Eggshell Blue Bow Dress

Mod 60’s fashion is not automatically associated with a sweet and feminine style.  Yet, when on occasion it is juxtaposed with the ‘baby doll’ trend, you end up with a very serious, no-frills, freshly classic take on something overtly pretty – a nice combo.  The Netflix show “The Queen’s Gambit” presented a version of this style to perfection with Beth’s bow dress in episode 6.  Of course, I was then on a mission to find a historical benchmark for the outfit, and have since found a true vintage pattern from which to replicate my own version.  This is my second “copy” of an outfit from “The Queen’s Gambit” (my first one is posted here).  Being made in a luxurious wool crepe and in the prettiest pastel tone, I think this is the perfect outfit to present to you now for our chilly Eastertide.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a worsted 100% wool crepe with the black contrast being 100% rayon crepe lined in satin finish polyester interlock jersey

PATTERN:  Simplicity #6634, year 1966

NOTIONS NEEDED:  one long 22” invisible zipper for the back closing and lots of thread with a bit of interfacing for under the neckline contrast

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress took me 15 to 20 hours of time.  I finished it up on February 27, 2021.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound

TOTAL COST:  The fabric was $35 for two yards from this Etsy shop (highly recommend!).  All the contrast fabrics are being counted as free since they came from small remnants leftover from other projects

My mom made all of these!

I specifically chose my version of Beth’s bow dress to be a soft blue versus the original mint green.  In the Netflix series, mint green is the color of Beth’s childhood and when worn by her as a young woman it connects her to certain events as she is struggling to find herself.  The prevailing color of my childhood was a different pastel hue, and slightly cooler in tone – soft blue.  I have a small portion of my childhood dresses on hand, and a good number of them are a pretty blue (see picture).  I felt feminine in blue, and I personally sense it compliments my skin tone more than pink, which I have grown to love more in the last several years.  Before the 1940s, blue was traditionally considered to be the more feminine color over pink, after all.  Besides, I have other mint green dresses that I love and could never upstage (see here and here)!

Fashion historian Raissa Bretaña fact checks “The Queen’s Gambit” outfits in this excellent video (watch it here) at Glamour magazine and the mint bow dress is included (skip to the time of 6:02).  Raissa Bretaña agrees this outfit is pretty accurate except for maybe the lack dark stockings or tights, which I added for my iteration.  Happily, as I was searching through pattern images online one day, this particular pattern showed up and I instantly recognized it as a very similar base in seamlines, contrast details, and silhouette of both body and sleeves to Beth’s bow dress.  The story is set in the late 60’s during episode 6, and the inspiration for Beth’s bow dress was 1966 to 1968, so this particular pattern hit the right spot.  I love happy circumstances like this where what you are looking for falls in your lap…only this kind of thing is always a challenge with vintage patterns because it is gamble to see if one is for sale.  As you can tell, I found one and couldn’t be happier with my finished dress!

The original version of this dress (which can be seen in an online exhibit here through the Brooklyn Museum) was crafted in a crepe (click on the info button).  A wool crepe has more body than a rayon, so I went with that because I thought this needs to be winter dress.  It should be a flowing dress but being inspired by the likes of Pierre Cardin means that it should also have a bit of structure, too.  I splurged for my dress and ordered something special I have been wanting to try – worsted wool.  I personally find worsted spun to be less itchy than a regular woolen, and a crepe finish is so very dressy with its soft shine and pebbled texture.  I love this fabric.  Worsted wool is considered stronger, finer, and more substantial of a fiber coming from long-staple pasture raised sheep.  Worsted wool is more expensive on account of the labor intensive production – it is not simply carded like other woolens.  I find it didn’t shrink much in a cold water wash and needs hardly any ironing more than a touch of steam (very low maintenance).  I am a worsted wool convert.

The dress itself was relatively easy to make.  The pattern is pretty basic.  The wool was as soft as melted butter to sew through.  As I was using a fine fabric and the pattern had such clean lines, I took extra time on both the finishing details and the fit so my dress would look first-rate.  I did have a few issues with the sizing and placement of the bust darts.  At first, at the cutting stage, I had graded in some extra width to be ‘safe and not sorry’ later.  By the time my dress was finished, I ended up tailoring out the inch or so which I added.  Oh well.  The bust dart was tricky to perfect because it was an unusual curved, very long, French style one that joins the side seam below my hip.  This different French dart creates a beautifully simplistic front panel with gentle shaping.  I think this is the best feature to the dress, yet it’s only a very low-key element though. 

Lengths of both hem and sleeves ended up different than both what I had originally wanted and what the envelope cover seems to show.  I kept the ‘longer-than-your-normal-60’s-dress’ length because I think it makes my version of Beth’s dress more elegant and something not so youth oriented (like many Mod fashions).  I found the sleeves ending up as bracelet length, but I don’t mind this feature either.  They are very dramatic being so wide and bell-shaped, too.  I can clear off a table without even trying – it’s quite hilarious.  Nevertheless, these kind of sleeves are really quite part of the general flowing aura of this dress, I think.  Can I repeat myself, again…I absolutely love my newest Queen’s Gambit dress…it’s so different from my first one.  It’s remarkable how varied the fashions of the 60’s can be.

My chosen pattern was the shadow of my inspiration dress except for the neckline bow.  This was an easy addition but a bit complex to craft.  I wanted the black stripe only on one side of the bow strip.  The underside needed to be plain blue and not showing the stitching from the contrast stripe on the other side.  This is how it was on Beth’s original dress (I can see as she is running through the café) and I had to recreate that because I love a challenge.  Sewing challenges are a good learning experience to further my skills, and this time will go towards adding a deluxe touch.  

It is always a task in itself to try and figure out how to recreate proportions of details as compared to a picture.  I mostly just kept the bow’s width as wide as the neckline facing for uniformity.  I had to double the width and add in seam allowances because this was going to be a folded over, one seam tie strip.  Then I carefully marked the center length of only one side to the tie strip where the black contrast will go.  I chose not to line the bow so it could hang soft like the rest of the dress.  I thought of crafting the black contrast as a tiny tube, ironing it flat, then top-stitching it down in place on the blue strip.  It was an unnerving step to sew the entire blue bow strip together finally.  If the black contrast was stitched down in the wrong place, my life was about to be miserable.  I absolutely hate unpicking!  However, I turned the tube inside out and it was looking all good after a light ironing!  Whew.  I was so happy it was figured correctly. 

One small, extra cut of the bow strip became the center holder.  I have an extra-large safety pin from behind (inside the neckline) holding my bow down in place.  I do not want to wash the dress with bow on it.  Neither do I want to have to unpick threads before it needs a wash.  Keeping the bow unstitched makes my dress project easy to take care of as well as versatile.  I can wear the dress without the bow for a different look, but really – adding the bow brings this dress from a ‘meh’ to a ‘wow’!  Sometimes it is so amazing how one little added detail makes such a big difference.

For this dress, there isn’t much that needs to be added to it for a complete outfit.  The color blocking and the oversized bow takes most of the center stage.  However, what I am wearing to compliment my dress here make a big difference.  Slip on heels were an important part to the story of this dress for the occasion Beth wears it…she only had time to put on her shoes at the very last minute!  I updated the look with a modern pointed toe, block heeled version. 

Beth’s cuff watch is a small part to the storyline, too.  In a brief scene, she receives a Bulova “American Girl” watch from her (adoptive) mother as a graduation gift (also see this post for detailed pictures).  My 60’s era, two-tone cuff watch is from my Grandmother, as are my earrings, but it is my gold pearl ring which is a similar graduation piece.  My mother recently passed this pearl ring down to me, telling me it was the gift her mother gave to her for her Graduation in 1969.  I’m so glad it fits me because it’s so special to wear.  I’m connected to the past few generations of women in my family history just with my accessories alone.  How cool is this?  Then, I go and choose a color for my dress that recalls my own childhood fashion preferences.  I love this outfit for more than just the fabulous dress alone. 

I will follow up this post with my next one being about another ‘vintage’ childhood style that I am reinterpreting for myself today.  Yes, it is also in blue!  Until then, I do hope everyone has a beautiful, peaceful, and happy Easter weekend! 

Punjab Finery

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

THE FACTS:

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

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

NOTIONS NEEDED:  Nothing but thread!

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

THE INSIDES:  all French seams!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Golden Maple

There is nothing quite as refreshing as a change of scenery.  I love the fact that the holidays change up the atmosphere as well as the sights around town, and yet a full out location modification, if only for a day here and there, is the real elixir.  We’ve been taking advantage of the acres of land (a road trip away) which my husband’s family still owns.  It is the remnants of what was once a much larger farm, already old when the third generation back bought it.  The promise of no one around but us and plenty of personal space with a variety of exciting nature to hear, see, and absorb was wonderful. 

Of course, I couldn’t help but try out wearing my newest vintage dress creation for one of this season’s trips out to the farmland.  Not that I did the actual property hiking or upkeep work in this (I save that for boots, a worn-in shirt, and denim overalls). Nevertheless, this dress interpreted the colors and feel of the farm to me – rustic, beautiful, fun, and freeing!  The old family property is our new safe place to be ourselves, reset, and find renewed refreshment.  Similarly, this new dress is a cozy, cheerful, and easy on the eyes.  This is already a cold weather favorite piece to wear!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Lady McElroy Textured Jersey Knit Fabric, in “Golden Gentle Harmonie” print, in polyester from Minerva Crafts and Fabric

PATTERN:  Simplicity 5850, year 1973, from my pattern stash

NOTIONS:  All I needed was matching thread and a 22” long back zipper

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress took me only 5 hours to go from start to finish.  It was completed on October 22, 2020.

TOTAL COST:  about $25

The background color is very interestingly unique and hard to capture accurately.  It is not really a yellow, but neither is it an orange.  Minerva’s listing seems to call it a gold, but it more coppery than that.    The closest I can swatch it through the Pantone colors is “Autumn Maple” #17-1145.  The dress’ color reminds me of a heavily spiced pumpkin pie, or baked sweet potatoes – yum! 

For being a 70’s dress, I see this a step above the stereotype of the era.  It is has an elegance of silhouette inspired by the 30s and simple lines that could be from any of the past several decades.  The angled empire waistline is so lovely!  There are your run-of-the-mill tapered sleeves…no bell sleeves, and no puff sleeves. The back has a long 22 inch zipper making this super simple to get on for an instant put-together look.  The skirt has a lovely swish to it between the bit of bias cut and stretch of the knit.  As easy to sew as it was, I don’t know why it wasn’t one of those minimal piece designs called “Jiffy” patterns.  After all, I was able to pull off cutting out this dress on only 2 yards of material (60 inch width).  If a dress like this comes together as quickly as this did in one evening, then I am a very happy girl indeed!

The ‘turtleneck’ is not as overpowering as or even similar to a 90’s turtleneck – the back envelope summary technically labels it as a stand-up collar.  This high neck can be found as an added option on many dress patterns from the late 60’s to the mid-70’s.  It really is the perfect balance that keeps my neck warm but not suffocated.  The instructions did not call for interfacing or even facing to any part of the dress, and as I was working with a knit I was happy to oblige.  Unfortunately though, the pattern wanted only one layer for the stand-up collar with a simple hem along the top edge.  What?!  I went ahead and cut out two layers of material to face each other for a clean finish and stronger collar piece.  This slight change of mine made for a much nicer neckline.

What is this trademarked “Look Slimmer” label to this pattern, I wonder?  I understand it’s self-explanatory yet I am curious why Simplicity began this line in the first place and what body type was their intended audience.  If anything, such a selling point sure helped me feel more confident about using a large print floral for a longer length dress.  Surely a design that slims the body must be able to pull off an oversized print, right?  Longer length, long sleeved, warmer winter dresses always make me sense that I may lose a complimentary body conscious appearance in the effort to stay warm in the cold.  I sometimes felt as bulky as the “Stay-Puft” man (from the original ’84 Ghostbusters movie) in the winter clothes I had growing up.  Yet, this dress manages to hide the layers I am wearing underneath here…amazing!

Paging through the rest of my 70’s pattern stash, I now realized I do have a few more of these “Look Slimmer” designs.  They do all rather seem way too similar to each other so I can’t imagine a gal back when these came out buying too many patterns from this line unless she was okay with not a lot of variety.  Nevertheless, that is a great promise to include on a pattern cover and I do believe it holds rather true even in a print such as the one I chose, even with a few extra clothes layered underneath.  When you are out in the middle of almost nowhere away from home, letting yourself grow cold is unwise and not fun at all.  If I can look good taking care of such practicality, even when no one but family sees me, all the better.

I hope my fellow Americans had a happy, healthy, and hearty Thanksgiving holiday celebration.  Who is already begun getting ready for the next holiday?  We did chop down a cedar tree at the farm land, mostly to refurbish our coat closet for protection against clothes moths.  Yet, we also posted up in our living room the small little top portion of the tree leftover.  As we never have a tree up before Thanksgiving, we did not decorate it, but still…I guess, unofficially, Christmas has already started early here, too.  

A Few ‘Unmentionable’ Sewing Projects…

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

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

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

THE FACTS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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