Collage of Vintage Scarf and Handkerchief Ideas

This a fun and different follow-up from my last post about the one yard 1940s top which calls for an oversized scarf as an optional material source.   Scarves – and handkerchiefs – have been used towards making something to wear for decades, but sadly it seems to out of favor today.  As I have a plethora of scarves on hand, and always see so many hankies and scarves for sale at vintage shops and antique stores, I think being creative with these little pieces from the past are not just an old fashioned ‘thing’ but can actually look quite cute and be useful!  Modern fat quarters would I believe do just the thing as well.  They are a similar size after all.  Quilters listen up – your fat quarter stash can become much of what is shown below if you want to switch over the apparel sewing!

Enjoy the following inspiration and eye candy.

Here is yet another 1940s pattern for a blouse that is made from an all-around border small scarf, fat quarter, or hankie for view 3…or remnants when it comes to view 4.  It is Hollywood #1523 pattern.

McCall #1525’s outfits are also made from multiple small hankies or scarves.  The full ensemble – dress, purse, and hat – takes 6 squares, I believe.  The hankies used make it look quite quaint, but out of modern printed fat quarters I think this would look quite fetching and fun!

Mena at “Make This Look” on Instagram posted a super cute and very much a regular shirtdress or skirt that is also made of hankies.  This could totally be much more coordinated and aesthetically pleasing if one went for using modern fat quarters to piece these outfits together.  This pattern is my favorite but I have no idea what its number is, so this will be hard to find.

One of the easiest and frequent way to use scarves with no sewing or alteration needed is to turn a scarf into a halter top.  This method of scarf tying has been popular since the early 30’s when it began during the rise of the resort-leisure and sportswear fashions that spawned beach pajamas.  It can be done with just a necklace and a safety pin needed.  First you fold the large scarf into a big triangle.  The folded edge goes around your waist.  Lay it over the front of you and tie the two ends at the lower back waist.  The two raw ends that make the third corner of the triangle go over your necklace and are pinned in place so that you easily end up with a cute sleeveless and backless halter.  The neckline corner of the scarf can be over or under the necklace and the pin can be seen or not seen (your choice).  I love it as an easy bikini top cover-up, and depending how you style or accessorize it, this simple halter can look 30’s vintage, 70’s retro, or modern.

The most amazing and hard to believe inspiration of scarf and hankie fashions is this old late 1930s “British Movietone News” clip – watch it yourself here.  It shows you how to fold and otherwise tie yourself in the “latest seaside fashions”.  I love the hilarious commentary, “It is difficult to imagine blowing your nose in anything as smart as this!”  The coat made of four scarves is the thing I would like to try to most.

There is another video from 1921 (seen here) that shows two hankies being turned into a brassiere (screenshot at left).  Granted, the final result looks very homemade and unattractive to modern eyes, but we must be thankful.  The modern divided cup bra had its origins – as the legend goes – from an everyday woman experimenting with two hankies.  At right is an early 30’s Kestos style bra made from a delicate embroidered hanky that is much lovelier to look at.

Such a bra like this is not only easy to whip up and very modernly appropriate, but I can attest that they are very comfortable.  The 1920’s bra I had posted about here called for hankies (but I used cotton scraps) and the book where my pattern came from, “Vintage Lingerie” by Jill Salen, has several other patterns that call for a clean square of fabric originally meant for your nose.

The most popular item of clothing that I see made from oversized scarves in the 1920s seems to be hankie-hem (uneven hem) dresses as well as caftans.  However, the great designer known for her work on the bias grainline Madeleine Vionnet made her famous “scarf dress” around 1919-1920, copied by many for years after.  It is made of four large square pieces of fabric which give you four “flaps” (or jabots I think is the official term) on each side of your body, a deep V neck on the front and back, with twisted shoulder straps and a sash to tie it all together.

There is a free and simple tutorial here on “We Sew Retro” and they claim it makes a dress in only 20 minutes when you start with four large square 1 meter pre-hemmed scarves.  You can try out a popular 1920s style from a famous designer in under half of an hour?  Yes, please, this is on my plan-to-make queue.

I have only two 1 meter scarves on hand and so I did a little experimenting on my own.  Firstly, I sewed the two of them into a 1920s inspired pop-over caftan.  There are two vertical seams along the sides to give me a subtle shape and only two small stitches at the shoulders to keep it on me.  Many original 1920’s caftans were actually made with specially printed or woven oriental textiles, or even long rectangular scarves.

Not content with only one use for my two matching scarves, I unpicked the few seams my caftan had to be back to “the drawing board” as the phrase goes.  I tied the two scarves into becoming a skirt.  Firstly I started by covering up my front half and tying the scarf in a tiny knot at my center back waist.  Then I repeated the same thing starting from the back to the front.  Just like the halter top above, this would make the cutest swim cover up…which is how I was actually wearing it here.  It shows just enough of a sexy leg flash in the wind or in movement, but I think is not obviously as much of a thrown-together item to wear as it really is!  This one was entirely my idea.

Besides the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s inspiration it seems the 1970s was the next big decade for re-using scarves.  I did find several scarf and hankie printed fabric dresses in the 1960s, as if the era liked the idea but not the real thing and so only used fabric versions.  The hippie era and the Bohemian chic caused eclectic styles and re-fashioning to become popular.  Many designers made scarf dresses and paisley hankie print garments in the 1970s and the smaller brands and sewing companies followed with their own copies.

Although I never thought of such fashions as becoming widely popular or mainstream, they must have had their impact because several Design houses have re-hashed the trend in the last two years.  Strikingly similar to this LaVetta dress of the early 70’s, Gucci brand just came out with a scarf kaftan this spring 2019 (both pictured below).  Everything old becomes new again if you wait long enough.

Dolce & Gabbana preceded them in 2018 with a handful of scarf sourced fashion such as this dress.  Oh my…if I had that many pure silk scarves I really don’t think that is what I would do with them.  Nevertheless, the look is fun and colorful (but it’s almost $5,000)!  It reminds me of this Oscar de la Renta “Patchwork-Effect Floral-Print Silk-Chiffon Dress” from pre-fall 2019 or this poncho- style Oscar de la Renta blouse that looks like pretty quilters’ fat quarters or old table linen remnants sewn together.  *Sigh*  If only high fashion could be so sustainable that a dress or blouse like that would really be made out of scraps and not just printed to imitate such a practice.  I’ll have to try some knock-off versions for myself sometime because I both don’t have $3,000 to spare and goodness knows I have enough scraps to try!

Inspiration I have found on Pinterest that is not marketed as vintage is mostly either for neckwear or headwear.  Of course, scarves were immensely popular for heads, necks, and belts in the 1940s and 30’s…it’s nothing new, but still so cute and useful!  However, I did see some modern scarf ideas that did gain my main interest.  This asymmetric wrap top that employs one buckle clasp is to die for!  Sadly, I cannot find the source to credit it (lack of source information is only one of the reasons Pinterest aggravates me) but this one is quite inventive and chic.  Also, this – one of the many dresses at the shop “CreatedByMK” on Etsy (which also sells so many lovely scarves) – is so beautiful, versatile, and much more wearable than most tie or wrap on scarf garments.  This style should be easy to replicate, adaptable to many body shapes, and very complimentary in a very swishy and feminine way.  Compared to my earlier skirt idea, this particular scarf skirt is stunning, so completely blowing me away.  I love the way the corners come together at the waist so beautifully.  People are so smart.

Ugh, I need to find a cheap stash of scarves and have an immediate go at many of these ideas, now that I posted about them!!  Which ones are your favorites?  Do you think you will be trying anything here out for yourself?  There is more over on my related Pinterest board “Turning a Scarf into Something Wearable” here, if you fancy a trip down the rabbit hole with me.  P.S. There’s the coolest tutorial for cute little satin scarf do-it-yourself shorts over there!

A Very Mod British Summer Sun Suit

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

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

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

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

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

THE FACTS:

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

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

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

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

THE INSIDES:  all covered up by full lining

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My “Conservative Gilda” Nightgown

The character of the woman Gilda, in the famous Rita Hayworth movie by the same name, is that of a bold woman, to say it tactfully.  In no uncertain terms, she is shown to the viewer – from that very first moment in the boudoir (watch it here on TCM) – that she is not scrupulous when using her female wiles for whatever emotional game or selfish desire she chooses to play upon.  The sheer tulle and off-the-shoulder nightgown says volumes.  Her character is so far removed from me, yet I love the relaxed, romantic aura of what she has on.  With a pattern already on hand that was quite similar, I hope to have tamed that famous Gilda nightgown into something more respectable.  Am I decent in this?  I think so.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% cotton flannel and a sheer polyester tiny tulle

PATTERN:  Hollywood #1479, year 1944 (I’ve already made the tied-front crop top here as part of a playsuit)

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed for this on hand as it was all basic stuff – thread, some scraps of interfacing, and skinny elastic

TIME TO COMPLETE:  It took 5 hours to make and was finished on February 4, 2019

THE INSIDES:  French seams for the sleeves (including armscye), self-fabric bias binding for the neckline and bottom hem, raw edges for the long side seams

TOTAL COST:  The flannel was something I bought on deep discount when the now defunct Hancock Fabrics was going out of business – the tulle was just bought.  As the flannel was bought quite a while back for what must have been dirt cheap, I’m counting it as maybe $5 to $10.  Together with the $5 spent on the tulle, this is an under $15 glamorous steal of a nightgown!

This was a quick and ridiculously simple make for how nice it turned out.  Yet, at the same time it was a total fabric hog, especially since I chose the ankle length version (for both more warmth and elegance).  What is practically two giant rectangles comprise both the front and the back, taking up 3 ½ total yards of flannel!  This is partly the reason for the sheer sleeves – I flat out ran out of fabric for them.  However, hubby reminded me that sheer sleeves would bring my make closer to my chosen movie inspiration.  Two heads are better than one is a legitimately true phrase, but it’s always cool and surprising when that second brain – which isn’t sewing oriented – can be so helpful with my garment projects!

I chose tiny holed, super fine mesh tulle for the sleeves or a chiffon.  They have a bit more body in tulle to make for a nice blousing out above the cuffs which matches well with the heavier cotton body to my nightgown.  Chiffon can look droopy (as it does on the original Gilda nightgown), but that can also have its place with some styles.  Besides, something as slippery as chiffon did not sounds appealing to me on nightwear.  As sultry as that fabric can be, I think I understand the properties of chiffon and only imagined the fabric wrapping itself around my arms as I slept.  Whether that would happen or not, I didn’t take a chance.  The sleeves are two layers of tulle.  Two layers hopefully will be not as fragile as one seemed and lent more of a matching grey tone.

I have not been able to find any source which says what hue the original Gilda movie nightgown was, but for some reason (not just because it is in black and white) I picture it in a light color, close to no color.  Kind of like the ironic use of a pure and innocent white on Lana Turner in the movie “The Postman Always Rings Twice”, I could see the mischievous Gilda in a similarly demure costume to amplify her tempting, teasing demeanor.  Now, I could be totally wrong here, but anyway – these musings gave me a reason to use the material I did.  Flannel is my favorite nightwear material for lounging (used it for this nightgown already) and definitely more modest and practical.  While not as drafty or alluring as Gilda’s frilly, sheer gown, however, the print is pretty and delicate in the softest hint of a light grey scroll work motif.  I low-key complimented the print with the dove grey sleeves, but tried highlight it better by using a dark grey (albeit sheer, as well) ribbon as a belt.

The pattern called for a set waistband, one that either is elasticized or has a ribbon running through a sewn-on casing.  I left that out.  I like my waist free and unrestricted at night when I sleep, because this is still a nightgown that I am going to wear no matter how pretty it is!  Besides, I felt that seeing a ribbon around the waist, and not hiding it in a casing, would set a defined waistline better in this voluminous gown…hey it worked on Gilda!  Finally, having no set waistband is much more versatile, in my opinion.  I used a whole 3 yard spool for my ribbon tie because I absolutely love the way there are long ends that elegantly, dramatically flutter down, almost to the hem.

I kept the rest of the details as fuss-free as possible.  The cuffs around the wrist were instructed to be made like a regular blouse cuffs, but that is too much for nightwear.  I made them one piece and they just slip on or off of my wrist over my hand.  The neckline has elastic in the casing so I could easily wear this as a regular scoop neck or pull it off the shoulders for a full Gilda effect.  As the elastic is pretty thin and the neckline holds the entire weight of more than 3 yards of flannel, I have two strands of it through the casing.  In order to make the gathered ruffled neckline turn out (with the sheer material involved), I had to use more of the dress flannel for the casing and make a tiny “track” for maximum ruffling.  Thus, a thin, string-like elastic was the only way to go, anyway.  Simple, easy, so pretty, and timeless, vintage designs really know how to make nighttime clothes something to look forward to wearing at the end of a day!

This is the final post about the garments that I made for our trip to Denver, Colorado.  For these pictures, we were at our Alpine-style bed-and-breakfast the “Vasquez Creek Inn” at Winter Park.  The other garments I made for this trip included a refashioned boxy cropped pullover and a 1940s quilted jerkin with corduroy trousers.  Making a nightgown made me feel like I had a new, complete set for fun, fancy, or relaxing to bring with me!  Hotels are great for taking pictures of nightwear, anyway…they are an uncluttered, nicely decorated, different setting.  Not that our bedroom is an atrocious mess or not pleasant to see either, but we’ve already taken pictures there and as I’m not crazy about our old wallpaper, I didn’t want to do that again.  It’s always nice to take pictures where you’ve had good times away from home anyway, right?!

Mardi Gras Tricolor

The festivities of revelry are never as outgoing and widespread quite like what happens throughout the world before the Lenten season, whether or not one chooses to participate.  Trying to say goodbye to excess and habits by indulging in them seems rather odd to me, but nevertheless I like an opportunity to wear some great colors.  The trademark tones for the popular American “Carne Vale” are as bold in their pairing as the party antics which are carried on.  They are as rich in history as they are saturated in hue.  Yellow gold, dark yet bright purple, and a cheery grass green are quintessentially, visually recognizable of a New Orleans inspired pre-Lent celebration.

Not that this post’s outfit was originally intended to call to mind Mardi Gras…it was just an Art Deco fabric on hand and the inspiration of the 1930s penchant for bold color pairings which led me to make the dress you see.  This had been one of my early 1930s projects I had intended to make back when I started blogging, but I realized both that I was not ready for the challenge and I was perpetually undecided on a fabric choice.  Finally, everything came together and I am so happy with the results!  The geometric print is perfect for a dress from the very early 30’s, the fabric appears much nicer in quality than a modern poly, and the design has such great features I think it is so appealing even for today.

To keep with both the Mardi Gras theme and the 30’s inspiration, I am wearing a modern wool beret.  Mardi Gras is a French word after all, and New Orleans has a rich French heritage, so my beret fits right in!  Do you notice the fancy stylized French Fleur-de-lis on the wall behind me, as well?

Also, look for my special accessories, too.  The necklace is a true vintage gem – a 1920’s glass bead piece that needed my help by doing a restringing and adding a clasp for a whole new life.  My earrings are me-made to match (as best I could) using clip-on blanks.  My gloves are true vintage from the 30’s.  I even broke out my old timey Cuban-heeled stockings!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The main body of the dress is a polyester satin with a sheen on the printed side and a buff finish on the other.  The neckline contrast, sleeve bands, and belt are a burgundy-tinted, rich purple buff polyester satin remnant.  The dress is fully lined in poly scraps…mostly a pebbled satin purple supplemented with a black non-cling variety

PATTERN:  McCall #6957, year 1932 – I used the reprint from Past Patterns which you can buy here

NOTIONS:  The belt buckle is a prized Bakelite vintage item I’ve been holding onto for the perfect project like this!  (Subsequently, the buckle has sadly broken…and is tentatively glued back together for now.) All else that I needed was lots of thread and some scraps of interfacing for the sleeve bands and belt.  It’s a simple needs Depression-era garment!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was made in about 20 hours and was finished on April 18, 2018

THE INSIDES:  Left raw…but you can’t really tell because the dress is fully lined

TOTAL COST:  The fabrics for this dress are more of my precious hoard of clearance deals which I bought when Hancock Fabrics was going out of business.  I don’t remember exactly but this dress can’t have cost me more than $15.

Now, I recognize that the Eva Dress Reproduction Pattern Company also sells copies of this McCall pattern, but I have always preferred Past Patterns.  Besides – their sizing is closer to mine which means less dramatic grading for me.  However, if you need a bigger size than Past Patterns’ 36” bust, Eva Dress’ repro is a 38” bust.  Even still, I often find 1930’s patterns from 1936 and before seem to run small and this one was no exception.  You want a slightly baggy fit with this dress because it is a slip-on with no side zipper called for.  Also this design was coming from a time that was still easing away from the 1920s, which is very obvious when I take off my belt!  I graded this pattern down to what was still technically a roomy size for me (with extra for a modern 5/8 inch seam allowance) and I feel it fits perfectly enough to both be comfy and land at the right points on my body.

I am quite impressed with this pattern.  Everything matched together well and it turned out just as the cover drawing portrays.  It was relatively easy to figure out how to sew together despite the fact that there are several tricky spots to take time on.  Many of my other 30s patterns made to date needed tweaking to the fit, or some of the panels were a bit off, or some of the instructions lacking…but not with Past Patterns.  The designs they choose to reprint have so far always turned out happily successful for me so far.

Making the many exact points and precise corners to this dress was quite time consuming and honestly a bit stressful along the way.  My fabric was a very slippery and always shifting material.  It was hard to be precise and avoid any bubbling out at the points, especially since (for the skirt insets) I was trying to connect two opposing grain lines together.  The insets were stitched together like a regular seam, making it harder, but the neckline contrast was invisibly top-stitched on to be exact and clean because it is more easily seen.

All of the pattern pieces were rather odd and almost unrecognizable on paper, but looking at the cover they all made sense.  It’s amazing how sewing works, isn’t it?!  The front is all one enormously long piece (as there is no waist seam) which appears like a giant capitol H, because of the insert panels at the neck and skirt center.  The back is mostly like a squared-off basic bodice, except with two ‘tails’ attached for either side of the middle panel.  The seemingly rectangular middle panels swerve out on the sides like the curve of half of the letter U to provide soft fullness to the skirt below knee.  The sleeves, dramatically opened up because of the numerous pleats, are almost 30” wide.  It’s no wonder that this dress needed a very anti-Depression era fabric amount of 3 ½ yards…and I was using 60” width material!

I have never done tucks quite like what was called for on these fun, poufy sleeves, and it was sure an experience.  You have to make them in a certain direction because they are layered on top of one another.  I have seen this type of mock-pleating on the skirt waist some couture garments (such as Dior).

You start from the side and pleat towards the center then move to do the same for the other side.  Both top and bottom have to be done separately because the center has to be left free.  All the pleats are folded into the skinny cuff band and attached to the dress…suddenly the sleeve looks amazing!  I had planned on an organza ‘filler’ to go inside the sleeve thinking it would need help poufing out, but no it doesn’t, even though my fabric is silky soft.  My printed fabric and the discrepancy of photography does not do these sleeves due justice for their awesome detail.

The neckline was definitely the most ingenious and usual piece of all, and I absolutely love the look of it in the contrast solid!  It reminds of an adapted jabot, but it is merely called “a vestee” according to the pattern.  A project I’ve already made from the next year in history, my 1933 McCall’s reprint set, also has a wrapped front drape at the neckline – a more dramatic and simplistic version of what is on this ’32 dress.  Neckline interest was very popular in the early to mid-30’s and I like all the interesting variety of it, especially neck drapes and ties.

I changed up the instructed making of the “vestee” for what I think is a cleaner and more straightforward construction.  It called for a single layer of fabric drape which connects to another single layer half piece which doesn’t have a drape.  This would have showed the underside of the fabric, been awkward to sew together at the center, besides showing the hemmed edge.  I made two, draped, full “vestee” style neck insets so that they could be sewn together like a facing for a clean edge along the center drape that doesn’t show the other color of the other side to the fabric.  I had to add the trio of pleats to each of the two pieces before sewing them together and on the vest.  Then I hand tacked the pleats together down the center.

The same beautiful, rich purple solid satin as what was used for my 1951 slip dress and the details to my 1955 Redingote jacket went towards the contrast here to break up the busy print and made the most of my remnant stash.  Just you wait, though, I am not yet done using this purple satin…there is one more project I’ve squeezed out of it (to be posted soon)!  I used the darker satin side of the fabric on this dress.

Purple normally is the color for royalty, and many Mardi Gras celebrations to have a King (and Queen) that is crowned to preside, but the southern American symbolism for it during the pre-Lent partying is “Justice”.  The green represents “Faith”, gold represents “Power”.  It all relates to both heraldry symbolism as well as the fact both United States and French flags are tri-colored.  My green is the new spring grass, and the rest of the colors I’m wearing.  I don’t always wear the dress accessorized like this – tans, or ivory, or black tones mellow out the bright but rich colors.  Finding vintage accessories in my size, in decent condition, in a reasonable cost, in more unusual colors is a challenge otherwise I would also try out pale yellows, or light purple, and other colors with this dress!

My first sewing project from 1932 has been long in coming but I’m glad I can enjoy it now.  I have been straying at the very strong shouldered and cultural influenced styles of the late 30’s for quite a while recently and this is such a refresher!  This has me thinking about what will fill in my empty spot for the year 1930…hummm.  Look for that this summer!

A 1917 Fairy-Tale

For some reason, circa 1917 garment styles for women are so dreamy, artistic, and fantastical, to me it’s like something out of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”, the First World War version.  Fashion was art, and art presented fashion in a way that is unrivaled, so that its appeal has not waned these past 100 years.  Women’s faces were drawn as delicate as a porcelain doll and their hands as graceful as a Goddess.  Their clothes are full of vivid and interesting color pairings.  Their silhouettes might be oddly inhuman in their attire, but somehow they appear harmonious, comfortable, with an entrancing complexity in design.  The background settings seem peaceful, idyllic, and dreamy.  It’s no wonder some teens’ era details are making subtle appearances on some modern runway clothes this year (see Chanel’s Haute Couture Collection, numbers 35, 38, 61, 63) and recently (Oscar de la Renta Spring 2012 dress or Gattinoni’s Spring/Summer 2012 couture).  The aura surrounding those old styles certainly were not a reflection of the reality of the times, however.

It is now the anniversary of Armistice, today November 11th.  This year’s Veteran’s Day is special as we are celebrating a benchmark century since a pact was signed for a cessation of the fighting of the Great War.  Thus, this year was high time that I figured out for myself the late 19-teens’ incredible niche in historical fashion, and an event this summer at the National World War I Memorial (in Kansas City, Missouri) had given me an excuse to do it, tangibly, in a glorious, flowing and feminine style.

Caught in between the 1920s and the late Titanic era, 1917 (1916 and 18, as well) clothes for women was neither the long lean lines of the era before nor was it the barreled torso silhouette of the one after.  Circa 1917 women’s fashion did take one thing to the extreme – the below the bust, almost Empire waistline, an interesting fad compared to the moderately high waist seen about 1914 and the almost hip length waist of the early 1920s.  Late WWI style was a beautiful middle ground that disappeared very quickly and only lasted a few years.  There was an overabundance of details, textures, interesting colors, and unusual features…many times in the same garment.  It was like an over-the-top display of quality, creative, and hand-crafted fashion before the clutches of mass-market RTW or the practicality following the post-stock market crash 10 years later would take over.

Now, let’s put a few things into perspective for a broader view of circa 1917 in my country.  By the late teens, the US had about 2,000 amusement parks.  As the culture of leisure carried over from the Gilded Age, and people seemed to be seeking thrills and adrenaline pumped delights with their free time, it was the beginning of the golden age of roller coasters (ca. 1919) due to the innovations of entrepreneur John Miller.  Menswear was beginning to break free of its Edwardian appearance and accepting the idea of “sportswear”, while women’s fashions were becoming more open to an independent woman, free to move through life without a full-length corset or a man to marry out of necessity.  The first Jazz music recording was commercially released to help usher in a whole new popular genre of listening pleasure and matching that with new active styles of dancing.  The United States officially acquired both Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.  Things were looking up.

Yet, for a darker perspective, there were also three to five percent of the world’s population dead from the Spanish Influenza epidemic (1918 to 1920).  WWI’s fighting was announced as begun for America in 1917 then hastily over in 1918, with about 13 major battles fought and counting about one man out of every thousand dead. President Wilson seemed to be wrapping it up for the nations, and the world was dealing with the aftereffects of the first Great War very unsuccessfully in my opinion.  On our own turf there were ‘problems’, as we had sixteen Americans executed by Pancho Villa and the southwest region in danger as part of our involvement in taking sides for the Mexican Revolution.  Dissatisfied workers in several unions in Seattle, Washington, seeking higher wages after toiling hard producing ships for WWI, went on America’s first general strike, where over 65,000 workers protested for 5 days.  Supposedly the strikers were under the inspiration of the Russian Revolution, leading to a “Red Scare”.

So – as much as the fashions of the late teens were dreamy, artistic, and evocative of ethereal beauty, the world of the mid to late 1910s was anything but a fairy-tale.  Face value can sometimes be just that…a dream, a wish for something better, visual trickery.  This is why the only modern item you will see on my 1917 dress is perhaps the most important one – an enamel red poppy flower pin from the National World War I Memorial.  We need to remember, respect, and learn of the sacrifices and the stories of the Forgotten Generation to make sure the Great War is not disregarded.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Cotton print (aqua background with a very Art Deco geometric design in purple) for the base layer of the dress, with a sheer lavender poly chiffon as the overlay for both dress and hat.  Basic white cotton sateen for the dress’ collar and ‘bib’ front panel.

PATTERN:  a Past Patterns Company reprint of a McCall #8159, from November 1917

NOTIONS:  Many prized notions went onto this dress to give it its necessary finishing touches – some are true vintage, some are special coming from family, and others are uniquely hard to find.  More about them in the body of my post.  Only the best…and I believe it shows!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  I worked on this dress on and off for a few months and finally finished it on June 28, 2018 after 50 plus hours.  The hat took only 2 hours to refashion.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound with the sheer sleeves, over skirt, and bodice armscye French finished

TOTAL COST:  All my fabric was bought at my local JoAnn’s Fabric Store, with all the finishing trims and notions already on hand (free), I spent around $40.

Fashion was very important to women of the time and magazines of the latest modes of dressing even more so.  “A reaction of the emergence of fashion photography, an annual subscription to an exquisitely illustrated fashion and lifestyle publications could cost as much as a car in 1914”.  During World War I, Ladies’ Home Journal and McCall’s Magazine alone had over a million subscribers each. No wonder the best artists were hired for illustrations – for one case in point, the great couturier Mainbocher started off as a fashion illustrator for Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue after serving in WWI.  Erté and George Barbier are more examples.

However, for one who wants to sew a ‘copy’ of such fashions, these drawings are important only so far as to figuring out what colors, what details, what silhouette to achieve to look authentic.  Construction and closing methods are a mystery.  That is why I started with a copy of a true original pattern…because nothing beats the real thing, right?  So, I had a good starting point but not much to go on because if you think vintage a la 1930s or 40’s patterns are lacking in instruction thoroughness, well, you’ve never seen an antique pattern.  I literally had only two small paragraphs and one tiny layout diagram to go by as my guide.  This is why my next resource was both textual research and sourcing old 100 year old garments for sale online to see physical specifics.

It wasn’t until the 1930s (pretty much) that the way a garment closed on the body was visible and buttons were more than just a means of decoration or display of wealth.  The mid to late teens era kept the closures well hidden in seams or under more fabric and therefore a bit mysterious.  This dress has the very common (for 1916 to ‘18) ‘bib’ front bodice vest piece that does the double duty of both covering the front closures and completing the waist by continuing on as a cummerbund-sash to be tied in a fancy bow behind.  It’s sort of hard to show, but underneath the bib panel, hook-and-eye tape closes the center front, with a few more single hooks for the small side seam opening (covered by the cummerbund wrap around).

On its own, the front covering is a large T-shaped piece.  It has every edge self-enclosed in a facing double and was the last thing directed to be added on to the dress.  Even then it is only lightly tacked on at the right top edge while it hook-and-loops closed at the left corner.  I have seen some of these ‘bib’ frontispieces for sale separately and so I can conclude that some of these were meant to be removable.  This is quite smart, really!  They could easily be cleaned gently by hand this way, without needing to launder the whole dress, too, and most of the prettiest decorations and precious haberdashery could be added on the frontispiece with no fear of being beat up by a general washing.  Most of the antique original ‘bib’ pieces that I have seen have been in the finest linen or silk, since (at that time) most of the wool was going to soldiers’ uniforms and the cotton was making canvas gaiters, satchels, and tents for the war.  Mine is sateen so it has a slight shine that the camera images aren’t really picking up, but I more than made up for the basic material with lots of detail and meticulous hand work.

First of all, plain whites need something extra to make them look fancy and not, well…plain.  This is a dress from the teens, anyway and more subdued excess (within reason) the better was the rule!  My primary add-on was the buttons on the bib front, I knew these were a definite choice.  They are true teens era buttons, in glass, painted in a rich purple over the nubby top texture (see a closer picture on this Instagram post).  They look like fresh tiny mulberries to me – mmm!  To prevent the paint from chipping, as it was starting to do already, I applied a light painting of clear top coat, such as is used on fingernail lacquer.

Then came the lace!  This is a heavy cotton lace which my husband bought for me over a year ago in Italy when he went on a business trip to Milan.  As much as it pained me to use it and not stash it, the Belgium-style lace was just what I had in mind and looks like embroidery from afar.  If I could have come up with a shortcut way to tack it on I would have, but instead it took me several extra hours of hand stitching to tack it down along the bib top along the neckline, along the bib front waistline bottom, and the bottom end of the sash just above the tassels.  Do the sash end tassels make it look like I have servant call pulls?  Maybe, but crazy things work in teens fashion and not only do the tassels weigh the ties down but add color and interest from behind.

Finally, to connect the aqua in the under (base) layer of the dress, which you don’t see much of above the knees, I added matching colored feather stitching along the collar edge. Let’s briefly address some good, old-fashioned, quality hand-stitching – it used to be much more than just straight and basic. Until about the teens and no later than the mid-1920’s, hand sewing, even if was just necessary for top-stitching, was detailed, incredibly tiny, precise, and very understated for the time and high quality it shows. It is a skill too lovely to only admire, with feather stitching in particular as my new fascination for hand stitching. This stitch is an embroidery technique which can be ornamental sewing when worked with single threads and it uses loops caught and pulled to make a vine design.  My favorite tutorial to learn feather stitching from can be found here if you want to learn too.  It’s not hard, but the challenge is to be uniform and consistent with spacing.  My collar needed top-stitching and it needed something to give it pizazz while being authentic – feather stitching took care of all of that at once.

Other than the detailing, the dress was really pretty simple to make and the fit was spot on.  After all the skirt was just a basic gathered skirt.  Every pattern piece was pretty much basic geometrics – no darts or fancy shaping, either.  Once the front closing mystery was understood the bodice was simple, too, as were the sleeves…very modern with their flared shape known as “angel” style.  (Look closely and you will see the small fishing weight on the inner sleeve end to make the chiffon hang!)  I must add, the dress while in progress did look like a total piece of trash all the way up until it was almost done.  I just kept hoping for the better as it was being assembled and plugging through the project.  Now I’m so very glad I persevered.

The pattern was my size technically, but I don’t like the lack of a “mistake cushion” that tiny 3/8 inch seam allowances provide so I added an extra inch all along every seam allowance to make them bigger and also “just in case” the fit was wrong.  I remembered that the 1920 blouse pattern which I used before had small shoulders – and I have big arms – so I slashed and spread this pattern’s sleeve tops before cutting out in the chiffon.  With my little changes, this pattern fits perfectly and turned out just like a 1917 dress from a fashion magazine, so I think!

The hem ran very long, again similar to both the 1920 and 1914 skirt patterns I have already used, but this is meant to be for a wide hem.  These wide and deep hems in early 20th century historical fashions really help to shape them, kind of like a stiffening, and need to hand pick-stitched down.  This dress’ hem has a slight “Hobble skirt” reference by the way is tapers in slightly slimmer for the last 8 inches above the hemline.  To emphasize the widening of the upper half of the skirt, the sheer overlay was cut in a high-low hem.  The more fashion images you see in the 1916 to 1918 range, the more it seems that every skirt overlay (and they were popular) had either a hem decoration and/or a curiously shaped hemline.  I went with both because it struck me as working well for this dress.  The arching sheer skirt compliments the arching bodice panel and the purple flower trim I added along this edge brings an overall harmony to the dress with the same trim being used on the sleeves.

With slightly shorter hemlines making it easier for women during the War to move around, it was also the opportunity to show off one’s pretty ankles in fabulous decorated stockings!  I have been holding onto these flocked, floral, vine-patterned, ivory stockings for a very long time just because I knew they were unusual, and now they were just what I needed.  Highly decorative embroidered or painted stockings, “clocked” hosiery as it’s called, had been immensely popular in the 18th century, but had a very strong comeback in the mid to late teens as soon as the skirts were slimmer and shorter.  Many 1910s and 20’s stockings enjoyed the “new” aspect of fashion even to the point of being very fantastical – see this post for snake and bird hosiery!  To say ‘Clocked’ stockings means they have an added design up the ankle, where traditionally a ‘gusset’/wedge has been added to give it shape – very racy considering it wasn’t until the later 1920’s that hosiery was considered as something other than underwear!

Of course, none of this outfit would have the proper look and feel without a good foundation.  Happily, I already had my under layers already me-made and available.  The late teens was in a weird position with regards to underwear.  Things were starting to change over to the looser, more modern two-piece “bra and bloomers”.  The corsetry that was around no longer had such long, lean lines and full body coverage (like what I wore under my 1914 ensemble).  I do not have a shorter late teens corset (like what the blogger “The Dreamstress” has put together).  The main idea is to have no bust support (keep the girls flat!) and volume around the knees with your slips and knickers, so I opted for the early 20’s underwear set I did have…envisioning myself as a very fashion-forward woman doing so!  Over the underwear went a reproduction sleeveless slip which was identical in style lines to this earlier teens era slip which I blogged about here.  The front is a lovely eyelet and the lack of sleeves was perfect for the sheer arms of my dress.

After all my efforts invested in the dress, there was no way I was starting from scratch for my headgear, too.  Thus, the hat is a refashion of a dated 80s or 90’s piece which became a very plausible authentic match.  I made use of something from my wardrobe I never really wear and not only beautified it, but turned it into something I needed anyway – win-win, right!?  Many summer hats in the teens had wide but sheer brims, whether it was made of lace in a wire frame, rows of ribbon, chiffon, or an open mesh.  The last kind was exactly what I had in my dated hat, it only needed a rounder, mushroom-style crown that needed to be much fancier before being closer to authentic.  In order to totally match with the dress, I used the small remnants left of the purple chiffon to loosely wrap (and gently, invisibly hand tack) around the crown, finished off with an intricate burgundy and purple ribbon remnant to match the colors of the buttons and the tassels.

My accessories are all some sort of vintage, except for the waist watch hanging from a chain at the waist of my ‘bib’ front bodice panel.  That was bought new because it looked like a hanging watch I have from my Great Grandmother, only I wouldn’t dare use that one out and about so this is a memory-free and guilt-free replacement.  However, I did have no qualms about using and bringing the umbrella you see.  This is a treasured find, though.  It is a true 1910s (or early 1920s at the latest) piece I found for a deal in perfect condition.  The fabric is dyed silk, and so is the tassel to match, with the handle is covered in leather.  My necklace is vintage 1930s I believe, and carved mother of pearl, actually.  The earrings are of the 1940s from my Grandmother.  The purse is something I actually made for my 1920 outfit, but luckily the colors and the style pairs up perfectly here, too, I believe.  I did find some vintage 1960s leather heels to match, since strappy shoes, and especially French heels, too, were what was popular back then.

Our photo location is an appropriate backdrop as this building was originally built after the turn of the 20th century as a publication headquarters for a women’s’ fashion magazine mogul, Edward Gardner Lewis.  It was constructed in the fancy French neo-classical “Beaux-Arts” style, and acres of the surrounding area were bought up by Lewis to build an equally beautiful upper middle class neighborhood.  Luckily, most of this area of University City is well preserved and the homes look every bit as beautiful as it probably did in the teens and twenties.  They just don’t make architecture like they used to.

There is something so inherently satisfying to spending such excess in time, materials, and personal investment on something beautiful, worthwhile, and creative weather it’s a building or on a dress. I can attest that in the sewing sphere, it is addictive. It hails back to a time when sewing was a true art using one’s hands, when making clothes was more about crafting beauty than just getting clothes for one’s back, and before commercial-fast fashion had its full stranglehold on the garment industry. Quality in the small details is sorely needed today…only our world today needs to understand that it doesn’t come quickly or in bulk quantities.

When you think about WWI in terms of this, though, society needed bulk quantities of lasting quality in order to supply the troops, and yet somehow the world stepped up to provide.  What wool moths and decay have left behind, luckily many of these uniforms are still in great condition and fully wearable today.  It is heartening to see the amount of extant WWI items that are being worn and displayed with pride and a spirit open to seeing and learning from the past anew!  Even though this great centennial will now be over, I hope this era of history keeps being understood and remembered.  My next Great War project will be a women’s military uniform.

“WWI is a romantic war, in all senses of the word. An entire generation of men and women left the comforts of Edwardian life to travel bravely, and sometimes even jauntily, to almost certain death. At the very least, any story or novel about WWI is about innocence shattered in the face of experience.” quote from Anita Shreve.  I hope my dreamy, fairy tale style dress outfit tells one small part of the great story.  Let us commemorate the fallen yet celebrate what peace we have today.