Hoppin’ Dots! My Bunny Day Dress

What would Eastertide be without bunnies?  This year, I made that stereotype an enjoyable reality by actually spending some time with some real, live domesticated bunnies at a local photography studio.  They were hosting the visit of a rabbit rescue foundation to offer some Easter picture opportunities for the public as well as adoption prospects for the bunnies.  Why does Easter enjoyment need to be relegated to just children when adults can do something like get dressed up and hold some sweet fluffy bunnies?!  This is my kind of fun! 

I hope you enjoy my Easter post, which will attempt to be not just about the cute critters I am holding but also featuring my newest handmade holiday dress. It was whipped together out of a thrifted bed sheet.  Am I really ever completely leaving my sleeping quarters if I am wearing a bed sheet for the day, even if cut, pleated, and manipulated in the most glamorous manner?  I love how when you start with a fabric designed to be pleasant on the skin like a bed sheet, the resulting project is so wonderfully relaxed.  This was easy to make, had a spot on fit right out of the envelope, is comfy to wear, and has just the right amount of details.  This is perfect for what I am looking for Easter 2022 – I just want to stay relaxed, but eat well, and enjoy my day.  This swishy, simple dress is just the thing! 

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 60% cotton/40% polyester blend twin sized bed sheet (66 by 96 inches) for the dotted material and some cotton/poly blend broadcloth remnants to line the bodice for opacity

PATTERN:  Vintage Vogue #1043, a year 1953 pattern reprinted back in 2008

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of interfacing, thread, some bias tape, and one zipper for the side seam

THE INSIDES:  my dress’ bodice is cleanly lined while the skirt seams are nicely covered in bias tape

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My dress was completed in about 15 hours and finished on April 9, 2022

TOTAL COST:  pittance – the sheet cost just under $2 and the zipper and bias tapes were from a $1 a bag rummage sale find

The soft aqua colored polka dot print is easy on the eyes yet still cheerful.  I know the print is symmetrically round dots but it still somehow reminds me of multitudes of Easter eggs.   As I have said before (in this post), I am generally not a fan of polka dots and it has taken me years to be a bit more than tolerant with wearing garments which have that sort of print.  Yet, the irony to using this bed sheet for my dress is compounded in the fact I picked this up from a thrift shop a decade ago now…when I really didn’t like polka dots at all!  I love any aqua or teal color though, and I am always up for trying new things in my sewing project choices so I picked it up.  The fact the sheet was less than $2 also helped convince me to purchase it!  I had paired Vintage Vogue #1043 with the polka dotted sheet from the very beginning when I brought it home, and only just now felt the time had come to sew this project as I originally envisioned it.  I was finally ready for a full-on polka dot dress.  

At left is the underarm gusset first being sewn into the cotton lining. At right, I am showing the left side seam in the dress – you can see the sleeve gusset, zipper, and hand-stitched finishing details.

Since the cover illustration hides some of the dress’ details, let me give you a little general summary.  There is a basic four paneled ¾ circle skirt, and a simple dual darted back bodice (which I cut on the fold to eliminate the back seam), so the minimal pattern pieces were good for a bigger print like my polka dotted sheet.  Under the arms, there are gussets that form part of the sleeve.  This unique feature is the same as (seen here) the sleeves on my Princess Anna dress, sewn from a vintage Burda Style pattern.  Since that Burda pattern comes two years after the date of this post’s dress date of 1953, I found this an interesting nugget of information, but especially found it helped immensely to have done this type of sleeve gusset before. 

Other than the gussets, the majority of unique details to this design are in the front bodice.  It has an asymmetric faux wrap bodice, which creates a center front notch for interest at the neckline.  There is one deep knife pleat in each front wrap’s side seam to create soft fullness for the bust.  Yet, for as straightforward as this bodice may sound, I actually made it a bit more complex in construction so I could end up with a better finish.    

All the reviews I read through online about this dress pattern consistently mentioned 3 shortcomings to the bodice design if you sew it according to the pattern – a wrap front that is too shifty and revealing, a neckline that does not keep its shape, and finally facings which are fussy and cumbersome.  These issues were able to be ‘fixed’ through adding in a full bodice lining.  For the final touch, I added a trio of flower buttons along the chest of the bodice wrap so that it can stay down in its proper place.  The buttons add a little touch of fun and prettiness to this otherwise unadorned dress and keep the neckline notch looking as it should.  I wore limited jewelry (my Grandma’s earrings and an Easter hat, at least) to let my dress shine, with the pretty neckline details taking center stage.

My first step to making the bodice was to use the facing pieces only to cut out heavy weight interfacing for ironing down to the undersides of the entire neckline (for both my lining cotton and my polka dotted fabric).  This way the neckline was doubled up in support to keep its amazing face-framing shape and prevent the front notches from drooping (a problem I also read about in blogger’s reviews).  I only sewed together the back darts, the shoulder seams and godets with the right side seam at this point. The lining then was sewn in the method were all the raw edges were tucked inside for a smooth inside that needs no fiddly facings.  I bag sewed the sleeve hems before I tacked the lining down to the waistline and sewed the skirt to the bodice, wrapped over in front right over left. The white bed sheet was slightly see-through, so I needed a lining anyways, but doing so gave me a great solution to improve upon the bodice construction.  I am always willing to go the extra mile in my sewing projects if it will make even the smallest improvement to my satisfaction with the finished garment. 

Perhaps the best perk to sewing this dress together finally is discovering that it pairs spectacularly well with a short jacket that I sewed together years back.  This Burda Style “kimono jacket” has its own post which can be found over here.  Sadly this fabulous piece has hardly had any enjoyment out of the closet until now due to nothing specific ever really turning it into a “set”.  No other sweater or blazer or jacket in my closet matched with my dress, anyways, and this way my outfit is all me-made!  I love how the open lapels show off the neckline notch and decorative buttons on my dress.  I think the full skirt pairs well with the jacket peplum, too.

It is so funny how dressy and useful – in an unexpected way – something as mundane as a bedding can become.  My last bed sheet dress was even fancier than this one – a designer inspired 1950s Burda Style dress, posted here.  A micro-fiber bed sheet set went towards the lining of this 1990s jumper-sundress, posted here.  At the same time that I bought the aqua polka dotted sheet I used for this post’s dress, I also bought the tan floral bed sheet which went towards this 1940s dress, posted here.  I even had a post (here) about a top and a shopping bag both sewn from pillowcases.  It is not about the quantity or quality of what you have to work with, but how you use your supplies when it comes to sewing.  Even the most ordinary items can look glam or at least fuel your joy by supporting your creative ideas. 

Similar to the way sewing has given me an appreciation for using the most unexpected items others may take for granted, I found a new appreciation for bunnies at the Easter Selfie Room visit.  I realize the older generations do not view rabbits in a good estimation, especially anyone who has any interest or occupation related to the outdoors.  In our garden, they are such a bother (I’ll stop short of calling them a menace because they are cute, you have to admit).  Then again, I have loved the tales of Beatrix Potter since my childhood…so I can partially empathize with the plight of bunnies, too, at least from Peter Rabbit’s point of view.  The domesticated bunnies I met that day were soft and cuddly, curious and relatable, as well as free with their love and affection.  I was disarmed and touched!  What a delightful new experience, made even more special because I had the chance to share that event with my parents! 

I hope your Easter, if you celebrate it, is a wonderful, peaceful day full of happiness.  I hope the blessings that the beauty of nature can provide cheer your heart and soothe your spirit.  Also, I hope you have an outfit to wear to brighten your day, just as I have done for myself yet again this year!  I trust you’ve found an extra dose of rabbit appreciation through the critter cuddle pictures in this post.  Don’t forget to leave a carrot out for the Easter bunny!

White, Orange and Green

There is nothing 100% “from scratch” in the outfit that I’m posting this time, as this is (mostly) about a current refashion of a 1940s blouse I’ve already made back in 2013. Yet, I have paired it with a “new” woolen skirt that I refashioned after finding it chewed up during storage in our cedar closet.  Together, this is a fresh take on two existing items in my closet which needed some care and attention…and that deserves its own post, right?!  After my previous post on my Victorian skating ensemble, I thought I’d keep things simple and mix things up by showing how I keep up pieces in my wardrobe.  In order to earn its keep in my closet, each item needs to be something that fits as well as something I love.  I have no qualms about putting something I’ve sewn through a scissor and under the sewing machine to have that happen!  I made it, I can fix it up, too.  Beyond that, though, this set is the perfect colors to wear for St. Patrick’s Day – the white, orange, and green of their national flag!

I couldn’t help but title my post after the song that this outfit calls to my mind.  It is an Irish folk song which supposedly rose out of the 1919 to 1921 War of Independence but got a popular revival in 1989 from the album “Home to Ireland” by Spailpin (listen to the song here).  It is almost my favorite Irish song album – I have loved it since my childhood!  “The Rising of the Moon” song is not to be missed and “Three Young Ladies Drinking Whiskey Before Breakfast” will get your toes tapping.  I am proudly very Irish through both sides of my family as well as my husband’s side, so this is not just celebrating a holiday which is alien to me but happily honoring my heritage!  Although some of my Irish ancestors may have preferred to sport orange for today, I align more with the wearing of green, so I love how this outfit unites all the colors just as the flag does.  (If you know your Irish history, you’ll understand this one without looking it up!)

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The fabric for the blouse is from a seasonal collection of soft 100% cotton quilting fabric, lined in a matching rust orange color 100% cotton broadcloth

PATTERN:   Simplicity #1692, a 40s era re-release from 2013 (it’s one of their 85th Anniversary patterns), originally Simplicity #1093 from year 1944

NOTIONS:  I really had everything I needed on hand – thread, zipper, and bias tape.  The single button at the back neck closure is probably close to being the correct era for my vintage blouse, and comes from my special familial vintage button stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My blouse originally (first incarnation) took me about 10 hours to be done back in October 2013.  In the fall of 2021, I spent another 5 hours to renew the blouse into its latest version. 

Both pieces have recently been discovered to be too small on me, but the skirt also had damage so I had more than one incentive for altering them.  Now that we are coming out of two years of isolating and staying at home, I have to get to know the full potential of my closet again.  A good amount of my pieces have not been touched in a while because of the pandemic, and although my body has mostly either stayed the same or lost weight through it, the same cannot be said for my upper arms and hips. In some of the cases, letting out my 5/8 inch seam allowances is enough.  In other garments I find that I will need to add in gussets, side panels, or re-work the bodice.  These have now gone to my “need to alter, fit, or refashion” drawer. 

I still like these items enough to want to give them TLC or perhaps a whole new spin in the future.  After all, I invest myself in everything I make and probably 90% (or more) of my wardrobe is self-crafted at this point.  I am happy with what I have and don’t need to start a project from scratch to use my sewing capabilities.  Taking care of what I have is sustainable and responsible, I feel.  I am just sad to see how my body changes add to my already large enough make-do-and-mend pile.  How have the last two years affected your wardrobe?  Do you find things fitting you differently or have your style tastes just changed…maybe both?  Do you enjoy altering and mending or is it pure drudgery for you? 

What was wrong with the blouse in the first place?  You may be wondering this because the blouse has ended up looking close to the same way as when I originally made it – just short sleeved.  Well, I wasn’t going for a different spin, just the same look in a bigger size.  The armscye was already close fitting when I first made the blouse.  Its sleeves were now uncomfortable, losing any ‘reach room’ and the hips were too snug to zip down past the waistline.  Also, at this point – since my sewing skills have improved – I was quite embarrassed by my beginner’s efforts at making a buttoned cuff on long sleeves.  Thus, the long sleeves were sacrificed to become side panels to add room.  It was easier than digging through my containers of scraps in the unlikely hope that there would be a remnant large enough to help my need for a refashion!  One sleeve was divided in half to make two panels for the bodice sides, while the other sleeve went towards the neckline (see next paragraph).  The original zipper was unpicked out of the blouse and re-inserted in between the front main body and the left side panel.

Just adding in width was not enough to fully open up the sleeves for more shoulder room.  I also unpicked the sleeves from the bodice and re-sewed them in at ¼ inch seam allowance (the original blouse had 5/8 inch seam allowance).  That was better but my big arms were still pulling at the neckline.  So I opened up the neckline, loosened up the center front gathers, cut the neck more open by ½ inch, and sewed over the edge a brand new bias band (cut from the second sleeve, as mentioned above).  This time I left lots of excess length at the back closure to the neckline’s finishing bias band so I can button it in a way that is more open.  This assuages my claustrophobia over tightly necked garments, and widens out the shoulders a bit.  I was able to cut two more small bias strips for finishing the two sleeve’s hem ends.

The brown all-wool skirt was something I have had since my late teen years.  I had forgotten about it in our cedar closet for the last decade and it was not properly stored.  I believe it was carpet beetles which found it, because moths make bigger chews holes.  Nevertheless, the skirt had most of its significant chews from the hipline up to the waist.  Being a long ankle length to begin with, I merely cut off the top 1/3 of the skirt (keeping the side zipper, albeit short now), newly tapered in the side seams, added darts to fit, and finished the waistline with bias tape.  Any tiny holes left can be patched up easily since the wool is lofty and loosely woven. This was super easy refashion.

Much better than buying raw supplies, I use garments I already have as material for my sewing ideas.  This time, these two items were more of a refitting I suppose versus a total re-fashion.  Both my skirt and blouse are much more versatile and wearable now more than they ever were, so this is not just about ‘saving’ them, I feel.  A mid-length skirt is more all-weather, just the same as making short sleeves on my blouse.  My blouse is double layered (lined in all cotton) and the wool skirt is cozy so shortening their length has turned them into something I can wear for cooler days in the spring and fall, not just for the cold of winter.   This way I have the opportunity to layer them.  Paired over my blouse to bring out the green is an old favorite store bought corduroy blazer back from my teen years. 

To conclude, I wish a happy St. Patrick’s Day to all who celebrate!  To read more on some of the ways I celebrate this holiday, as well as the fancy green-themed vintage dress I may pick to wear today, please visit this Instagram post (linked here).  The fact that St. Patrick’s Day is always immediately followed by the first day of the verdant season of spring always gives me an excellent reason to be on a spell of fascination for anything green.  Here’s your tip off as to what may be featured in my next blog post!

Once Upon a December

Of all the animated princess which have graced the silver screen in my lifetime, I would like to say my favorite just may be one that is not even Disney in origin.  I’m talking about Anya, better known as Anastasia Romanov – the spunkiest, sassiest, most relatable animated royal heroine and one that has a historical basis (to some degree, as her adult life is the stuff of legends).  The last week of November was the annual anniversary since Fox Studio’s animated film “Anastasia” was first released for the entertainment of its audiences back in the end of November 1997.  Then, just last week, the palace of the last Russian Tsar Nicholas ll has been opened to the public, impeccably restored back to the time of 1917 so it looks just as it did when the princess Anastasia lived there with her family.  I guess I could have waited until the 25th anniversary next year, but after offering my “Pandemic Princess” blog series, and being a wholehearted fan of the animated movie, I decided now was the perfect time to finally bring one of her outfits to life!

I chose to sew a vintage version of the Russian tunic she is first seen as wearing in the movie when, as an adult (18 years old in circa 1927), she is finally leaving the orphanage.  She sings her first song “Journey to the Past” in this scene, the song that defines her hopes, dreams, and driving energy for the film’s storyline – the desire to find love, have a home, and connect with family.  She is the animated princess who literally had everything taken from her.  She lost more than just her memory by having amnesia (as the fictional story convincingly portrays) from a nasty fall taken while escaping the revolution.  Yet, no matter how afraid she was, she never lost sight of her belief in herself and her longing for belonging.  The jeweled “Together in Paris” necklace was her solitary key to a shard of a memory connected to the past she needed to reclaim.

That first song encapsulates why Anya is so appealing and inspiring, but the second song she sings later “Once Upon a December” while wearing that same tunic is a heartbreaking tune of her yearning under the shadows of vague memories.  Then, finally, when Anya agrees to go through with the scoundrel Dimitri’s plan to curate her into the princess ideal, she sings along to an upbeat song of family history and positivity in “Learn to Do It”.  As I did not have any snow or a fancy palace to channel the other two songs, I chose to interpret this last song…where balancing a stick on the head serves in lieu of a book to train Anya into walking elegantly.  Between these three songs, this is why I needed to make a fun (and a bit more fashionable) version of the oversized, torn, hand-me-down tunic that gets her through half of the movie.  How often does a princess get to sport casual wear that is this cute, after all?!  This is a whole new kind of a different vintage type of garment, and I love it – even if only for being Anastasia inspired.

My obsession over the Russian princess Anastasia is not confined to this sole outfit recreation, however.  On Instagram, I have styled my mother-in-law’s 1970s original dress to look like Anya’s blue strapless sparkle dress that worn in the animated film for her visit to the opera with Dimitri.  That scene is everything to me and just goes to show how the perfectly picked outfit for an occasion can literally make your man’s jaw drop…the most fantastic reaction ever.  Click on over here to see my second (non-me-made) Anastasia outfit for yourself!  Do I next re-make one of her late 1920s dresses from when she was spending a night of shopping and dining in Paris?  Or her blue collared “boat ride” dress?  Or one of her two golden yellow princess gowns?  Once I decide, I will be revisiting the fashion of the 90’s animated “Anastasia” at some point in the future.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% rayon twill

PATTERN:  a Lady Marlowe reprint of a year 1935 Simplicity #1908 sewing pattern

NOTIONS NEEDED:  Lots of thread, a dozen buttons (vintage ones were used here), and half a dozen hook-and-eyes.  The trim was a 1910 era antique notion, in a pre-stitched design on a 6 yard strip of loose weave muslin.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The tunic was made in about 30 hours (a third of that time was spent on just the sleeve details), and was finished on April 22, 2021

THE INSIDES:  cleanly French seamed, with vintage rayon tape to cover up the bottom hem inside

TOTAL COST:  3 yards of this fabric was needed – it was bought at JoAnn fabric store for about $10 a yard.  The buttons were $12 and ordered through Etsy to top off an order so I could have free shipping.  The trim – all 5 yards of it – was the real cost at $67, and I only needed two yards, but I felt I had to get all or it or nothing.  If I divide out the cost of the antique trim, my total cost for this tunic was $70.

First of all, I want to clarify I’m calling this a Russian tunic because I’m merely using the same terminology as what is on the pattern I used.  If I wanted a true cultural garment I would have chosen either the #128 “Russian Settlers’ Dress” or the #116 “Shirts of Russia and Ukraine”, both patterns by Folkwear Company.  Even still, if you compare the line drawings for the traditional option through Folkwear with my 1935 fashion version they are really similar.  My version is slightly more fine-tuned and truer in styling to its release date versus true cultural clothing which is more timeless. 

An Eastern Bloc influence on the fashion of the Western world was popular in the 1920s through the mid-1940s, during which the embroidery of Hungary, Poland, and Slavic countries can be spotted on vintage blouses and dresses.  These loose and comfy but gloriously embroidered garments have been (and still are) callously coined as “peasant” styles by many.  Post WWI, the peasants suffered greatly under the many internal wars of the Eastern Bloc region, and millions starved to death in the 1920’s under state confiscation of grain and collectivization of agriculture. 

A Russian, Bulgarian, and Ukrainian folk influence was not as popular as the aforementioned “peasant” styles, and its decorated asymmetrically closing collared plackets were primarily seen on winter coats, tunic length blouses, and pyjama sets (for loungewear) in the 1930s.  The Soviet Union had been admitted to the League of Nations the year before my pattern was released, and the United States had recognized Stalin’s regime the year before that (in 1933).  No doubt the political and social-economic events of the time as well as the influx of refugees fleeing dangerous situations influenced an interest abroad in traditional Russian and Slavic garb.  Just the same as what happened to the qipao, originally from China (as I discussed in this post of mine here), once another culture’s fashion is imported in and adopted it becomes no longer purely authentic but a merging of expressions…for better or for worse.   

My tunic’s color scheme was chosen according to both what trim I could find and what Anya was wearing in the animated film, so this is not in the most traditional colors, but neither am I incorrect.  My trim is a true antique teen’s or 20s era addition to my tunic, so it is the real deal and not a product of my modern design preference.  It is in a counted cross-stitched design, so often seen on ‘Russian’ garments starting in the 20th century even if it wasn’t really proper to the culture (I’ll discuss this subject in further detail later on in my post).  So, whether or not it is truly Russian-Ukrainian, though, as it was labeled in its listing, is something I have not been able to clarify.  Either way, I think my tunic is a great homage to one of the great legends of history – the “what if the princess Anastasia had lived past 1917” story.  Influenced by the 1997 film, I would like to imagine she had a life of happy freedom, seeing the world and starting her own family with Dimitri (also frequently visiting Grandmother in Paris, of course).  Along those lines, I would like to think this is what Anya would have been wearing in the 1930s.

The tunic body basics were straightforward, but all the finishing and detailing work took up all the time and effort (don’t worry, it is always enjoyable, really).  Even with all the hours and hours of hand-stitching I logged for my tunic, working with rayon twill was a joy because it is the ideal blend of suppleness and stability.  The overall fit is a bit loose and forgiving (being hooked closed only to the waistline) and only needed to be tailored in across the shoulders and around the sleeve cuffs.  I love the little darted tucks which ever so slightly blouse out the bodice at the back.  Little points like this save the tunic from being a sack.  I also love the freedom of movement which is married to an air of elegance with the dramatically generous sleeves and fancy cuffs.  

The pattern was a reprint sized to just the measurement I needed, for a lucky break, and I have few complaints.  It was printed professionally, turned out pretty true to size, and all the pieces matched up very well.  This was my first experience with Lady Marlowe vintage pattern reprint company and I am pleased.  At the prices Lady Marlowe reprints are sold for, and the way they are so cleaned up to the point of looking more modern than not, I feel like I would be better served investing in a true vintage pattern – but I am a purist.  As I had a specific idea in mind this time, I was thankful to find a reprint which made something available to me which normally would not have been an option.

I felt like my antique trim as fated to be part of this project because it was exactly the same size width (3 1/2 inches) as the pattern piece for the asymmetric decorated front placket.  With the seam allowance, the finished edges just came to the outside of the stitched border to the antique trim, and I was ecstatic over the results.  So as not be overwhelming or confining to my neck, I used only the middle section of the trim for the collar to make it half the width as the front vertical trim.  For both collar and front closing facing, I had to iron on stiff interfacing to the backside of the old trim, and I felt badly adding something so modern and permanent to it.  However, the base material for the trim was a very fine and fragile mesh linen, and there was no way it was going to hold up through either the construction process or the a washing, even if I do so by hand. 

The underside of the stitching tells its story – I love seeing this!!!

I could tell from the backside of the trim that this was sewn by hand because the underneath was not by any means consistent, with lots of hanging floss ends.  This was real treasure I hated to cover up with the interfacing, but I realize this step was necessary to present a finished garment.  To think that this trim was done by hand blows my mind, humbling me and garnering my absolute respect for the maker.  Was this something which was worked in spells over months, with admirable patience?  Was the maker quick and efficient enough to do six yards in the first place?  What was this trim originally intended for, I wonder?  I have so many questions which will never be answered…I only know I am glad I have more to use on another project or just hoard for admiration purposes in the future.

Counted cross stitch as a cultural ‘folk’ decoration on a garment is often tied to Russia, even if the stitch itself has different origins.  The earliest fragment of embroidered cloth to include cross stitch can first be traced back Upper Egypt sixth century BC. It then flourished during the Tang dynasty in China (618-906 AD), when it may well have spread westward along the trade routes (info from here). In the centuries which followed, crossed stitching spread to England (old Normandy), medieval Spain and Italy, and then Germany and more.  In Russia and the Ukraine, cross stitch techniques began appearing in villages after the 1850s, being adopted by farmers from nobility’s and city people’s needlepoint

An example of Brokar’s stitch patterns. At the top it says “gift with purchase of glycerin soap.”

After 1870s, the French philanthropist businessman Genrich Brokar, with his Moscow firm of perfume and soap production, made a fatal hit to the knowledge and popularity of traditional crafts such as Igolochky (Russian punch-needle embroidery).  In order to attract customers, especially for his soaps, he included a free chart of a cross-stitch design with each sale of his products.  He hired his own artists to re-render traditional Russian symbolical motifs and simplify them to both please a greater variety of people and be easy enough for all skill levels.  Soon enough, Russian cross stitched garments became known as Brokar embroidered.  Before the Revolution of 1917, Brokar was one of the largest cosmetics manufacturers in Russia.  He had an ingenious marketing strategy that ruined how the world and even Russia itself sees its own fiber art traditions. 

Whether or not cross-stitch can be considered a true Russian traditional craft seems to a hot topic of debate on many of the sites for the promotion of cultural heritage which I visited online.  That being said, this is primarily how Russian and Ukrainian folk clothing has been decorated and understood for the last 150 years.  In honor of the 100 year anniversary of the Brokar cross-stitch marketing, the technique had a revival in the 1970s.

Even as I type that the cross stitched trim takes center stage for this tunic, my fun pistachio green vintage buttons are the close runner ups.  They subtly bring out the color of the trim, and low-key highlight the closure details I put so much handiwork into.  Doing a dozen chain-stitched thread loops (10 for the cuffs with 2 for the shoulder), sewing on a dozen buttons, matching up half a dozen hook-and-eyes under the front closure, and adding one large snap set at my neck all together took me almost as much time as it did to make the tunic.  It is a time consuming deal to close all those buttons, so – just as Anya did in the animated film – most of the time I flip back the cuffs for a casual look.  I love how the flipped back cuffs change the whole aura of the tunic.  I think it seems more Russian with the cuffs buttoned up because it is practical for cold weather.

These sleeves are so fantastic, aren’t they?!  They are like a cross-breed between gigot sleeves (also called leg-of-mutton) and bishop sleeves.  The giant puff sleeves literally are gathered in as tightly as they could go into cuff edges which stretch up to below my elbows.  It was as much of a drama to sew as it might look.  The skinny sleeve cuffs did not fit around my sewing machine’s free arm.  Even when I did manage to sew the sleeve-cuff seam by machine, the gathering was too tight for a good stitch.  I had to do the cuffs my hand sewing…wah!  The finished clean seams really add to the spectacle that is this sleeve style, though. 

Here – to be similar to Anya from the animated film – I am merely wearing leggings and ankle boots with my tunic.  Outside of these pictures, I will probably be wearing the tunic with a 1930s style skirt, either with it tucked in or sometimes not.  The pattern cover shows the tunic worn with a skirt, and it looks rather like something from the 70’s Disco era when I tried wide legged pants under it.  I appreciate that the pattern’s cover also shows frog closures as an optional closing method because it calls to mind the “merging of European and Central Asian traditions”, as Folkwear calls it, which this asymmetric-closing Russian style blouse (or tunic, in my case) has as part of its history.  The countries of the world are more intertwined than many of us consider, especially when you look at this fact from the perspective of a fashion memoir. 

Tunics themselves seem to an old cultural garment adapted by many nations.  They are flattering, versatile, and often unisex, besides being something modern, RTW doesn’t know how to create as tastefully as cultural clothing can do it.  All too often the tunics of today that I see in the store are terribly oversized, or in an overly clinging knit, or designed as if the body is something to hide.  There is a high probability that some part of whatever familial ancestry you most closely associate with has some form of a tunic as part of their heritage clothing.  This kind of tunic would be the very best place to start to find a renewed appreciation.  I am already used to wearing tunics in the Indian form of a kurta or kurti , so this Russian inspired one feels like a mere variant.  I am happy my excitement over the animated film “Anastasia” was a starting point for me to explore more tunics outside of India.  

It is not quite a dress, but it is a bit extra to be called a blouse…do you like tunics?  Let me know if you found the short history of cross stitching just as interesting as I did.  Also, I want to hear from any 1997 “Anastasia” movie fans out there – what were your favorite scenes, lines, or outfits?

My Best Border Print Yet

Anyone who remotely knows me or pops into my blog has probably realized in have an undying fascination for border prints.  They are the siren call for me.  I know I’ve said as much before, but this time around I have sewn with a silk crepe original pre-WWII border printed fabric!  Believe me, I was terrified to use this treasure, but it was in perfect condition, and too very pretty to sit, hidden and forgotten, away in storage.  This had to be enjoyed and seen, it is just too good.  However, just what pattern to choose to make the most of this precious find was the tough question I faced.  I have no regrets and am only absolutely thrilled with the fantastic dress I now have…so I guess I chose the right pattern?!? 

The funny thing is, I really appreciate the fact I chose a relaxed and nonchalant “Hostess gown” rather than something as fancy as the fabric.  This way what I’ve made has the greatest opportunity to be worn and enjoyed, I figured.  “The Vintage Fashion Guild” defines a Hostess Gown as a dressy garment, popular from the 1930s to 1970s, worn by the lady of the house for entertaining at home, full length but not as formal as evening wear, whose lines still followed current street fashion.  Vogue calls it “somewhere between loungewear and partywear”, while Melissa, over on the blog “Well Appointed House”, notes that they were loosely sized with “a forgiving waistline”.  Often, I see them as easy to put on, in either a wrap-style or zipper front closing, with conservative body coverage.  I love this way of thinking towards what is worn at home – practical but elegant, pretty but nonchalant, all so a lady can feel as ravishing as a Hollywood celebrity with all the comforts of wearing pajamas.  It’s the ultimate statement piece showing that the lady of the house is queen of her abode in more ways than one…as this “New York Times” article says, a Hostess gown both commands but respects a domestic occasion.  

The pattern I used has been adapted by me to accommodate both my chosen border print layout and a full front zipper.  Otherwise, it stays true to the original design lines and perfectly checks off all the boxes for a hostess gown – adjustable tie waist, breezy fit, elegance in style…all in an impressive fabric print.  Even still, I do not exactly plan on keeping this just for indoors, or wait until I do home entertaining.  It is almost ‘too nice’ for preparing or serving food and drink, being mostly ivory (which doesn’t bode well for stains or spills) besides being a special vintage silk after all.  I happily wear it out and about!  It’s perfect when I want be dressed in vintage style, especially my go-to 1940s decade, but don’t feel like going all out and be confined into the traditional fitted looks. 

The way the silk is whisper weight and flowing awes me, as does the print which gives me an illusion of delicate lace…hinting (to me) of either lingerie, an arachnid, or something spooky and mysterious.  This is partly why I waited to take this post’s photos until Halloween, when the trees can create a colorful backdrop with their fallen foliage while the somber shadows of the earlier evenings adds a melancholic tone.  Trying some late springtime pictures (where I am standing with a Chinese dogwood) lightened and washed out the beautiful, rich, creamy ivory that is the fabric’s true tone.  Either way is still lovely nonetheless, but I am too much of a perfectionist…and I like realistically showing my creations to their greatest effect!  I will take any excuse in any season to be able to wear this dress – I absolutely love it!

Speaking of things that I really enjoy lately, keep your eyes open for a new kind of outfit accessory – a temporary tattoo from Inkbox.   It stays on my skin for a few weeks before fading away.  I chose a spider and a rose theme because I felt it paired with the mysterious web-like effect the border print has on the solid, light color of the silk.  My other accessories are earrings, a scarf, and a chenille butterfly brooch, all vintage items from my paternal Grandmother.  My snazzy triple buckle shoes are actually all suede and meant for dancing, a 1940 reproduction style coming from Aris Allen Company

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% silk crepe

PATTERN:  Butterick #6485, a year 1944 pattern reprinted in 2017. See more on this down later in my post!

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread, a bit of interfacing for the collar, and one 22” long vintage invisible zipper

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was made in about 6 to 8 hours, and finished on September 16, 2020

THE INSIDES:  all French seamed

TOTAL COST:  3 yards and 14” of this vintage fabric cost me a reasonable $40

How do I know it is truly vintage fabric?  First of all, the width of the selvedge gives it away.  This is a 39” width, which means it either 1930s or 1940s.  This size selvedge did last into the 1950s, but the rest of my clues point to decades earlier before WWII.  The black lace-like design is printed all the way through, too, there is no real “wrong” side.  I often see this bleed-through on 1940s and older fabric prints.  Furthermore, once you have the opportunity to feel (as I have) what a vintage 40’s or earlier cold rayon, polished cotton, or silk material feels like in comparison to modern fabric the difference is clear and beautifully unmistakable.  They just don’t make fabric (that I know of) the same way as they used to. 

I did pre-wash it, which was scary in itself, because I had no idea how it would react or if the black border print would bleed into the ivory background color.  Happily, a gentle hand wash bath made no change to the fabric texture or condition, only brightened up the ivory color and faded a few tiny rust spots which are scattered across the material.  If these minute rust spots are all this fabric shows for its age, than that is fabulous!  It cleaned up beautifully and still seemed quite strong, which gave me further confidence to make a something for myself using it.

First of all, I wanted yet another different layout of a border print that I have not yet tried.  I wanted the design element to radiate out from the center front seam, running vertically from the shoulders to the hem.  I have seen this kind of a layout for border print fabrics in other 1930s dresses, zip front robes, and hostess dresses.  The border of my fabric was about 13” wide and ran along the length of only one selvedge edge.  With such a print, I had one strip of the border to work with which was 3 yards and 14 inches long, the length of my cut of material.  Dividing that length in half helped me figure out that my fabric amount would not work for anything longer than a mid-length dress, as long as it would have the front all one panel piece (more on this later).  This meant the dress I chose would need to be shaped primarily by darts or tucks (to keep the border design intact).  Keeping all these ‘needs’ in mind as part of the planning process, all the while wanting a hostess gown, rather overwhelmed me.  I was only searching through my stash of 1930’s and 40’s patterns to make things more challenging!  I ultimately – and happily – found everything I was looking for in Butterick #6465 pattern re-issue from 1944.

Of all the vintage pattern reprints, those from Butterick are always the hardest line from which to track down the original design.  After much online searching, I found a cover image that is highly likely to be the source for the new #6465.  I’m strongly convinced this “reprint” is a tweaked version of what was originally Butterick 9154, from the summer of 1944.  I realize it doesn’t have the front shoulder panels that the new re-issue has, yet I personally have a few original Butterick patterns that have been reissued and their details had been significantly re-worked for their re-release.  During my online browsing, I did see an early 1940s “House Dress with zipper closing at center front” from the “New York Pattern Company” #230 that is also very similar to my Butterick.  Apparently this combination of details/design lines must have been popular enough to span more than one brand of sewing patterns!

I was keeping an eye on my son’s antics as I was also getting my picture taken, so that explains my disinterested face!

My first step before approaching any “vintage” reissued pattern is to read every review and post that is out there to find because I am very wary of the resizing that is done to them.  For this Butterick pattern, I saw a consistent trend of comments saying they adore the style but it runs oversized and offers limited reach room when sewn together with no prior tweaks.  What I did then, at the pattern stage, was ‘slash and spread’ the sleeve piece open for more room in the upper arms and redraft the armscye to come up higher into the armpit for reach room that doesn’t tug at the dress.  I also went a whole size down from what the chart showed I should be choosing.  All of this worked out perfectly!  Even so, the collar still is a bit sloppy around my neck, and I did add some extra front waistline vertical tucks (for both a better fit and to match the old original pattern).  This pattern needs a few tweaks to be good, but, beyond these ‘failings’ in the re-print, I can heartily recommend it!

As I alluded to a few paragraphs above, to accommodate the border design the front of the dress had to be a duo of one-piece panels.  The pattern is designed to have the front princess seamed with four individual pieces.  To amend this, I overlapped both two front panel pieces along the seam lines to ‘create’ one single front piece.  This was not a perfect match up by any means – I only matched up the seam lines from the shoulder down through the bust because the two fronts were so curvy.  Thus my dress’ skirt is a bit fuller than the reprint pattern is designed for, and much more generous in swing than a normal mid-1940s pattern would ever allow for.  It was important to at least match up the shoulders and bust, and (as I said above, as well) the rest of the fitting was accomplished by more tucks across the middle.  In lieu of having the fabric belt be attached in the princess seam, as the reprint called for, I merely added the belt into the front tuck furthest from the waistline, just like what was done on the old pattern which I think was the original. 

The easiest adaptation to the pattern reprint was by far adding in a front zipper.  There was going to be a seam down the front center anyway, so I merely didn’t sew the collar facings together but kept them separate and added my zipper in there instead.  As the fabric is so special, I pulled out a very special zipper for occasion, as well.  I used an old vintage invisible zipper.  It has the metal teeth still that we all know and respect old zippers by for their reliability and sturdiness.  However, this has special twill tape ‘covering’ rolled over the metal teeth so it becomes comparable to an invisible zipper.  It also has a fancy decorative zipper pull that looks almost Art Deco in design (very hard to pick up in pictures).  I am guessing by the packaging that the zipper I used is 1950s, or no later than 1960s era.  I only have a few of these treasured notions in my stash, yet it is the same mindset as what led me to sewing something out of this old fabric in the first place that gave me the guts to use this treasured zipper, too.  I appreciate it better by having it be usable on my wonderful dress creation far better than sitting in my stash.

I suppose it is obvious by this point that I did also squeeze out two sleeves and two waist ties out of the border print.  I wanted to incorporate more of the fabric’s detailing into pieces of the garment which would show off the border print from a back view as well…not just for the front.  No ‘party in the front, business in the back’ for me here, please!  I didn’t want the look of a bare ivory dress from behind.  Besides, fancy sleeves highlights the plain front shoulder placket.  For the tie ends and the interior collar facings, I was able to grab half of the border that was leftover from between cutting the dress’ bodice fronts.  Every little bit was used and every detail paid attention to!  There are minimal scraps left, and I am tempted to use them for something luxurious that calls for small pattern pieces – such as a brassiere…he he.   

It should be noted that the dress body is single layered and only the front shoulder panels and the upper neckline were lined (in more of the silk fabric) because they were interfaced.  I suspect the pebbled crepe texture somewhat keeps this ivory silk from being as see-through as would be expected.  I do like to spurge and wear my prettiest vintage silk slips under this dress as a sort of treat to myself – but also an experiment in historical accuracy.  Guess what?  My old silk slips with their muted pink color and beige lace are more invisible under my dress than my more modern all nude-toned ones.  Fashion from way back when never ceases to amaze me with how smart they were engineered.

Time to finish up with some honesty – there is an element of awe that I myself have for this dress.  I felt it was an honor to be working with such a special vintage fabric, and now when I put on my finished dress I have the same special sense which I get when I wear true vintage clothing.  It is as if I forget I made it, and the dress has become its own “new” vintage.  I haven’t really had something I’ve made which has done this for me to such a degree.  (My 1949 pleated peplum dress, sewn with a true vintage rayon gabardine, does seems like true vintage to me, as well, though not to the level of my Hostess gown.)  Thus, I still am surprised I was able to pull off something better than any ideas in my head.  Have you ever made anything that you felt you were struggling to fulfill then end up crushing it after all?  My hostess dress is all of that. 

This is a bit of a mix of 3 decades – 30’s for the fabric, 40’s in design, and 50’s for the zipper – that all comes together into a fashion anomaly called a “Hostess Gown”.   I was working with a vintage reproduction pattern drafted with a tendency to give an ill fit.  There was the stress of feeling I couldn’t mess up, besides a lingering guilt for even ‘destroying’ my amazing vintage material in the first place.  I believed I had everything going against my success.  Yet, working through these issues has given me one of this dress, probably one of the best things I’ve made…and after a lifetime of sewing, saying that is a big deal, quite satisfying.  I hate to brag, so this is all the more about touting an accomplishment for me.  It’s not the flashiest or most obvious testament of a successful project, but an understated one that boosts a personal confidence in my skills more than anything else.  I am my own worst critic, so a project like this dress is a great reminder to be gentler on myself, and temper my drive for perfectionism…although sometimes – like here – it does pay off!

This was my only vintage border print currently in my stash, so I may have found my “lightning in a bottle”.  I do still have some bordered design material on hand, though – two in modern rayon knits and a new Indian sari.  I now realize my next border print project, vintage fabric or not, will be very hard to work with coming off of the heels of this one.  My Hostess gown will be hard to top, but that’s okay – even though I wholeheartedly like each and every thing I create, not all can be on the top list, as this is.  Hopefully it will just as esteemed by my succeeding generations.