A Tale of Gujarat

Every August I observe in spirit with India celebrating its Independence on the 15th.  I use the clothing that I make for the day reflect my understanding, respect, and wish to be united with them in pondering on their past, commemorating 1947, and hopeful for their future.  My first Indian influenced garment for August 15th was this dress I made back in 2017.  I unfortunately had to skip repeating that last year, so I am making up for it by sewing a handful more vintage-influenced Indian fashion this year!

The first one I’d like to present this August is a different kind of garment – a Rajput inspired Sherwani-style summer coat – to honor the traditions of India that I know through some close friends. 

One of the reasons why India is my favorite culture not expressly my own is on account of some “adopted family”, long-time friends of my husband that are as close as blood relatives.  Their primary tradition hails from the Gujarat territory of India, with family from and still in Kutch.

The Gujarat region history is intertwined with that of the Rajput dynasty.  The last Hindu ruler of Gujarat was in 1297!  “For the best part of two centuries (at the end of the 14th century until the 16th century) the independent Rajupt, Sultanate of Gujarat, was the center of attention to its neighbors on account of its wealth and prosperity, which had long made the Gujarati merchant a familiar figure in the ports of the Indian ocean.”  Why was it important that the Gujarat trader was proficient at spreading their wares, and what did they have to offer? Among other things, it was mostly textiles…and this is what peaks my interest.  As our adopted family has showed me, they have mind-blowingly beautiful, region-specific ways of dying silk sarees, but they had an empire in cotton and are still India’s largest producer of the fiber.

According to Dr. Ruth Barnes (“Indian Cotton for Cairo”, 2017), fragments of printed cotton made in Gujarat, India were discovered in Egypt, which provides evidence for medieval trade in the western Indian Ocean. These fragments represent the Indian cotton traded to Egypt during the Fatimid, Ayyubid, and Mamluk periods from the tenth to the sixteenth centuries.  Similar types of Gujarati cotton was traded as far East as Indonesia.  Their local art has been in high demand over the centuries, and all you have to do is see the real thing (watch out for modern imposters or look-alikes from other regions!) to understand why.

I must confess though – the block printed border print cotton I used is hand-stamped from a company in Mumbai (old Bombay).  Gujarat was under the authority of the Bombay Presidency since the 1800s and later, after India’s Independence in ’47, the Bombay State was enlarged to include Kutch.  The mother of our adopted family knows how to speak the official language of Mumbai.  It wasn’t until May of 1960 that there was a split in the Bombay State along the Gujarat-speaking north.  So my fabric is a sort of a hybrid, a close relative by association.  It was the closest thing I could find in both colors and print pattern to my original inspiration as well as something that would set the occasion for this coat.  More on this further down!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  all-cotton, with the print from “Fibers to Fabric” on Etsy and the lining a bleached muslin

PATTERN:  a Mail Order pattern A526, designed by Dalani, with its envelope stamped with the date of January 1976.

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed on hand – lots of thread, heavy canvas sew-in interfacing, and true vintage wooden toggles from the stash of Hubby’s Grandmother’s notions box.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This jacket was whipped up in the matter of two afternoons just before a trip to visit our Indian friends out of town.  It was finished on June 17, 2019, in about 10 to 15 hours.

THE INSIDES:  What inside edges? This coat is fully lined.

TOTAL COST:  I ordered 4 yards of the Indian cotton (you need to always be on the generous side with a border print) at a sale price of $5 a yard – so $20.  The plain cotton lining was from JoAnn on sale at about $1.50 a yard. As everything else was on hand my total cost is just under $30.

A Sherwani is a knee-length coat buttoning at the neck worn by primarily men of the Indian subcontinent, for the shortest and most basic definition.  “Originally associated with Muslim aristocracy during the period of British rule, it is worn over a kurta (tunic)” and several other combinations of clothing (from Wikipedia).  There are other coats and jackets in the Indian tradition, such as the Achkan or Nehru, and both are related to the Sherwani in style details and history.  However, the qualities of a Sherwani are a flared shape from the waist down (where it opens up to reveal the layers underneath), a straight cut (not as fitted), a longer length, stiffer (heavier weight), more formal in special fabrics, and fully lined.  Yup – I’ve got all those boxes checked off!

Thus, even though I am using a vintage pattern as my starting point, I hope that my coat has a timeless, cultural aura about it.  Nevertheless, let’s not ignore I am wearing here a customary men’s garment!  Together with the fact this Sherwani is asymmetric, this is a much updated type of twist on a custom yet still reflecting the modern India of today without losing its past traditions.  In modern India, women are wearing Sherwanis and there is more variety of expression in materials and decorations used.  (For more info and visual candy on this subject, see this page here.)  My husband has tried my coat on, and with a man’s propensity to stronger shoulders and lack of hip curves, this coat actually looks better on a guy than on myself, in my opinion.  It is a truly unisex garment here the way either of us can wear this in a culturally sensitive manner and also fit in its forgiving cut.  What a rare bird my Sherwani is in so many ways among all the sewing I have done.  A summer coat in the strongest Indian tradition I have channeled yet that can be worn by men or women alike?  Yes, please.  I’m more than happy to welcome it into my wardrobe.

My preliminary inspiration was this 1970 woman’s wedding coat from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  It was designed by Richard Cawley under Bellville Sassoon, hand-painted by Andrew Whittle and named “Rajputana” for the marriage of an Englishwoman (see her full outfit here).  The “Rajputana” coat even had its own feature in the November 1970 issue of Vogue magazine! Wedding garments in India are normally inclusive of gold and red, but as the Rajput princes followed the religion of Mohammed, they did not necessarily follow the region’s traditions.  White and lighter colored garments to the rest of India (especially saris) are reserved for formal wear, ritual occasion, and upper castes, and even for mourning in the Hindu religion.  The Jain sect of Gujarat wear more white than elsewhere in India, as far as I can tell.  Thus, my coat further reflects Gujarat, Rajput and the thriving textile trade the region was excelled at.  My interpretation also stays true to the 70’s, coming only six years later than my inspiration.  The top I wore under my jacket was a past 70s make of mine as well (see it here) and rather than trousers to match (which I don’t have) I went for a basic A-line rust linen skirt.

The original pattern shows this as a wrap dress, and sadly I have not been able to find anything about its designer, “Dalani”.  Besides finding a few more mail order patterns (from the 70’s and 80’s) and a few dresses credited to a “Dalani II”, I feel like digging into the source for this design is a sad dead end.  Danani’s trend seems to be for loose and simple cut dresses and wrap-on robes.  Yet to me, there was no way such an overwhelming amount of fabric was going to look good as anything other than a coat, in my opinion.  It was so easy to adapt this to becoming a Sherwani.

Wooden buttons are traditional to India, and the fabric company generously sent a baker’s dozen along with my fabric, but a Sherwani only closes at the neck.  So, to avoid disrupting the lovely border with buttonholes, I used two wooden toggles on the asymmetric flap and orange loops on the left shoulder.  This method closes the jacket yet leaves it loose to flare open below the waist like a proper Sherwani.  Following grainlines, I laid the jacket out so that the border just ran along the bottom hem.  A separately cut border strip had to be mitered, redirected around the bottom corner and up the front, for it to be as you see it.  I blended my adaptation so seamlessly you’d think it was printed like that, right!?  Happily I found the exact color thread to match the orange along the border and I hid my tiny top-stitching in the stripes.   My sleeve hems also had a pared down version of the border applied in the same manner.  This border print was only on one selvedge edge and luckily I only had literally 5 inches to spare by time I was done…my ‘overbuying’ of 4 yards was apparently just enough to squeeze by

As I mentioned in “The Facts” above, actual construction was easy and the main body of the jacket came together in only two afternoons.  The sleeves are cut on with the main body so there were only 3 pattern pieces here.  One gi-normous back piece is laid on the fold and ends up looking like the capitol T, and two front pieces like an upside down L – a properly squared off body for a Sherwani except for the flared sleeve cuffs which give it a subtle nod to its 1970s origin.  It was all the attention to detail that took at least half of the total time spent to finish.

The highlight of the details to me is the most understated one – the quilted border to the lining.  This is what makes this all-cotton coat closer to a real Sherwani.  Such soft cottons could make this feel like a housecoat without some body.  Neither did I want to entirely stiffen the silhouette – it is boxy enough!  Thus, one layer of lightweight cotton canvas sew-in interfacing is “quilted”, in rows ½ inch parallel, to the muslin lining’s underside.  The quilted interfacing was stitched before sewing the lining inside.  It is as wide as the border is on both sides of the asymmetric front edges and also was cut to form a stable “collar” that extends out from the neck to the shoulder.  This way the main body of the jacket is loose enough but it still keeps its shape and feels so much more substantial, besides having an understated detail that I have come to expect of Indian clothing.

I have seen similar interfaced line stitching on Anarkali dresses but, goodness, it is a lot harder to do than it looks.  My machine heated up enough from the rows of long stitching that I needed to turn it off and give it a break halfway though.  It was one of the most exhausting things I have done in a while.  But can I remotely find a way to have my effort show up well in a picture?  No – it’s white stitching on white cloth.  Oh well, art is sometimes made for the sake of art…and this Gujarati tribute was worth it when I saw our adopted family appreciate the details I included in this Sherwani.

India has such a beautiful richness of culture and tradition.  There is so much, in so many varying facets, to learn about.  The way what people wear in that country speaks for their state and caste in life, their region of the land, the occasion of the moment, their religion…is something so admirable, besides being any fashion historian’s dream.  Quality that we expect out of couture garments is a normal part of Indian fashion and their strong ethnic pride is what I admire the more I get to know of the country and its citizens, both ones who live in my country now and those who still live there.  The trip to see our ‘adopted family’ included a stay at their home and my first visit to see her parents, so my coat was appropriate for an important few days of meeting people for the first time and catching up with others.  It was also quite comfy in the southern heat outside and absolutely perfect for cold indoor air conditioned inside!  My sewing feels so worthwhile when I can use it as a means of respect to our friends and their culture.  Look for more India inspired fashion to come here on my blog!

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A Very Mod British Summer Sun Suit

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

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

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

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

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

THE FACTS:

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

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

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

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

THE INSIDES:  all covered up by full lining

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweatin’ to the 80’s

My fascination with validating the 80’s is only just beginning after sewing my Givenchy Easter suit…and what better way to continue than with some fun and practical separates!

I absolutely love the feminine pinks to this outfit, the strategically straightforward details, and the casual chic aesthetic of it.  Each piece is comfortable and roomy yet well-designed enough to not be baggy.  Each has niceties enough to save them from being too practical yet they are so versatile and definitely made for easy living.  The top should work well dressed up, when paired with a skirt (thinking of this late 70’s one) in particular.  The shorts look good ‘fancied up’ as you see for this post but I want to also pair them with a tube top, tank, printed tee, or denim shirt for more casual options.

Does my new set scream 80’s to you?  I don’t think so, but that’s exactly what it is according to the patterns and even the fabric I used (for the shorts).  I even brought out my childhood hair scrunchies and ‘jelly’ shoes for a big time rewind.  I really do think the 80’s has more appealing styles to it than many people realize.  Let’s give it another chance – you just have to get past the stereotypes!  After all, I suppose we do need to welcome it into the sphere of “vintage” technically, now!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  shorts – a semi-sheer cotton/poly border print vintage 70’/80’s fabric lined in a solid blue cotton broadcloth; blouse- a cotton/poly blend linen look fabric in a pinkish purple orchid color (leftover from making this suit set)

PATTERNS:  McCall’s Easy pattern #9525, year 1985 for the bottoms together with a Mail Order Printed Pattern no.9251, from the very late 70s or early 80s, for the blouse

NOTIONS NEEDED:  Lots of thread, some interfacing, a hook-n-eye for the waistband, and two covered buttons to make to match the top.  The side zipper for the shorts was leftover from taking out one of the two zippers I had put into these past-made 1940s shorts.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The shorts came first and were finished on July 1 after about 10 to 12 hours, while the top took only 5 hours and was done on July 8 (both 2019)

THE INSIDES:  So clean, just the way I like them.  The shorts are fully lined for hidden seam allowances while the top has bias bound edges.

TOTAL COST:  The vintage fabric for the shorts was bought from Kirsten at “Verity Vintage Studio” through an Instagram de-stashing sale and cost me only $5 for the one yard.  The lining cotton for the shorts was about $6.  The material for the blouse was leftover from a past project (mentioned in the fabric section of ‘The Facts’) and before that had been in my stash too long to remember, so I’m counting it as free, along with the zipper.  My set only cost $11!

Pleated waist, roomy fit pants and shorts are back in force this 2019.  Whether those who influence and those who follow the trends know it or not, many current forms of this fad are just a rehash of the 40’s and – yes – the 80’s.  All you gotta do is compare design lines for proof.  (Check out the newest “French Poetry Patterns” Orion shorts or the Burda Style #107A “Pleated Bermuda Shorts” for two examples to sew!)

Many in the vintage making and/or wearing community have already been sporting the old style roomy trousers, but it is always nice to see a past style so many have been enjoying for years become mainstream, if only for a year.  The same applies to many modern summer crop tops and roomy pull-overs – they’re only sneaky vintage integrated into 2019 fashion.  Put both things together in 80’s style with my means of interpretation – and voila!  You have an outfit such as this!

With my newest 80’s outfit, I am mostly proud of yet another interesting and unexpected way to use a border print fabric along with what I think are my best scallops yet (despite the fact there are only two of them).  This is proudly a duo of one yard projects, as well!!  I am racking in all the good points I can here!  My wardrobe is sorely lacking in shorts anyway and a top that can both be casual or dressy is much appreciated.  I try not to get stuck in a rut with what I sew.  Making what I actually can use in my life and don’t yet have in my closet is always good to sew.  Doing so in a way that it is both a refresher amongst my sewing projects and also an opportunity for a new learning curve is a little creative niche that I love to find.

Now, let me start with the shorts.  I am not that big of a fan of pleated waist bifurcated bottoms admittedly, but hey – these looked really cute on the pattern and I figured the border print being vertical would help.  Only one selvedge edge having the border and only one yard at my disposal made me have to choose sides for the geometric, mock-embroidery print.  The back is plain and the front has both borders.  I had to fold the fabric in an unusual fashion for this to work out.  Most fabrics are folded selvedge to selvedge, the width in half (this is how I buy them off of a cardboard bolt in my local stores).  The shorts’ fabric had to be folded oppositely so my preferred border layout could work.  Even though this fabric was sheer, it was really a tight woven so if was going against the grainline it wouldn’t have mattered.  Luckily, it lined up anyways.

The pattern called for an elastic gathered back half of the waist, but really…that would be too obviously 80’s and is not my ‘cup of tea’.  So I catered the shorts to have a flat waist all around with darts above the booty, and a side zipper.  Of course, the full lining was also not part of the pattern and my idea, as well.  The fabric was super sheer…so I went with an opaque royal blue lining as it was a color already in the print, so lovely as a contrast, and definitely opaque.  Full lining sure makes for a smooth feel inside and deluxe look, though!  Finally, I left out the in seam pockets.  As sad as I am to not have pockets, I didn’t want them to puff out the pleated front more than necessary.  I just might come back to these shorts at a future date and add in a back welt pocket or two.  We’ll see!

My top – or is it really a blouse? – was just as easy to sew as the shorts.  Only a handful of hours to commit at a time is the most I’m really capable of this busy summer anyway, and that is all I needed to whip this sweet little number together.  I made this even easier by not having truly workable button closings at the neck.  It isn’t constricting to the dressing situation just to keep those lovely fabric covered buttons just for looking pretty and perfect, so I’m all in for a little sewing cheat.

The line drawing lies about the smart simplicity of its design and true finished shape.  The bust dart shaping on the left side is sneakily hidden within the seam which leads to the neckline detail – very nice touch – and the back shoulders have some darts that only appear on the pattern pieces themselves.  Also, as you can see, my top turned out so much boxier than the drawing would make you think.  At the same time, however, I am not at all surprised because this is a pullover top.  No zipper, no closures with a woven material means it has to be a slightly generous fit, right?  Overall, I think the actual garment is much nicer than the line drawing, but disappointingly not the same.  At least it’s better to have good surprises in store with a sewing pattern than be let down at the end of working with it, I suppose.

Never mind the difference, I freaking love this blouse anyway.  It ends up appearing so very 1950s to me.  I think it is the kimono seamed, cut-on sleeves and the feminine detailing.  This is only one of a handful of recent instances where I have seen the 80’s refresh a 1950s look, and the fact is insanely curious to me.  The 1980’s is well known for more exaggerated versions of WWII 40’s fashions.  If my shorts were long length they very well would look 40’s, much like these “Marlene” trousers I’ve made, no doubt.  Yet, the closer you look for variety in 80’s women’s clothing, you can see the occasional 1890s look (quaint puff sleeve dresses with full skirts, such as Princess Diana’s 1981 wedding) or the 1920’s drop-waisted flapper style dress and even some draped, soft 30’s inspired garments.  Yes, I’ll admit there are some just plain terrible ideas, too, that I can’t imagine looking good on any body type.  Check out my Pinterest board on the “Power 80’s” to see more inspiration.  However, it all makes me think that perhaps the 1980s was a decade that offered more options of dressing than we realize, rehashing all sorts of things from the 90 years before so that maybe the only think that quintessentially sticks to label it are the worst experiments (neon bomber jackets, “Hammer” pants, etc.).

Whatever – I love this post’s outfit combo.  It might not be the most body complimentary outfit but each are comfortable and useful handmades that are a successful experiment of a foray into a newly vintage decade.  I find my happy sewing place in the most unexpected ways sometimes!

A “Mini-Me” Vintage Lounging Jacket

“Like father like son…” is a cliché that absolutely applies more often than not to my husband and our son.  So…one grown up vintage smoking jacket (previous post) deserved a half-pint version, too!  I kept with the family ties and made my son a fleece housecoat, or lounging jacket, using a vintage 60’s pattern that my husband’s mom had used to sew something for him when he was little.

Kiddie catered, this has a frog theme of my son’s choosing, with a printed fleece that reminded him of lily pads (they do see things differently and more creatively), with cute frog face buttons.  Anytime he is slightly chilly in the pajama time of the evenings or after his bath, this fleece housecoat is the perfect thing for him.  It was his Easter morning garb to rush outside from bed and look for eggs in the backyard!  He looks so grown up in this and it makes him so cuddly cozy to hug!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  fleece

PATTERN:  Simplicity #7407, year 1968

NOTIONS:  I used of some ribbon from my stash (leftover from the suspender straps to his 2017 Halloween costume) and he picked out the buttons on clearance at JoAnn

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The way I made it kept it fast and easy.  It was finished in October 2017 and it took about 6 to 8 hours to make.

TOTAL COST:  As with my presents, I don’t really count the cost, but I only needed just over one yard of clearance fleece so my total wasn’t much at all!

I made my son’s housecoat pretty much the same way as I had made mine own (posted here).  Fleece does need any edge finishing, which is so weird to me as I always sew with material which does fray where cut, so just like my housecoat I merely sewed ribbon along the edges for both decorative and stabilizing purposes.  I love the contrast ribbon edging gives.  It is just enough of a pop of color and keeps the fleece edge from rolling.

Of course no house robe is complete without a pocket (he loves to stash tissues, by the way!) so I gave a nice big oversized pocket.  I really don’t see how two pockets work when house coats wrap over almost asymmetrically, but the patterns almost always call for two.  The wrap edge would meet along the edge of the second pocket (if I would add it) and that seems weird to me.  Anyone know what’s up with the two pocket wrap-on house coat problem?

This was pretty much his exact size.  I just added a little more length in the sleeves to make sure and account for his growing like a weed!  The only thing I really changed was to leave out the waist tie.  Kids don’t need fussy clothes.  I just sewed down more of the ribbon around the waist to bring it in, anchoring it down with the buttonhole.

My son may not be as dapper as his dad is in his smoking jacket, but this one is perfect.  My son might look a bit serious in his photos but believe me he is hiding his giggles as well as the teeth he has lost.  I make sure not to forget to be fair with my sewing and make time to create for my family – they deserve nice things, too!  I know in my experience that home-time garments might not provide that fantastic of a post but they are the most worn and loved.

Hubby’s Vintage “Non-Smoking” Jacket

With Fathers’ Day here today, let’s address something relevant which is in my craw.  Menswear seems so ‘bleh’ nowadays, in my opinion.  They do not get fantastic creations from off of the red carpet (when they do, it sure never makes headlines).  Their fashions relatively stay the same (most guys probably like it that way, though), which is not bad in itself, but the scales are disproportionately tipped between the sexes.  As style is so casual for pretty much all occasions (at least where we live) there is no real variety of clothing to give men an opportunity to express themselves…beyond printed tees.  Ah, men deserve better.  I believe it’s time to bring back a garment that always used to embody masculinity, giving men a sense of personal ownership of their own leisure time, and my hubby is happy with the creative result of my sentiment because he now has a wonderful, custom-made 1940s ‘Smoking Jacket’.

A smoking jacket doesn’t necessarily have to do with practicing the habit of smoking cigarettes or a pipe (it does as far as history is concerned, but more on that in a minute).  My husband doesn’t even smoke, hence my post’s title.  Neither does it imply a compliment to a man degree of hotness.  What we women know as a housecoat or lounging robe, men have had for the last several centuries termed as a loose informal jacket, donned after dinner to enjoy leisure activities, to cover up one’s nice clothes in between stages of undressing, or to receive guests in the privacy of one’s abode.  This type of garment is luxurious in materials and decoration, and is not as private as women’s lingerie, but have been immortalized by popular, public pictures of many famous men in history being seen wearing their smoking jackets.  The poet and playwright Oscar Wilde is THE man to have brought the smoking jacket to both popular and public consciousness, but even in our modern times, the great Martin Luther King wore a satin smoking jacket for press pictures during his recovery in the hospital in 1958, after being stabbed by a letter opener during a book signing in Harlem.  My hubby’s smoking jacket always comes with him on our travels, and the Art Deco halls of a 1920s hotel became the perfect setting for some blog photos.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit this smoking jacket is glaringly made from the wrong (traditionally speaking) materials.  Smoking jackets are supposed to be make of posh, deluxe fabrics like satin, velvet, and brocade for some examples.  However, as this was going to be all his own – and a very useful, around-the-house item at that – I let him pick out all the fabrics, materials, and color scheme himself to perfectly accommodate his taste.  He is quite good at the preliminary creative process to garment crafting, although he doesn’t want to admit it!  I believe presents should be personalized to the recipient’s wants, after all, and what better way to do that than having them involved.  Besides, I figure this very basic version of a smoking jacket can be my uber-useful test run for learning how I want to approach the next one…a truly proper and over-the-top fancy smoking jacket.  I have some quilted burgundy velvet, and some black satin cording, so his next smoking jacket will be more in the style of the Victorian times, the height of the garment’s popularity as a status symbol.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a brushed all-cotton flannel lined in a crepe finish polyester lining with faux suede collar and pocket detail

PATTERN:  Simplicity #2172, year 1947

NOTIONS:  I needed lots and lots of thread, plenty of interfacing, one button, and lots of macramé cord (I’ll explain why below)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This took me about 40 plus hours to make and was finished on September 6, 2017

THE INSIDES:  What insides?  This is fully lined

TOTAL COST:  Well, my Mr. Cheapskate picked out everything for his smoking jacket from the clearance section at our local JoAnn store, so the total must have been reasonable although neither of us was really counting too much as this was his present!

At-home Robe (Banyan) with Matching Waistcoat France, 1720s

It is very telling that this pattern is from 1947.  The Second World War was over and men could again reclaim their right to rest and relaxation, and take time to building up their household and adding to their bank account with a job less life-or-death related.  The post war period of the 40’s was reclaiming the feelings that created the smoking jacket in the first place.  Sure, the trend for the popularity of Turkish tobacco and the Egyptian cigarette, adopted by the British, French, and Russian soldiers of the Crimea War (1853 to 56), had to do with the creation of men’s lounging rooms for them to enjoy their new found habits in a social setting that celebrated leisure time and stereotypical masculine pastimes, such as newspaper reading.  By 1903, Turkish cigarettes accounted for 25% of the American market, and smoking was considered an expected masculine activity all the way into the mid-century.

At-home Robe (Banyan) England, circa 1880

However, beyond the tobacco portion of the smoking jacket’s history, the idea of a robe for personal leisure time began all the way back with (again) Turkish and also Oriental influence of international trade and political climates in Europe of the late 17th century.  Foreign textiles, and the fashions which inspired them, were being highly sought after as imports, and a form of the Japanese kimono called a “banyan” began being worn by men of the elite classes for informal home time, such as non-physical games, fireside discussions, or letter writing.  “Caftans” – a full length, long sleeved loose jacket-like garment traditional to parts of the Middle East, North Africa, and Eastern Europe – were also popular because of their textiles which were often used for the popular fancy, floral, frilly waistcoats which men, especially those deemed as “dandies”, were wearing, particularly in France, during the 18th century.

In the mid—19th century, the Industrial Revolution was adapting traditional Kashmiri shawls’ traditional motifs into a commercialized paisley print and this influenced a change in the ethnic influence of the smoking jackets.  They became more Turkish (again) and even India-inspired as the tobacco influence of the Crimean War settled into many various cultures as the soldiers settled into their respective homes.  Satin smoking jackets are a slight carry-over from the more Oriental influence, but after World War I, the smoking jacket of the 1920s and later seemed to lose any obvious cultural significance and become a sexy and intimate part of a man’s home life, if looking at advertisements and silver-screen movies is telling the truth of the times.  At least post-WWI eras equalized the smoking jacket for all men of all classes.  Only then in the 1970s, Yves Saint Laurent confused the traditions of the smoking jacket with the release of his tuxedo-inspired collection for women in 1966, calling it “Le Smoking”.

Whew!  As exhausting and complicated as the history of the smoking jacket is – and believe me when I say I just gave you a general overview here – making a proper one is equally arduous and time consuming!  Every detail counts on a smoking jacket.  This one has full body lining.  There are several belt carriers around the waist to hold the belt tie.  The sleeves are the two panel construction similar to a suit jacket.  The solo closing button is vintage and came from the notions stash of hubby’s grandmother, so it is very appropriately on something for him.  I wanted to add some fringe or a tassel to the ends of the ties, but he hasn’t been keen on the idea quite yet.

Whenever I let my man choose how he wants his garment to be made, he tends to choose materials which make construction a challenge.  Luckily, I convinced him that a shawl collar, and not pointed lapels, were the only, true smoking jacket version of the pattern to go with, or else my work would have been much more challenging than it already was.  At least he now has an item that he loves to wear the heck out of, something he never knew how he did without before.  Those kinds of makes are the best kind!

For this, he wanted piping to match the creamy tan lines in the printed flannel, and I agreed that doing so was necessary to ‘the look’.  It’s only that fact that the perfect pre-made piping was not to be found!  I had to make myself all the 5 yards which were necessary, using macramé cord and extra of the same material I used for the full body lining.  Granted, my custom made piping was so much better than the pre-made stuff, but it was an exhausting effort that ultimately paid off since I think makes the smoking jacket overall fantastic.  I personally think this has been my best installed piping to date (it was so hard to make a complete circle around the cuffs, finishing the ends smoothly) so of course I am biased.  It is always nice to see going the extra mile was worth it, though!

What really made me question my offer to make this for my hubby was ultimately working with the fake suede he chose.  It was more than a micro-suede, it was every bit as think and stiff as a real leather with all the problems of being a polyester…horrible stuff to work with that appears remarkably nice to touch and see.  Wherever the faux leather met up with the piping was hard on my machine, my hands, and my nerves but I eventually wrestled it into proper submission to be exactly what it was supposed to be.  The faux suede was not interfaced, it was troublesome enough, and it is on the contrast pocket top edge as well as the whole length of the collar-facing piece which goes from hem end to hem end wrapping around the back of the neck in the process.  Most of the corners were hand-stitched to give my machine a break, but even still, the darn faux suede was too thick for my regular leather thimble and poked my fingers too many times.  Not too many of my own projects do I bleed over just to make, so either my hubby is a lucky man or I was crazy to keep going!  I really don’t want an answer to that…

Just because you are comfortable doesn’t mean one has to quit being stylish, and oppositely, sophistication doesn’t mean an end to ease.  I like Oscar Wilde’s Aesthetic ideals behind adopting the smoking jacket as a visual and material manifestation to his creativity.  He wanted “to exist beautifully”.  There is something very uplifting about lounging around your own domicile in something nice, by which I mean something other than your lowest grade clothing.  I do believe that clothing for your relaxation should be something we look forward to putting on in a way that makes us appreciate the beauty of the little things around us.

Luckily there have been some luxury brands bringing back versions of a smoking jacket in the forms of velvet of brocade lounge suit – looking at you, Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton in 2005, in particular, but Tom Ford deserves some credit, too, as well as Alexander McQueen’s 2013 Fall collection…ah, the classiness of the old-style lounging man.  See this page for some serious eye candy.  The jackets all are something like a cross between a sumptuous robe and a casual tuxedo.  Let’s re-claim those personal hours (or minutes, if that’s all you have) of recharging and personal enjoyment as a continuation of our individual beauty.  No one needs help in this area more than men, since they rarely care for any extra fuss and nonsense on their own.

A picture from the exhibit “Reigning Men”, with (from left to right) a May’s Co. Dept. Store short jacket from 1948, a Victorian-era engraving, and a Smoking suit in satin from ca. 1880