A Very Mod British Summer Sun Suit

I am truly infatuated with shorts-inclusive vintage play sets this year!  After my 1940s set a few years back (see it here), and then the 50’s (posted here) and 80’s (previously posted here) sets from this 2019, I’ve now also rounded out things by whipping up a 1960s sun suit, as well!

This set is a special oddity in my sewing – its pattern is a little known “Le-Roy” brand printed by the Associated British Paper Patterns Company out of Bletchley.  (I am rather confused by an English pattern having a French name, though!)  This is only the second English pattern I have used (first one here) and certainly the only one of the brand I have in my stash…but then again I haven’t seen many of Le-Roy designs for sale either.  I picked this one up on a whim for a steal of a price years back and I’m so glad I did.  I definitely want to come back to this pattern in the future and make the tunic length overblouse, too.

Unfortunately, the rarity of the brand makes it hard to date precisely, but the trend for this type of set and the styling on the envelope is the key.  My estimate for this is that it is possibly as early as 1964 yet no later than 1968.  Why do I believe this?  The famous actress Audrey Hepburn wore a very similar two piece sun set in the British 1967 movie “Two for the Road”  We all know how fashion likes to follow what is seen on the stars and starlets of the silver screen!  Yet, my Simplicity brand calendar of vintage pattern cover images has an almost exact two piece summer outfit labelled as the year 1964 on the page for August 2019.

So my visual proof gave me a 5 year range, and I channeled it by using the print that I did.  After all, if you just had the line drawing to reference, this play set is not all too different from a two piece summer set from the 40’s or the 50’s (scroll through this Pinterest board of mine to see).  Thus, I felt I needed the material to be the visibly identifying factor (besides the close fit) to testify to its publishing date from very modern-looking 60’s era.  As luck would have it, the FDIM museum (in Los Angeles, California)recently shared through their Friday “Unboxing” videos on Instagram a designer Emilio Pucci blouse from 1967 with a geometric, two-color green print over a white background.  Seeing that reminded me so much of the leftovers to some modern designer pants I made a while back.  I just had to make what I feel is a perfectly Mod era outfit for a British style summer!  I’ve made so many dresses from the 60’s era this is such a fun kind of a change!

These two pieces were an under-one-yard, scrap-busting project that also now gives me full outfit options to some pants I made years back from the same material.  There is nothing quite like matching mix-and-match separates to make me feel like I am both ready for a trip and completely up to rocking this summer!  This is what optimizing one’s fabric stash looks like.  The ¾ yard leftovers from these Odeeh designer Burda Style pants were just enough to squeeze in these little pre-70’s short shorts and a crop top reminiscent of a vintage-style sports bra.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% cotton duck cloth for the printed portion of the set, a 100% satin finish Pima cotton for the solid contrast, and a bleached cotton muslin for the lining material to each piece

PATTERN:  a mid to late 60’s LeRoy #3195

NOTIONS:  I had to custom order the little 6 inch separating sports zipper for the crop top, but otherwise I had all the thread and interfacing I needed.  The shorts have a true vintage metal zipper, painted in a lime green, also from on hand out of the notions stash in the drawers of my 1960 Necchi sewing machine cabinet.  I figured it was probably era appropriate!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The hand-stitched zipper took an hour and a half to sew in itself, but the overall two pieces were finished on July 12, 2019 in 15 to 20 hours.

THE INSIDES:  all covered up by full lining

TOTAL COST:  Next to nothing!  As I was using scraps from another project that was made several years back this is pretty much free in my mind, excepting the $8 zipper.

This was easy in theory to make.  The tricky part was nailing the fitting.  The underbust seam had to be snug enough to stay down but not tight like a bra.  I did not want the shorts to look like any other ill-fitting RTW item I have tried and left behind.  A quick tissue fit revealed this was pretty much spot on my size, but when working with a new pattern company and aiming for a very tailored fit I always give myself some extra room in seam allowance.  Technically this should have been a bit large for me going by their size chart, so I’m assuming either the company’s designs or merely this particular one ran small.  In a few places – such as over my hips – I had to bring the seam allowance out to only ¼ inch so I am so thankful I gave myself some wiggle room when I cut.  That was not an easy thing to do.

I might have made this set on ¾ yard, but with the extra room I added when cutting, every piece ended up touching the other.  This is always a bit unnerving because there is absolutely no room for error and I have to think of everything.  I do not encourage this.  When it does work out, however, such an economical pattern and fabric layout is the source of both relief and self-amazement, not to mention the euphoric happiness great stash-busting can bestow!

Contrasting the shorts hem and top neckline with a solid was sort of a semi-stash busting effort, as well.  It all started with some satin-finish Pima fabric bought for – but no longer needed – as a lining under a sheer silk.  It has now been tentatively slated to be pleated 40’s era shorts in the future.  The edges of the cut length were sacrificed as part of an experiment before committing to a whole garment in such a color.  You see, I have never really been a fan of chartreuse, but I know it seems quite popular and a sought after color amongst vintage enthusiasts.  I do like myself in yellow and in green individually, but both combined in one shade is something that makes my skin look sickly.  However, I know never to say never!  Using a bit of chartreuse as the contrast “edging” for these two pieces was a good trial to see how if the color in small amounts is more tolerable…and I do believe it is!  Anything in a satin Pima cotton will be beautiful, though.  The true shade on the end of the bolt in the store was marked as “pistachio” but as it is darker and more yellowed than the lime green in the print, I see it as a chartreuse in person, not captured by the pictures.

The design itself was very basic.  Yet, between a good handful of darts on both the shorts and the crop top as well as fantastic real-life curves tailored into the seams I think such a simple little set ends up with a great fit I really never expected.  I like the way there was a lack of a waistband yet the shorts still hug my true waist.  The way the wide U-shaped neckline really squares up my shoulders and frames the face…and is easy to dress into with the front zipper!  Cotton duck can be rough and aggravating on the skin and the background of the print is white after all, so even though the instructions tell me to make a full lining I would have done so anyway.

I feel happy and confident in this play set in just the way I had dreamed of and only half-hoped for.  My squishy midsection makes me feel naked when I think about what I am wearing and become self-conscious.  My bigger booty and power hips and thighs have always made me self-conscious, too, in close fit bottoms, even more so in shorts.  That, combined with the fact I have never really found a pair of close fitting bifurcated bottoms – short or long – that could fit me, have made me shy away from such a thing in the mistaken belief they would not work for me.

Well, this is why I sew.  I am able to make what I want to wear and do so in a way that actually fits me and compliments me.  After a sewing a few skinny jeans that I love (posted here and here), this set was an opportunity to redeem something I never supposed I could or would wear and enjoy.  I believe fashion should be glorious fun, thoughtfully interesting, and individually personalized if anyone is going to feel truly comfortable in it.  It has to be an extension of oneself.  Achieving such a sweet spot with certain items that people are unsure about from the beginning – whether it’s someone who doesn’t like skirts or (like me) with a play set such as this – and ending up totally won over enough to feel as if you suddenly have a new type of garment that you can love your body in…that is when fashion helps you be your best self.  I am showing more skin than I am normally comfortable doing, but between my maker’s pride, the fun colors, the curious oddity of the fashion, and the joy of something new, I love myself in this Mod British summer sun suit!

The Perfectly Ironic 50’s Play Set

Vintage play sets are cute enough the way they are, but most of the times the prints to them make them to die for.  This newest one that I’ve made has a print which perfectly combines the vintage-made-modern flair of it with a print which is a pun on the iconic classy lady of the 1950s.  Women in wasp waists and elegant dress might be the conventional womanly ideal flaunted on this playsuit, but it itself is meant for much more than swishing around and sitting pretty.  It is sassy yet classy fun all in one versatile, comfortable outfit.

A short romper as the first layer makes this set a bit easier to tackle by not having to make various pieces (i.e. a separate top and shorts).  It also is a lot more challenging to go visit the restroom, and even though it is a bit of an extra inconvenience, I am absolutely loving my very first romper.  The matching overskirt departs from the romper’s plan but self-drafting skirts with no pattern is my forte, if I do say so myself.  I am much happier with a skirt I ‘draped’ on myself, generally.  A fully separating zipper which can close either top-to-bottom or the other way around makes the skirt versatile, interesting, and different.

The print is everything!  I’ll admit my strong failing for Michael Miller fabrics, the prints are such first rate and they are always the one’s I gravitate towards even without knowing the brand as I browse fabric.  This one is so very well done, though.  The fashions on the ladies and stylization are so charming and appealing, drawn like a vintage cartoon of Parisian fashion illustration.  I want each and every dress to wear for myself out of the print!

If you look closely on the hat boxes stacked next to the woman in solid pink the Michael Miller name is hidden on them (he frequent buries his name creatively in his prints).  You might be able to see this better further down in my detail about the romper pocket.  I channeled the woman next to that in the pink polka dotted dress with my halter strap and me-made belt. That polka dot dress was my favorite…no…wait, it was the green two-piece outfit, or maybe the striped dress.  Ach!  They all are my favorites, I guess she was merely the most striking to pair with a roll of ribbon out of my stash!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton duck cloth from Hobby Lobby by Michael Miller called “Spring In Paris” lined in an all-cotton sheer batiste

PATTERN:  Burda Style’s “Vintage Capri Sunsuit” from their Vintage 1950s magazine special pattern collection from 2015 for the romper, while my skirt was self-drafted

NOTIONS:  I needed lots of thread, a sliding waistband-style hook-and-eye, two zippers (one 14” invisible for the romper and the other a 30” separating bottom one for the skirt), bias tape, and a bit of interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was finished on June 10, 2019 after a total of about 20 to 30 hours spent to make the whole set.

THE INSIDES:  All cleanly bias bound

TOTAL COST:  On sale, 2 yards of the fabric only cost me $12, and as everything else I needed was out of my long time stash that is also my wonderfully frugal total!

If you read that last line of “The Facts”, you might be saying, “Two yards!? That’s all she needed?!”  Yes, indeed, and that’s what makes this set so awesome (…among plenty of other reasons, too)!  The multi paneled pieces, short bottoms, and the sleeveless style makes the romper pattern take under a yard for my size.  The overall pattern originally calls for much more than the 1 ¼ yards (leftover from the romper) I used to make my skirt, as the design shows a full, gathered waist dirndl-style skirt.  I would rather make things work on less money (because of a smaller cut) and according to my personal taste, though.  The fabric was not ideal for a full skirt, anyway, and I do love a good 50’s style skinny skirt on myself.

The instructions direct that you need a fabric with some body here, and this is absolutely true and not to be ignored.  Even with the thicker, stiffer cotton duck material which I used, I still felt my romper needed some extra support especially being practically strapless.  Luckily, the print was so bright and busy and the cotton thick so it was really not see-through despite being a faint ivory background color.  Nevertheless, because I wanted to support the bodice, I figured on going ahead and making the romper quite nice and do a full body lining.  There is nothing like the clean beauty of seamless inners to a garment!  The rough texture of cotton duck is not the best against the skin compared to the soft batiste of the romper lining.

Back to the details on how I supported the romper’s bodice!  I added lightweight boning into the underside of the two back bodice seams, just on the lining.  The side seam had the invisible zipper to stabilize it and the front has good shaping together with the halter strap, which is why I only kept the boning to the back.  I know from many other halters that the back dip has the tendency to droop and I could mentally picture beforehand that that ‘problem’ might be especially worse off on the back of a sleeveless one-piece romper.  The back boning is the best thing ever for this!  I do not need to pull anything back up in place and the bodice has a wonderful body all on its own without having to tailor it to be tight in the fit just so it can stay up well.  I lightly tacked the lining to the fashion fabric exterior along the boning after I was finished and made sure to add gel cushions (little boning ‘comfort caps’ you can buy) before sewing the romper together so the bodice support is not bothersome in the least, rather it is not even noticeable.

Choosing my ‘normal’ size using Burda Style patterns to make this, the fit was so close I want to suggest people to go up a size to be safe.  It works to take clothes in a bit, but taking seams out is more of tricky story.  I like clothes I plan on playing around and being active in to not fit too closely – I do need room to move!  I had to make most all seams ¼ seam allowance (I added a 5/8 inch seam allowance when I cut it out) just to have it fit me a comfortable snugness as you see it.  That is not a spot on fit and accurate sizing.  I would have rather had all my seams still be a wider seam allowance and have the comfort of knowing I have room to adapt this if I need to, but not this time.  This is why I would suggest going up a size for this pattern unless you are of a thin build and relatively non-curvy.  Granted, I still fit in a good amount of my teenager clothes, but my body is still changing so I’ll just have to get the most enjoyment out of this set as possible just in case!

No play clothes would be appropriate in my opinion without a pocket!  Now, the romper pattern called for in-seam side pockets in the shorts.  For close fitting items, such pockets never really give that much room for anything, anyway.  They only create a weird bulge if you do store real life items like a phone or lip balm.  Yet, I was only left with a handful of small scraps after the outfit was finished.  There was one pink dress woman on the print which I noticed was weirdly cut off when I sewed in the right side dart for the front of the shorts.  I luckily had one full square of the pink dressed woman (next to the tower of hat boxes) as part of my scraps so I was able to accomplish making both sides of the front matching as well as give myself a better pocket with that one scrap.  You see, I turned that pink lady scrap into a small sew-on patch-style pocket which completes the print and is so much better than in-seam pockets.  The pocket fits only 2/3 of my phone and a tissue but who really wants to try in-seam pockets along the side of an invisible zipper anyway?!  Bring the print-matching challenge on!

The fashions on the print further inspired me in the way I drafted the skirt.  The lady in the yellow, green, and pink polka dotted dress (next to the Eiffel Tower) is only seen from a back view on the print and I copied her center box pleated waist from behind, with side knife pleats for good measure.  It is against reasoning to add more pouf over the behind, but between stitching down the pleats for an inch and a good ironing, I think it works!  The front shaping is simple – just a few more knife pleats – so that the closure can take center stage.

My skirt was skinny enough that I really didn’t trust a button closing because of the stress that would be put on them.  However, I wanted to be able to have this skirt close or open at any given point.  Luckily, I had recently acquired a stash of the most amazing variety of zippers – big and small, new and vintage – for a steal of a price and there was this unique separating zipper that I knew was just perfect for my skirt.  It was labeled as a “Parka Zipper” and had two pulls that could go up and down and close at either end…fully adjustable!  This zipper was in a special 30” length, too, so I knew this was an expensive notion and was tempted to hoard it.  When the right project is calling, nevertheless, my good supplies deserve better than to stay in a drawer, so I think!  I like the modern touch the zipper brings to this vintage crossover set.

This outfit has been my second make for the 2019 “Sew Together for Summer” challenge sponsored by “Sew Sarah Smith”.  The theme this year was jumpsuits, dungarees, overalls, playsuits, and rompers…something one piece that has bifurcated bottoms, and this project certainly applies even though with the skirt cover-up makes it not what it seems at first glance of the whole set.  (My first garment for the challenge, a 1962 embroidered denim culotte jumpsuit, can be seen here.)  I am also including this romper play set as also part of the “Made Like Maisel” 1950s challenge to sew something inspired by the Amazon TV show “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”.  I know her swing coats are the iconic thing to make, but in Season Two, Mrs. Maisel had some killer play sets (especially episode 4 in the Catskills but also the pink and black gingham set in episode 7), which I interpreted my own way rather than literally.

It took me awhile to completely ‘warm up’ to play sets, I suppose.  For comparison’s sake go check out my previous playset, which was also my first, and is from the proceeding decade of the 1940s.  Funny, it also has a self-drafted skirt!  The general feel of that play set is more about a tropical-themed, sultry poolside lounging look compared to the sporty, activity-friendly, versatile use of my new 50’s one.  Perhaps I have another challenge here – to make more play sets from more eras?  Ugh, so many ideas, so little sewing time, and not enough places to go or a long enough summer!  Yet, I do have everything ready for both a 60’s play set and a 1980s one as, well.  Maybe this whole summer is my own “Summer of the Play Set”.  Would anyone be with me on this one?!