Going Rockabilly in a Pair of Simple Denim Cut-Offs

After last week’s first episode of the television series “Sun Records”, I’m totally in the mood for the 50’s, especially the rockabilly style (what I see as combination of both early rock and roll crowd and the spirit of a rebellious but fun loving teenager).  Enjoy this while it’s here because you won’t see much rockabilly here on my blog.  Thus, here’s a quick post on some easy denim pants sewed using a popular Butterick ‘Gertie’ pattern.  This post of these jeans is my monthly submission to the March 2017 “Wardrobe Builder Project” at “Petite Passions”.

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Kind of like flappers and fringe of the 20’s, I personally don’t regard the Rockabilly branch of the 50’s as a mainstream part of the decade’s fashion although it has taken over much of modern “vintage” culture.  From what I have read, the rebels, pin-ups and the tough crew have had far more attention due to Hollywood, the ‘shocking’ factor of what they were showing off, and modern perceptions than the position they really held in everyday dressing of the 1950s.  However, it is an important, if small, niche in fashion that boldly shows how culture, music, and clothing styles go hand in hand throughout history.  To read more, visit this page at The Vintage Fashion Guild.

My pants are worn with a store bought tank and a thrift store belt and shoes.  A lovely ruffled authentic vintage 50’s blouse (given to me from a friend) completes my rockabilly look with its red plaid.  The flat heeled shoes mellow the outfit a bit, hopefully, but I did like sporting a bold pompadour roll with a ponytail!

THE FACTS:butterick-5895-cover

FABRIC:  100% cotton lightweight chambray denim

PATTERN:  Butterick #5895, a ‘Gertie” pattern from 2013

NOTIONS:  I bought the bias tape as I generally do not sew with red and therefore do not have much in my stash except for a few vintage packs.  The zipper, interfacing, and thread needed were on hand already.  

TIME TO COMPLETE:  If I hadn’t needed to do unpicking these jeans would have practically made themselves up!  These were made in about 5 hours on May 13, 2016.

dsc_0132a-compwTHE INSIDES:  So fun!!!  Every raw edge is individually bound in skinny bright red bias tape. 

TOTAL COST:  Under $10

These denims are simple because they are like a bare bones version of real jeans – closer to plain pants really.  No bootie cheek pockets, rivets, and contrast stitching here, my dear readers…and I like mine this way.  This makes them ultra-versatile enough to work with anything under the sun from modern to vintage of many eras (speaking of which I did wear them a layer under my 70’s shirt dress).  In the summer these are my favorite bottoms to my 50’s bra top.  Of course, this pattern is wide open ready for personalization, such as adding on one’s own pockets and details or even sewing this in a stretch rather than a woven!  I love the possibilities of this pattern and will definitely be using again…maybe with a fun colored denim next time for a really modern look!

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As basic as they are in style, they were just as quick to sew.  However, the real shocker to this pattern was the excellent fit.  This Gertie pattern is the first modern pattern for pants/trousers that I have found to have a truly vintage type of fit.  I didn’t do one single fit adjustment (besides my normal grading up for the hips) and they’re like they were made for me.  I found true-to-life bootie room, and a comfortable inseam, as well a good room for my power thighs.  This doesn’t hide the body, but fits the body in true rockabilly spirit where the women showed off their shape through a skimming fit (think of wiggle dresses) and peek-a-boo features of their clothes (like the tie off crop top included in the Gertie pants pattern).  I think Gertie’s pattern has the perfect balance of close fit combined with enough ease to be comfortable.

The high waist is much appreciated here but for some reason my waistband has the aggravating tendency to roll and wrinkle.  I used a stiffer interfacing but the waistband continually needs straightening out unless I’m wearing a belt.  And yet, a belt doesn’t work too well on its own because I don’t have carrier straps to keep it in place…at least not yet.

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As much as I love the pockets I do find a weird pull at the side seam corners of them.  The pants have such a snug fit I can’t really put anything bulky inside the pockets either, but there is enough room for a to-do list or a handkerchief.  Some of the weird pulling could be because of the zipper in the side seam.

The pattern originally called for (of all things) a zipper down the center back bootie seam.  I have seen this in a few vintage pants patterns, and I did put it in that way at first but found it just too weird, odd, and embarrassing.  This is why I buckled down to unpick (something I hate doing) so I could sew the zipper in the left side instead, like conventional pants.

dsc_0050a-compwWithout being rolled up higher, the original length of the pants’ hem is ankle skimming on me.  I like the cuffs better mostly because it shows off my fun bias binding and is more rockabilly, anyway.

Now, where’s my opportunity for a motorcycle ride?!  Can I ride with a young Elvis please?  Maybe, I’ll just have to settle with some good listening of some 50’s Memphis blues music or old time Patsy Kline country classics – always great, anytime.

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Star Wars, Pinball, and Year 1974 Cozy Layers

The title might seem like an odd combo, but bear with me here…it is all connected, at least to me with this newest outfit.  In this post, I’ll proudly reveal myself to be a big fan for the decade of the 70s and its amusements – something that many vintage bloggers as well as those who lived in that decade seem to generally not share in common with me.  As one who is at the age to have totally missed that era, I can feel a connection to the decade of disco music, pinball machines, bell-bottom pants with platform shoes, and Star Wars because all these things played a big part in my parents’ lives.  What they were “in to”, I saw in old pictures, records in the basement, and clothes or memorabilia in a forgotten closet – and all that was cool and interesting to me.  Parents are interesting anyway, right?  Reasons given, I’ll move onto what I actually made.

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Inspired as I was to make things for Allie J’s “Cozy Layers” Social Sew #8, I might have went a bit over the top here.  Anyways, let me present my 1974 waterproof jacket, easy 1974 knit flared jeans, and a draped sweater vest.  Whoever says winter dressing is no fun hasn’t worn these kind of garments!  These pieces are so fun and warm…and handmade;)

THE FACTS:butterick-3914-late-1973-or-early-1974

FABRIC:  Pants – a cotton polyester blend brushed double knit in what looks like a denim finish; Jacket – a olive green snakeskin print vinyl with a knit backing, a poly micro suede and a basic polyester for the lining, and a fleece sandwiched in between; Vest – a poly cotton blend sweater knit for the draped front and the leftover poly micro suede for the back

mccalls-4052-yr-1974-cover-compwPATTERNS:  Pants – McCall’s #4052, year 1974 (love the whole play suit separates – lots of options here); Jacket – Butterick #3914, late 1973 to simplicity-1588-view-aearly 1974; Vest – Simplicity #1588, view A, year 2013

NOTIONS:  I only used what thread, interfacing, and other notions from on hand.  The pants button came from the stash of Hubby’s Grandmother so it might be vintage.  I only bought a metal jeans zipper for the pants.

THE INSIDES:  Most seams are bias bound on the vest, the pants edges are left raw, and the jacket seams are covered by the lining.dsc_0777-compw

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The vest was finished first on November 21 after only 3 or 4 hours, the knit jeans came second being finished on November 22 after 3 or 4 hours, and finally the jacket was done on November 28, 2016, after about 15 hours.

TOTAL COST:  The denim knit was something I bought about 5 years back so I don’t remember where it came from or how much I spent for it.  All of the rest of the material for this outfit was bought about 2 years back when there was a Hancock Fabrics store closing, so it was incredibly dirt cheap.  In all, not much fabric was used here – 2 yards of each fabric, except for ½ yard of the vest sweater knit, and voila!  Look what I came up with!

I won’t bore you too much detail in this post about sewing and construction details because not only are there three me-made garments here, but also one of them was tricky and complicated (the jacket) while the other two (vest and pants) were super easy.  I must say I am very pleased with all the patterns, especially the vest and pants.  The jacket is great, too, don’t get me wrong, and surprisingly warm for being a not-too-heavy of a weight.  My only reserve is that I am doubtful whether or not I paired the right fabric (the vinyl) and pattern together.  My hubby makes me feel better by saying that the material would have been hard to work with (and it was) no matter what pattern I’d have chosen, but this style is uniquely neat especially with the raglan sleeves.  The vest is more of a novelty item, but I am realizing it will go with more than what I first thought, mostly because I like it so much!  However, one can never beat an easy creation that looks so good and fits so great, so the jeans are the ultimate winner, especially for being so basic and versatile.

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dsc_0796a-compwI will go over each item briefly to comment of the fit and anything I changed.  First comes the vest.  I made a straight size small and found that I should have graded a size up for the hips the same way as I do for regular garments such as blouses and dresses.  The neckline of the draping were taken in by an extra inch to make for less of a droopy wrap, purely personal taste.  A facing of the micro suede used for the back was drafted from the pattern for the neckline edge.  I found the back of the vest to be quite long, ending at the bottom of my behind…not flattering.  So, to vent my frustration waiting for our Thanksgiving guests to arrive, I unpicked the bottom hem and re-sewed it 2 inches shorter in the back of the vest.

I love the texture and interest of this vest, besides the fact it is a wonderful weight to wear.  It keeps a chill out of my middle but yet the lack of sleeves keeps me from rey-in-the-force-awakenscropover-heating inside stores and homes.  I’ve always associated vests with the outdated 80’s things (like boxy front-halves of a weskit) that I wouldn’t be caught dead in, but now that I have a fashionable vest, I may have to re-think the value of this kind of garment for winter layering.  The funny thing is, this vest made in this desert sand khaki color, with its rough texture, and criss-cross design totally reminds me of the outfit for the lead character “Rey” in the 2015 Star Wars movie, “The Force Awakens”.  I know it’s not exactly the same thing but I believe you can definitely tell where I see similarities.  This vest, though modern, also reminds of the creative and interesting, bold but relaxed style that see in 1970’s dressing.

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My idea to whip up the pants was spawned of all my ideas from and of the vest.  All of my previous pants have all been made of woven fabrics so I went for a thick denim knit sitting all lonely and forgotten in my stash for the last 5 years.  Now I’m glad I never sewed it up into a dress like I had originally planned because these 70’s pants are way hotter…oh, and comfy.  Everything I love about vintage 1940’s trousers is combined with my love for the 70’s here – full and wide legs, true waist, chic styling, and perfect fit.  Add on a body skimming booty and less excess fabric around the thighs and welcome to the disco era.  My favorite part is the lack of both the conventional waistband and the front placket here, replaced with a simple loop and button above the zipper.  It makes for a very clean look that’s so easy.  The instructions showed to sew in a ribbon waist, but I used some wide non-roll navy elastic instead and I think this turns out much better and is a better (and more forgiving) fit.  The best part?  These pants are a perfect fit for me without a hair’s breadth of change…go vintage patterns!

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These pants make me feel very tall, skinny, and all legs.  This was the 70s ideal body type anyway, and I like the feeling because in reality I normally think of myself as short, not skinny enough, and definitely not very leggy.  I kept a very long hem on my pants so as to wear my new 4 inch platform strappy heels.

After making year 1974 pants, I remembered a project waiting in the wings downstairs for the last several years.  This, together with the thought of another cozy layer to add to the 70s gloriousness, and I reached for the jacket project.  This was rather an exhausting project that I don’t know I was ready for, but it should see much use in the next few months, starting immediately.  There are some things I wish I could have made to work out better, but I am just proud at my first official coat and my first sewing with this kind of vinyl.  I do love the slightly golden sheen to the snakeskin print and the waterproof protection without looking (and sounding) like a plastic raincoat.

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The most stressful part of sewing this coat was the thought that I only had one shot to get things right…unpicking and re-stitching wasn’t really possible here because once a hole is made, it’s permanently going to be there.  Also, the vinyl was sticking to all the metal parts of my machine so I had to sandwich a layer of wax paper around the coat’s seams at almost every stitch so it would glide under the presser foot.  This wax paper method worked like a charm, and was easy to take off, it just was something else to add to the difficulty level.  So, in total not only did my stitching have to be accurate, and I was limited to my use of pins for seams (reverting to clothes pins), but I had to sew between wax paper.  This coat must have given me at least one grey hair.  My only change was that in lieu of gathers under both the front and the back yokes, I made my own pleats – two ½ inch ones on each front and one giant box pleat down the center back.dsc_0776a-compw

My two giant pockets are lined in a remnant of a 1970’s curtain which I had on hand from a buying someone’s small fabric stash at re-sale store.  It was so bold and fun, I also added bright green bias tape to finish in inner edge.  No one will ever really know it’s there, but I like how the print makes me smile whenever I see the funky brightness inside my pockets.

I still don’t know how to close the coat – any suggestions?  I don’t like it belted and it is warm enough that a little air actually feels good.  I’m beginning to think I should just leave it open and casual.

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1974 is an interesting year for me to channel.  My dad graduated that year from high school and (among other things that happened) he became a lover of the pinball machine.  Every chance we could as I was growing up, my dad and I would hover over and eye up every pinball machine, with the occasional dropping of a quarter to do a real play.  I always saw my dad as a champ at the game and he still enjoys playing when he can.  Luckily there are some game lounges around in our town nowadays that are much more respectable than those of the pinball culture 40 years back.  1974 was also the year the California Supreme Court ruled that pinball was more a game of skill than one of chance and overturned its long prohibition, opening the way for general acceptance of this form of amusement nationwide (info from here).

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So much of this outfit is due to the influence of my dad.  He still has some of his 70’s bell bottoms, though he got rid of his platform shoes, trench jacket, and elephant pants years back.  Now his daughter has her own version of what he used to wear, sorry dad!  He loved Star Wars and bought me many of the toys and even watched the movies from the roof of their house on the drive-in screen which had been up the street.  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree I guess.  Star Wars is still around on screen, and the 70’s style is coming back today, and retro amusements are just as fun, so it’s hard to resist re-visiting my dad’s past with my own handmade twist.  This one’s for you, dad, hope you don’t shake your head at this…just smile.

And now for some Star Wars light saber fun with my own son before bed time…

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1940’s Arch Waist Blue Jeans

My new found enjoyment wearing (and success in making) my first pair of vintage pants gave me gusto to jump in to fill a gap in my wardrobe: comfy, casual vintage inspired jeans. Jeans are something I’ve learned to do without, mostly because it seems near impossible to find a pair that fulfills all of my requirements – room in the bottom area, vintage appeal, tailored details, and a waist that really sits at the waist, all the while being complimentary on myself. Whew! No…it’s way more fun and appropriate for me to make my own jeans.

I now have the ultimate vintage jeans, perfect in every way possible to my own discriminating taste. I also feel I’ve found the happy medium between loose comfort and tailored fit. Hopefully I can inspire others with this post to turn to their inner talents and provide for themselves, creating their own personal style to appeal to their own unique individual taste. Do not rest dissatisfied with wearing what doesn’t fit or suit you – be the one to make that change!

Now, for THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  A 100% cotton mid-weight denim, in a medium blue wash. It was bought from a Jo Ann Fabrics store.Simplicity4044

NOTIONS:  All I needed to buy was a zipper for the side. The rest of what I needed – the interfacing, hook and eye, and thread – was already on hand.

PATTERN:  Simplicity 4044, a 1940’s outfit reprinted with a modern date of 2006

TIME TO COMPLETE:  These jeans were a breeze to make once I got past the fitting and adjusting of the pattern. I spent maybe 2 hours of time to customize the pattern, and then only 5 hours to cut, sew, and finish the jeans. They were done on February 6, 2015.

THE INSIDES:  …left raw. This denim has a tight weave so it really doesn’t fray much on the raw edges.

TOTAL COST:  I paid half price for the denim, and the jeans only took 2 yards to make, so my total (with the zipper) was only about $8.00. Pretty good, huh?!

The Simplicity #4044 pattern I used for these jeans was even easier than the other Simplicity pattern (#3688) used to make my first pants. Although it is unfortunately out of print, it seems readily available to purchase from many different sellers. I bought mine from Etsy.

I did a bit of research to be able to pin down exactly what part of the decade of the 1940’s might be the source for this pattern, Simplicity 4044 reprint. At first, I was focused mainly on the arch-waisted style, but looking into the design of the jacket happily co-ordinates with the years I found for dating the waist style. There is a McCall #6019 pattern for a skirt and bolero jacket, and it has an arch-waisted skirt front with arched/scalloped pocket detail on the jacket as well. Now the skirt detailing is similar to the pants and skirt waist of the McCall 6019 two-piece bolero suit year 1945 - Advance 3964 suit set year 1945Simplicity reprint, as are the jacket sleeves, but the skirt box pleat is a change and bolero style is missing. Now let’s look at a pattern in my collection, Advance #3964. The jacket in this pattern is almost exactly the same as the design in the Simplicity reprint, with its paneled sleeves and long jacket front and single button waist closure.

What I find interesting is that the pattern I gave as similar examples, McCall #6019 and Advance #3964, are both from 1945. This paneled, streamlined jacket style is very much a war-time design – it was in skinny and small pattern pieces meant for going towards re-fashioning an existing man’s suit. The skirt style of center front box pleats were a staple of the years 1942 to about 1945, with basic, full,Grace Kelly teen model pic 1947 - line drawing for Simplicity 4044 reprint A-line styles not as frequently used, so Simplicity 4044 throws my fashion reasoning off just a bit. Nevertheless, I have a strong “guess-timation” here that Simplicity 4044’s pieces are from late war-time, definitely 1945. Simplicity probably did not reprint a McCall or Advance pattern, so I’m assuming there is an original pattern I’m missing out on highlighting here. However there’s one more piece to my puzzle. The picture you see on the side here is from 1947 of the young, then teen model, Princess Grace Kelly wearing bottoms with an arched-front waist, setting the possibility of the fashion of Simplicity 4044’s set back even more to post-war fashion.

This time around for making trousers, I read up and informed myself on better fitting techniques, ways to understand the shape of your body, and how to do a full booty adjustment, which I needed. None of this is for the faint of heart, so if you’re squeamish about knowing the shape of your booty and the true measurements of your body, I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t like what I found out either, but…hey – the way I see it, I am how I am, and I’m healthy and happy so I shouldn’t put myself up to some artificial standards.

My primary step was so have a second pattern “victim” to cut and mark up at will. Only the top half of the pants pattern (both front and back) was copied on a machine so I could have a paper version. I also had to choose sizing first off, too. I was in between sizes for the waist so I stayed in between, but went up in size for the hips and carried that size all the way down the pants legs. As my jeans turned out just a tad too roomy in the waist, I think going down a size might be a good idea for anyone else in between sizing because this pants pattern is generous and, without a set waistband, these pants need to fit well to stay up. Of course, there are always “braces” or suspenders to fix droopy drawers!

Next, I used two sites to guide me in my pants adjustments – “Sew Your Boat” blog – on a ‘BBA’ and Colette’s tutorial on “Pants fitting basics” (although Colette’s “Pants fitting cheat sheet” is good info, too). After reading through “Sew Your Boat” post, my first step was to find out the shape on my booty and see if the fullest part back there is low hanging so I can know where to add the necessary room. I did her “aluminum foil roll shaped around the crouch line” trick…and yes it is weird and funny, yet it works. You look at the shape of the foil and think, “This is me?” At least I knew exactly how to shape the booty of the pants because now I had a template.

Next, I did the “slash and spread” method. I had the finished garment measurements of the unaltered garment and compared them to my measurements with added generous ease, and compared the two to see how much room to add in the “slash and spread”. I supposed I rather ran high on the measurement combo of my measurements + ease, so I chose the happy middle between that and the finished pants measurement – a total add in of about 1 ½ inches, slightly more or less. Finally, I used the booty form to do a finishing touch-up shaping of the “slashed and spread” back half pattern piece. The front piece was relatively left untouched except for the bottom point of the crouch (top of the inner leg seam). That part was re-drawn just an inch lower to make a wider dip of a curve so as not to have a drastically baggy bottom. All in all, my effort and figuring here completely paid off with exactly the fit and feel I had hoped to find…sewing bliss!

With this much done, the pants were cut out and constructed as instructed otherwise. I simply overlapped the paper top half over the tissue bottom half to come up with one whole pants leg pattern and cut it that way. As my fabric was 60 inch width, I was able to actually use less than the 2 yards asked for, and now I have a nice chunk of about ½ a yard of denim to use for another project. This pants pattern does have a side seam, and there are small tucks in the front, and small darts in the back, so there are a few no too complicated steps and details to accomplish when sewing the preliminary steps.

The trickiest part of the jeans were the arched front detail, but as you get into it, it is not as hard as one might expect. The arched front, together with the facing that finishes the inside, only requires taking one’s time to be precise with the stitching (and marking beforehand). I was impressed at how well the facing matched up and stabilized the waist of the pants pattern– sometimes small facing pieces can, if they are a tad wonky, throw everything off.

Words cannot describe how incredibly pleased I am with everything about my 1940’s jeans – from the fabric to the fit but especially the pattern. I do find the appearance of the pants on myself to be not exactly as complimentary as I had hoped. However, they have such a subtle unique vintage quality to them, one which does not scream vintage but still speaks of style to me. I cannot help but love them. I have also now made the jacket pattern from the same Simplicity reprint as my pants – and a lovely Glen plaid fabric has made it a wonderful set for the chilly weather. If you don’t have Simplicity 4044, and happen to come across it for sale, snag it for yourself and let me know what you make from it!

I couldn’t resist going with the whole Captain America/”red-white-and-blue” thing to pair with my jeans. A favorite past project, my 1943 cotton basic blouse, was worn with my jeans, layered over my favorite captain America tee shirt. I felt like some secret superhero opening my top to show off my Captain America shield tee underneath.

Do you have an article of clothing that you have conquered when it comes to fit and understanding? Be it pants, shirts or knit fabrics, the world of sewing and the fabric arts is always there to provide a challenging, interesting, and creative project for those willing to tackle it – never a dull moment necessary!