The “Dark Poet” Blouse

Now that the holiday season is done, I am feeling just how severely 2021 has wiped me out in more ways than one.  It was not the sewing – what I blogged about and what I made was one of the best parts to 2021.  Nevertheless, it was hard to find my mojo again after a 3 month spell of no sewing over last year’s summer.  My Charles James recreation helped me feel back on track as well as some secret really good projects I will share soon enough.  Our drab, cold, and inclement weather is not helping out my energy levels, however, so I might as well roll with it.  ‘Easy’ sewing patterns are indeed a fun treat for me at certain times, but detailed patterns always deeply satisfy creative needs…and I need to focus on something rewarding that gives me a boost right now.  I’m up for blogging the comfort of my go-to decade (the 1940s) with its effortless elegance and class.  How about something which mimics the darkness of a winter night, with twinkles in the details bright and clear as January’s stars?  

This blouse has been enjoyed in my wardrobe for years since it was made back in 2015, but it never found its way onto my blog until now.  Sadly, I had worn this blouse to a few funerals for close family members who died in Januaries past, so for some time it has been something I wanted to forget.  Finally, I am in a place to be delighted to expound on this shadowy dream of a blouse.  I am now ready to let it have its time in the limelight to let you know about one of my (now many) sewing projects which have too long gone unshared.  

I see this as a blouse loaded with a low-key creative flourish I enjoy so much.  I play with the ties, change them up as I wear the blouse, and throw my arms around in a more dramatic manner.  It makes me think of the stereotypical idea of the artistic type (primarily poets, but also painters and sculptors), living in blouses and shirts with large drapey sleeves and a frilly bow, ruffle, or obnoxious collar at the neck.  I’m not saying the stereotype is at all correct…typecasting is often wrong.  Then again, however, the artists, writers, and sculptors of societies such as Lord Byron of Romanticism, Oscar Wilde in the Victorian Aesthetic Movement, Dante Gabriel Rossetti of the Pre-Raphaelites, or William Morris of the Arts & Crafts movement did wear eccentric, romantic garments which reflected their idealism.  This is not too far off from the ruffled antique blouses which the Beatnik crowd of the 1960s preferred, a topic I blogged about here.  

I’ve always thought, “Don’t those sleeves only get in the way?!” or “Isn’t the decorative neck fussy?” but also, “Yes, I would love to live in fancy fabrics!”  Even though my version of the “Poet shirt” is black (they’re traditionally white) with fashionable touches, this 1946 blouse somehow reminds me of that “artistic” image.  It has helped me to know the answer to my queries.  Sure, the voluminous sleeves do lend an air of elegance and character, and the neck ties offer customization as well as a bit of something extra.  A garment this luxurious in lovely rayon crepe makes it supremely comfortable and a joy to wear – and a good state of mind and body is optimal for creativity, right?!  Something romantic, something overly impractical, gives one a sense of freedom, both to think outside that which is basic and expected.  After all, dressing purely for your own aesthetic tastes is the ultimate living expression of wearable art, in my opinion.  This January, my art will be a dark poet aesthetic…but I am starting to veer towards pink looking ahead to Valentine ’s Day!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  2 yards of 100% rayon crepe

NOTIONS:  Except for the black fabric covered shoulder pads which I bought, I had everything else on hand that I needed – thread, interfacing, the hem tape, snaps, and even the buttons (which were from the stash of Hubby’s Grandmother).

PATTERN:  McCall #6716, year 1946, vintage original pattern in my stash

TIME TO COMPLETE:  I spent 10 to 12 hours on this in total, and it was finished on February 3, 2015

THE INSIDES:  Oh so lovely!  Every seam is French finished, with vintage 100% rayon hem tape on the bottom and facing edges.

TOTAL COST:  I no longer remember…

As I do every so often, I channeled the cover envelope’s inspiration exactly and made my blouse out of a flowing, solid black, luxurious rayon crepe.  I went even more de-luxe with my choice of doing clean French seams inside (mentioned in “The Facts”), shiny dual-toned both silver and gold buttons outside, and adapting to have a cufflink closure on the sleeves.  This blouse is totally “in-your-face” post-WWII extravagance!  I adore it!  At first I wasn’t sure that the top-heavy details that widen the shoulders and add volume to one’s top half could work on me, one who is on the margin of being petite.  But here again, the decade of the 1940’s really does work well for me.  Designers of those times knew how to engineer some pretty awesome clothes, with special features that do complement the figure beautifully. 

Luckily, the blouse is designed to be generally loose and flowing, so I didn’t have to fuss over the perfect fit.  The only part which is fitted is the neck and wrist cuffs.  The rest is somewhat tapered in at the waist and hips, and the shoulders are loose (meant to be filled in with thick padding) so I needed it in the ballpark of general overall fit.  This isn’t a style that is supposed to be fitted close the body anyways.  I had to grade up dramatically in the sizing, as my original was a 30” bust.  This was a bit tricky to up-size, and in the end I estimate I fell on the slightly generous side of the intended proportions. 

The comfy fit is reined in by the most fantastic, unusual shoulder line.  It prevents this blouse from being a tent on the body in the most stylish manner.  It’s like some sort of mitered set-in sleeve with a hint of the raglan style from behind.  This was quite tricky to finish with French seams.  The wide shoulder-chest panel to the blouse really hides the big shoulder pads I added inside – and I needed properly 40’s era wide, sharp shoulders to be the anchor the whole look of the piece! 

There is something to be said for the benefits of perfecting a loose fit.  Nowadays everything seems to be worn tightly, but then again modern society of the last few decades has become so used to every garment having stretch.  Just because something can be squeezed into doesn’t mean it truly fits in the professional understanding of the term.  On the opposite spectrum, if a ready-to-wear garment isn’t skin tight it is too often baggy, especially when it comes to fashions for women who need a bigger size number on the label.  Loose clothes don’t have to mean the body is something to hide or that someone still wants to be in night clothes…but there are viable times and reasons for that, too, don’t get me wrong.  Frequently such tent-like styles seem to indicate the manufacturer was out of design ideas.  There is a good in-between state that I think this blouse hits.  I say bring back the 4 or 5 inch wearing ease for certain designs.  I am over the modern 2 inch (or less) wearing ease which causes “drag lines”, something many have been accustomed to being standard when they are only an indication of ill fit.  Make comfy dressing fashionable.  Let us sewists help bring back in popularity better fitting garments with our bespoke creations.  If anything, at least just give your local tailor some business – let them show you how comfy a proper fitting garment can be.  We survived the last two years…we all deserve it.

It’s funny to realize today that this blouse was made before I created my 1951 giant-sleeved Schiaparelli inspired blouse, so since then I have learned a lot about how to sew, wear, and do activities in clothes which have a voluminous amount of fabric.  Compared to that designer inspired blouse I just mentioned (which did take over 3 yards), this one seems so much tamer.  A lot of people seem to be very turned off by the idea of generous sleeves, but in reality a neckline with an attached scarf, tie, bow, or fluff of some sort is much more bothersome in my experience.  Once I made this 1933 kerchief tie neck blouse back in 2016 I learned about fussy necked tops pretty quickly.  Here I prefer the more casual air of an untied bow neck, but doing it so causes my ties to dip into a wet sink or a plate of food before I can stop them.  Nevertheless, I wouldn’t change a thing about my make, and love to reach for it from my closet no less for its bother. 

The purse you see me with is a special accessory in my wardrobe – an authentic 40’s Corde bag.  It is one in an often hard-to-find excellent condition, so I have hand sewed a little hand strap into the inner corner to keep my hands off of the Corde detailing.  Luckily, it is both wide-bottomed and deep enough to hold much more modern necessities than conventional vintage purses.  Look at that lovely Lucite charm at the zipper and the shell pattern of the cording!

The grey skirt that I’m wearing with my blouse in these pictures is actually a RTW item bought from a name brand department store about 15 years back.  I see it as having a classic shape that pairs quite appropriately for my 1940s look, as well as items from many other decades.  It is in a rayon blend suiting, and has a slimming cut down to mid-thigh (contrasting well with the loose blouse above) with a bias flare below due to the many panels that make up the design.  The high waist and the skinny fit is why I think this skirt pairs best with my loose blouse, but other skirts in my wardrobe match, as well.  I love it when I can work existing pieces from my wardrobe to end up with a ‘new’ and very fluid vintage-style outfit which comes across as also being contemporary. 

A decade ago now, I locally found the pattern I used for this blouse for a deal, and had to l laugh to see it dated to one of my favorite years from that era (1946)…I’m so predictable.  Making anything from the decade of the 1940’s is irresistible to me, but this particular one had my name written all over it with the shirring, interesting seaming, and drama galore.  Usually black is not a comfort color for me but despite it being my funeral attendance blouse for a few times, this is as smooth and mellow of a treat to me as a shot of good bourbon.  Now if I start waxing poetic while wearing it you’ll know I’m really letting the aesthetic of this blouse get to me.  That’s okay…it is 2022 now.   We all probably could write a story or some prose on what we have been through in the last few years.  I’ll keep blogging and writing here about the things I make that get me through both the tough and the good times.  So, thanks for following, I appreciate your reading what I have to share, and cheers to a new year ahead!

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?

“How Far I’ll Go…”

     “See the line where the sky meets the sea?  It calls me. 

          What’s beyond that line?  Will I cross that line?

               If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me, one day I’ll know…”

     -lyrics from the song “How Far I’ll Go”

I might have my personal favorite princesses, but in our house, Disney’s 2016 “Moana” is an all-around favorite of all of us, especially my son.  The movie is an excellent example of Polynesian lore and culture, besides having Moana herself be an all-around exemplary, relatable 16-year-old human, even for all the legendary situations she is placed in.  I love that Moana has her family there for her throughout the film, which is unique for Disney (which tends to kill off the mom figure), and that she is searching for her own identity, not a love interest.  It has songs that are catchier than the best classic 90’s Disney tunes with amazing visuals that are an absolute treat.  It contains my husband’s favorite Disney song – “You’re Welcome” – and was my son’s first in-person movie theatre experience.  “Moana” is also the only Disney animated princess movie I cry to every single time we re-watch it again and again!  It is fitting that my last summer season sewing is something related to the princess Moana.

Of course I had to interpret this specific inspiration with a play set for my latest and greatest installment in my “Pandemic Princess” blog series!  There wasn’t a better decade for the cutest play sets than the 1940s, in my opinion.  Besides, with all the American soldiers (and their families in some instances) stationed at many of the Pacific islands during and after WWII, Polynesian culture heavily influenced the warm weather and playtime fashions for women of that decade. 

I had a head start on the 3-pieces which constitute a play set by wearing my pleated, skirt-style 40’s shorts, which I sewed years back as the base for another play set (posted here), to match with my newly made Moana novelty printed blouse.  The rich blue to the shorts reminds me of the ocean…and I enjoy being able to still be wear my older creations, after all.  Then the jumper, which is newly made and can be worn over both pieces, also matches with the blouse as it peeks out from underneath.  It creates a suddenly dressy tone to the fun time duo.  The brown linen jumper was custom dyed by me, and calls to my mind both Moana’s dark hair and the natural fibers that many ethnic Polynesian clothes are made of.

My accessories are especially coordinating this time.  I have a toy plush version of Moana’s sidekick the rooster Hei Hei to keep me company.  He might not be the best help on Moana’s boat (see this hilarious movie clip) but together with the pig Pua (shown on my blouse) complete her ‘conventional’ Princess ‘requirements’.  This Hei Hei toy was a present from my mother-in-law and can walk and “scream” by battery power.  I also have a large conch shell with me – it was acquired by hubby’s Grandmother in the 1960s or earlier.  It is a beautiful pink inside just like the ones the ocean gave Moana as a baby (see this movie clip – it’s so sweet). 

Now to the rest of my accessories, like my handmade ones! My belt is a multicolored novelty jute ‘ribbon’ which I originally made into a belt to match with this dress (post here) but works fantastically to brighten up the solid brown of the jumper.  Even my sea-inspired hair clip was me-made, too.  I started with a cheap $1 store basic hair item then glued on wooden themed charms of a sea horse, starfish, shell, and a fish that I bought from my local fabric store.  I love my self-made items which complete my outfits!  Finally my amazingly comfy shoes (the “Elinor” lace up ballerina pumps) are from the great brand Miss L Fire, which is sadly going out of business in the next week or two.  All together I felt fantastic in my outfit and also ready for whatever comes my way.  Oh ‘how far I’ll go’ for the perfect dream outfit…

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a heavyweight all-linen for the jumper and an all-cotton Disney brand Moana character print for the blouse

PATTERN:  McCall #5607, year 1944, a vintage original pattern from my stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread, vintage buttons from the inherited stash of both my Grandmother and my husband’s Grandmother, vintage hem tape, vintage bias binding, and some interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The jumper took me about 8 to 10 hours to make and was finished September, 25, 2021.  The blouse came afterwards, being finished on September 27, and was made in only 4 hours.

THE INSIDES:  all cleanly finished thanks to vintage bindings on hand

TOTAL COST:  1 ½ yards of the Moana cotton bought at Jo Ann Fabric store cost me about $12; the fabric for the jumper was linen I had on hand longer than I can remember so I’m counting it as free.  The dye for the linen cost $3 something dollars.  All other notions were on hand from my stash so I’m counting them as free, too.  My total cost for this outfit was about $15.

This overall project started out as an experiment.  I had this lovely bright orange, almost neon, soft and supple linen that was my ideal fabric but in a wrong tone for the jumper to match with the Moana print fabric.  I had an overall 3 ½ yard cut of the material, and only needed just over 2 yards.  Thus, I cut out the pattern pieces for the jumper and saved the rest leftover for my upcoming “Part Two” Moana-inspired outfit.  Then, those jumper pieces were partially sewn together (darts, pleats, and all secondary seams), and the front buttonholes were marked with thread, so they could be cooked in a bath of RIT brand liquid dark brown dye. 

I actually had absolutely no idea what tone I would end up with, but expected a burnt orange.  Any way the dye job would have turned out, I was ready to be happy with it as long as it remotely matched the Moana blouse fabric and became a different color.  I think that since my fabric was a natural linen (which takes well to dye), and I chose a dark brown versus just a natural brown, I ended up with this lovely rich and opaque nut color.  I wanted a jumper which would carry me beyond this particular outfit and be versatile going into fall, but overall become an all-season piece.  This jumper as it turned out is not what I expected but just what I wanted.  It was a planned surprise.  Dyeing is always so very interesting and fun, but always a gamble.

Other than the dye job, this jumper was easy to come together.  Part of the joy to it was how much like sewing through butter was the linen I was using.  Also, though, it has been too long since I’ve used a true vintage printed McCall’s pattern – they’re my favorite.  I appreciate the general predictability of how well they fit me out of the envelope and their details are understatedly fantastic.  The waistband panel – an incorporated ‘belt’ – was eliminated for my version of the jumper because I am both short-waisted and wanted to cut down on the blousiness of the style.  Otherwise, I sewed this jumper just as it is shown on the envelope, not counting grading up in size.  The deep cut armholes are great to show off the blouse underneath and keep the jumper from being confining.  The way the bust darts radiate from the sleeve openings is my favorite unexpected detail.  I went the extra mile to do only hand-stitching finishing touches so no thread is visible besides for the buttonholes.

My blouse was super easy and straightforward as shirts go.  It has menswear details, no doubt added just to keep a smooth profile for layering under the jumper.  Many 1940s blouses have some gathers or shirring somewhere, normally across the shoulders (to add bust fullness) or the back.  This blouse has the conventional separate shoulder panel across the bodice upper back, but with masculine-style pleats for reach room below that.  The front relies on a giant bust dart set into the shoulder down to shape the bust, then there’s a small below-the-waist tiny pleats to fit the hips.  Even this collar is rather on the tame side as 1940s collars go and I like it.  The shoulders are nice and smooth, too.  These features all help this blouse seem a bit more timeless than dated, more than many other 40’s blouses do.  I will definitely coming back to this top pattern to sew a dressy, solid colored version in the future. 

Even if you don’t know Moana or have not yet seen her movie, I hope you enjoyed my new play set with our beach themed photos and find yourself inspired by what I have said about our family favorite princess.  At a basic level, it is just an outfit inspired by a girl whose enthralling story revolves around what she will do out of her love for both home and family.  Whatever her culture, that is a universally admirable quality…but especially for a 16 year old heroine like Moana! 

My outfit respectfully avoids any cultural interpretation, and instead focuses on the predominant colors of the animated tale, vintage clothing for ‘fun in the sun’ by the water, and my personal fangirl manifestation.  With the blouse, the skirt, and my old favorite shorts all in one set, it has been a fun but still practical project to complete.  Out of all my other “Pandemic Princess” inspired garments, this one is perhaps my most natural or ‘organic’ interpretation.

I for one am not into logo tees or character tops unless it is for Agent Carter, Wonder Woman, or as a concert souvenir.  For Moana to be included in that category for me should tell you something big!  Please do yourself a favor and see the animated film “Moana” if you haven’t done so already…and if you have, let me know what your favorite scene was!  I have so many, it is hard to pick anything other than every minute of the movie.  I am so super hyped to have an outfit that embodies this special Polynesian princess.  Many Pacific Islands are an underrated and underrepresented part (if only a satellite affiliation) of the United States, after all!

Blushed Briar Rose

It mystifies me that something as vigorous, beautiful, and pleasant smelling as the shrub rose, also known for its wild varieties the dog briar or briar rose, can also be designated as a weed.  Yes, I agree a shrub rose can grow out-of-hand, it creates dense vegetation of spiny brambles, and it can be aggressively invasive.  However, many flower shops and high end events desire lab curated roses for arranged displays, yet snub their nose on the humble, steadfast briar rose that was the humble ancestor to all roses back from the time of the dinosaurs.  After all, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” is the popular quote from Shakespeare.    Did you know that most of our important crop plants are in the “Rose” family?  A pretentious pedigree should not matter for a plant. 

It’s cooling down now that September is here, yet in our city’s Botanical Garden there are still plenty of shrub roses blooming untamed next to some single oversized hybrid.  A desire for overly curated cultivation has grown a skewed perspective.  I think a plant such as a briar rose that perseveres through the ages, with healthy benefits to boot, while still having loveliness to share despite their alleged flaws is the diamond in the rough that deserves more respect – ‘weed’ or not.

The hidden beauty with a hopeful heart, Princess Aurora, of Disney’s 1959 animated film “Sleeping Beauty”, was also called Briar Rose.  This was a term for the fairytale princess which comes from the German version of her story as told through the Brothers Grimm.  I can deduce that this genus of plant was specifically what grew into an impenetrable barrier to enclose the sleeping princess.  This is what I’m channeling today – the wild and prickly beauty of the briar rose as inspired by the Princess Aurora.  Here is a delicate combo of a blouse in sheer white chiffon similar to Aurora’s forest outfit and flowing rayon trousers in a soft rosy hue…because briar roses are almost always pink, you know! 

Here is a rare example of me mixing decades, I would like to think to great effect.  These pants are from the 1990s, yet my old-fashioned ways I keep calling them trousers by default because they are high-waisted and wide-legged as if from the WWII era.  The blouse is 1940’s, a piece from an old dirndl pattern because it has been suggested that there is a Germanic influence to Briar Rose’s forest attire (no doubt coming from the story being derived from the Brothers Grimm).   The fabric I chose and the way I’ve worn it here keeps the blouse more of agelessly romantic in aura than pure vintage.  I been having a lot of fun with my style recently.  I find the eras that revived older fashions so very interesting, but now especially so when it comes to the 90’s, a decade peppered with the influences of the past 20th century, all of which I already sew, wear, and love.  Besides, the 1940s era came up with some of the best classic pieces, particularly for separates.  Put all this together and I can’t go wrong, right?

Before I go on with my post, can we all take just a moment to appreciate the skills and patience of my 9 year old to take these blog pictures of me?  Let’s give him a hand for being my photographer for a day!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Blouse – a poly chiffon with the ‘interfacing’ of the cuffs being a sheer white stiff organza; Trousers – 100% rayon twill

PATTERN:  Blouse – Simplicity #4230, year 1942, from my stash; Trousers – McCall’s NY NY “The Collection” pattern #5718, year 1991

NOTIONS NEEDED:  one 7” invisible zipper for the pants and lots of hook-n-eyes together with one vintage covered button for the blouse, but otherwise lots of thread, some bias tape, with a little interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse was made in about 8 hours and finished on January 6, 2020.  The bottoms were done on April 3, 2021 in 4 hours.

THE INSIDES:  The blouse is a combo of French seams and serged (overlocked) seam allowances.  The trousers’ raw edges are bias bound.

TOTAL COST:  All supplies came from my local JoAnn Fabric store.  Two yards for the pants and 2 yards for the blouse came to about $30 in total.

Similar to the way I successfully used a bedsheet to sew a couture dress (in my previous post here), this outfit was also started with materials not what I intended, but what struck my immediate fancy.  It just goes to prove that the final look of any and every sewing project is entirely dependent on the execution of every step along the way towards the finish.  It doesn’t take fancy supplies to end up with something amazing to wear, and trying something new might just end up better than you originally thought.  “A rose by any other name…” comes to play here, too.  If you can make the most of what you have it doesn’t really matter if it’s a bedsheet or a polyester in the end if you’re happy with what you’ve created and think it is fantastic!

I would have preferred a silk chiffon for my blouse but after getting tired of internet searching, I instead took advantage of a fine polyester option that was both convenient to find and reasonably priced.  I was doubtful that a slinky rayon would be substantial enough for what was supposed to be a structured pants pattern, but I wanted to try something experimental and it was in most enchanting pink tone…I couldn’t resist.  Together, this outfit ended up way better than I imagined.  I love these results!  Luckily, I avoided being snagged by all the thorns around me while wearing my delicate fabrics.  I took the risk, as you see, to folic like a modernized, dreamy version of a princess, spend time touring a lovely rose garden for an afternoon, smelling all the flowers.

These two pieces were really a lot easier to construct than they may look.  The pants pattern fit me straight out of the envelope like it were drafted just for me, a trend I find with this 90’s line of NY NY “The Collection” McCall’s patterns.  There was a front piece, a back piece, and two facings, all with just the right curves for my hips, so it was pretty simple to make and match the very geometric windowpane plaid. 

I took a shortcut from the French seams I started in the blouse to do the rest in serging (I rarely use overlocking) because it was a poly after all, not a silk like I wanted!  It has a loose and flowing fit, but as I already used the rest of the pattern before for a dirndl vest (posted here) I knew what sizing to expect and graded accordingly.  A little before-hand knowledge is not always something available when working with vintage patterns, and I definitely appreciated it here.

As the pants and blouse were easy otherwise, I spent a bit of extra time on the details.  For my bottoms, I made sure to have impeccable inside edges and a center back invisible zipper.  I sewed in a hook-n-eye placket to close the blouse along the side seam, just like a proper vintage garment might have.  A fluid, sheer, light-as-a-feather blouse deserved something other than a harsh and rigid zipper!  This type of closure was the fiddliest part of the blouse, next to the neckline, but elevates it closer to the quality I’d hoped to end up with for a silk version. 

Of course the resemblance of my blouse to Princess Aurora’s “Briar Rose” peasant blouse was made all the more similar thanks to a little piece of vintage lingerie in my collection.  I wore an authentic 1940s boned long-line satin foundation undergarment beneath which gave my blouse an illusion similar to the sweetheart neckline of Aurora’s black overblouse corset.  I acquired this amazing garment in the first place because not only was it my size, and something I did not have, but I also felt sorry for it.  The brassiere needed some TLC to bring back up to a wearable status. 

All the boning channels had been torn through but otherwise it was in impeccable condition, with elastic that was still very intact.  To do the mend, I merely used some old vintage twill tape from on hand and re-sewed down the channels, closing in the spiral steel boning strips once more.  This repair took me only 30 minutes!  It is pretty enough of a piece to be seen in it floral damask satin, but I remember it is still lingerie, so I loved being able to fulfill both aspirations by wearing the brassiere with my sheer 40’s blouse.  At this point, it rather looks like a mere strapless top underneath anyways, and highlights more of the gauzy goodness to my blouse than anything else.  If anyone but my husband notices anything otherwise, shame on them!

I would be remiss if I failed to also highlight the unusual choice of footwear I chose for my outfit.  As I was going both romantic old-timey but also experimental, I felt it was time to enjoy my new purchase of a pair of American Duchess’ “Kensington” 18th century leather shoes in ivory with “Cavendish” 18th century brass shoe buckles.  To be inspired by “Sleeping Beauty” meant I had all sorts of historical references in my mind for this outfit, and these pretty – if a bit unusual – shoes made me happy with their finery.  It was all about creating an aura for this mashed-up outfit.  Yet, after all, I was also being practical.  There was an 18th century reenactment to attend the coming weekend, and all American Duchess shoes need time to be “broken in” before they really start forming to your foot and becoming more comfortable.  A walk through the soft ground of the Botanical Garden did just the trick!   

The way you see these pieces worn and accessorized in this blog post is merely one out of the many other ways I pair them with other separates from my wardrobe.  You can see this post here where my sheer blouse is being worn with my scuba knit sundress like a jumper!  As pretty as these pieces are on their own, they really are being enjoyed much more than I had hoped – which is a very good thing! 

After all, ever since the pandemic of 2020 started, I no longer ‘save’ my nice stuff for just nice functions, otherwise much of my wardrobe would never be worn.  I really do think people appreciate it when they see there was thought and enjoyment behind putting myself together – no matter the occasion.  You know, after these pictures at the Botanical Garden, I wore this outfit to do some practical grocery shopping, and received the most unexpected amount of compliments.  Public appreciation or not, pulling cans off the shelves with sleeves like these suddenly felt much more elegant than hum-drum.  Pushing the shopping cart around in 18th century heels feels empowering instead of droll.  It was fantastic!  I highly recommend it.   

It’s just a parody to my earlier reflection of appreciating a ‘weed’ of a rose as something to be valued in one’s personal estimation.  If I can’t avoid the weeds of life – like droll errands – I will find a way to see them as palatable by also doing something I enjoy at the same time…like wearing my me-made clothes.  I will not let the lack of events to attend get in the way of an outfit like this not having an opportunity to be worn!