.

TOTAL COST:  FREE!

My true vintage skirt was more of a salvage than a refashion like my blouse.  I had an acquaintance had passed to me this piece that someone had given her because they knew I am a smaller size and would be capable of restoring this to a wearable state.  The bodice of a cream-colored, rayon gabardine 1930s dress had been roughly cut off midway through, the side zipper ripped out, and the amazing duo of large pockets halfway hanging on.  I can’t help but hopelessly wonder what the full dress looked like originally.  It might have been wonderful to have the chance to save more than just the skirt, but really – I shouldn’t complain!  This was a wonderful gift and an honor of a challenge.

I started off with the basic preliminary tasks – trimming the bodice down to the point where I would sew on a waistband, taking off a handful of belt carriers, re-stitching down the pockets, and setting in a side zipper.  Next I used a cotton sateen from on hand (because hey, it was something I didn’t have to buy and it matched in color) to sew on a waistband and a hook closing.  That was all it needed besides a basic cleaning and pressing.  There still are some very slight stains I need to get out but overall I am very ecstatic to have saved this piece.  I am amazed that for all this dress had went through before it came to me, there were not any obvious stains or even a hole, rip, or tear in the skirt (it is pristine).  A very good vintage find finally all fixed up deserves a great new top to pair with it, right?!

I had a plaid skirt which had hardly ever been worn, even though it has been in my wardrobe since circa 2000.  I had bought it second hand back then, so it must be from at least the 90’s, judging by both the style and how the label inside proudly claimed to be completely “Made in the USA”.  Maybe I should not call it fully vintage…just ‘dated’ for now.  Nevertheless, it became a blouse of a different ‘vintage’!  The skirt’s plaid was cute enough to me that I held onto it for this long, yet the style always screamed too “school girl” for my taste and so was rarely worn.  No doubt the fact the hem ended right above my knees added to that impression.  It has a low-riding hip yoke with a deep-pleated, flared skirt below and was fully lined.

A refashion can feel like a giant uncertainty, so it helps to use a pattern that you’ve used already and which has turned out successfully before.  It gives an extra confidence level.  I used the same pattern that gave me one of my current favorite vintage blouses – this “Australia” movie inspired creation – and merely shortened it to waist length because of the limited amount of fabric I was working with.

There was so much fabric in the pleated section below the hip yoke, all I needed to do was cut that part of the skirt off and it was like having a long 2 yard by 20 inch section to work with.  There was imperfect plaid matching in the skirt to begin with, and I did not have any extra fabric to be as choosy of a perfectionist as I like to be with geometrically printed fabric.  Yet, I do think I made the best of it!  The belt strip to the original skirt became the waist tie attached to the bottom hem of my new blouse.  This tie front feature helps the top stay down on me and is also a nice feature to perk of the pretty, but still a bit plain, ivory gabardine skirt I am wearing with it.

I was sort of aiming for a pre-WWII casual 40’s kind of look here, but I’m happy it ended up looking pretty timeless after all.  The skirt is in a feminine and comfortable bias cut so it is obviously 30’s era, but a well done cut and style like this never goes out of style.  After all, the giant, interesting pockets hold my Android phone just fine with room to spare…how modern is that!?  I personally like large blouse lapels and cannot lie, however, they do rather give the blouse away that it’s vintage.  Yet, crop tops are quite popular now, the tie waist is an unexpected detail, and the plaid is quite fun, so perhaps all this outweighs the collar for a contemporary appeal.  I paired my outfit with my Grandmother’s earrings and my comfy Hotter brand tennis shoes.

Even though “Alter It August” is drawing to a close, it’s always a great time to whip those unusable clothes into shape and make them work for you!  You have the sewing superpowers to create…now use those same gifts to take care of what you already possess on hand and make sure it is something useable that you love.  A refashion from what’s on hand is something new for nothing, with the added happy benefit of knowing you both succeeded at something challenging and helped counteract the global harm of the wasteful fast fashion industry.

I don’t know about you, but at the rate I am going out and about these days, I really don’t need a whole lot of anything new coming in the house besides food in the fridge.  That doesn’t stop me from continuing to be a ‘maker’, though, and this sporty little outfit was just the sensible, thrifty little pick-me-up project to be useful, keep me creative, and clean the house all in one.  Maybe I haven’t been out enough for me to even think of turning a skirt into a blouse, after all, though?

Living with Coral

Personally, I don’t ever put much weight or mental thought into the chosen Pantone Color of the year.  I kind of think it is some sort of gimmick or ruse to ‘sell’ a certain dye lot, besides being rather silly, if you ask me.  Fashion chosen for the populace through those companies higher up who run the money and production is not an organic trend by the populace, no matter what advertising makes it out to be.  Anyway, never mind my conspiracy theory rant because I am weirdly head over heels for the 2019 Color of the Year choice…”Living Coral” (#16-1546).

It is described as “an animating and life-affirming coral hue with a golden undertone that energizes and enlivens with a softer edge.”  Subconsciously this color is not a new tone for me to sport, but the chosen Color of the Year has opened my eyes to see it is already in my wardrobe and has been part of my fabric choices more than I realized. (This can be clearly seen in this 20’s style dress, my 1954 qipao, ’57 striped sundress, my convertible 40’s pinafore, or even this 80’s style outfit.)  I do love a good bright color but this 2019 color is something with more pop than a pastel but not overly confident.  I feel a softened orange-borderline peach tone highlights my light olive skin.  So, Pantone’s “Living Coral” announcement only gives me a reason to bring out an old favorite color and find original and absolutely awesome way to wear it with my classic vintage panache – with this post’s dress as my first example.  Made with THE goldmine of rare fabric, this dress’ lovely true vintage rayon gabardine shows a unique and special way circa 1949 to incorporate “Living Coral” into more than just summer frocks (a default item made of the color).

The gloomy side of such a happy shade is the facts that the real world living creature of coral is dramatically dying in growing numbers.  I’m not meaning to be melodramatic here, but nature is the original, pure form of color in all its most breathtaking and inspirational sources.  Fashion is a major world polluter and this year’s color is sadly ironic if it is not also used as a source for awareness.  Man-made colors do not level up the bright and glorious shades of nature.  Just think of a Birds-of-Paradise, a butterfly, and a show stopping sunrise or sunset for only a few examples.  What good is it to have the shade of “Living Coral” paraded in paint cans, on garments, and stationary if the real living coral is becoming so bleached out it is now only drab and sickly?  I’ll step off my soapbox now, but as one who is staunchly emotional about sustainability and thoughtful fashion choices, I had to share my two cents.   Let’s turn this Color of the Year trend around to actually do good rather than just promote sales for once.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a rayon and cotton gabardine blend vintage original fabric.

PATTERN:  a New York brand sewing pattern #867, a “Louise Scott” design, circa 1949

NOTIONS:  I only needed thread, a little interfacing, and a zipper (I used a vintage metal one).  All items were on hand

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was finished on November 15, 2018 after at least 25 hours put into it

THE INSIDES:  SO nice!  All French seams

TOTAL COST:  This dress cost only about $20…I got a great deal on the fabric!

What is so special about vintage gabardine?  I don’t really know why it is so rare, but I do know quality modern (as in no polyester) gabardine is hard enough to come by.  Yet I have found some primarily made of cotton over the years and it can be found in many of my sewing projects.  Gabardine fabric is defined as “a smooth, durable twill-woven cloth” and I love how it is durable yet soft and flowing at the same time with an interesting texture when you look closely.  It is one of my favorite fabrics but this vintage gabardine absolutely takes my breath away with its high caliber of excellence…why, it actually has a satin sheen and is not just a solid color!  It is so silky and wrinkle-free.  It was a dream to work with and is fantastic to wear and touch.  The underside is a smooth solid grey and the right side is a very detailed floral pattern with the twill weave showing through.

Looking at the inventory of vintage fabric sellers who can authentically date their products, I have been able to roughly date this material to the late 40’s or 1950s, one of the reasons I chose the pattern I did for it.  Also, American post war fashions did not need the 4-something yards that a Dior style dress would require and I didn’t have much more than 2 yards to work with!  Nevertheless, I did want to pair two lucky finds together – the pattern had been found for a steal of a price during our last trip to the fashion district of Kansas City, Missouri, and the fabric had been a lucky gamble for a reasonable deal bought to support a “Makerspace”.  What went into making this dress could be counted on a “Top 10 Best Finds Ever” list, if I had such a thing.

This dress might look simple at first glance, because it inherently is just that…which at the same time only shows off the smart, quality style of it.  It has details – they just aren’t flashy.  This is to me the lovely epitome of post-WWII New York fashion (and I don’t mean the pattern brand).  American late 40’s styles were so much more sleek, slimming, and subtle compared to the strongly padded, statement silhouettes of French fashion so often used to define this time.  Both had impeccable tailoring and lovely design lines, and I know (as and American) I am no doubt biased, yet to me it seems that there is a great art in being understated.  Dior styles overemphasize both hem width and the hips to create a tiny waist but many American late 40s fashions preferred slimming skirts, longer hems, simple design lines, and relied on details (such as pocket flaps, peplums, pleats, etc.) to softly visually widen the hips.  This latter I see as more universally flattering and working for more body forms versus the former.  I think I can personally work both sides of the post war profiles, but I appreciate the low key appeal and practicality of late 40’s state-side vintage while also enjoying creating it.

So – can we take few minutes here to let me detail the fine points that a camera doesn’t seem to capture very well?  Of course the double hip pleats on each side are the main event, even though you might have glanced over them.  They were drafted as part of the skirt side panels making for two very long and skinny cuts of fabric.  They stand in for a true peplum.  Post war 40s peplums, especially ’48 to ’51 were very low on the body line at and just below the hips much like the pleats on this posts dress.  I was afraid that the print would drown out the detail, so I made sure the hip pleats were not ironed down flat but kept their rolled edge appearance.

The sleeve cuffs mirror the hip pleats.  However the cuffs are slightly pointed under the arm in front of the elbow.  This little drafting point actually helps the cuffs stay folded up and keeps them from catching on things as compared to other cuffs on clothes I have which are straight cut in circumference.  That is smart engineering there!

The skirt is similarly fine-tuned.  I noticed it at the ‘cutting out’ stage when the sides of the center front panel had a concave bottom half, like a very gentle slope outward.  This way the center skirt panel flares out and rolls over the side panel seams from mid-thigh downward…just beautiful and unique.  Such a little difference in pattern shaping does so much!  Not only does this feature make walking elegant and easy-to-move in, but also it’s not every project that the finished garment actually turns out to pretty much have the same drape and qualities as the cover drawing.  Many drawn garment examples (both vintage and modern) only prove to be an idealized or a lame version of the actual draft on paper of a design, and it frustrates my detail-oriented brain to no end that the two don’t match up more often or not.  New York patterns sometimes do get a bad rap (from what I have read) for only offering a colorless sketch on their envelopes, but here, the drawing captured the exact small nuances of this style.  Needless to say, I am impressed.

Hopefully, this dress could fool a fashion historian or curator.  I wanted nice finishings to please myself, but also I felt the special fabric deserved to be made particularly well.  Hardly ever do I sew with true vintage fabric, so I wanted to only use notions and techniques which could be seen on a dress of the era which I was creating.  The only thing glaringly modern is the shoulder pads and maybe the thread I used, the second of which could only be ascertained by someone trained to know.  Otherwise, the French seams, the cotton interfacing, and the vintage metal side zipper do not date this dress as current.  The design certainly won’t!  The edges of the neckline and sleeve cuffs, the zipper, as well as the hem, were meticulously hand-picked for invisible stitching, adding to the subtle high detailing and because the wonderful fabric deserved it (saying it again).  These might also confuse anyone looking to date this garment.  All of this was something of an experiment, and the result brings just making another garment into something at a whole other level.  I actually get giddy just thinking about it.  Reliving the past isn’t old-fashioned or second-rate…it is really fun and a very nice treat.

After all my raving about how the dress turned out, what was not lovely about this was the sizing.  I have made New York patterns a few times now and they have consistently had small shoulders, long hems and very small hips and waist.  This dress’ pattern was the opposite fit.  Of course, the difference is they have been pre-mid 1940’s.  But it is surprising that just 5 or so years later could show such a marked difference.  I have nothing to back my theory up, but I wonder if the New York pattern company had new owners or at least new body standards after WWII.  I know the company did make it to the mid-50’s.  The dress had a very long waist (common for 1950’s dresses), very wide hips, and normal shoulders.  I had graded down to my body size but I had to take out in the waist and below what accounts to two sizes smaller still.  Any vintage pattern never ceases to hold a fitting surprise, I suppose.

Sadly, I have not been able to find out anything on the purported designer of this dress, Louise Scott.  I did find several other Louise Scott New York patterns (from 1950, some of which I passed up) along with this one, and any Internet search I have tried so far only shows New York pattern envelope covers.  Thus, I’m guessing she might have been an independent, small designer hired by this one brand of sewing patterns to get her fashion concepts out there and help their company, which was in its last years of business, step things up.  She might have just been their in house pattern drafter, too, even.  I don’t know, but it is distressing that for as many patterns as Louise Scott offered through New York Pattern Company we know nothing about her wonderfully classy and meticulous designs.

I wore 1950s accessories to emphasize the fact that it could even be a design from early in that decade, or make it an obvious late 40s style at least.  My Grandmothers vintage 1950s black glass jewelry set (bracelet and necklace) pairs with some older, some modern pieces – mid-1940s gloves, a 50’s velvet beaded head topper, me-made sterling earrings, and my decade-old favorite strappy dress heels in black satin.  I believe my handbag might be from the 1980s but it has that classic 50’s style.  Of course, I had to play up the “Living Coral” color in my dress by tying a vintage 40’s silk scarf to my purse.  It also doubled as very pretty neck scarf that day.

“Living Coral” is such a versatile and cheerful color, more adaptable than many might imagine, almost like it’s a neutral.  Here, it goes with a blue-undertone grey and the black with cream flecks are a complimentary muted contrast.  “Living Coral” tones were often paired with a ‘dove brown’ or ‘avocado green’ in the 1950s.  Of course, I think  bright royal blue pairs well with coral, too, after making my 20’’s style “The Artist” dress mentioned earlier.  Please, just don’t forget that the real living coral in our oceans need to stay just as bright and just as much in the limelight as 2019’s fashion color is!  If you have another interesting color you’ve paired coral with, do let me know because I’d love to try it!