Two 1956 One-Yard Sports Blouses

A sewing project that calls for only one yard is good, but two vintage patterns – from one common year in the past – that are unique designs is even better!  These are casual blouses which I reach for when I need something nice, yet comfy, and sporty.  Their timeless designs possess a sneaky vintage air that is very much ‘me’.  I like to be different yet also blend in.  I appreciate vintage yet want to be fashion forward.  I like fine details yet don’t want them to flag people down, and with all that these two tops help me ride that balance in my me-made style.

The one blouse was specifically chosen firstly to match with my husband.  The other blouse was made because I realized I had so many fancy clothes from the 50’s and not enough casual options!  Both are go-to easy separates that work with a variety of bottoms, both skirts and pants in all sorts of colors, so they are super versatile.  From a sewing standpoint, they were just challenging enough to be good for me yet still easy enough in certain ways to not feel like a project that requires commitment.  They have been seeing some good wear recently, with the plaid even going with me to Florida earlier this year, thus it is long overdue to post about them!

Not content with just making my own clothes, I – more often than not – enjoy making jewelry to match.  Look for my vintage 40s and 50’s style chili pepper necklace!  It was made from little glass handmade charms ordered from Etsy.  Then they were attached at intervals to a slightly oversized brass chain to have a very authentic reproduction of a very popular style of jewelry from back then.  It was so easy to do, and is such a cheerful, bright novelty to spice up an outfit!  The rest of my accessories are true vintage pieces.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The green and ivory plaid is as soft as washed cheesecloth in 100% Madras cotton while the zig-zag print is a Waverly brand thick, textured, decorator’s cotton

PATTERNS:  Butterick #7771 and Simplicity #1782, both from 1956

NOTIONS:  Amazingly, I had everything I needed on hand already…yes even the long separating zipper for the striped blouse’s back closing!  The buttons on the green plaid blouse are true vintage from the inherited stash of my husband’s Grandmother, while the buttons on the zig-zag striped blouse are new, and one of those cheap multi-pack of half a dozen buttons for only $1.99!

THE INSIDES:  bias bound

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The green plaid odd-collar blouse took me about 8 hours and was finished on July 22, 2017.  The zig-zag Waverly blouse took about the same amount of time and was done on May 1, 2017.

TOTAL COST:  Both tops cost less than $3 EACH as they only needed one yard and both fabrics were on clearance as a remnant.

I had practice for the green plaid blouse after doing hubby’s shirt with the same collar.  Again, as I said in the post about his version, I believe this is called an “Italian Front” closing, but I cannot concretely verify that.  So, until then, I will say I could be mistaken.  The back of my pattern’s envelope calls this a “two-button horizontal closing”.  What I find most interesting is that the men’s pattern for a shirt with the same collar came out before the women’s’ version.  I wonder if it was due to popular demand or just plain fairness on Butterick’s part?  Anyway, I do see many more copies of the men’s version pop up on the Internet for sale, but the women’s is much rarer with one showing up here or there.  I wonder if the women’s version was an unsuccessful release, but maybe Butterick merely did not print as many copies.  The ladies version was a dime cheaper than the men’s version (45¢), where you get multiple views….surprising because most of their patterns in the years before and after 1956 were about 50¢.  Butterick #7771 only has one view – this style neckline blouse is the only thing this pattern offers (besides the obvious long or short sleeves), something quite unusual in an era where most patterns had two or three different options to make from them.  Either way, “if you wanna help sell it, reduce the price”, must have been Butterick’s idea.  I love this pattern, between my husband and me we see a lot of interesting options to tweak this wonderful neckline in the future.

I do wish they would have made it the same collar construction as was designed for the men’s version.  This ladies’ version is more complicated and fussy with the collar being a separate piece from the facing – the men’s was all-in-one!  I call for equality!  At least I knew what to expect, because it was much harder than my first time and would’ve lost me completely if I had made this before the one I made for hubby.

Part of the impetus behind this was of course, as I mentioned, the gushy matchy-matchy factor with my sweetie, but also because I had to give away an old favorite top that didn’t fit anymore which had the exact same color plaid Madras.  Granted, the neckline on my old top was not anywhere this cool, but it’s okay to have things better than keep it the same, make it all my own.  Unlike my old green plaid top, mine is meticulously matched up!  I am not used to the boxy, shorter, untucked blouse shape of this, but it is comfy and easy to move in, but only works with body hugging skirts and pants.

Now, the other blouse is very curve-hugging in a way that forgives the horizontal striping!  I really think I had some strong luck on my side for this blouse because, as the cotton is a woven, there was to be no forgiveness and a perfect body skimming fit was necessary here.  There was no way I was doing a muslin on such a basic project.  A pattern tissue fitting on myself seemed promising, but those are not always accurate as paper doesn’t fit like fabric.  Take note that this is a Junior’s pattern for teens.  I did not re-size the overall top like I probably should have, as I both didn’t have room on my one yard of 45” width fabric and I wanted a close fit.  Beyond a bit of tweaking and resizing as to the dart placement, and lowering the underarm portion of the side seam slightly, this top turned out great as-is, as you can see!  The fit is snug, but the pattern is first-rate for being an “Easy-to-Make” design because it is still easy to move in.  I love the fact I can have the classic 50’s hourglass shape in such a basic tee!

This was ridiculously simple – one front piece, two back pieces, and some fun little details.  No sleeves to even set in!  As you can see in the pattern front for Simplicity #1782 there are lots of options, so I mix-and-matched to make a combo of three views.  That’s what those options are there for, after all.

I definitely kept the cute little “mock-placket” feature up the front chest.  It is really just a glorified strip of fabric that is sewn down in a very interesting way.  There is an open loop in the top of the tab at the neckline, and when my neck is a bit chilly in the evenings, that tab is great for holding one of my vintage silk scarves, just as the pattern front drawing shows.  As bold as the buttons are that I chose, I love the crazy fun they add to my top.

The one little arm pocket felt a bit ridiculous to make and add on, but hey – I love pockets and they are useful no matter where they are placed or what their size.  Granted, I like to wear this top with an old favorite RTW skirt that has giant cargo pockets (in the pictures) – but I digress.  I will not be pocket prejudiced.  It is just enough to fit a few fingers in so it normally holds some spare change or a nose tissue.  My little pocket seems to hilariously bother my husband who likes to check it every so often when I wear this top.

I added the hem band as an afterthought because I needed a few inches extra to use this matching blue separating zipper that I had on hand.  I was determined to use such a special notion on my blouse because there was no way I was doing two separate closures as the pattern called for – a side zip up to the armpit and a small 5 inch neck zip behind.  A basic, sporty, and easy-to-sew garment like this needed some modern simplicity in order to be enjoyed both wearing and making!  This way all the curious details are not solely in front, either!

Our pictures were taken in the middle of doing our living…between errands for the one and at a semi-pro soccer game (football, depending on where you live) for the other.  It’s awesome to wear what I make to everyday events that are the bulk of the memories that stay with you.  Admittedly, I am always a sucker for making a special outfit for a special occasion, but I find myself appreciating the ones that are there for the commonplace events and prove their worth like an old friend.  I like making friends with the ordinary and unpretentious side of the mid-1950s!

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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!

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.

“Down Under” Again

After my last post, I still had the bug in my system of wanting more knock-off “copies” of the costumes from the 2008 movie “Australia”.  I remembered suddenly I did have the fabric in my stash, just waiting to be sewn, to have one of Nicole Kidman’s very practical shirt and skirt outfits she wore out on her northern open land of Faraway Downs.  The combo of stash busting and making a movie inspired outfit is both useful and feels great!  In my mind, I’m not in my mid-western American town wearing this…I’m “down under” during the lush wet season.

The blouse was the only thing I made from scratch for this outfit, as I did do a fair amount of work recently to make the skirt something I like to wear today.  You see, the skirt was bought ready-to-wear quite a while back now as I have had this since my early teen years.  At this point, it’s probably almost vintage.  I ought to just be happy I still actually fit in something I’ve had for two decades, I suppose!  Anyway, since about 2005 I have had the skirt stashed away as something I was no longer interested in and saw it as a possible source for a refashion.  When I realized it was almost line for line a copy of Nicole Kidman’s skirt in “Australia” (gosh, it’s even the exact same plaid with the slight lavender striping!) I picked this back out of storage to give it TLC it needed.  The updates primarily included shortening its former long length with a wide hem and using some of that excess fabric from inside the hem to make four belt loops to stitch on the waistband.

Many accessories are true vintage and they are all some of my nicest items.  The belt is all leather and a very dramatic and awesome 1940s style from the 1970s.  My neck scarf is all-silk with a hand-rolled hem, found at a vintage shop, Anne Klein brand.  My ‘almost vintage’ dated skirt is “Norton McNaughton” brand, and I love the quality finishing inside…the plaid matching is impeccable and there is bias binding over the edges inside (worth saving).  My boots are one of my favorite brands – White Mountain.  Trekking through the tall grass needs tall boots!  Finally, my perfectly matching coral red lipstick is “Happy” from the Besame “Snow White 1937 Anniversary Collection: Seven Dwarfs” set.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a wonderfully thick yet soft 100% cotton print from the (now defunct) Hancock Fabrics

PATTERN:  Simplicity #4528, year 1943

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed on hand – thread, interfacing, bias tape, and true vintage, real carved shell  buttons out of the inherited stash of Hubby’s Grandmother. 

TIME TO COMPLETE:  one evening’s worth of about 5 hours – it was finished on September 7, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  all bias covered in a fun and cheerful bright red tape!

TOTAL COST:  As I bought this about 3 or 4 years back, and it is only 2 yards, I don’t remember how much this was but probably not much because I always used to get great deals at Hancock Fabrics

Now, the best part about this blouse was the assurance that it would be my size directly out of the envelope and that it would turn out great.  I have made the trousers twice before now using this same pattern (see here and here), and they needed not an ounce of alterations to fit like they were designed with my body in mind.  I took it for granted that the blouse would be the same perfect fit and I was correct here.  I do need to make another copy of this so I can have a permanent copy for myself because this pattern is worth its weight in gold to me!

This pattern is technically listed on the envelope back as a “pajama set”.  This to me is more like a home lounging set which looks so close to regular clothes that if the pattern is made out of apparel fabrics (cotton, rayon, shirtings, or twill) both pieces can pass as street wear, I believe.  Made of flannel, knit, or a quilted fabric would no doubt bring it closer to pajamas.  Either way, this is a practical and cute set with just the right amount of details.  Nighttime and at home clothes were much more publically presentable in the 1940s the more I look at that era’s patterns.

I LOVE the lapels to this blouse!  They’re so defined and equally pointed for both lapels with just the right amount of 40’s obnoxiousness that most collars from that era have.  What I found strikingly unusual about this is that the buttons only end mid-chest.  Most other vintage convertible collar blouses still direct you to make buttonholes and sew buttons down all the way up to the top (multi-use) even if you don’t really plan on closing it that high (I don’t always listen that well to such directions).  The lapels are tailored well apparently because they are meant for showing off!

It is hard to find a 1940s blouse that is lacking the shoulder gathers and bodice gathers, so this one is a real gem.  As much as I like blouse details, a smooth vintage blouse, or at least one with only darts to shape it, is harder to spot which original era it comes from and is best for thicker fabrics.  I have only one other true vintage 40’s era blouse design like this on hand – a year 1941 Simplicity jumper outfit pattern that I have used 3 times now (see the first version here and the second here).

The date of this pattern – 1943 – is great for matching up with the supposed year of the movie scene my sewing was inspired by.  This outfit comes from the last few minutes of the movie before the credits roll, and it was supposed to be about a year after the bombing of Darwin, which happened on February 19, 1942.  It was the first time that country had been attacked on their own land by a foreign power, and some reports say that 90% of the buildings were destroyed.  As Japanese Aid Raids continued on the country until the end of 1943 and she was staying back and not returning to Britain, so the safest place to go was into the wild country, the Faraway Downs.  But her ideal of a peaceful family life was not meant to stay forever as is seen in the ending scene.

Since all of Kidman’s outfits in “Australia” are so awesome, I do hope to make my own versions of more, but this will be all for now.  There are so many other projects in my queue, and with the season of Fall fast approaching, I know when to stop and be practical, but this outfit was too easy to whip up, and is too comfy to wear to have passed up for another time.  I hope to be prepared ahead of season with some transitional grey, black, and deep wine colored dresses and squeeze in the last of the warm weather garments while the sun is balmy with what projects I am sewing (and posting) this month and the next.

White Poppy

The Poppy is one of the most widely used symbolic flower around the world.  The blood red poppy flower is often (and rightly so) associated symbolically with a remembrance for those gone out of this life, especially those who gave the ultimate sacrifice during the First World War.  However, the pure white form of the same poppy flower has a very lovely meaning in the Asian culture.  Chinese flower experts recommend the Poppy for couples because it means a deep and passionate love between two people, but white Poppies are tied to death in those cultures, too.  Even still, poppies are also seen as a cheerful plant to have in a garden due to its large size and available variety of cheerful colors.  One flower can mean love, happiness, loss, sleep, or death all at the same time.  It sounds like a summary of life.

Here is something symbolical, combined with a garment already so very symbolical – the qipao.  This is a Mandarin-derived word for a one-piece garment for women which has evolved itself rapidly in the last 100 years, even surviving being outlawed (when communism rose in China circa 1949).  Many fashion details have been added or taken off them, many fabrics from either end of the price rage have been used for them, and they have changed fit to suit each era and feminine ideal, but a qipao – a derivative of traditional menswear – has nevertheless persisted in being a statement for the freedom and knowledge available to the modern woman.   Although it originated in Shanghai of the 1920s, it was emerged in full force circa 1950s in Hong Kong, after that, as that country was a British colony at that time, it became a strong part of Western Europe and American fashion through the 1960s.  It is this tumultuous, transitional history that I would like to highlight and honor with my modern vintage Mandarin dress.

My coral pinkish-orange color is as bright as a cheerful paper lantern or the flashy electronic street advertisements of Hong Kong.  My satin edging is as black as the poppy seeds which have caused so much fighting and human misery through the ages of the opium trade.  The printed poppies, thanks to a full body lining, are as snowy as a classic bride’s dress.  A qipao was deserves much more respect than to be whipped up without a thought behind the details.  This one of mine strikes me as sending a bold, cheerful, yet peaceful message, faintly touched by sadness.

Now, I am by no means in any position to explain the qipao (sometimes informally called a cheongsam in Hong Kong).  It is not my culture and there is so much symbolism, meaning, and national beauty to this garment that I could never know it all nor explain as well as others.  Yet, I am wearing it not to ignorantly continue to Europeanize or secularize it, as was done especially in the 1950s, but to learn more of what I do not know, and interpret what I do know of the qipao in my own way to add to the respect of the garment.  The more we know about others from around the world, the more I would expect it should bring a greater compassion and understanding of humanity (yet this is sadly not always the case).  We are all going through life together be it our neighbor next door or one on the other side of the globe.  Today more than ever – with all of our means of communication and social networks available – we are able to connect and learn about each other.  Let us take advantage of that to be well-informed and thoughtful to others.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  printed quilting cotton lined in solid white cotton broadcloth

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8244, a re-issue of a year 1954 design originally Simplicity #1018

NOTIONS:  I had to go out and buy the knot closures as I was finishing the dress, but everything else was on hand – interfacing, thread, zipper, and black satin binding – only because I have been wanting to make this dress for the last few years.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  After about 10 to 15 hours, my qipao was finished on May 29, 2018

I have been wanting to make this for far too long, and it is a relief to be finally able to wear it.  You see, for some reason, I had expected this to be difficult looking at the design.  Perhaps it was the fact that the one shoulder where the neckline closes and opens is sewn on as a separate panel.  Sometimes when you add pieces like that it’s easy to cut them out of the wrong side of the fabric or find it fiddly to match if the connecting points are not clearly marked on the pattern.  However, it was much easier to make once I thought the construction out and just dove into it.  The most time consuming parts are actually making all those fish eye darts that give this dress its amazing wiggle shape, and doing the hand stitching on the frog closures along the neckline.  I guess making my own satin bias tape was a bit time consuming too, but I enjoy that step so much more than sewing darts or closures!

I found the sizing to be pretty good – maybe even a tad roomy.  For my dress, I did go up a half size just in case it ran small.  The finished garments measurements told me I probably would have been fine following the size chart to choose sizes.  However, I figure it’s better to be safe than sorry because you can always take a dress in just a tad but when you need extra inches…that can be a problem.  I get so used to working with true vintage patterns that I am actually unsure of the re-printed re-issues because you never really know how it’s been ‘modernized’.  In the end, I left my dress a bit roomy because I don’t want the horizontal body wrinkles show up as the tell-tale sign when something is just too tight.  I know this is a wiggle dress and all, but it still has such good shaping that it can be a comfy dress and still show off one’s silhouette!

There is one small tweak I did to the pattern to incredibly simplify the construction and save the print of the fabric.  It makes all the difference in the world.  I eliminated the full center back seam and cut the back on the fold instead.  Yes, I did lose some of the curving and shaping to the dress, but that was remedied in another way.  You see, to cut the center back on the fold, only the bottom half – from the high hips to the hem – was actually straight enough to line up.  The waist and above curved in too much.  Thus, my solution was to I mark the curving I was going to be missing with a disappearing ink pen and stitch in smaller that difference as a dart.  This way there is a seam that only extends to the waist in the back, and the rest of the print is not disturbed.  I find a small dart a lot less bulky than a full seam, and quicker to make anyway!

Other than this dramatic seam adaptation, there are several fine-tunings I made to end up with a dress I was finally happy with!  As I fully lined my dress, I buried the interfacing in between the two fabric layers.  As I was bias binding the edges, I left out the facings along the neckline and sleeve hems.  I also left out the facings for the side slits to the skirt portion, and merely turned the edges under and stitched like a regular hem.  The overall length ran long, and the pattern called for a wide hem, but I liked the elegance of the longer length so I did a tiny hem instead.  The back bodice poofed out as if for a hunched back woman, so I trimmed the back neckline lower by 1 ½ inches to easily smooth the excess out.  Other than these little modifications, I really did leave the general dress design as-is!  I’m especially proud of the clean and hard-to-find hand-picked side zipper.

To complement my dress, I added some dangling hair flowers (which actually rather remind me of half of a pair of Hana kanzashi – sorry!), my summer fancy patent wedge heels, vintage gloves, my Grandma’s vintage drop pearl earrings, and a fun thrift store find of a handmade slatted wood purse.  My lipstick is a classic Revlon color, true to the year 1953 called “Cherries in the Snow”.  It seems that heels, a hair updo, and little white gloves are rather classic to wear with a 1950’s era qipao, so I suppose I am sticking with the safe and predictable outfit pairings here.

‘Classically’ paired together or not, this is still a standout dress, I think, and I rather like it like that…not to draw attention to me or my clothing, necessarily, but because a qipao to my understanding is a form of art, a message with fabric, a cultural beauty.  This is what I miss the most about being an American – most other countries have a garment, a way with fabric, which offers a special cultural outlet for native personal expression.  If I want to honor my country’s past by a garment, I tend to make historical clothes for attending a living history event or participating in a re-enactment.  In other countries, there is a dirndl, a qipao, a kimono, a sari or a kurta, and an ushanka hat to name just a few of the most well-known examples of wearable culture.  However, just wearing one of these items is not respect enough without awareness behind it.  “Knowledge is power” is a phrase degraded because it is too often thrown out today, but when it comes to cultural garments, this is so very important.  Is there a culture other than your own that you particularly appreciate and enjoy?