In Sporting Fashion

It’s not every day I go full on casual with what I am wearing, but doing so in vintage style is my preferred interpretation for having fun exercising in the great outdoors.  Spring marks the beginning of baseball season in the United States, and so what better way to test out my newest sewing make than during practice pitching and catching with my family in the local park’s field!  I now have the most chic but playful, bold yet practical pair of shorts I could ever imagine for summertime fun!  

They are pleated, bibbed, suspender style “short-alls” from the mid-1940s in the most luxurious cotton I could find locally.  This kind of casual dressing was the preferred choice of teenagers in WWII times, but I am more than happy to rock it as an adult on the 21st century.  Here’s to having sporting fun in just as much style as when I have a fancy affair…because handmade fashion is for me something I can wear at any and all occasion at this point!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Chartreuse lime colored Supima cotton in a sateen finish (same as what I used as the contrast facing on this 1960s sun set)

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1322, year 1944 (reprinted again under the same number in the year 1946) from my personal pattern stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  everything I used came from the accumulated stash I have on hand – thread, buttons, interfacing scraps, rayon hem tape, and a 6 inch zipper

TIME TO COMPLETE:  this was made in about 12 hours and finished in August 2020

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound for all the seams with vintage rayon tape finishing the hem

TOTAL COST:  1 ½ yards cost me $16 with a coupon

As mentioned when I first used small scraps of this fabric on my 60’s sun set (posted here), I have never really been a fan of chartreuse.  Nevertheless, I know it seems quite popular and a sought after color amongst vintage enthusiasts, so I have been wanting to cautiously try this color out for myself for far too long.  The fabric’s shade listed on the end of the bolt in the store was marked as “pistachio” but as it is darker and more yellow in undertone, I see it as a true chartreuse in person.  Considering my skin tone, I do not believe I’d like myself in chartreuse if worn alone as a solo tone. 

Nevertheless, made up in a separate piece as I have done here, whatever top is chosen to pair with the shorts is my chance to play with finding complimentary colors that I do prefer.  The suspenders holding up my bib extension integrate the chartreuse into my entire outfit and keep it from being distinct blocks of color separated at the waistline.  The only reason I went with a dusty blue tee here was because I had a baseball cap to match, but it was a hard choice.  I love the look of my shorts with tops on hand in all sorts of colors, and even with my printed, tight 90’s era tees (still in my wardrobe from when I was much younger) for a modern feel. 

I was so happy to find a Sears department store advertisement from Kansas City, Missouri of the same year as my pattern (year 1944) for some “short-alls” exactly like my own.  In this old ad, they were offered in a cotton twill and listed as “bib style buttoned panel, pleats front…a Hollywood favorite!”  Unlike my last pair of 1940s era shorts (which look like a mini skirt), these are a bit more structured and obviously shorts with their shallow pleats, higher rise, and slimmer circumference of hems, making them perfect for very active activities like baseball, tennis, or volleyball.  Under the same circumstances, my blue 40’s dupe-skirt shorts have me afraid of flashing someone with a peek of my undies and leave the fabric looking stained or limp when it gets wet.  These chartreuse suspender shorts do none of that.  Don’t get me wrong, though – each pair is appropriate for different occasions, obviously.  I equally wear and love both of my 40’s shorts, but the chartreuse pair avoids all the pitfalls I discovered with my blue pair.  Here, the suspenders and front bib even keep my top tucked in place!  

I thought ahead to choose something equally soft as the rayon of my blue 40’s shorts but more stable and sweat resistant – all of which qualities I found in the Supima cotton sateen.  The beautiful, slight shine to the fabric dresses them up, but they are still just a very easy-care cotton, besides being lightweight and cool to wear, too.  My next choice after the Supima sateen was a light to mid-weight denim, and I do currently have some such material set aside (from my Grandmother’s fabric stash) for a future project of another early 1940s play set.  I successfully tried a rayon and silk blend twill for my personal version of the 1940’s “Harp” shorts offered by Tori at “Potion 23”, a local designer for whom I was the pattern drafter and sample maker.  My 80s shorts were a (border print) cotton shirting and for the 50s I did a short romper in pique as well as shorts in heavy hopsack linen.  I now have a good arsenal of knowledge when it comes to what works best for different kinds of shorts.  Fabric choice has so much to do with the success of every sewing project but I find this fact especially true for shorts.  Such a simple little garment of summer has given me so much bother trying to perfect!

I claim home base!

The only reason these shorts ended up being closer to fitting like modern clothes in the first place was really due to a re-drafting ‘mistake’.  I only realized after assembling my shorts enough for my first try-on that the pattern was sized for teenagers.  This explains why the crouch depth sits so much higher than what I expected of a true 1940s pattern.  WWII era trousers for women had roomy bottoms for a fit that did not reveal a body form shape as do pants of today.  Using a true 1940s pattern is the only reason such a ‘mistake’ worked out okay after all.  As a teenager’s design, the distance between the hip line and waist line is really 2 inches too short for me.  My hips are about 7 inches down from my waist and not 5 inches, as given.  

I should have at least suspected that this was a junior’s design since the high school teenage crowd of the 1940s were the ones most commonly rocking the sporty, fun-in-the-sun clothes of WWII times.  The envelope back said this was either for women or junior misses and recommended Simplicity #1315 (reissued in 1946 as #2062) to complete it as a “mother-and-daughter set” of matching designs.  At least I was thinking ahead enough at the pattern stage so as to grade in some extra space at the seams of the centers and sides to bring it up to my waist and hip circumference.  I had to add in a total of 4 inches because a size 12 from back then is for a small 24 inch waistline, which is a modern size 0…definitely not me.

I am no less happy with my finished item even with the little unexpected – but no less welcome – hiccup in its making.  Now I have a decision waiting for me the next time I pick up this pattern (and I definitely will be coming back to it).  Do I keep the modern fit of reduced wearing ease (aka, current juniors’ sizing) or draft in the proportions of an adult size for a proper 1940s appearance?  Either way, I may just wear the heck out of these shorts and sew another copy in the exact same color and material.  I may just pick another one of the other styles given as an option in the pattern to try.  Nevertheless, I like these bibbed suspender shorts too much to not just end up making them again in some manner.  I kind of want to revisit this same design anyway so as to redeem the crazy and confusing way of closures that I opted for in my version.

The pattern for these shorts calls for workable buttoning front bib.  I did not do that on mine.  To get a snug fit on a pair of shorts meant for athletic activity does not seem compatible with a handful of buttons.  The Supima cotton is a fairly thin, loose weave that snags, ravels, and puckers easily.  Even if properly interfaced, I did not want to compromise the material with buttonholes.  Also, I could envision the front buttons being a hazard and getting caught during activity and ripped off…this worst-case scenario would not end well. 

To end up with a stable, secure closure that keeps the look of the bib front simple, I went for the tried-and-true, good, old reliable vintage metal zipper closing, albeit hidden under the front flap.  Over the tummy and under the bib, a short zipper connects the center front seam to an extension piece I added to left side of the shorts’ main body (since the pleat is only stitched part of the way).  Then, I have an inner button and elastic loop to fully connect the waistband, as well.  The entire right side of the shorts’ pleat and bib front is stitched down in place and all of the closures are accessed from the left side only.  This was all my own idea and it works pretty darn well.  I do not know whether or not this method of closing is something which would have been used back then or not, but it just made sense from an engineering outlook.  Yes, sewing is engineering sometimes.  I do happen to be married to an engineer so I suppose he rubs off on me. 

At least I have the suspenders with real working buttonholes!  There would be no easy way in or out of these shorts otherwise, from a practical perspective, though.  The straps are stitched down to the front bib, but come detached at the back waistline where there are the cutest imaginable flower buttons in a bright lime green.  The crossing point of the suspenders across the back of my shoulders is lightly tacked together so that no matter how I move, the X shape stays in perfect position.  It’s not that I really need suspenders to actually hold up my shorts.  This is why I have them as laying somewhat loosely over my shoulders.  Yet, I just love how there is just as much interest to the design of these shorts as seen from behind with the suspenders and the cute buttons. 

I enjoy the fact that I have such me-made vintage pieces to help me look forward to getting my exercise now that warmer weather is here.  I never was a big fan of shorts until I discovered how cute and appealing the vintage-style kind could be.  No matter how simple, any garment can be elevated by good design and tailoring.  I certainly put this particular shorts model to the test run right away for the sake of my post’s pictures, too!  I hope you enjoyed the change of pace by having photos of me in the action shots.  Don’t you think I am able to pull off chartreuse after all?  

White, Orange and Green

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

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

THE FACTS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?