Punjab Finery

Punjab, famously referred to as “The Land of Five Rivers”, is located in the northwestern part of the subcontinent of India.  The word “Punjab” is made up of two Persian words – “Panj” meaning the number five and “Aab” means water.  This name was probably given to this land possibly in an era when this region came into close contact with Persia.  It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cultures in the world – a multi-hued heritage of ancient civilizations and religious diversity dating back to 3,000 B.C.  The Indian State of Punjab was created in 1947, when the partition of India split the former Raj province of Punjab between India and Pakistan. The mostly Muslim western part of the province became Pakistan’s Punjab Province; the mostly Sikh eastern part became India’s Punjab state (info from here).  As I am in the mood for earthy tones and since we are coming off of the Festival of Diwali, I am presenting my Punjabi inspired finery in the form of a refashioned vintage sari sewn into a 1936 kurta tunic which (I hope) unites both sides of the territory.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a vintage silk sari with a ‘zari’ goldwork brocade border

PATTERN:  Simplicity #2089, year 1936, reprinted by the EvaDress Company

NOTIONS NEEDED:  Nothing but thread!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This came together in about 10 hours (as there was a lot of hand stitching I did to finish the neckline).  It was finished in May 2019

THE INSIDES:  all French seams!

TOTAL COST:  The sari was a special find at only $25

Re-making a sari into a kurta or a long anarkali dress are two of the most common uses for a traditional re-interpretation.  Transforming this vintage sari by using a 1930s pattern was only natural to me as the next step.  The sari is printed and dyed with a very Cubist-Surrealist design, something which was very prevalent in the 30’s, even in fashion.  If I look at the design on the sari hard enough I think I see the face of a man sitting down weaving, but then doubt whether or not I am imagining what I want to see.  Isn’t that the beauty of surrealist art?  Cubism makes one’s imaginary pictures artistic.  Admittedly, I am not certain what era of vintage this sari is exactly – it could be anything from the 1990s to the 30’s.  Indian saris are meant to last generations and so they hold up very well if cared for, stored, and worn properly.  Their traditions are timeless.  Thus, dating them can be quite tricky.  I felt the 30’s was the best interpretation for what I had.

Furthermore, the media’s inquiring eye was on many of the ‘princesses’ of India in the 1930’s while other women of India were making headlines by breaking societal boundaries. Bollywood was coming to its own, and many of the greatest fashion designers were incorporating the country’s influence into their designs.  India of the 1930s was clearly edging towards its long-awaited partition already and many ruling women who could still claim royalty among the many dynasties dying out under colonial reign became a popular curiosity.  Named photographers were capturing the posed glamour shots of the fading royals, rich socialites such as Sita Devi, as well as popular actresses dressed in both the traditional or western-influenced clothing – they were no doubt a global influence.  In 1935, the French couturier Elsa Schiaparelli came out with an Indian inspired collection and a year afterwards the American couturier Mainbocher designed some very Indian influenced tunics (one such released as McCall #9082, see below far right image). 

The first Indian woman to fly an aircraft, Sarla Thakral, made history in 1936 at the age of 21 in her “Gipsy Moth” biplane.  After a hard-fought suffrage movement, about 6 million Indian women (only covering 2.5%) received voting rights in 1935 under the British Government of India Act, with Parliament even reserving seats for women in the lower house.  Women of India were achieving strides of modern progress in the mid-30s, making notable 21st century history.  These are only a handful of examples – I could go on!  It’s no wonder Western fashion took note, even though they sadly did not concern themselves with proper provenance.

This kurta tunic combines proper approbation together with a past time in the history of India.  In this past Indian-inspired outfit’s post, I addressed what is a kurta versus a kurti, but this site also defines the difference nicely.  The way this tunic is dressy and festive, as well as longer (knee length) it is decidedly a kurta.  The darker earthen tones with the orange and golden colors, as well as the distinctive “zari” goldwork along the border makes this a northern Indian heritage piece.  The word “kurta” has Persian origins much like Punjab region.  It means “a tunic, waistcoat” and the word dates to the 16th century (when the Mughal period began) even though its popular English usage is traced to the writings of the famous Lawrence of Arabia.  Nevertheless, garments very similar have been worn for centuries – it is basic and versatile in usage, and composed of simple shapes. The traditional Punjabi kurta is wide and falls to the kneesand is cut straight but today’s version is the ‘Mukatsari’ kurta which originates from Muktsar in Punjab. This modern Punjabi kurta is famous for its slim-fitting cuts and smart fit designs.  With the popularity of peplums and tunics in the 30s, this straight fit but very chic vintage design was a perfect choice.

Despite its deluxe appearance, it was pretty simple to make – quite rectangular with subtle curves and detailing like shirring.  It has a high sweetheart neckline and angular empire waist seaming.  There are loose and comfy cut-on flutter sleeves.  Simple shaping is achieved by a few rows of loose stitching pulled up to a slight gather over the tummy and at the sides of the neckline.  I chose to leave the back seam open for dramatic effect.  (I did wear a cropped cotton top underneath for comfort, though.)  The sari silk was really quite stiff and medium weight so this pattern would look different with a loose weave like a rayon or chiffon.  No matter – either way, this is a fantastic pattern which I will definitely come back to again, even if to only sew up something using the other high-necked, puff-sleeved view!

Contrary to many styles like this in the 30’s, this one is surprisingly cut on the straight grain rather than the bias, so it was perfect for taking advantage of the decorative border.  However, because of where else I wanted the border to be running, I also had to take the gold “zari” border and cut it out from the sari along what parts I did not use, then stitch it on other edges much like an applique.  The front skirt just below the waistline is the true border as well as the back skirt hem.  However, the front hem and the back bodice had their “zari” trim applied on.  Understand that the zari embroidery border runs the whole 6 yard length of either side to my rectangular sari, and is separate from the decoration on the “pallau” (the ornamental end piece of the sari).  In this post of mine there is a perfect example of a Gujarati sari with zardozi work along the border (see the red and blue one).

Zari embroidery is basically understood as thread traditionally made of fine gold or silver used in traditional Indian, Bangladeshi, and Pakistani garments, especially as brocade in saris, woven into fabrics (primarily of silk) to make intricate patterns and elaborate designs of embroidery called zardozi.  The Muslim (Mughal) invasions into Gujarat ca. 1300 brought in new textile influences and forced the dissemination of many weavers and their traditions into surrounding Punjab, but even as far as Delhi and Madras.  Even still, the town of Surat in the state of Gujarat (on the west coast of India) is still the world’s largest producer of all types of zari threads (thanks to government tariff protections put in place in the 1920s).  Zardozi weavers are special enough to be known as “kaigar”, which means ‘artist’, rather than by the common word for weaver, “jullaha”.  The very term for their work is a yet another Persian word recalling how gold specifically is used in stitched decorations, calling to mind the royalty and deities of their culture and religion.  Thus, the practice of zardozi is linked with northern India today, particularly the town of Varanasi.  It was this town’s famous golden brocades that the East India Company ‘took over’ the administration of so that Varanasi became a center for brocaded (zardozi) textiles.

It is hard for me to tell if the border of my sari is imitation, electroplated wrapping, or true gold when it comes to quality grade of the thread, yet is was most certainly machine work by the exact repetition of the intricate patterning of the embroidery.  Nevertheless, my sari border is quite stiff and substantial and was almost impossible to sew through (definitely stopped the machine needle a few times), so I have hopes that this might be the real deal.  Real precious metals are the traditional choice, besides the most practical one, for embroidery in a sari because nothing goes to waste and there is always something left to be passed down the generations.  Even when such a sari deteriorates or wears out, it can then be burned down to just the gold embroidery to be turned into jewelry or woven again into a new sari.  How smartly ingenious and touchingly poignant is this?!  If only the rest of the world’s fashion industry would learn from this we would not have many of the current problems of lack of sustainability as well as surplus unused excess.

The very fact that there is the gold embroidery on a silk sari transformed into a longer length tunic automatically makes this a fancy and special occasion item which is not formal either.  This makes it perfect for the holiday of Diwali in this years’ Covid-downgraded festivities.  This kurta also lends itself to the more elegant option of a skirt and not just trousers underneath.  After all, modern India’s younger set are all about a good spin on traditional wear!  I chose an older RTW bias cut brown poly crepe skirt, which has a wonderful 1930s air to it.  I had my burnout paisley satin dupatta shawl with me too, something I picked up from a Pakistani vendor on one of the trips to Europe when I was teen.

The real star of my accessories is the authentic Indian gold ruby bracelet, necklace, and earrings set.  It was something that came through my husband’s friends from collage of Indian heritage (and who are as close as family to us, and the catalyst behind my adoption and interest of India’s history and traditions). Long before my hubby and I met, he paid for her to bring back a precious jewelry set from their family jewelers on one of her yearly visits back to India.  It is very heavy jewelry and very impressive and beautiful!  This set was his investment in his family, though – it wasn’t just for me, although I am wearing the full set on loan for this occasion.  His mother was given the necklace, his sister the bracelet, and I received the earrings when I was married to him.  It was a poignant Indian gesture of affection to the women in his life, besides (for me) a lovely connectivity with the female in-law members of my family!

So you see now that mindful and symbolical use of what we embellish our bodies with has gone hand in hand with smart re-use and re-fashioning for years under one of the oldest cultures of the world.  The clothes of India may be complex in understanding, meaning, and manner of wearing, but the use of each individual piece is ingeniously versatile and simplistic.  The straightforwardness of their construction makes the details such as embroidery, weaving, and textile shine.  The simple elegance of the 1930s had an all new interpretation for me this time!  Anyway, look for a lot more varieties of Indian tunics to show up here on my blog.  Just to ‘wet your whistle’, all of them have amazing imported fabric, simple but elegant shapes of vintage inspiration, and intricate decorations that took me almost longer to add than making the garments themselves – and I can’t wait to show you more!!  

Out of all the regions and states of India, Punjab culture is so rich to a lover of history like me, as well as so beautiful to an American like me.  However, while I acknowledge the positive highlights to the province of Punjab, it also has one of the saddest facets of modern history as part of the transitions to the Partition of 1947.  It was caught in the surrounding genocidal massacres that sprung up around the newly created boundary lines and the religious divisions (also known as the “Radcliffe Line”).  Please read the links I provided in the sentence before this – even though it is disturbing or if it makes you cry as it did for me.  Here are some first-hand accounts from lucky survivors. This is important to read and take in regarding Punjab, and specifically in Jammu.  

Most estimates on the death toll of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs alike state numbers over 250,000, even up to 800,000…it is not fully known as many victims were displaced migrants.  10 million Punjabis had been driven away from their ancestral abodes making this the greatest forced migration in modern history – all in the course of a month or two!  It is a bitter history that the region has to live with and a major fact that is often ignored over the greater information celebrating the Independence of both India and Pakistan.

I truly hope this beauty of this kurda tunic brings an opportunity for others to hear about Punjab, discover its amazing history, see the beauty surviving amidst a painful history, and find a new respect for another one of the seemingly limitless magnificent cultures in our world.

A Few ‘Unmentionable’ Sewing Projects…

There’s been a lot of overly basic sewing going through my machine over the past months – and I’m talking about more than just masks.  The couple that wears handmade clothing stays together…did I get that right?!  Thus, I might as well spice that necessary stuff up a bit to make my practical sewing more interesting.

Not content with once around, the leftovers of one recent refashion plus some lace remnants were enough to eke out a special little sewing for my intimate wearing!  Then, some one yard novelty fabric remnants went towards making some quirky new boxers for my hubby.  Sorry if this is quite “too much personal information” to share, but I am proud of all the sewing I do and this stuff would never be seen otherwise if I didn’t post about it!  (That might be a good thing…anyway.)  I do think these look nice enough to share, especially my pretty bra, and yes – they are brand spanking new at this point.  It’s so hard to show how wonderful these items are without modeling them, but we’ll spare you that!  You’ll just have to believe our words and settle for my beginner’s ability to pull off an interesting flat-lay.  I paired the items with something that recalls the era of the pattern date.  You can see a peek of my silk true vintage 1930s pink bias slip as the backdrop for my bra, while hubby’s favorite vintage 60’s skinny tie and his monthly magazine subscription are the accessories paired for his boxers.

I think it is important to post about making underwear and lingerie so as to show others that it is much easier to make your own basic necessities than you might think.   These items are 100% more comfortable on us and much better fitting than any store-bought RTW items.  No wonder – they were tailored along the way to fit each of us, besides being incredibly personalized with the materials chosen, turning into an everyday treat to wear.  Also, everyone can see how pricey it is to buy quality, name-brand underwear and lingerie.  With remnants and under a yard of material, you can sew yourself something better than RTW at a very low or even free (if using scraps on hand) cost.  It’s a win all around.  Especially when these are such easy-to-make patterns, and vintage designs to boot!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  except for the little bit of lace on my bra, every item shared here is in comfy cotton – each one is just a different variety and weight of cotton (I’ll explain in further down in the rest of the post)

PATTERNS:  the brassiere – Simplicity #8510, a reprint from 2017 of a year 1937 sewing pattern (originally Simplicity #2288); the men’s boxers – Simplicity #5039, year 1963, from my personal pattern collection

NOTIONS NEEDED:  Luckily, I had the specialty bra making supplies already as part of a $1 grab bag of notions I bought a while back at a rummage sale.  Besides that, everything else I needed was basic – thread and elastic.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The brassiere was made –from start to finish – in 3 hours and was made in the afternoon of July 27, 2020.  His boxers were made here and there over the past few months and only took 1 ½ hours each to make.

THE INSIDES:  The insides of the bra are cleanly hidden, encased between the layers, while hubby’s boxers are zig-zag stitched finished along the edge.

TOTAL COST:  Each boxer cost about $2 to $4 (what a deal) while the bra materials are as good as free, being mostly leftovers from something 15 plus years ago.

So – where to start?  At first, the motivation for such sewing was both pure necessity as well as an inability to shop for such things in person (as we prefer).  But you know, what?  Somewhere along the line such basic sewing became more enjoyable.  We normally make sure to save my time and buy such items, yet the amount of 1 yard or less cuts that I have on hand are so plentiful and the perfect resource.  Besides, they both were quick projects that required barely an hour and so were practically perfect for the small segments of time I have for sewing recently!  It is nice to have a fast turnout item in between more complex projects, like the over the top dresses that my pandemic brain has been needing as of late (more on that soon).  It’s wonderful to have a completely handmade wardrobe inside as well as out, and it is also really special to be able to share that feeling.  I suppose doing such would be weird to share with anyone else but a partner, anyway!

I will start off with my selfish sewing.  The 90’s plaid skirt I refashioned to become this 1940s blouse had a basic cotton lining underskirt to it which was left behind.  It was a very small amount, about a half yard wide by about 25 inches long, but in simple A-line shape with only the two side seams so it was as good as a folded fabric remnant.  While it was out and not stashed away yet, why leave that good fabric neglected without a productive idea to match with it?  That would not be me!  So I reached for something that would need very little fabric, be different to make, and be something I could use at a practical level.  The basic ivory color and semi-sheer thickness dictated using the leftover lining cotton for some garment that was not to be seen.

This vintage year 1937 lingerie set has been a pattern I have been itching to try ever since I picked it up when it came out and so it was the natural choice.  Even though I was only able to use the skirt lining for a half set – just the bra (and the leftover fabric went towards two face masks) – this refashion was an immense success that makes me excited to pick up the pattern again and make a full set in a fashion fabric.  This is a very lovely surprise project, and a totally wearable muslin test.

As the lining cotton was a plain ivory and almost sheer (even with two layers), I realized mere dyeing to change the color would not add both a special touch and a bit of decency to this bra the same way layering it with some leftover lace did.  As the pattern is not complex and has very few seams I chose a posh French lace from on hand to layer over the outside.  Wow, does that lace addition really elevate this bra!

Yet, without realizing ahead of time, I found out it is a good thing that the lace was so delicate and the cotton was so soft and thin because it was quite hard to gather the middle seam of the bra down to the length the pattern intended.  As it was, I could not gather any tighter and that spot is still ½ inch longer than supposed to be.  If I had used a fabric any thicker this detail would have been even more difficult.  It is important to get this section as closely gathered as possible because it provides the bulk of the bra’s shaping, beside the small underbust darts.  The lesson learned (without having to recover from a failure) is to keep to lightweight, thin, and drapey for at least the brasserie half of this vintage reprint design.

Other than the challenge presented from the fabrics I was using, this pattern was a breeze to sew.  I found the size spot on and the instructions good.  The shaping of the bra is well done and the support is gives is just enough to do its job while still being comfortable to the point of feeling heavenly.  Of course you can see I upgraded to modern bra notions when it came to the notions used just so that this can be a vintage merge to get the best of both worlds.  There are times where I like to go all out vintage so I can both learn a new, different way of doings and also come from a historical perspective to try to understand how things used to be.  I did that already, however, for this earlier 1930’s lingerie set (posted here).  That aqua bra was finished the way the old vintage instructions dictated – with twill tape straps and such in the non-adjustable manner – and it needs constant tweaking to be brought back up fitting me as perfectly today as it did when I made it.  This time, I was determined today’s pretty little project was going to be more enjoyed than the last vintage lingerie, and what better way to do that than make it fully adjustable for my body and a touch more up-to-date?!

Next comes my unselfish sewing project!  This trio of boxers were very much mindless sewing I really didn’t have to think about how to construct.  They were pretty much the same as the 1940s pajama pants I had made him (posted here).  To save on interfacing for the front fly, I merely tripled up on fabric layers.  Interfacing and elastic still seems hard to come by, but luckily I had a pretty good stash of 1 inch wide elastic from my deceased Grandmother.  Thus, with the exception of the first pair of boxers I made for him – the animal print ones – which were two channels of ½ inch elastic, all the rest were a single piece of wide stretch waistband.  The instructions said to make two channels, but he seemed to find the dual channels of elastic would twist and line up wrongly as they get worn, so a single wide elastic waistband is always less fussy…and who wants fussy underwear?!

I gave myself a bit of a break when laying out the pattern for these boxers.  I laid the lower bottom edge out along the selvedge to save myself a bit of extra time to do hemming.  Also. I cut them opposite the grainline to save on fabric and better align with the directional prints on two of the boxers.  All of the pairs are cotton wovens that are not shifty and so going a bit against the rules of sewing and fabric isn’t a big deal, especially when you’re talking about mere underwear.  I normally never do such a thing so I was really in a special mood for such a disobedience to happen in my sewing projects.

Each pair is a different weight and kind of cotton.  As I said, I was not only using what was on hand but was experimenting to see what he would prefer.  The animal print ones as a tissue weight voile, the Captain America print is a medium weight quilting cotton, while the red print is something you might recognize, leftover Indian block print from making my sari ensemble choli blouse (posted here).  The Indian cotton was actually my part of a deal he made with me.  He encouraged me to not be feeling bad for placing a big fabric order from “Fibers to Fabric” on Etsy (yes, I honestly sometimes feel guilt for adding to my already generous sized stash of sewing supplies) as long as he gets a little something made for himself out of it.  I said I would use one of the fabrics to make him boxers, because I know how luxurious Indian cotton is, and underwear is the best way to appreciate good material.  It seems this is his favorite pair on account of the fabric – it is almost like a silk in the way it is very breathable, cooling, and weightless.

The voile is lightweight, yes – but not as silky the Indian cotton.  I know, he put up with me sewing him the animal pair, but I couldn’t help but think of Tarzan when I saw this one yard remnant.  Those were my crazy choice and my hubby has humored me.  The quilting cotton is a thick and tightly woven, as I’m sure many of you know (us vintage enthusiast always get tempted by its pretty prints for day dresses!), that has way too much sizing in it so it’s not the best choice for underwear.  Many washes will fix that eventually and break it in…and by then it might be looking almost worn out.  Ah, yes, I have a love-hate relationship with printed quilting cotton.  Yet, the Captain America print is so darn fun it has to be the winning boxer pair, though!  It is a print that is practically made for our family interests.  I actually ordered enough of this official Marvel brand fabric to make several face masks for each of us, with a yard still leftover to sew some pajama pants in the future for our little guy out of it as well.

The frequent wearing of loungewear along with finding ways to be self-dependent both are having a strong moment this year.  As we are all staying at home and outdoors more frequently, whether for work, play, or eating.  Crafting your own ‘unmentionables’ for your own personal comfort and enjoyment might just become as much of a thing as the “Nap dress” or food canning.  I love to be on trend using old trends.  Drive-in movie entertainment is coming back, so hey – anything is possible!

Handmade lingerie is really not as impossible a task as it might seem at first, and it is a fantastic way to use up small fabric scraps and bust that stash you’ve been holding onto, as well as be as sensible, sustainable, and thrifty as possible.  Besides, the holidays are coming and a handmade intimate garment would be an easy and cute little gift – just saying!  The world will never know how handmade your outfit really is when you make your own underwear…it’s merely a little undercover secret about your modern day superpower.

Bittersweet

This time of the year always makes me a bit melancholy.  There’s just something about the beauty of gradually realizing summer is fading into fall, and seeing the season gently usher in the upcoming cold I despise.  I am not one to have Halloween in my blood the minute September rolls around.  Instead, I like to let the fall season come in barely perceptible stages, as it does naturally, and enjoy its every transition.  The sun might be just as bright but there is a different smell in the air.  The cricket chirps are louder without the competition from tree frogs and cicadas.  The night settles in a bit earlier.  Fall’s entrance is indeed bittersweet in emotion, which is why I find it so ironic I love the shades of bittersweet, the plant, because it also is the time of the year I can appropriately wear the most gloriously rich earthen tones of that vine – browns, tawny shades, dusty green, a wine red, and hues of gold.  This little vintage number is early fall embodied in a dress!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a sheer printed polyester crepe for the dress and some colored jute ‘ribbon’ with some leather cording scraps for the belt

PATTERN:  Vintage Vogue #9295, reissued in 2018, labeled as a year 1940 design.  The original pattern was Vogue #8241, an “Easy to Make One-Piece Frock”, featured in Vogue Patterns booklet for March 15, 1939.  What is up with the confusion of the original date on the cover of the reprint?  My me-made belt was made with no pattern…just an idea in my head!

NOTIONS:  I needed nothing but the basics – thread, some skinny ¼ inch bias tape, and a small 14 inch side seam zipper

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Even with all the fine finishing inside, this dress took me only 5 or 6 hours to complete and the belt was made in 30 minutes.  Both were finished in May of 2020.

THE INSIDES:  All French seams

TOTAL COST:  This dress is practically free as all my supplies came from a local sewing rummage sale where everything was $1 per pound of weight…so my frock may be a dollar at the most!  My belt was made from some sort of multi-colored jute ribbon I bought on clearance many years ago when the now defunct Hancock Fabrics was closing.  I bought 2 yards of it for about $5.  The leather cording is leftover from a hat I had on hand (free).  This is a $6 outfit!!!

This is quite an interesting dress, full of contradictions.  First of all, it is a very classic dress design for 1939, with a very basic general construction and silhouette yet very interesting, tricky-to-make little details.  It is a sweet and feminine dress and tries to be complimentary with no real body shaping profile to it at all.  It is certainly not your 50’s take on a ladylike style, nor even a 40’s ‘I’m-ready-for business’ style…this is softer and more delicate without being girlish.  Even though the drawing makes one think this pattern might be scaled for a very tall woman with long legs, the proportions seem to be the opposite.  Sewing my dress as-is straight from the tissue, no fitting adjustments, it turned out perfect for my almost petite height (5’3”) and my short (14 ½”) back-of-neck-to-waist ratio.  The envelope’s yardage chart recommends anywhere between 2 ½ yards to 3 yards depending on the fabric width, yet – believe it or not, but I am the queen of optimal pattern placement – I was able to eke this dress out of 1 ¾ yards, with no compromise on grainline.  What gives here?  Overall, this was a quick treat to whip together and is a new dress that I absolutely love to wear, so I will not complain…not a bit.  I’m just warning every reader not to read this dress by its cover.

The full skirt, puff sleeves, and the bloused-out bodice are the obvious, and well-known visual giveaways for its original date.  Yet, somehow, the way Vogue styled their model and sewed up their sample dress made it seem more like a 1980s garment.  Weird, right?  That is an unfortunate reference which I do believe has turned off a number of sewists from potentially picking up this pattern to try it out because anything blatantly 80’s seems to repulse many.  As I said above, do not judge this by how Vogue has marketed it.

The decade of the 80’s does not give me an immediate adverse reaction and neither do puff sleeves, and so I tried to focus instead on the line drawing and give the design a chance.  I’m so glad I gave it a go!  It does have a bloused-out bodice that is something not all women will have a taste for today, yet it is very authentic, if you look at how garments fit women in old photos from the 40’s.  This dress has good lines, but it just cannot make up its mind what decade it wants to be in, and is not as timeless as other vintage designs.

 I dare to say it has a “cottage core” or “Laura Ashley” aesthetic at heart, with everything I still love about the 30’s, 40’s, and 80’s, so I’m there for it!  It is as comfy as a glamorous nightgown, with no need to feel to have a certain body image, yet it is as pretty as a picture perfect picnic and as breezy as a romanticized run through a field of flowers.

The one major change I did do on this dress was to simplify the neckline.  The pattern calls for a short back neck zipper to be put into a slashed and faced opening, and then self-fabric bias facing to be sewn along the neckline and sleeve edges.  As my fabric was a delicate crepe, and sheer too, I disliked the idea of a bulky back neck zipper.  I tested out the opening space of the finished neckline and guess what – you really don’t need that closure!  The dress can easily pop over my head without it, thankfully, because I think the dress is much better lacking the back neckline zipper.  Then, I used vintage cotton solid brown pre-made bias tape in lieu of self-fabric facings.  I love the simplicity and bit of contrast that this little step added.  Granted, I still made sure to cut the pre-made vintage bias tape out according to the patterns measurements for the given facings, just so I knew I was still keeping to the correct neckline.  I love it when some of my sewing work is already done for me with pre-made supplies, yet by using such quality vintage notions, I’m not just taking it easy – only adding a singular touch and putting my stash to good use.

Such a subject brings me to unashamedly brag about the total splurge of my really good vintage supplies on a finish that no one but me will ever see in real life – old rayon hem tape.  This stuff is so wonderful, and if you’ve never tried it, please find yourself some, use it, and you’ll thank me.  The wide and full skirt of this dress needed a deep hem to hang properly and have the proper weight, yet doing so is normally a slightly tricky technique.  It requires the cut raw edge to be gathered softly in to fit.  A regular folded-under edge is harder to do with this kind of a hem and, even on a soft material like this crepe, can turn out bulky and noticeable.

To get the nicest hem that is also invisible when worn, soft rayon hem tape is an incomparable wonder which does the job perfectly.  One long edge is sewn onto the cut edge of the skirt and then the other edge of the hem tape is sewn down to the body of the skirt.  The fabric merely ‘hangs’ from the hem tape instead of being firmly sewn together to the body of the skirt.  A light steaming sets the hem and controls the gathers.  Being out of the silkiest rayon, it gathers in so nicely and its lovely variety of colors that can be found make for a cheerful little splash of added beauty.  I chose a sky blue pack from on hand, and it contained a 3 yard length which was just enough for the skirt width with an inch or two to spare.  I do get a little concerned every time I use one of these vintage rayon hem tape packs because I know they are a limited resource and are not made anymore.  When they are gone, they will not be coming back.  Yet, what good will such items do me stashed in my notions drawers when they can be used and both bring me joy on my handmade garments as well as teach me a better way to do a sewing technique?  I rest my case.

Keep in mind the tiny, 1/8 inch pintucks are oppositely directional. They fold towards the center for both the front and the sleeves.  This was quite a challenge to accomplish when also sewing the edges into the skinny bias tape along the edges, but a little hand stitching finished off what I could not do using my machine.  Since the neckline and sleeve pintucking is practically the only major detail to this dress, it is well worth the extra time it demands.  There were so many thread ends to tie off though!  I can imagine how wonderful the pintucks would look on this dress if it was made of a solid color fabric.  They do stand out on my version by difference in texture alone, but are a bit lost in the print overall sadly.  Who knew making so many tiny stitched pleats could make such a difference in shaping when you do about a dozen of them!?

I paired my dress with a simple handmade belt, too.  I had two yards on hand of this novelty ‘ribbon’ made out of different colored jute.  I figured it would brighten the dress up a bit to add in more color -the late 1930s frequently combined unexpected tones to great success, anyway.  So I cut the two yards into half (for two one yard portions) and sewed them together lengthwise using a zig-zag stitch to end up with double the width.  I instantly had one wide belt.  Next, bias tape was sewed over the two raw edges for a clean finish, and then the edges were turned under and stitched down to form a loop on either end for the leather lacing to go through.  My belt kind of has the same idea as the one that came with the pattern, but was more fun to construct because it was my own idea.  I somehow like the belt better when the lacing is at my back and not the front.

The rest of my accessories are mostly vintage originals.  My earrings are from my Grandmother, while my straw hat is a 1930s mint condition original and a lucky find, as well as my kidskin leather driving gloves.  My velvet vintage purse is the only item that is from the 1940s and not the decade before.  Since the dress is sheer, under it I wore this deep purple, full-skirted, opaque 1950’s slip that I sewed awhile back now.  The two-tone heels are reproduction Miz Mooz brand.  I highly recommend anything from this vintage inspired shoe company…it’s like walking on air, they’re so comfy, especially their heels, and crafted with high quality (I have several pairs from this brand now, he he).  Altogether jazzed up, I went for a visit to our neighborhood “five and dime” candy shop to sweeten the melancholy I get from early fall.

I realize that readers on the other side of the world from me are just now easing into spring.  That is the other season of transition, kind of like fall, but with much more of a cheerful flourish.  I understand – which is why a dress like this could also be very appropriately a spring dress, too!  A little multi-season sewing is the most bang for my time spent, and hopefully a good inspiration for my readers no matter where you live.  Have I convinced you to pick up this pattern and give that 2 yards of material which is floating in your stash a chance to shine with this pattern?  What are your favorite tones of the fall season?

I Dream in Reverse Jacquard

My analytical brain likes to focus too much at times on some of the everyday mysteries of life.  Do I time travel when I take a 4 hour flight across two time zones in only 2 hours of my life?  Am I still dirty after cleaning myself in a shower for the towels to appear soiled so quickly?  Does a mirror really reverse an image for it to only cross up our front to back (in what seems to be a left-right reversal) but not up or down?  ‘Apparently not’ is the answer for all of these mental queries, but a scientific explanation doesn’t quite solve things for me.  So what do I do?  I play with at least one of those ideas through fabric.

In this case, I have created an elegant two-piece 1950s outfit that plays on the idea of the reverse image.  Jacquard is the perfect medium for such an idea.  It has a soft structure, is easy to sew, comfortable to wear, and not as fancy as a brocade or silk (i.e. more wearable for more occasions).  Most importantly for my idea, is the fact that either side is the ‘right’ side, more or less a reversible fabric.  Is it really a mirror image, though, when the loftiness of the nap is not the same on each side, creating shine in different places and therefore not a true reverse…in appearance only?  Ah, I think too much sometimes.  Nevertheless, I do love how this outfit turned out, with its play on maximizing the potential of my chosen fabric and making a deluxe combo that echoes everything I adore about the perfection of true vintage clothing.  The dress has dark navy, textured leaves against a blue satin background, while my bolero has satin blue leaves against a matte dark navy background.  It’s a trick of the eyes.

Speaking of the beauty I admire to past styles, that includes architecture…especially when it is as regal and extravagant as the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, California!  Hot off of our camera, and the perfect backdrop for my fancy set, are these pictures from my most recent trip to the American west!  After I had stayed in Las Vegas for several days, we came to stay at what is described as the “premier luxury hotel destination in Downtown Los Angeles”, the Biltmore hotel.  Built in 1923, this immense beaux arts-inspired hotel will be the backdrop in yet another post as well, more appropriately an early 1930s dress.  Stay tuned!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a cotton and rayon blend jacquard, with the dress bodice and jacket facing being in navy all-cotton broadcloth, and the bolero lining a basic ivory poly

PATTERN:  For the dress: Burda Style #121, a year 1957 pattern reprinted in August 2019; For the cropped jacket: Simplicity #8250, a year 1951 pattern (originally Simplicity #3775) re-issued 2016

NOTIONS:  All I needed was a whole lot of thread, some interfacing pieces, one long 22” zipper, two vintage buttons from the notions stash of the Grandparents, mesh seam stabilizer tape, and bias tape…nothing too unusual.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was my last sewing project for 2019.  After about 25 hours put into the dress it was finished on Christmas Eve, December 24, just in time to wear to the holiday celebrations.  The cropped jacket was made in about 3 or 4 hours and finished on January 2, 2020, as my first project for the new year.

THE INSIDES:  The dress bodice is covered by the lining and the rest of the seams are bias bound.  The little jacket is fully lined so no seams are to be seen!

TOTAL COST:  The jacquard had been found at a local rummage sale for only $2 for the whole 6 yard cut.  I only used about 4 yards out of those 6!  The cotton contrast and the lining for the jacket were scraps from on hand sitting for years in my stash, so I’ll count them as free, just as the notions.  This whole outfit cost me little over $1…how’s that for amazing?!?

This set happened to be my marker for the end of one decade and the beginning of the present one.  The dress was my last 2019 sewing project and its jacket the first for 2020 (as I mentioned in “The Facts” above).  What a way to show how far I have come!  This was a challenging project to make (mostly on account of the dress’ bodice details and the jacket adjustments), and I made it with all the trademark finishing of a well-made garment so I am very proud of myself for this set.  I could not have seen myself doing so well on it, even if I did manage to sew something like this, a decade back.  Enough of my reminiscing – let’s get down to the useful information.

I found the sizing on both pieces to be slightly off.  Vintage reprints and reissues often have such problems, especially so when it comes to Burda Style.  The dress, when cut in my ‘normal’ size, had a snug fitting bodice and loose fitting hips and waistline.  I had to take the waist and below in dramatically at the side seams.  Granted, you want the bodice of this dress, by the very way it is designed with its shelf bust, to fit closely, so I am not complaining that it is a good fit.  Luckily, it just fits for me.  The short jacket had snug sleeves and shoulders according to several online reviews from others who have tried it out already.  My shoulders are athletic, so I went up a whole size larger than what I needed according to the chart (for the entire jacket, not just the sleeves), and I am so happy with my decision.  A little crop jacket is the last thing you want to turn out tight fitting, and I wanted to hold onto my extra jacquard and not have to use it to make up for a mistake.  Thank goodness for sewing blogs, right?!

For the dress, I did leave out the addition of boned panels to the lining, as the instructions suggest.  I felt that a stiff mid-section would have been overkill and becomes obvious under such a soft material.  As long as you find a snug body fit as I did, I do not think boning the middle panel is necessary at all.  Definitely do heavily interface all of the lining pieces to the bodice instead, as well as the neckline.  You will definitely thank me later.  Some things you can leave out according to your judgment in sewing, but the shaping and the details, as well as the fit of this dress, demand significant stabilizing.  The sole spot I left out interfacing was along the skirt back’s open asymmetric vent slit.

For the jacket, I went ahead and significantly changed up the pattern to revise it back to the way the original pattern portrays it.  In the reprint, the jacket fitting more like a shrug – only covering a small portion of the upper body (shoulders and upper arms, not extending past the shoulder blades or covering the bust) and thus little more than a pair of sleeves joined at the back.  Not that I don’t like shrugs, but the original pattern cover from 1951 shows the fit and fall of the short jacket to be closer to a true bolero.  That is what I felt would match with my dress the best anyway, so I lengthened the jacket by 1 ½ inches, adding that amount horizontally midway between the hem and the bust.  This was a tricky re-adjustment because the hem is extremely curvy and the back is longer than the front.  The darts needed re-positioning, as did the front neckline curve, but I kept everything basically the same.  I feel that it fits me much better than if it was a short little shrug.  After all, tailored this way, I can have the option of closing it at the center front!  I made a little oriental-style frog using elastic ‘thread’ to achieve a low-key, workable closure.

I also adjusted the dress to bring it up to par with its vintage original.  Thank goodness Burda shares the original images because something about the extremely low dip of the neckline had me doubting this reprint’s credibility.  The center of the 1957’s sweetheart neckline was much more of a horizontal curve, a higher, more decent décolletage.  The reprint has a very angular sweetheart neckline that is closer to a V-cut than anything, and doesn’t look like it supports or holds the bust in at all.  I was not a fan of the model garment in that one detail.  Thus, I raised the center dip of the neckline by 3 ½ inches (yes, you read correctly!) to bring it up to what I feel is a truer imitation of the vintage original, yet still providing a hint of cleavage, a sexy open neck, true sweetheart curving, and better support for the close fit across the bosom.  Many times not letting it all hang out is more of a tasteful appeal than leaving nothing to the imagination.

The dress’ bodice by far took up about ¾ of all the time and effort, but just look at it!  It was worth it, in my estimation.  I have such a failing for sweetheart necklines, especially one with details like this.  The instructions were good, but for something as tricky as this, worded commands are only going to get you so far.  There was a lot of experimenting with the pieces, and unpicking a few times, before I finally hit upon what seemed to be right way to accomplish to the goal.  Granted, the steps did not make sense at first, but working it through – and under stitching every edge from the inside, even for the armscye – gave me a no-thread-visible, how-did-that-happen, complete pattern awe.

For all its faults, this is a really fantastic design.  If you want to advance your sewing skills, try this.  If you want a good challenge that will give you something to be so very proud of if you can do it, try this dress.  If you want to make something that will stand out from anything you can buy, that will bring you to the level of making your sewing equal to those vintage garments you are in awe over because of their craftsmanship – try this pattern.  It gives you a dress that is amazing to wear, after all!  I feel like a princess in it!

Except for the outer hem edge to the bolero, everything else to my outfit is hand finished.  The jacquard has such a satin finish, any thread showing would be glaringly obvious.  The bodice has all of its stitching reserved for the inside so as much as I wanted the easy way to completion, I hand stitched the hemline, skirt back vent, and the long back zipper.  I love the precision that installing a hand-picked zipper offers!  Even though I did not use an invisible zipper, I am getting so used to hand stitching in the conventional exposed teeth zippers almost invisibly.  I’m not meaning to brag, but really not sorry if that’s what I’m doing.  Practice really does make perfect, folks.  There isn’t anything wrong with being proud of your own personal accomplishments.

My accessories are special in their own way, and a combo of different styles and eras.  My necklace is a “Downton Abbey” jewelry piece, in other words a copy of 1910s era style.  My gloves are a great true vintage find on my shopping in Burbank area shops of Los Angeles.  They have a “handmade in France” label and are probably 1930s.  My hair flower is a vintage silk millinery decoration, from the 1940’s, yet another good find on my visit to L.A., this time from fashion district.   The very best purchases of my travels were an immediate part of my fanciest outfit for my trip!

I think all of this must come down to the fact that my mind has never ‘grown up’ in the modern conception of the term.   I haven’t forgotten how to be curious and ask questions about the world around me, or even enjoy playing dress up just because I can or I want to.  Getting out to go on travels helps promote that amazement and interest in life, past and present, too.  It also makes sure I don’t get overly used to the daily grind and get out of my comfort zone to see and do new things.

Finally, this most recent trip was extra special because I caught up with a good friend!  That friend is the one that helped me decide which side of the jacquard to use for the dress after all, so it was appropriate to bring it on my travels spent with her.  Ah, it’s amazing the unlimited possibilities this world has to offer!  Let’s make sure to take the time to be creative and open our minds, in whatever way you need, and I’ll keep my mind open.  I’ll keep asking those deep questions and searching for their answers, continue to challenge my creative skills, and prioritize time for friends and family.