Smart Pockets, a French Beret…Year 1934

I do love pockets (…and probably say that way too much on the blog), so really smart pockets that I see on vintage patterns are even more appealing.  You know, just because pockets are utilitarian, they don’t have to ‘look’ that way or be hidden.  Why should pockets just be tucked in the side seams or merely top-stitched on…why not make them not only obvious but also part of the styling?!  I’m glad I sew, because following this train of thought, I found a comfortable and practical early mid-1930s blouse whose stunning design is highlighted by using stripes.  And… just because I could without much extra effort, I whipped up a matching velvet beret.  What proper 30’s lady would be out and about without a hat of some sort, after all?  Amidst a plethora of bias cut gowns and fancy wear, a chic everyday 30’s set is so refreshing and welcome.

This outfit has been so darn long in coming to completion!  For many years now, I have wanted my own vintage beret, and after much searching, I finally found an easy-to-make, reasonable to afford, yet true vintage option to sew.   Furthermore, speaking of past project connections, back in 2014 I sewed a skirt, the bottom half from the same pattern as this post’s blouse, using fabric from my Grandmother (post on my skirt here).  That same year was when I actually found the shirting fabric to make the coordinating blouse in this post.  Sheepishly, I’ll admit I only just recently got around to finally sewing some of what has been long planned out to now have all three pieces – hat, blouse, and skirt – together.

I have made other blouses of the same era to go with my basic black 30’s skirt (see some here and here), showing how the bottom half of the garment pattern is truly a wardrobe staple for me.  However, now that this properly coordinating striped blouse (which certainly gets top billing among any previous 30’s tops) has been made, my outfit feels complete and every bit as stylishly awesome as the pattern intended.  This is probably my very favorite make, as well as the most useful and frequently worn, from the decade of the 1930s.  Beret hats are not necessarily just for one decade either, and in a lovely grey velvet, this too will be an understated yet elegant and warmly basic accessory in putting together outfits.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Blouse – a striped, textured cotton shirting, with basic cotton broadcloth in a solid black for both the collar and full body lining; Hat – a lofty polyester velvet, in a grey two-tone with a tiny, slight windowpane print on it

PATTERN:  Pictorial Review #7379, year 1934 (as I said above the skirt has its own write up here), with a 1930s reprinted pattern from the Etsy shop “kalliedesigns” for the beret hat.

NOTIONS:  I really had everything I needed already on hand – some thread, a little interfacing, bias tape, a metal jewelry chain remnant, and buttons. 

TIME TO COMPLETE:  I finished the blouse on December 18, 2016.  Making it only took me about 15 hours.  The hat was whipped up in a few hours about a month after the blouse.

First, I have to address my giving a definite year to this design.  I have yet to see a Pictorial Review pattern with a date on the pattern itself, yet I am quite confident in narrowing this one down to late 1934.  Styles of the 1930’s were very specific to certain years when you look at certain details such as hem length for both tops and skirts/dresses, shoulder styles, sleeve and pocket trends, as well as hairstyles, accessories, body images, and the like.  Taking all of these details into account, I initially estimated this pattern could even be very late 1933 at the earliest, but no later than early 1936.  Finding a few Pictorial Review magazines and dated patterns helped me narrow down my estimate, especially this Pictorial Review “Goddess Gown” #7363 adapted from a Lanvin design for Winter of 1934.  It is a number very close to my pattern (#7379).  Besides, it would make practical sense for my pattern to be from Fall and Winter anyway based on the long sleeve option.

Beyond the sensible reason, Pictorial review patterns were known to be fashion forward, working with foreign, well-distinguished designers, couture houses, and nobility to release some truly top-of the line and rare styles which would not be available to many ladies of the 1930’s otherwise.  Thus, when I found a copy of the same style as my blouse out of a Butterick company Summer 1935 catalog, as well as similar designs in Simplicity #1812 and #1724 (both ca. 1935), I realized what I already assumed about Pictorial Review patterns – that they were the leader of fashion for their time or at least ahead of the trends.  Their patterns are printed after all…another factor adding to their prestige!

This blouse was not that hard at all to make – what was hard was matching the stripes (mostly) together with re-drafting the pattern.  The stripes are not mirror matching and were playing tricks on my eyes when I was figuring out the placement of the pattern pieces.  Also, I had to add in four whole inches because this pattern both runs super small (something I learned from making the skirt already) and I wanted modern 5/8 inch seam allowance (verses the 3/8 called provided for).  I spread the four inches out properly and evenly across the entire blouse, like a good girl, for as much as I wanted to take the easy route, I didn’t just add it in on the sides.  Nor did I cut apart or otherwise draft a new pattern piece.  Yes, I know I made this extra hard for myself.  I do that sometimes.

My blouse might look somewhat straightforward at first glance of the pattern but it has lovely details.  The link closure neckline is my top favorite feature, so I’ll start at the neck.  Two buttons and a chain to link them connects the dual buttonholes and closes the shirt neckline.  I opted for a more decorative and showy jewelry style chain in sterling silver rather than the very basic thread looping together as recommended in the pattern. I do love how the neckline link closure almost doubles as a necklace with the chain!  Button link closures are something primarily seen in the 30’s for main fastenings down bodice fronts, jackets, sleeves, and necklines.  Depression era practicality, a desire for accessorizing, as well as accommodating the rough means available of washing garments all contributed to the popularity of removable buttons.  Many buttons were “change” or “clip on” buttons (read more about them here on Vintage Gal blog); others were link-style, connected by metal or thread.  As we just had National Button Day (which was started in the 30’s, by the way), this can be an idea to let those precious and amazing buttons you’ve been saving shine on a garment without feeling like you have to sacrifice them to the wear and tear the rest of the garment will receive.  Whatever the reason, I do love the singular and useful practice of link button closures.  My fellow blogger, Emileigh, has also made several 1930’s garments with link closures (see her dress here, and jacket here), just like me!

As lovely and soft as the striped shirting is on its own, I decided to fully line only the main body of the blouse.  Otherwise, it was thin enough to show seam allowances, underwear, and even the pockets…how racy to think of!  There are more reasons than that, though.  The black broadcloth renders my blouse a better warmth weight for chilly days as well as perfectly opaque.  I was also able to eliminate the facings with this trick…the lining finished off the front neckline opening easily and cleanly.  The collar is then the same fabric as the lining.  This was not only convenient but also great for matching especially when the collar is open!  The sleeves are unlined to keep my blouse from being too heavyweight.  Besides, at least with the sleeves I can feel the lovely soft shirting on its own!

The sleeves are also ‘hiding’ a secret detail – what I believe are darted French cuffs.  The outer side sleeve pattern was laid out with what looked like on paper to be a long and wide dart.  Except for the last 2 inches being open at the end of the sleeves where the wrist is, the French cuffs smoothly assimilate into the sleeves as a dart which ends to nothing at the elbow.  I have never seen anything remotely like this sleeve!  The darted part of the French cuffs makes for such a lovely, shapely, tapered sleeve shape that ends in a bang!  The cuffs were directed by the pattern to be closed with more link buttons, but I generally use cufflinks instead.  Cufflinks would probably not be something a 1930’s woman would have worn in the era were times were hard and pennies pinched, especially not the wrap-around mesh cufflinks that I used (this kind date to the 1960s and 1970s – mine are coveted Anson brand).  However, people also liked escapism in the 1930s to forget their hard times, so just maybe I can envision a 1930’s woman doing what I was doing her with my accessories – go big or go home! If Marlene Dietrich wore cufflinks, so will I!

I’m terribly distracted, though.  The above-the-hem hip pockets were meant to be the main attraction!  The side panels to the bodice fronts actually extend down to the hem and the top edges of the bottom “legs” of the middle section are hemmed and left open.  When the hem is tuned under and the side seams sewn, the pockets are then closed.  I love how the pockets are right there is front of me – so handy yet so subtle and hidden into being part of the design!  The stripes in my blouse also hide the fact these pockets can hold so darn much!  Hipline line front pockets must have been “a thing” in the mid 1930’s, as I have seen numerous versions of them on jackets, dresses, and blouses in patterns offerings at that time from all companies.  See this Butterick design from Summer of 1935, Simplicity #1812 from 1935, or McCall #9242 of 1937 for just a few of the examples I have come across.

I will admit to having a love-hate relationship with the action-back, though.  Sewn up as-is, the center back box pleat is open from below the shoulder panel (as you see in the the right picture).  I wore it like this one or two times, but it just made it feel oversized and fussy.  I felt like I needed to wear a belt just to keep it in place.  This is silly, I thought!  So I hand tacked the box pleat together from the hemline up to a few inches above the waistline.  I wanted to make sure to have full movement across my shoulders so I left some of it open.  Now it had the right 1930’s “skinny hip” appearance and unfussiness!

Last but not least is the head topper – my hat!  I’m sorry but I was so happy with this beret that in my rush to just wear it and enjoy it, I have totally forgotten to properly iron flat the many darts.  I suppose this is a good sign!  I’m rarely this excited to omit the finishing touch, an ironing job!  An ironing session almost felt like too much work for it when this hat came together so quickly.

The pattern itself could be much nicer – it is rather crudely traced.  However, it gets the job done and gives a nice basic piece to use on its own or build off of.  After all it is only two pieces, and a bunch of darts to sew, then voila – a finished hat!  Most importantly it did turn out well and ran true to size.  It is listed as a 22” to 23”, and my head is a consistent 23 ½” hat size.  This could not be any more perfect for me, but those who need it bigger, slash and spread more (while keeping the same size darts) and those who need it smaller, I would recommend the easy route of just adding a tiny casing around the head for skinny elastic.  I personally left off the recommended head band for the edge, and merely turned under the edge like a traditional hem.  This way the hat stays closer to my head and slouches better than with an added band to keep it around my head.  The slouch part is designed into the pattern, not just an effect of too much extra room.  The pattern is cleverly asymmetric, so if you would want the slouch to be on one side versus another, that needs to be figured out before cutting.  I didn’t care…I just dove right in as it didn’t take much of my time, nor did it take much fabric either to have a new hat.  If it turned out badly, it was no biggie, but oh did it turn out well!

My background location is earlier than my outfit’s date, but it is an early Art Deco wonder so we just had to include it in a 1930’s photo shoot sometime!  The grand “Moolah Temple” was originally built for a Masonic organization, but it is now a posh movie theatre and bowling lanes at the floor level and below, with apartment spaces above.  The meticulous and respectful renovations have happily left the building pretty intact and one can see it in its original teens-era splendor.  It has dizzying details, with a strong Moorish and orientalist influence which is both unique and lovely.  Extravagant ornate terra cotta outside, opulent marble work inside, with original fixtures makes me feel like I stepped back in time, especially when I can wear my vintage appropriate outfits such as this Pictorial Review one!

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“Poster Girl” – Hat, Dior Flower, and 1951 Dress

If it’s on the front cover of a magazine, or in a publicity shot, your outfit had better be good, right?  Well, the villainess for Marvel’s “Agent Carter” television show wears some pretty killer post-War 1940s and early 50’s fashions, and no less so for the outfit she wears for both the preview publicity pictures of her character and for the cover of a vintage “Fashion News” magazine (seen in “Better Angels”, Season Two, episode 3).

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In order to recreate her “Poster Girl” outfit, I made a bunch of different pieces – the dress, the hat, and the clip-on flower.  I’m not complaining – this was closer to being a labor of love to sew, not a bother.  It required a good flow of my creative juices, some good pattern sourcing, and taking my time to enjoy myself for things to turn out “just so” for an equally killer outfit which I would like to think could hold its own against the class of Whitney Frost.  Her sense of fashion is probably one of the reasons she was held as the face for Hollywood, as well as her seemingly ‘perfect’ life with her husband.  However, 'All eyes on her, but no one sees her'-combobeing a “Poster Girl” (definition here) was a hard standard to hold up to for her.  For Whitney, it only meant keeping up the façade of happiness and glamour, always smiling and keeping the truth hidden…and boy, did she have some dark secrets to hide.  George C. Scott once said, “Technique is making what is absolutely false appear to be totally true in a manner that is not recognizable.”  Here, I intend to only stick to Whitney’s fashion without her superficiality.  This is my closest copy yet of a Ms. Frost outfit, and I absolutely love it!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  THE DRESS and FLOWER: a 100% cotton sateen, a “Gertie” print; THE HAT: Simplicity 8390, cover front-comp,wa buff satin polyester solid in fuchsia color

PATTERN:  THE DRESS: Simplicity #8390, year 1951, “Misses One-Piece Dress and Stole”; THE HAT: Vogue #7657, view F, year 2002; THE FLOWER: the instructions and guide to how to make a ‘Dior’ rose came from a small “Easy-to-Sew Flowers” booklet, compiled by Threads magazine, copyright 2012.  The tutorial is listed as adapted from Threads article “Dior Roses” by the late Roberta Carr, in issue no. 34. 

Vogue 7657, yr 2002, pics onlyNOTIONS:  Believe it or not, this outfit was made with only what was already on hand.  I had all the thread, interfacing, closure notions, bias tapes, and other odd and ends needed for the hat, dress, and flower here in my “magic” stash.  The only thing I needed was to order a buckram hat blank base (more info where it came from and what it is exactly down later).  Ah – and the cotton velvet ribbon,  “Waverly” brand, was bought (of all places) at Wal-Mart.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The Dress was made in about 20 hours and finished on September 15, 2016, and the hat came maybe 10 hours later.  The flower was made in just under an hour the day or two afterwards.

THE INSIDES:  There is a combo of both French and bias bound seams inside this dress for a clean finish.

TOTAL COST:  The dress cost a reasonable but decent amount, about $7 a yard for about 4 yards.  The hat fabric combined with the buckram base and ribbon cost me just under $15.

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I had some problems dating my dress’ pattern.  My first problem was the presence of new pattern numbers stamped in grey on the back info of the envelope.  The instruction sheet has the date of the year 1951, but the newer stamped numbers of ‘4291’ would make this about year 1953.  However, as everything else to this pattern points to the year 1951 (the style of dress, the original numbers, the instruction sheet, as well as the double bars on the top left side of the front envelope), I am sticking to that early year in the decade.  I have not yet found any evidence of this design being re-released later under a new number, so I’m not sure why the stamped combination was added on (it does look quite official like it was a die cast impression).  One of the many wonders and curiosities that vintage patterns offer…

DSC_0384a-comp,w,combo, Whitney and Calvin

The dress design is lovely, and smartly designed.  It also fits very well on me – perhaps the best fitting 50’s pattern to date.  I usually find that the back waists are too long, shoulders proportionally too wide, and busts too generous on other 50s patterns, but not here!  The pattern was close enough to the inspiration dress that some small adaptations were needed to get to where I wanted it to be for my copy.  The fabric is, as you might have seen above in “The Facts”, another lovely Gertie print.  My other Whitney Frost dress that I made was in a different Gertie print, so this is the second time her fabric has been what I feel is the right parallel for channeling the Agent Carter villainess.  Sure my dress fabric has more grey with an addition of magenta and deep purple, but these last two mentioned are her signature colors, and the print is still a water colored in theme like the original, so I feel it is a good match.  From what I can tell, I suspect that the original dress on Whitney Frost is silk, and maybe a taffeta form of that, but Gertie’s sateen prints are quite luxurious without being impractical for a not-overly-dressy garment.  This means my dress will see more wearing…and as comfy and classy as I feel in this, frequent donning of it is good!

DSC_0419a-comp,wThe collar is of course the highlight of the dress and although the original design is neat, with a little mind crunching to figure out the curious construction method I was able to tweak it to have it more like Whitney Frost’s inspiration dress.  I re-drafted the over the shoulder portion to eliminate the notches, then curved and widened it a tad more.  I also had the facing be the same as the dress fabric, not a contrast as the cover envelope shows.  The underside of the collar has this interesting L-shaped method of piecing together the collar while the outside facing is all one, long, giant wrap around-to-the-back cut – I love vintage pattern details!

Maybe the collar is vying for the top favorite position among this dress’ feature because I also love the squared off armholes and the squared back of the collar.  This shows how subtle complimenting of details can go a long way and make all the difference for an awesome garment.  The square back of the collar end is something I haven’t seen in a pattern before and it is a nice way to add interest to the view from behind.  The squared armholes allow for extra room that my larger upper arms appreciate, as well as something extra different and lovely.

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The skirt had been a small, sort of adapted half-circle, bias-cut four-panel style.  What I did for my dress was to take the side seam side (over the hips) and add about 5 more inches out so I could gather the skirt over the hips.  This created and extra 10 inches over each hip which was then tightly gathered between side front to side back.  The gathers give my dress an extra 50’s style widening emphasis on the hips, slimming my waist (so I feel) and also (I think) balancing out the giant collar better than the original plain skirt as the pattern shows.  (This vintage year 1949 dress has the same skirt with gathered hips.)  Besides, I wanted to copy the same detail on the inspiration dress of Whitney Frost.

DSC_0416a-comp,wHowever, adding the gathers over the hips of the skirt portion to my dress did mean that I could not place a zipper in the side.  Where would I put the zipper?  Bing – on goes the light bulb over my head.  Down the front like a pants fly!  This idea actually came from seeing this kind of closure method on and existing vintage 1950’s dress I have – this is how I knew to re-create it plus the benefit of knowing this was done in the decade (keeping things authentic).  The front bodice of the dress is a wrap-over, double-breasted closure so I merely continued the closure down the front center seam of the skirt to include a small 7 inch zipper.  It took some forethought, but I love this part of the dress!  It’s so easy to get in and out of with all the closures in plain sight…not on the side or down the back like many other vintage garments.  I think the front zipper is pretty undetectable.  Knowing that I made something work out, besides its being different and new (for me), leaves me tickled.

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Now – onto the hat.   I must say that the hat itself is ingeniously designed and the pattern was excellent, very clearly explained and turning out a finished product better than even what the picture shows (so I think).  It is incredibly simple in its construction and design, but it is also terribly tedious and detailed work to make so that it turns out well.  The last part is where the ‘trouble’ comes in, especially for me because I cannot tolerate hand sewing (because my wrist and shoulders do not take it well).  However, every ache and minute spent on this hat was so worth it to me ending up with something like this!  I feel like this hat is my first fully ‘proper’ millinery piece, and it was good practice with good teaching steps towards diving into more detailed and professional headwear.

I was able to use everything that was on hand already, but the buckram hat base was something special needed here – no ways around it.  The good news is that I found the buckram hat blank quite affordable and very easy to work with…I was even able to stitch around the edge on my machine!  For this hat I used a 7 ½ inch by 5 ½ inch teardrop shaped blank from “Dance Costume Supply” on Etsy.  It did have a covered edge with a wire in it (not called for in the pattern’s instructions), but I think it gives the hat better, firmer shaping than otherwise.

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My first step was to cover the buckram blank.  The instructions say to steam the fabric or soak in water in order to shape over the hat blank (blocking method), but my chosen fabric is a poly blend and would not react to either method so I cut the piece on the bias and lightly stretched (then stitched) the cover pieces over both underside and top side.  Next, the head straps were made and stitched onto the side edges.  Then I made a bias binding and stitched it over the edge just the same as one would for the neckline or armhole edges of a garment – easy!

I am so glad I went with my gut and made the head straps to match my hair color rather than the hat.  I love how this helps the hat stand out all the better and the way it stays on all the more subdued.  I especially love the fact that I used good old-fashioned cotton velvet ribbon, too.  Not only does it add a bit more authenticity (being in cotton), but from a practical standpoint the velvet literally acts like Velcro to my hair keeping the hat band in place like glue where I put it without needing pins.  Cotton velvet ribbon hair bands for hats are literally the best thing ever!  I need stock in this ribbon for my next hats…

DSC_0383a-comp,wThe final step to the finished hat was the hardest – the stand-up crown.  This is really nothing more than an interfaced rectangular strip of fabric whose edge gets sewn right onto the very edge of the front 2/3 of the hat.  This was very slow, tricky work that did damage to my hands and required precision to make the stitches invisible.  Beforehand, however, I scavenged through the house to find something more poker-stiff than the DSC_0422a-comp,winterfacing sewn in the crown and – bingo – I came across a perfect sized strip of thick plastic laminate to slide in the rectangular piece.  Every so often my habit of saving “things-that-might-be-useful” comes in handy, as long as I can find what I want when I want it.  Anyway, this plastic worked perfectly – it’s still 100% bendable but keeps a shape nonetheless.  I cut the strip a few inches shorter than the fabric’s length on each end so I could fold the crown down and tack onto the hat base, behind which the bow sits.  In order to give the bow some pouf without stiffness, the final extra adjustment was to have a strip of sheer organza in the fabric bands.  In order to cover up the not-so-perfect bow center, I have a small bias band to finish things off nicely.

Last but not least is the fabric flower clip.  This flower was so fun and easy to make (one hour!) I am tempted to spend one day to make a dozen of these out of my fabric scrapDSC_0417-comp,w stash.  They do not need that much fabric – just three pointy almond-shaped ovals in consecutively smaller sizes cut on the bias.  My flower turned out very good without much difficulty and too much hand stitching (I was about done with hand stitching after the hat).  Some scraps of green felt finished off the bottom of my flower and gave me a lovely ‘leaf’ look as well as a base to sew on my hair clip.  I’d bought this how-to booklet at our local JoAnn’s fabric store a few years back, but finally just came to using it – I should have done so sooner!  If you’d like to try these Dior roses out for yourself and don’t know where to find the Threads booklet, visit the blog “Oliver + s” for an excellent tutorial along with a mini history lesson (link here).

Witney Frost cameo shot in collared 50's dressThis flower just so ultimately finishes off my outfit, in my opinion.  It’s that understated extra touch, not to mention the fact that it is a fabric rose in the style of the famous Dior.  This is so like Whitney Frost to wear an accent used by the “famous Parisian couturier whose designs were worn by the world’s most glamorous women” (to quote the Threads article).  It all adds to the sham of the “Poster girl’s” face.  For me, it makes my handmade efforts seem all the more worthwhile to be able to use my talents to re-create something from the likes of Dior, Hollywood, and the decades that had more style and class than what I see in most  fashion of today.

Speaking of style and class, a small part of this outfit is (I would like to think) also in the mode of the most sophisticated woman I’ve known – my own dear, and now departed Grandmother.  She was a young, newly married 21 year old in 1951 (the year of my outfit) and she frequently dressed up, and on these occasions would never go out lacking a hat, pearls, and a flower (she loved nature).  Grandma was also a “Poster Girl”, too – in her younger years she was a local vaudeville celebrity.  Oddly enough, I recently found a picture of her in a dress similar to the one in this post, with a large collar and double breasted front closing, from the year 1951.  I know her dress is in a solid with a notched collar, different from my own, but we do share the same smile and taste in clothes, so I would like to think she would be proud to see me wear something after her own heart.  This is why I’m including this dress in Tanya’s “Dress Like Your Grandma” sewing challenge.  Have you heard about this!  Maybe you could join in on the challenge along with me?!

DSC_0561-comp,w,combo, me & Grandma

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“Blank Canvas” – a 1939 Hollywood Dress and Re-Fashioned Hat

Allie J's Social Sew badgeEvery blank canvas is a starting point just waiting, pleading for personalization and a touch of color.  My creation happens to have soft, white linen as the canvas, and all the colors added (in controlled moderation) for a culturally-influenced dress and hat.  I even made my own earrings from buttons to match!  This is part of Allie J.’s Social Sew #4, theme “Vintage”.

Mock embroidery, courtesy of some appliques, a wildly striped scarf belt, and my bright coral “Chelsea Crew” T-strap shoes liven up a white dress.  Subtle features and lots of bias cuts take the backstage to complete the dress.  My Tyrolean-style, dome-crowned straw hat was another successful experiment in more modern hat re-fashioning.  Together, I am again finding myself loving the year 1939 fashion – part 30’s and part 40’s combined into one lovely and comfy outfit.

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My dress and hat happen to have a wide variety of Hollywood personas related to its making – the famous Lucille Ball is the “star” of the dress pattern I used, an “Agent Carter” character Ana Jarvis was another inspiration, as well as actress Joan Blondell’s fashion, especially as worn in the 1939 movie “Good Girls Go to Paris”.  My more basic sources were 40’s and late 30’s pattern covers plus an extant 1939 garment from Jonathan Walford’s “Forties Fashion” book.  My first 1939 dress (blogged here) was also directly patterned after a dress from his book.

Simplicity #4203 & #2070, Walford book's 1939 Mexicali dressThe “Forties Fashion” book chapter which shows my inspiration dress (Chapter 1) addresses the subject of culturally inspired fashions of the early 40’s/late 30’s.  Much of the Mexican, South and Central American themed clothes, aprons and embroidery from those times stemmed from President Roosevelt’s ‘Good Neighbor’ policy from the early 1930’s, but as the decade went on, Bavarian and Alpine themed fashion and headwear grew popular universally.  I would also like to think of this dress as further inspired by both the classic ‘Guayaberas’ or Havana shirts and the Phillippines’ version (called ‘Barong Tagalog’) that I’ve seen on the men (and some women) in old movies such as “The Lone Wolf” series.  These shirts are made for warm weather and are often of a type of linen, have lovely details, and have frequent floral embroidery.  Havana and Panama were of course known for their straw hats, too.   Thus, my outfit combined several cultural influences for ‘39.

As far as Hollywood influence, 1939 was the year that Lucille Ball stepped out as something 1939 Hollywood inspiration collageother than a mere radio voice and a B movie actress when she starred in the film “Five Came Back”.  One of the main ladies in that film actually wears an identical hat to the one I made!  I’ve also seen similarities to my dress in the other ’39 movies like “Star Reporter” (same bodice) and “Good Girls Go to Paris” where Joan Blondell has similar puffed arched sleeves, Tyrolean hats, and cropped boleros.  Currently, though, Ana Jarvis from the Marvel television series “Agent Carter” Season Two wears many ethnic inspired fashions, and in “A View in the Dark” (Episode 2) she wears a cream colored blouse with floral vine embroidery.  I know Hollywood is not a good example of what the everyday woman might have worn, but it sure is awesome to bring into one’s wardrobe!

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I have yet to decide on what bolero to sew up to match – one with the large collar in this Hollywood pattern for my dress, but I’m tempted to go with Vintage Vogue #8812 for a simpler look that would go with my later 40’s fashions.  Something else for my already long bucket list of future projects!

THE FACTS:Hollywood 1773, year 1939, front cover-comp

FABRIC:  Thick pure white 100% linen for the dress, polyester chiffon for the scarf belt, and a basic modern hat made out of straw for my re-fashion

PATTERN:  Hollywood #1773, year 1939

NOTIONS:  Floral appliques, thread, bias tapes, and two different zippers – all bought last year when I originally planned on making this dress

THE INSIDES:  All bias bound

TIME TO COMPLETE:  maybe 10 to 15 hours to make – it was finished on July 14, 2016

TOTAL COST:  Everything was bought when a Hancock Fabrics store was closing a year ago, so everything needed was bought on deep discount and amazingly just what I needed for a perfect match.  For several yards of fabric and all my notions I think I spent maybe $20.

DSC_0973a-compHollywood pattern #1773 was an amazing find at an amazing deal which was obviously too good to be true.  It was almost like hell in paper just attempting to sew it into a dress like the one on the cover.  First of all, it was in a very large size for which I had to grade out 4 inches besides taking out 4 inches from the length of the skirt hem.  However, the real problem was the fact the pattern was cut into and changed dramatically.  I really don’t know what someone was trying to do but after studying the line drawing and doing much detailed mathematics,DSC_0972a-comp I had to re-draw in about 3 to four inches added for the center front where someone cut out scalloping.  After all this, the instructions were disintegrated to the point they were in about 5 crumbly, delicate pieces.  All the instructions have now been scanned in and saved as files on my computer for a permanently safe copy.  Still, the instructions added to the multiples of problems, although I am glad that at least the tissue pattern pieces were in good shape.  Gotta be positive especially after a (finally) successful result!

Luckily, after all the trouble leading up to making this dress, sewing it was a breeze.  There are no darts in the skirt portion, as both the front and the back are cut on the bias.  The back bodice has no waist tucks and there are only two small ¼ darts at the neckline.  The front bodice has all the details, with its ten 3/8 inch tucks (five on each side) on the shoulders and two simple waist pleats (one on each side).  The sleeves are also cut on the bias and are tightly gathered at the cap tops.  This dress does have double zippers – a decorative metal one down the front neckline and one on the side at the waist.  For some reason the pattern had the front waistline dipping down low.  I sewed it like that at first, but did not like it and unpicked to level out the waist, instead.  The seam allowance gets cut off along the neck and the sleeve raw edges so as to cover with bias taping.  My prized vintage all-cotton ¼ inch bias tape from my Grandmother was used for the sleeve and neckline edges while modern store bought (yucky) poly cotton blend was used for finishing the insides.

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The appliques are my cheat-shortcut to all the hand sewing necessary to do real embroidery.  Anything more than a little hand stitching bring out my carpel tunnel issues.  The appliques I had are actually meant to be iron-on, but I merely stitched it down by hand.  I don’t want to ruin the fabric nor make it that permanent by ironing it down.  The flowers on the design remind me of Mexican Bird of Paradise (yellow), moss rose (pink), and milkweed (orange/yellow).  The two appliques which are on either side of the neckline are the largest and longest of the set – I have four other smaller half size ones that I am tempted to add on the rest of the dress.  I sort of like the simplicity of the appliques just at the neck.  I’m afraid that with the bright scarf belt, more appliques might make the whole dress look overly busy and tacky.  For now, I’ll leave it as-is.

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It was really the scarf belt that started this whole outfit.  I was so happy and surprised when I happened to find this chiffon in the same color tone and striped pattern as the on inspiration dress in the “Forties Fashion” book!  It was one of those great “Eureka!” moments that told me I needed to make this dress.  The belt is one long bias scarf cut from two opposite corners of 1 ½ yards with the raw ends finished off with a touch of fray check liquid.1936  Purple felt hat, FIT museum

My hat started out as another one of those basic one dollar non-descript pieces that I’ve re-fashioned before (here and here).  I started out by making two tapered darts about two inches apart up the crown where I chose the back to be.  Then I brought those two darts together in a tuck that extended into the brim and topstitched the excess down.  A light steaming from and iron as helped further shaped the hat.  The darts shaped the crown while the tuck brought the size smaller so it would sit higher up on my head and have that cup-like center top to the traditional ‘cone crown’ of a Tyrolean Hat (like the purple one at right from FIT museum).  To keep my hat on my head, I took a ribbon and knotted it together at the sides and used an upholstery needle to wind it down and through the straw so I can tie the hat around my hairstyle.

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This outfit so completely reminds me of some sort of summer resort wear, something meant to keep one looking great and moving comfortably in searing temperatures, and…yes, this dress does fit that bill!    I tested this out, as the day on which I wore it for these pictures was extremely, oppressively hot.  Linen is a super sweat wicking fabric, yet it kept me cool.  The linen kept absorbing the sweat off me, yet it did not feel soaked and it was a cooler temperature than I was when it was wet.  This particular linen has zero scratchiness and is lacking that “hemp-like”, raw feel which I find in many other linens…only softness so there is another high comfort here!  However, my favorite benefits are the no-see-through thickness of this linen as well as the way it does not change color or show however much I might be sweating to death, like many dark fabrics.  This linen dress definitely does not just give the impression of being cool but also helps that along.  To top things off, my hat ‘perches’ lightly on my head, keeping my hairstyle underneath pristine and cool, yet the brim is enough to keep the sun off my eyes.  I was doubtful that this outfit would be that great in steamy weather, but I am a converted believer in effortless summer fashion a la vintage with linen and straw!

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It’s funny, in the fabric stores I go to the bolts are always full and untouched when I buy linen.  The employees that cut my fabric often seem mystified that I want linen and tell me that hardly anyone buys it.  Do you wear linen?  If so, have you found it to be as lovely of a trooper for wearing as I have?  If not, what are your reservations to this natural fiber?  Why is linen overlooked as a fashion fabric?

Netted Satin Tilt Hat

Thank you everyone for the wonderful comments recently!

Ah yes, I did not forget – I had promised in the previous post to go on about more than just my 1943 dress!Burda Style sept 2011 DIY hat ideas

My hat was a ridiculously easy project, coming from a page of Burda Style’s September 2011 magazine.  They issued an article on “do-it-yourself” hats like from the royal wedding earlier that year, and I used the basic idea given there and ran with it.  After tiring myself out looking at so many inspiration pictures of original extant small tilt hats (see this page for one of my sources), I decided they all pretty much had a few things in common – small enough to show off a hairstyle, a little bit of quirkiness, and lots of over the top decoration, whether it be birds or flowers and especially netting.

100_6270-compBurda’s page recommended starting with an almond shape, oval and pointy, with several possible styling options shown.  So, I drafted my own from an 8 ½ by 11 inch piece of paper, with the oblong going cross-ways from one top corner to the opposite bottom corner.  Next, I cut out two “almonds” (adding in seam allowances) from the same contrast satin used for the dress.  I also cut out one of the same shape from some tarlatan on hand.  Tarlatan adds the perfect stiff-but-pliable feel to hats and is also very vintage in its usage.  Next, I sewed the two layers to ‘face’ one another, with the tarlatan sandwiched inside, and everything was top-stitched down.  100_6265-comp

I needed something to keep this little satin thing on my head to see what shape I wanted, so sewed in a small hair comb and a black elastic tie, much like a headband.  The front half of the tilt hat received a dart along the center, to add drama and bring the front down over one eye while the back half was curled over to be tacked down to the center top.  Some lovely fine and soft black netting was cut into a giant square and draped over the front to be tucked in under the back curl of the hat.  Ta da!  This was so simple and fun, I literally need to make more…only I also need a reason and place to wear them.  Humm…

I might come back to this hat in the future and add on something quirky like a giant flower or oversized brooch.  What do you think?  Should I leave it as it is?  Is it just me or does it seem weird and take a bit getting used to having netting over you face?

1943 “Polka-Stars” Satin Dress and Netted Tilt Hat

This post has been long in coming but is now ironic because McCall Company just re-issued the pattern I used (as McCall #7433), albeit with dramatic changes.  Hopefully this post will show the beauty of this specific dress design and how the re-issue has been altered from the original.  Now, if you buy the reprint, you know how to make it more authentic.

A yearly World War II re-enactment weekend always gives me an excuse to whip up a new 40’s dance dress.  Therefore, I cranked out this pink and black satin year 1943 dress, together with a self-drafted fancy tilt hat!

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I confess, this was one of those stupid/silly sudden-last-minute decisions where a few days ‘til the re-enactment I decided year before’s outfit would not do.  The tiny stars in the fabric made me feel patriotic at the re-enactment dance, without being too much, while the black tempered the sweetness of the pink and the black made me feel dressed up without being too overwhelming (see this article from “Chronically Vintage”).  The tilt hat was directly inspired by the headgear spotted at the wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton in 2011 as well as coming from my newest interest in millinery.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  A thin 100% polyester, buff-finish satin, in a rich but light pink with tiny black stars like polka-dots.  The contrast black satin is semi-thick, but also polyester, and was used for the hat as well.

PATTERN:  McCall #5295, year 1943 (this was a lucky find at only $3); the hat was self-drafted

McCall 5295, year 1943, combo of front n back-MNOTIONS:  I had on hand what I needed – the thread, bias tape, interfacing, and zipper for the dress; tarlatan, elastic, hair combs, and netting for the hat.  The buttons down the front of my dress came from the stash of Hubby’s Grandmother.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  I raced through sewing the dress in about 8 to 10 hours.  It was finished on April 24, 2015.  The hat was made in two hours on September 25, 2015.

THE INSIDES:  I had only a few days to make this dress so unfortunately the insides are all raw and terribly fraying.  I was also afraid adding on some sort of bias tape would stiffen the flowing fabric too much and didn’t have time for what I wanted…French seams. After the dance, I came back to clean up the insides, trimming the seams and covering them in fray check liquid. 

TOTAL COST:  This was bought on clearance at Hancock Fabrics as a store was closing so I bought this fabric at about $3 a yard, and this dress only used just under two yards.  The solid black satin was only a ½ yard cut, and went towards both hat and dress contrast, so this cost very little.  The black hat netting was originally expensive, but was a lucky find on clearance at 50 cents for each yard.  So, I suppose my outfit is about $8 in total. 

100_6256a-compMcCall #5295 was just challenging enough to be satisfying and ingeniously designed.  This is also the first vintage 40’s McCall pattern that seems to run very small.  The pattern size I had was technically a tad too big for me but it ended up fitting a bit snug (nothing some smaller seam allowances couldn’t fix).  After making my 1943 dress I had enough leftovers to make these double layered tops, thanks in part to Wartime rationing and economical pattern pieces.

The whole dress is lovely and interesting, but the bodice definitely takes center stage with the neckline.  The dress bodice is constructed in an unusual two-part creative manner for a dramatic style.  The lower front bodice comes first by facing the entire edge and making three rows of shirring from the shoulder to the end of the neckline notch.  Then the four back bodice waistline tucks are sewn and the shoulder is attached to the upper bodice front so this entire neckline can be faced and finished off as well.  Finally, the bodice’s upper front gets overlapped with the lower portion and both are top stitched together along a line of shirring next to the neckline notch.  I was tempted to not add the contrast insert underneath at this point, but I’ll save this idea for next version of the pattern (which will be a winter dress in long sleeves).  The new re-issued version of this pattern sadly leaves out the shirring next to the front neck notch as well as weirdly turning the back into a shirt-look, with its shoulder yoke and tucks.  I can’t wait to see if the new version also faces and constructs the neckline in the same manner.

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Now the contrast under the neckline is such a simple little piece to make such a difference…more or less an odd shaped rectangle folded over with interfacing inside.  The contrast piece only extends from the end of the back neckline to flush with the edge of the button front.  The new re-issue seems to have the contrast wrap all around the neckline and plummet to nothing before the edge of the button front.  Adding in the contrast does nicely support and shape the neckline as well as making it pop on account of both the extra top-stitching involved and the contrast color.

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You will never guess what interesting little tidbit is lurking about this dress in regards to the top front buttonhole.  In order to be authentic, I used my late 30’s/early 40’s Kenmore sewing machine for some of the construction of the dress, especially the buttonholes.  I followed the instructions on the pattern where it said to put in the trio of buttonholes in the dress before adding on the contrast.  O.k., did that, but the end of the contrast piece also receives its own single buttonhole before getting sewn under.  You know what?  The double 100_6293-compbuttonholes align up perfectly together and work as good as a single buttonhole.  On a basic level, I’m supposing the instructions said to do it this way because 4 layers of fabric with interfacing is too thick and bulky, but think about it.  Having separate buttonholes for both the contrast piece and the dress a very smart move and so very “1940’s versatile”.  Depending on the color and print of the dress you could make more than one contrast piece or even leave it off to change up the appearance of your dress!  I’m telling you, vintage patterns do things right.  I hope the new re-issue sticks to this same ingenuity with the contrast piece but my hopes are not high.

The short sleeves were a bit of a surprise to me – what…no gathered, puffed top caps!?  No, the sleeve caps are instructed to be smoothly eased in without any gathers, darts, and such normally found on forties women’s fashion.  They are still quite easy to move in due in part (no doubt) to the fact I cut them on the bias grain just to be on the safe side.  The contrast piece for the sleeves is not a cuff, but something which gets placed under an already finished hem and top-stitched down, similar to the neckline.  The sleeve hem contrast is only offered to match with the short view in the old pattern, but if I was going to make the three-fourths version I was planning on adapting a piece for the end as well, and the long sleeve plackets could be in contrast, too (though not removable).  The new reissue seems to offer similar short and long sleeves, only without the ¾ darted sleeve option.  The long sleeve cuffs on the original are not buttoned, only turned back and buttoned on the overlap, which I don’t see on the re-print, though they seem to have added basic notched cuffs, instead.

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My dress’s skirt makes this so perfect for swing dancing.  I’m so glad I made it for the event (it has seen other wearings since then, too)!  In the original pattern, there is the “traditional 40’s” three paneled back to the skirt, but the front has two side panels with four skinny center panels which dramatically flare out. (See also McCall #5302 from ’43.)  This way, with just the fullness controlled in the front center of the skirt (from the hips down, mostly), the skirt still keeps that slender A-line silhouette, but has extra beauty, fun, and ease of movement.  I love it!  I believe the re-issue to have ‘miss-read’ the intent of those four flared front panels on the original and added in an all-around pleated skirt instead for some uber-fullness that is not as 40’s a silhouette.  Swing dancing in a skirt like what the re-print has might call for some tap panties.

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Here is the reason of the distaste (more like a love/hate relationship) that I have for many modern reprints, especially Butterick and Simplicity.  If you please, let me vent.  They are re-issuing past patterns just well enough to make them tantalizing but at same action frustratingly altering them.  It is wonderful to make these old, hard-to-find, and not-easily-available patterns available to everyone again, yet they have to instead “taint” (in my mind) rather than preserve the past.  Modern is not the past, and modern will change as quickly as one can keep up with.  Thus, sticking to the past should be a bit of a better “tried-and-true” benchmark, I would think.  They could make sure patterns don’t disappear forever by faithfully re-printing them.  However, by changing them, these old patterns are partially “lost” to me.  Leave these vintage patterns  complete with all the individuality that makes a 40’s pattern from the forties, and so on for each decade, giving people a chance to learn and discover.  But they don’t, and so many will miss out on the awesome things that sewing true vintage will teach to one who makes it.  Shame on McCall’s Company…don’t mess with what’s already great.  A modern tweaking won’t make it better for me and many others, I am sure.  McCall’s, if you want the original of a pattern reach out better to us bloggers and sewists and collectors.  If you want to offer a modern version of vintage, don’t call it an archive pattern.  Vintage is awesome and authentic…leave it that way, that’s why we want it.  Let those of us that sew put our own tweaks, touches, and changes into our clothes if we so please, thank you…that’s what makes sewing beautifully individual.  Please join with me in the discussion – input and conversation is welcomed on this topic so I’m not just “getting on my high horse”.

In the next few days I will go into a short but further detailed post on the hat I made.  Stay tuned!

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