Late 30’s Dress Sports Halter and Bolero

Our trip to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to see the exhibit “Stitching History from the Holocaust” (see this post for an entire report about it) gave me a goal of sewing a new, era-matching outfit to wear for the occasion!  I love sewing especially when it comes to making something for a trip – to me, it’s the epitome of a special occasion and lets my outfits get a real purpose outside of the norm.  I also wanted to continue my respect for the story of Hedy Strnad with what I wore for our visit.

The woman drawn in each of Hedy’s designs of “Stitching History from the Holocaust” were the classic ideal for the late 30s.  She exudes assertiveness as she goes out into the world participating in a fully modern life of enjoying leisure time, shopping, making her own money, and taking care of her well-being.  Overall, a woman of the late 30s showed she is an equal part of society with fashions that displayed her unique personality and spunk with a combination of simplicity and complexity.  Even though the women on the cover of my outfit’s pattern are demurely looking downward, I do feel that my sports halter dress and bolero is part of that sort of womanly ideal!

This is a fun and comfy set which was perfect for the slightly cool weather of Milwaukee in the summer, with its northern breezes coming off of Lake Michigan, which you see behind me in our pictures.  It is vintage a la New York style circa 1938 or 1940, but to me it looks timeless.  I was so put together but still casual…an unusual combination that is so awesome to come upon.  I never like to look sloppy on our trips – I like the old-school way of going abroad in style.  There never is any need to be otherwise when the outfits I make feel as good as wearing a nightgown but visually are quite different!  Besides, how often do you see orange for summertime?  It’s quite cheerful when not just reserved for Halloween. My outfit is so easy to move in – I mean look at my full bias skirt – and the denim chambray of my dress and linen of my bolero are wonderful fabrics to feel against the skin.

Most importantly, though, our trip to Milwaukee gave me a good prod to finally get this outfit done in the first place.  I’ve only wanted to sew up this set together for the last several years!  So many sewing ideas and too little amount of time means there are many that get pushed back in my queue.  It is quite satisfying to get to these backburner projects!  I now wonder the reason why I always let this particular outfit project slide for so long, because I heartily enjoy wearing this set…but especially the very useful bolero!  I suppose this outfit was merely waiting for the right occasion…

This post is the first installment in my new ongoing series of an “Indian Summer of the Sundress”

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  DRESS – an all-cotton lightweight denim chambray (same as what I used for these pants but in a darker wash) together with a fat quarter of printed quilting cotton for the orange contrast; BOLERO – a dense, soft finish, loose-weave linen (leftover from making this dress) for the exterior and a sheer cotton handkerchief cotton as lining

PATTERN:  an unprinted New York #273 pattern, circa 1938, for the dress and (at left) Vintage Vogue #8812, a 2012 reprint of a year 1940 pattern, for the bolero jacket

NOTIONS:  What I used from on hand was thread, bias tape, snaps, bra cup liner, and bits of interfacing.  I bought a specialty Tim Holtz brand orange buffed metal exposed zipper for the back closure and some bright orange flower clearance buttons close up the back neck.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This set was finished in early August 2018 after about 30 hours spent to make both items.  The bolero took only 4 or 5 hours to complete out of the 30 total!

THE INSIDES:  Both are cleanly bias bound on all edges

TOTAL COST:  $20 or under

From seeing full-skirted, halter-style garments paired with a separate cover-up pop up again and again in between 1936 and 1940 respectively, this is seems to be a short-lived (but popular) sports and leisure set.  I’ve been saving pictures like nobody’s business of these types of sets, entranced by the style they exude even when doing things that are meant for fun, health, and relaxation.  I admire how the 1930s brought fashion into all aspects of life, and I mean fashion that is just as spot-on and put together as dressy wear.  Women were heartily encouraged to be active, healthy, and powerfully self-assured with themselves, and it showed in what they wore.  Thus the popularity for halter bodices which display a confidence in baring strong shoulders and arms!

Very bare backs and free shoulders were so popular in the 30’s.  They had a different air when coming from an evening gown design, but for these halter-neck garments it left full movement for tennis and golf, two of the sports women are mostly shown enjoying in such outfits.  A bolero makes such a skin-baring garment more presentable for a greater variety of occasions, as the 1930s – for all its high fashion – still made things so smart and useful.  I find my little bolero perfect for going indoors where air conditioning is almost always blasting too cold and it makes my dress fit to be seen as respectful in a church!

Both pieces were pretty easy to make – the bolero more so (obviously).  Both the dress and jacket, however, received much hand stitching so they were more time-consuming than could be expected using only my machine.  I wanted them to turn out well!  The bolero is something I want to last me many years, especially since it matches with almost everything in my summer wardrobe, so I needed to do the hemming and edging by hand.  The sundress’ denim makes any thread color very obvious, which would be okay on jeans or something meant to be a lot more casual than this, in my opinion.  No visible stitching elevates it from a mere handmade to something nicer, I think, and aligns with the quality and time-honored construction methods used on garments of the 30s.

Both patterns came together without a fitting hitch.  The bolero was rather a no brainer-type of make because I had used the pattern once already to make the matching sundress (see the dress’ post here) and I felt assured (rightly so, it turns out) of its success as it is so simple.  The dress somewhat made me nervous because New York patterns from the 30’s and 40’s seem to have funky sizing and proportions, in my experience.  They seem to have small shoulders, long hems and very small hips and waist.  Again, I was right with my sizing estimate and besides a small, extra ¼ dart I had to add to the side bust of the halter bodice, my dress turned out fitting me perfectly.

I did not have to worry about this New York pattern’s shoulders (as they are open), but the dress did come down to ankle length unhemmed.  Three inches were cut from the bottom and I gave the dress a deep 4 inch hem, which ends up nicely weighing the skirt down ever so gently.  It is now closer to a late 1930s midi length…perfect for keeping my knees covered when running or sporting or climbing in and out of public transportation vehicles!

I simplified the one pattern and had to fill in for the other.  Old patterns do not generally give you all those fussy tricky facing pieces or edge finishing guides that you get in new patterns.  In many cases, even the reprints or re-issues such as Vintage Vogue have drafted those pieces for the patterns sold today.  I normally do not like those facing pieces and much prefer a full lining, but sometimes they are needed.  For the dress, I used the edge facing pieces to cut out the interfacing and ironed that to the lining.  Then the entire “second bolero” in the form of the sheer cotton lining was put inside and stitched along the edges.  Bias tape used to turn under the raw edges.  The dress tissue had no pieces for anything besides the dress itself, and the instructions call for bias finishing, which I did.  The back neck closure needed something much more stable then edge finishing so I used the last 5 inches of the halter strap pattern to trace out a double.  Then I interfaced it, sewed it down (right sides together), and turned it under for a full facing that is clean and fully covered right or wrong side!  Old patterns trust you to either know what you’re doing or to figure out what needs to be done, and I find this confidence in the user is great for advancing or keeping up one’s sewing skills.  Just don’t let this feature of old patterns turn you off, please!

Yes, I did quite change up the back of the dress…but who would really want all those buttons to close blindly reaching behind or poking uncomfortably over your backside?!  Also, too, with a zipper – and a modern exposed one at that – I can both get the dress to fit me more snugly and update it to seem current.  I merely sewed up the back along the center front line which ran through the buttons and button holes.  Along the same thought, I made the back neckline of the halter close with two heavy-duty, large snaps.  Two buttons over the top of them create a deception.  The front bottom half of the dress was changed for the better, too, because I left out the center front seam to the skirt, lining up that former seam line with the fabric’s fold to end up with a beautiful bias half circle.  The motion to this skirt as one piece with no seam and the way it flows with me to keep me covered as I stay active is fantastic – the very reason this is a sporty dress.

The collar points were made according the pattern and turned out atrociously long and out-of-place.  They hung out over the edge of the dress and onto the front of my upper arm.  That would not do!  As I had no more scraps to cut recovery pieces, nor did I even consider the laborious task of total unpicking, I took the imperfect shortcut of folding the collar in half into a better (smaller) shape and stitching it down by hand to the underside.  The perfectionist inside me cringes that I even did this, buy hey – it really does look fine and turned out nice, especially compared to how it was (bad enough that I didn’t take a ‘before’ picture).  This ‘fix’ caused so much extra hand-stitching, but it was still better than unpicking and starting over.  I wouldn’t have had my dress done in time for the trip if I had done the proper way of fixing the collar.  It’s always better to have something you are happy to be wearing – perfect or not – than put yourself through a misery doing things “right” in sewing to the point you are no longer interested in finishing your project!  At some time in the future, I might come back to this dress and do things right, as I do for some of my projects.  When I feel up to replacing that sleeve, adding a pocket, cleaning up a seam, or correcting something done not “just-so” is better than forcing it.

To keep things simple and modest for wearing this halter, especially since the denim is so lightweight, I sewed mesh brassiere cups into the dress for an all-in-one garment.  I think I’ve only done such a thing once before.  However, as this outfit was to see its first use on a trip, and I like to be the type of person that travels with one suitcase (NOT a “bring the kitchen sink” type of person), a bra sewn in the dress was a wonderful detail which made my life easier…and more comfortable!  Now that the trip is past, I find myself reaching for this dress again and again because of how nice it is with the bra cups attached inside.  The middle netting between the cups was stitched to the center seam of the bodice, tacked at the bust darts, and the side elastic was stretched and stitched to the side seams.  You really don’t want to tack down bra cups at too many places for a lightweight, unlined dress like this otherwise they will pull at the garment and become terribly obvious.

I already have a weak spot for the late 30’s fashion, and this outfit now makes my addition all the worse.  I don’t know if it’s just because I know the culture’s ideals for back then, but I think that 1930s clothes do still lend a wonderful feeling of empowerment when they’re worn.  They give women a chance to unabashedly embrace their body figure with shapely fashions and offer great opportunity to enjoy playing with color and accessories combinations.  They provide a means to exercise and relax in something just as comfy as modern athletic wear but which is so much more colorful, unique, and feminine.  They are often bold and unusual, but that is generally what is attractive about clothes from this era.  By the compliments I receive on my me-made clothes and the discussions I have with others who don’t sew, I realize people are dying for clothes that are fun, that they can enjoy, and that make them feel like themselves.  The late 1930s does that for me in a special way different from all the other eras I wear.  I hope you’re ready for more fashions from the late 30’s because I have plenty more to come!

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Indian Summer of the Sundress

Here it is – the first of October – and were we live the weather should be (and normally does) feel like fall.  Sure, we have an occasional cool day with a clear and earthy smell in the air as a promise that the next season is still to come…sometime.  Instead of fall, we are still melting in what we call an “Indian Summer” – a hot spell coming after the autumn equinox (also known as a “badger summer” in Sweden, “old woman’s summer” in Slavic countries, or “second summer” in Britain’s old English just to name a few).  My country’s term for this weather is a phase that may best be described as pejorative.  It has been in use here since circa 1790s and its origins are quite hazy and unclear, though.  In his extremely thorough research, though, Albert Matthews, a Bostonian who spent 12 years in the late 19th century gathering together dozens of the earliest uses of the phrase, never discovered a convincing explanation for what the expression meant. It is a lovely time of the year that doesn’t come annually, and it was traditionally used to fully finish one’s winter preparations.

Nevertheless, I love warm temperatures, so although completely out-of-season, I’m not complaining…only happy that my sundresses and sandals are seeing some good use!  Not content with that and contrary to it’s tradition, I find this weather as a reason to keep sewing the sundresses I have been wanting to make for a long time.  I want to soak up every minute of sundress weather while I still can before I have to wait 8 or so months for it to come back!!

Thus, I will be having a small on-going series over the next few months of my sundress makes from this late summer spell of warmth we are experiencing.  It is because I love my new sundresses and want to brighten up the season of chilly weather we will be having soon with what I am posting, but also because I realize that all my readers are not in my same zone and might be transitioning into spring and early summer coming up, so a warm weather garment might be good for ideas.

Now, what is a sundress?  To summarize it (as it does have a loose meaning) it is a sleeveless, informal dress in made of lighter weight fabrics to be worn in warm weather.  Post 1960s to modern times, a sundress is a bit different than what the past decades, especially the 1920s and 1930s, understood as a sundress.  I will explore some of this by showing the variety of sundresses I have made – from which is one 1920s inspired, to one from each of the next four decades after that.

A Sybil Connolly Skirt Suit

Of all the items I have made in my life, it is hard to believe that only now is my very first sewing using a designer Vogue pattern! Even though this might not be the most spectacular or glamorous project to start with, the beauty is in the details and the rich, significant background of the designer.  This is also a very comfortable and useful dressy set, to boot!  I present my year 1976 suit set of Sybil Connolly, the leader and founder of Irish Couture.

First of all, I want to say that I am counting this as part of my 21st century progressive Easter day creations I have been making since 2013, starting with a dress in the year 1929 style.  Since that Easter day outfit, I make something from the following decade for the next year’s holiday.  (See my 1930s Easter dress here, and my 1940s one here.)  Only since I made this set from the year 1954 did I begin keeping with suiting. This year 2018 was naturally supposed to be something from the 1970’s (after this one last year from 1960), but as our Easter day turned out to be incredibly cold and snowy, this suit set had to be put off being showcased until the next spring holiday – Mother’s day!  Happily, the grass and trees were overly lush and green by the time I wore my new vintage suit set!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a cotton-rayon blend “linen-look” material, in a solid orchid color for the contrast and a floral for the rest of the set.  Leftover polyester lining (in a matching orchid pinkish purple) from my stash was used to line the jacket inside.

PATTERN:  Vogue #1503, year 1977

NOTIONS:  I pretty much had everything I needed – thread, zipper, interfacing, and bias tape.  The only thing I needed to buy for this specifically was a button making kit for matching fabric buttons!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was a relatively easy pattern for being a detailed designer project – but of course leaving out the skirt lining step helped, too.  I made my suit set in about 25 hours’ worth of time and it was finished on April 8, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  I’ll admit I took the easy road here for the internal finishing.  My seams are covered by the lining for the jacket body, left raw for the sleeve seams inside the arm, and bias bound for the skirt.  Bias seams are not my preference for making my own copy of a designer garment, neither are raw edges, but this fabric doesn’t really fray and I wanted my set done for Easter-time…only I didn’t wear it for Easter anyway!  Oh well.

TOTAL COST:  This fabric was bought on deep discount when the now defunct Hancock Fabrics had been closing several years back.  I believe I bought the fabric for about $2 a yard. With about 3 yards used, and the notions I bought, this suit set cost me just over $10…how awesome is that?!

For some reason, I found it incredibly difficult to find a dressy suit set from the decade of the 1970s.  I have a sneaky suspicion that this is due to the casualness that the youthful-oriented and stretchy knit fashions introduced, as well as the greater political and social liberties of women.  Enough said.  Whatever the reason, suits of the 1970’s seem to be quite relaxed, mostly with pants for the bottom half, and frequently with a tunic-style jacket or a safari-style over shirt.  Leave it to a designer to offer my taste just what I was hoping for but having trouble finding!  This suit feels unpretentious, but still polished, as well as being timeless with a 70’s flair.  It was just enough of a challenge to make, yet still easy enough to enjoy the sewing.  It has unexpected details to make my creative heart flutter yet these are subtle enough to go unnoticed to the casual observation.  Besides, now I have the opportunity to both appreciate and share the story of a designer that deserves to be better known.

Ireland had long been considered a country without its own fashion.  Sybil Connolly changed that.  She had been brought up in Waterford County, and trained as an apprentice dressmaker in London starting in the late 1930’s at seventeen and by the time she was twenty-two (WWII times) she was a workroom manager and company director for Jack Clarke, a fashion retailer in Dublin.  In 1954, Carmel Snow, then the editor of Harper’s Bazaar, discovered Sybil Connolly who had just come out with her first collection, featuring the use of her native Irish fabrics and embellishments, most notably Irish linen, only the year before.  With the combined help of the Irish exports board, Connolly launched Irish Couture into an international spotlight with her introduction to New York’s fashion scene.  What she made often showed a woman’s natural body form (in contrast to the likes of Balenciaga) with such dresses as her white crocheted evening dress that was featured on the cover of LIFE magazine in August 1953.  Her inspiration the sentiment A woman’s body is inside. It breathes. It moves. So I must see movement in a dress.”  By being true to herself, her tastes, her roots, and her determination, she stood out in the fashion world, gave women attractive options to wear, and gained a new respect from the world for her culture.  By March of 1955, Vogue magazine was mentioning Dublin in the same sentence as Paris, London, and Milan!

Connolly was adamant about using her fashion line to support business and export trade in Ireland, by not only using Irish textile manufacturers, but even employing over 50 local women to hand make some of her laces. At the Glencolumbkill Agricultural show in 1956, she had said, “I feel that as long as we can show such beauty in design and texture as we do in our Irish cottage industries, we cannot ever be called a vanishing race.”  Click here for a “Glamourdaze” article to watch (in color!) Sybil Connolly’s 1957 fashion show at a lovely Irish castle.  Most of her designs at this time were inspired by rural, traditional garments and materials.  This is cultural approbation at its finest.

For me, I have strong Irish roots on both sides of my family, Sybil Connolly’s work is a personal thing that touches a tender spot.  I too love and appreciate the fine laces that my Irish (paternal) Grandmother hoarded (which I now have) as well as the Irish simple beauty of life that my Irish (maternal) Grandfather enjoyed.  If you follow my blog you have already seen and read my great appreciation for linen, in all its forms.  Now, I know – my suit is not real linen.  It’s made from modern linen-look fabric.  It’s also not in a solid color, as was her wont in her creations.  However, I feel that this is me personalizing my own Sybil Connolly fashion, and I can see this step as something she would approve.  I love a linen-look fabric, and I LOVE a purple print…so, this is a set that is all me, for me, designed by a woman that I respect who has my same cultural ties.

This pattern is from 1976, though, decades after the height of her career (the 1950s).  She had dressed all the most well-known social and political names such as Jackie Kennedy, the Rockefellers, and Liz Taylor through the 60’s and began designing for Tiffany & Co. (glassware) as well as releasing luxury home goods (such as fine table linens) by the 1980s.  So this, pattern was at the far end of her fashion career, when she was trading talents.  I have seen that her mid-to late 1970s patterns have very similar, repetitive qualities to my own pattern’s set.  Many of her skirts (excepting her trademark hand-pleated, taffeta-backed linen skirts) have the same paneling with pockets (see Vogue #2998).  Many of her garments had a recognizable continuity even in 1992 as they did 40 years earlier.

Often, designers who began in the pre-WWII times (such as Mainbocher) had difficulty dealing with the harshly contrasting ‘hip’ and youthful trends of the 60’s-70’s-80’s.  However, she was a multi-faceted woman (she even wrote books!) and found a way to keep her head up apparently to still have wonderful, lovely designs like this pattern for many decades.  That is pure ingenuity and a stamp of a classic style.  Connolly maintained that she knew, as all women designers should, that “good fashion does not need to change”.

One of the major details which slightly dates this suit is the enormous collar.  This is so 1970s and a natural style for Connolly to adopt here to be on point for 1976.  An oversized collar is the most common, recognizable feature to shirts and jacket necklines that I see and make from the 1970s.  Other than that, the rest of the details are pretty timeless, and finely crafted.  The sleeves are the classic two panel style seen on most suits.  The body of the jacket has a princess seam running vertical down through the bust, starting from sleeve and running to the hem, separating the front from the side panel.  The side bodice panel has a sneaky extra shaping dart close to where the side seam is while the back is pretty bare bones, yet still shaped nicely.  As this is supposed to be a warm weather jacket, I didn’t line the sleeves and I left out the shoulder pads to keep this lightweight.

As I left off the bias tube belt the pattern called for to wear over the jacket, I instead made sure to keep another accessory detail that can be spotted on the example garment shown on the pattern envelope cover.  Can you find it?  I made my own clip on fabric flower to match for the collar!  I used the 1950’s Dior-style bias method (which you can see here or here) to start with and slightly adapted it so the flower is more compact like a double rose.  Making fabric flowers is my new favorite thing to do with my scraps.  Not only does it use leftover fabric, but I end up with a wonderful matching accessory.  Plus it’s fun (very important) and is an excellent way to practice precise hand sewing.  Small-scale, often time-consuming details like this fabric rose remind me of the labor of love which went into Connolly’s creations.

My favorite feature to this set is possibly the smart button placket to the jacket.  It is only on the exterior front, made a bit more obvious by my solid contrast color.  There is only a wide facing on the inside.  This is unusual but lovely.  I couldn’t find it in my heart to break up the color and texture of the front placket by using anything other than matching fabric buttons, so I bought a kit to make them myself.   I feel like this brings the jacket’s detailing to a whole new level equal to a designer pattern.

My next favorite feature is the smart pockets in the unexpected gore design of the skirt.  It is a four panel (or gore) skirt with no side seams.  There are center panels in the front and the back, with one wrap-around panel to either side.  The waistline has small darts coming out of it, ending at the high hip, adding shaping there in the absence of a side seam.  I think I have only seen no side seams with a side seam darts with my 50’s pencil skirts (here and here), so it is another uncommon feature for the 70’s.  With such seaming, do you know where the zipper closing went?  In the left back side seam.  This makes it kind of tricky to close unless I twist it around to the front of me while dressing.  The pattern called for a flap closing back much like the front buttoning fly to men’s trousers and historical breeches.  I simplified that by sewing one side closed then adding a zip in the other.  Then I continued with the contrasting color I had been using on the jacket to make the skirt waistband out of the solid orchid color linen-look, as well.

I suppose you have noticed my hands slipped into some well hidden front skirt pockets.  What you may not have detected was how the skirt is a straight A-line shape from the front, while the back is gently fuller.  Anyway – back to the pockets!  They are so handy in the way that they are deep and generous to hold many things, and they are at the perfect height for my arm length.  The pockets inside swoop in towards one another, and to keep them that way there is a small length of bias tape to connect the two.  Whenever there are pockets like this I always think of them in connection to a kangaroo, because they give me room to hold things over my tummy!

The pattern I had was a slightly bigger size than what I needed, so I used the same method I used for this 60’s dress.  I cut off the seam allowance on the side and shoulder seams, and made slightly wider seam allowances.  Read more about it in this post.  I’m really liking the perfect fit I end up with this method.

I am now quite eager to dive into my next vintage Vogue designer pattern.  I have already bought a few more while I was in the post-project happiness – among them ones from the 80’s and 90’s for my Easter suits of the next two years!  I love how designer patterns give me a reason and opportunity to learn more about the talents, individuality, and biography of garment creators that made it big.  Unfortunately some of them have been better remembered in history than others!  In fact I prefer the forgotten or little known designers because it helps me associate myself better with them.  I might be sewing using a designer pattern, but most importantly anything I make means I become my own designer.  Home sewing is so underestimated.  One person does all the jobs of a whole fashion house.

Sybil Connolly had bystanders remark of her (at a party she attended in 1946, before she had her own line of clothing) that “Wearing her own designed dress, she was her own best model.”  That is my ideal, to have me – the creator of what I make – be the foremost representation for what can be accomplished at the hands of a dedicated seamstress.  It’s like wearing your art on your back and being your own silent spokesperson for what you do.  Whether it gets seen or appreciated, that fact should alone make one who sews happy.  You don’t need what you make be strutted down the runway to be proved it’s worthwhile…nowadays, half of what is seen on the runways is trash in my opinion anyway.  Just make sure what you make for yourself is 100% you for you to show the beauty, individuality, and artistry to the powerful talent of sewing!

Water Nymph

The month of April is synonymous with being wet from spring showers.  The month also frequently hosts the holiday of Easter as well.  I think I’ll just be ‘one’ with it all!

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To me, there is almost nothing that equals the calming noise, relaxing loveliness, and happy beauty of being at a woodland pond and trickling creek.  Top this off with a perfect spring afternoon and Eastertime – and we couldn’t ask for a better place to hang out, do some weekend recuperating, and take some photos of my newest dress.  It is made from a simple pattern at the heart of the “Flower Child” era, 1969, and has a water-marked sort of faded tie-dye knit to match.  My inner “nature goddess” needed a self-made lilac flower crown to complete the whole ensemble!  However, for some of my pictures later on you’ll see me stripped of the sash belt, flower crown, and even shoes to go more ‘natural’…

I see pastels everywhere (fashion-wise) this season, and I am not one to purposefully follow trends, but the new, rayon-based, super-soft knits at my local fabric store tempted me, too much.  They also happen to be a designer line!  Now I can be on trend, yet still sneak in my vintage love with this dress, he he.  Vogue 7463, late 1968 or early 1969

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a Kathy Davis Designer brand knit “Eraser Purple”- 97% Rayon 3% Spandex knit.

PATTERN: a Vogue #7463, from either late 1968 or early 1969

NOTIONS:  nothing but thread and two small strips of interfacing were needed –simple!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  the dress was finished on April 1 (2016) after about 8 hours spent to make it up.

TOTAL COST:  This fabric was a very recent purchase from my local Jo Ann’s fabric store.  I spent about $18 for two yards…a bit more than what I’m used to spending but worth it for a designer printed dress like this one!

This garment is part of two sewing challenges actually – the “Wardrobe Builder” dress project for April as well as the “Easter-Spring Dress” sew-a-long.  It is part of the “Wardrobe Builder” project because firstly, it is a dress, plus being one that is so very practical yet dressy at the same time.  This combo should make this a nice go-to for early spring, especially since it has long sleeves to keep me warm enough through the chilliness we so frequently have through the season.  My dress is part of the “Easter-Spring Dress” sew-a-long because of the obvious…it is perfect for spring and was specifically made to wear on Palm Sunday. This is part one of two dresses for this sew-a-long.

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Only because the design was so simple was I able to plan for two new garments for Easter time!  Although it is simple, the design is first class.  The instructions were very complicated for what one would think looking at the cover envelope picture and design lines of the dress.  The instructions were meant for a fully lined dress with fancy tailoring and made of a flowing woven as suggested by pattern back.  My own dress was much simplified, mostly due to the fact it’s merely made from a single layer of a drapey knit with no seam edge finishing.  I’ll admit I am not used to working with true vintage Vogue patterns – maybe such thorough instructions, fine designs, and nice details are the norm of all their offerings, whatever era they come from.  I do generally love the modern “Vintage Vogue” line of patterns for those same features.  Maybe, I just have a new ‘need’ to find and make some more old Vogue patterns!DSC_0036-comp,w

The rayon knit has a shifty, heavy drape so the wide bateau neckline, which is the highlight of the dress, needed to be interfaced.  I used a stiff, sew-in mid weight interfacing attached to just the one-piece, self-facing which gets turned inside the neckline.  However, the rest of the dress was left without anything to stabilize the seams and this seems to work out fine, but I still am not sure.  Was I supposed to add in seam tape to the long French bust darts, at least – or maybe to the side seams, too?  I didn’t.  The dress seems slightly generous in fit the way and I supposed it was because of the nature fabric but I don’t mind – it only adds to the comfort of wearing it.  However, I do have a very strong suspicion that this dress will “grow” after every wash, the fabric getting slightly bigger and out of shape.  That’s why they added in spandex to the rayon, to prevent this, so I shouldn’t be suspect.  So…for now I’m happy with it the way it is and if it does “grow” on me the more I wash and wear DSC_0047-comp,wit, I suppose I’ll either take it in or/and add on the seam tape then.

Only minor adjustment were made – to lengthen the dress hem and sleeve length by one inch.  I like this length of the dress (and it has a 2 inch hem) but the sleeves took about a 4 ½ inch hem to get them to the length they are and they are still a tad long.  Other than the fact that the sleeve armpit seam dips rather low for my preference and I raised by just under and inch, this dress was straightforward to make.

My floral crown was made from artificial lilac stems bought at the dollar store, carefully layered and wrapped around a band of floral wire with floral tape.  This coronet only cost $1 and I’m so pleased I could spend so little to come up with something every bit as lovely as I had hoped.  I would totally wear this out much more than I will, in fact – boo hoo.  It is so fun!  Hubby lets me do my own thing with my projects and outfits, but this floral crown makes him sigh and roll his eyes at me…really?!  Yes, really – it is awesome to wear just what I want and frolic in a lovely flower crown, just because I came up with an idea and was able to make something of it.  Luckily, previous experience from briefly working at a floral shop came in handy here…

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I do have to laugh at myself that I sew with a non-floral fabric and have it in my mind that it is inspired by nature.  It figures!  Oh well – after spending the week before at home being sick, this outfit gave me the prod I needed to get out and enjoy my favorite part of the outdoors.  Inspiration is everywhere.

For more pictures of my ‘frolicking’ through nature in this outfit check out my Instagram!

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“Atomic Jacks” 1955 Set of Redingote Jacket and Dress

I’ve sewn it again…here is another look-alike to the fashion of the corrupt character of Whitney Frost on Marvel’s TV show “Agent Carter”, Season Two.  This time I have an outfit to show you of a dress and redingote jacket, inspired from episode 8 “The Edge of Mystery” to be precise.  I am so proud at how this outfit turned out better than I’d imagined it for myself, and it’s so wonderful to wear!  I even found an eerily similar silk scarf and leather-like driving gloves, all vintage, to properly complete my Whitney outfit.

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Both garments are absolutely great, however the dress was a bit overwhelming to make as it had a huge amount of ease on top of generously large fabric-hogging pieces.  The jacket is so amazing I want to convince everyone they need to brace themselves for the challenge of making this pattern – the most lovely design of outwear I could possibly want.

DSC_0860-p-compBe prepared for some dramatic poses, and a disturbing crack down my face opening up a force to be reckoned with…just like the villainess who wears my inspired outfit.  Yeah, it sounds weird to put myself in the shoes (through an outfit) of a megalomaniac with powers from another dimension, but Whitney Frost, like many women, was on a quest for purpose and respect…she just went down the worst path imaginable.

THE FACTS:

FABRICS:  The Dress: a Gertie brand 100% cotton sateen, The Jacket: a 100% Kona cotton for the exterior, a basic poly lining for the inside, a buff poly satin for the pocket flaps and belt, and a 100% cotton for the bias binding. 

PATTERNS:  The dress comes from an original 1955 Advance #7095 pattern and the jacket comes from a Vintage Vogue #8875, a re-print of a year 1955 and 1957 pattern (originally V#4771).  The pocket flaps were added on from an original year 1948 pattern, McCall #7354. McCall 7354, yr1948 & Advance 7095, yr 1955-comp

NOTIONS:  I had the interfacing that I needed, as well as the dress’ thread, zipper, and packaged bias tape, but the jacket needed thread to be bought and I made my own bias tape.  The buckle is from my stash and it is vintage carved shell.

THE INSIDES:  All nicely finished.  The dress has all bias bound seams and the jacket is fully lined.

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TIME TO COMPLETE:  Both the dress and the jacket were a bit time intensive.  My dress was made in about 10 hours (not counting maybe three hours for cutting and laying out) and done on June 8, 2016.  The jacket was made in about 30 hours (with about 4 hours for cutting and laying out) and finished on July 1, 2016.

TOTAL COST:  The dress took so much fabric (5 something yards) I’m not sure of the total anymore, but I think it is about $25 to $30.  The jacket was less because half of my supplies (the lining, satin, organza, and some thread) were on hand so my total for 4 yards of Kona cotton on sale with one yard of a remnant for bias tape comes to a total of about $23.

Whitney at atomic siteFirst off, I need to vent…this is not a costume, in the particular definition of being something for cosplay, stage, theater, or an out-of-place garment.  It is clothing I want to wear in my modern living (the jacket is something I needed, actually) and was merely inspired by something on television to go the extra mile for a great outfit.  That’s good, right?!  I kept my outfit similar in shape, color tone, and style, but it is according to my own taste and personality because I intend to wear these pieces in my daily life, such as out to dinner, vintage shopping with friends, or to church.  However, I will admit this would be perfect for the next in town cosplay event and it is fun to understand a character by stepping in her shoes, besides feeling like I could be a part of my favorite television show (see the television still at left with Wynn Everett playing Whitney Frost).

To top off the irony of my rant, the Advance pattern envelope actually calls it a “costume dress”…don’t understand why.  This is an original pattern to make what looks like a very normal mid-50’s dress, albeit quite poufy.  I’m assuming the use of ‘costume’ here is meant in the term of “fashion of dress appropriate to a particular occasion or season or a set of garments to put together an outfit.” Honestly, this all confusing grammar particulars.

Of all the weird things I’ve found in pattern envelopes, the Advance pattern had double pieces, as if someone bought two.  Why just double of the bodice, the skirt side panels, and collar pieces?  To further complicate the mystery here, the skirt double pattern pieces were cut in half, like the previous maker intended on cutting those on the fold, and sliced accordingly.  All the pattern pieces are the same size as each other, so why buy another just to cut two pieces in half?!  After all the unnecessary pieces, the pocket top band is missing, and there is one of everything else.  Was somebody making a lining?  Oh the stories these patterns could tell…

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I expected the dress pattern’s fit to be normal or at least semi-generous, but this Advance dress had the most unexplained extra ease of any pattern I’ve made.  It was like a gi-normous fabric monster.  The skirt pattern pieces were so huge, I had to taper off several inches on each side of all of them and they are still incredibly full.  Several inches had been taken out at the bottom hem because it seemed evening length long, and also to help fit everything in.  I had bought 4 yards already and still realized I did not enough for all of the pattern pieces.  To top things off, I miss-cut on one piece and had to frantically search amid town to find the last remnant so I could finish my dress.  As it turned out, I hacked off 6 more inches from the hem to get my dress the length you see and even sewed up the duo of giant pockets (which I didn’t add), so I guess I sort of wasted a bit too much fabric here.  The pattern I had was technically in my size but I did add in 3/8 inch so I could have a little “just-in-case room”, but I ended up taking out a few inches all over any way, distributing it between the panels.  The empire waist down is still kind of generous on me but I can only take so much in before I give up on reaching that “perfect fit”.  What was the deal?! DSC_0857-comp

For all my saying how huge the skirt pieces were, this dress is such a feminine, swishy, perfect-for-twirling outfit made even better with my full ruffled petticoat underneath.  My petticoat does not remotely fill the skirt out though.  The wide, oval, shoulder-to-shoulder neckline does balance out the vertical seamed skirt, compliments the waist, and creates a lovely 50’s silhouette which I think works for me.

The ‘anchor’ of the dress is of course the dramatically subtle collar-like neckline.  It was quite fiddly, time-consuming, and difficult compared to the rest of the dress.  The combination of a curved, interfaced, skinny strap, faced with another piece and attaching to the full dress with four gathered sections, too, was stressful, requiring lots of pins and slow stitching.  The front tabs end at the same place at the neckline, which was also tricky, then flipped under one another

Whitney and Thompson making a deal-croppedWhitney’s dress had a remotely similar neckline collar, except hers was folded over (free hanging) and tied in the center front.  Her dress has quarter sleeves and center bust gathers while mine has is neither, but our dresses do share the same skirt shaping.  Also, her dress was a solid purple in some sort of jacquard (in maybe rayon or silk) while mine is not, but I prefer the printed cotton sateen to stay true to my taste.  Besides, the children’s’ toy jacks that are on my dress are a nod to the Agent that aims to get on Whitney’s “good” side to reach what he wants – Jack Thompson.  Furthermore, my outfit is titled atomic because a faulty A-bomb is the catalyst for the events in “The Edge of Mystery” episode and the reason both Whitney and myself are in an empty, forgotten dirt patch.  Hence, the “Atomic Jacks” title is now explained.

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Advance 8296, cleaned upThis style of dress seemed to be a common design around 1955 especially with the Advance line but also seen through other companies.  For some examples, see Advance 8296 (pic at right) or view Advance 6915, Advance 8047, Butterick 6988, McCall’s 9647, all 1953 to 1956.  I find it funny that so many dresses look alike in a handful of years almost to the point of being boring.  One could buy only one of this style dress and tweak it to copy all the other releases.

Compared to the neckline, the dress from the empire waist down was just single layer DSC_0933a-compfabric and incredibly lightweight, so I unhappily found out it liked to creep up on me and wrinkle in terrible horizontal folds around the natural waistline.  I had to get creative to combat this bad behavior of my dress.  What I ended up doing was sewing down about 8 inches of skinny ¼ inch ribbon to the dress starting at just below the waist to below the waistline, with a long tail of ribbon hanging down tied at the end to a weight of a ¾ inch washer.  I did this in three places down the two front skirt seams and down the center back skirt.  The weights don’t really get in the way of my legs because I keep them over my frilly ruffled petticoat and they are totally removable because they are tied to the ribbon ends.  The weighted ribbons help the waist stay smoother instead of wrinkling up and nicely keeps the dress in place on my shoulders.  This is probably the most unusual fashion fix I’ve come up with but it totally works.

Now, the jacket is an awesome pattern which makes for a silent showstopper.  A redingote jacket is guaranteed to be awesomely special.  The 50’s were the hurrah for the redingote, although you do still see a few in the 60s, too.  Wearing a redingote is the most fashionable way to have a coat on yet still show off your clothes underneath, besides being so complimentary to the waistline.  (More history on the redingote can be found on this ‘Witness 2 Fashion’ post.)

For this pattern, everything matched together beautifully, the fit is engineered brilliantly,DSC_0771a-comp the sizing seems right on, and it is nicely unique.  Yet, it is tiresome to make and quite challenging…there are eight tricky corners in total to make.  (See the pic at right which shows three views of the angled corners, inside and out)  Once I started on the lining I wanted to give up on the jacket and swear I couldn’t sew another one of those funny angle/tight point corners.  I’m not even talking about the wraparound collar, either.  Yet, as I was making this, I could tell I was going to love it, and the promise of a rocking outfit (as well as a very rainy coming weekend) gave me the guts to suck up my distaste and finish the jacket.  I’m so glad I did.

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There are just a few things I did to the pattern to make it slightly easier to sew.  I did not change any of the design (besides shortening the jacket hem by 4 inches).  My ‘tricks’ here merely have to do with construction changes to achieve the same result as compared to what the instructions show.  First of all, I disagree with the need to do so much cutting down of all the curved seam allowances.  I did not see any noticeable restriction to the sleeve curves as they were and I think paring them down might make a high tension spot a bit less stable.  A little snipping maybe but that’s all.  It is still very important, as boring and repetitive as it might be, to stitch and re-enforce all the points and corners you’re supposed to and, yes, you do stitch the stabilization squares over the corners on the right side.  I didn’t disregard these points but I did use sheer organza instead of self-fabric for the re-enforcement squares (much lighter but just as strong).

Furthermore, I did not use any interfacing anywhere, and also left out the extra add-on contrast collar.  The facing for the jacket’s front edge was sewn to the lining’s outer edge to make a one-piece inner coat.  This was then sewn, as one ‘inner’ jacket to the ‘good’ outer jacket, along the front edge, from one hemline, up and around the collar and back down to the hemline.  Now where the jacket facing joins the lining the meeting is much more stable, strong, and smooth…besides saving me a butt-load of hand stitching!  I know this is sort of ‘cheating’ (so I’ve heard), not very time-committed, nor couture, nor vintage correct.  Hey, when sewing is a chore it doesn’t give personal enjoyment, so anything that saves one’s creative sanity is good in my book.  Besides, ready-to-wear has got nothing on this coat!

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Perhaps the best part (besides the awesome pocket flaps) was taking the extra step for self-made bias tape.  I know, I might sound nuts, but making bias tape is incredibly fun – a total mood-lifter for me, especially with my Dritz tool won from my entry to the “Butterick to the Big Screen”.  Once you have made and used your own bias tape, it is quite hard to use bought pre-made bias tape…no kidding, you’re ruined, spoiled.  Self-made bias tape is 110% better especially when it is made to match out of fabric better than the stiff poly-blend available in the stores nowadays.

To make my jacket truly stand well in rainy weather, I sprayed it down with some “Protect-All” fabric and shoe coating.  This doesn’t stiffen the fabric at all, nor does it make the water bead or roll off, it only retards liquid from soaking into the fiber.  A whole can was used to spray my jacket with one generous coat of “Protect-All”.

Dr Wilkes flying into the rift, my look-alike combo

Did you ever have a film star for which you just had to have her wardrobe?  Well, I guess Whitney Frost is that person for me.  However, I believe I am not just making for myself her fashion.  I also try to put my own touch into it to make sure I feel like “me” in it.  Besides, since I do love purple in all its shades, and this is the color Whitney wears most often, I find it hard to resist.  No, but really – I do promise to make garments in other colors for your sake, and more Whitney Frost outfits for my sake!

If you’re interested in learning more about the vintage methods of make-up that were used to “make” Whitney Frost, see this article on ‘World News’ – and don’t forget to click on the full page option through the L.A. Times!  There is also a photo galley for this particular episode of “Agent Carter” (which you can find here) if you’d like to compare our outfits or just take a look!