Peony Blush

Peony buds are so pretty but quite fussy to appreciate in their prime beauty, much like finding the perfect ripeness of an avocado.  The peony bushes are one of my favorite spring blossoms in our backyard except they have a very small time frame before they get musky in smell, with wilted petals and droopy stems.  It’s as if they are either bashful beauties or merely overwhelmed by their own superfluity.  This year though, we not only were able to photograph that ‘sweet spot’ for our peony bushes, but I also matched with their particular color, too!  So – small, urban backyard ugliness be darned – I happily sported my newest vintage-style make for the occasion.

This simple dress has all the qualities to be a chic, versatile, comfortable, yet easy-to-sew wardrobe staple item.  There is no interfacing and closures needed (no zippers, hooks, snaps, or extra notions) so it’s perfect for these Covid times when sewing supplies and mail deliveries are hard to come by.  You pop it over the head and you’re good to go!

Only two yards was enough to work with (no matter what the envelope back says) so it is not good for smaller remnants – unless you use one fabric for the front panel and a different one for the back…just a wild thought!  Crazy prints, large scale florals, and hard-to-match designs are all great fabric choices for this pattern as there are basically two very large cuts with nothing to break them up except for two, small, French-style bust darts in the front panel.  Unlike many of the other “Jiffy” line of patterns in the 60’s and 70’s which I have tried, this one does have the best shaping and fit out of all of them.  As you can tell, I am completely sold on this pattern and wish I had sewn this dress a few years back as I originally intended!  I am so glad I finally got around to whipping it together.

The shoes (60’s era), bracelet (80’s from my childhood), and earrings (from my Grandma) to my outfit are true vintage items, but the flower accessory you see along the waist was made by me.  It is a trio of airy rosettes composed of lime green chiffon leftover from this retro dress project.  It was a quick and relatively easy accent to assemble that I think provides the right contrast to the overwhelming amount of pink in the print.  As I used a duckbill clip on the back, I can also wear this in my hair if I please!  There is a Threads magazine tutorial which I used as my guide – you need no pattern – and a scrap of heavy muslin or interfacing as a base.  It’s all in the article “Coming Up Roses” by Kenneth D. King from the Threads magazine #142.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a sheer polyester crepe print fully lined in a solid light pink sheer cotton batiste

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1356, also sometimes numbered as S0567.  It is reprint from 2014 of an original Simplicity #8125, year 1969

NOTIONS:  All I needed was lots of thread!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Making it from start to finish took me about 6 hours.  It was finished on May 3, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  What insides? All raw edges are encased by the cotton second dress I sewed inside lie a lining.

TOTAL COST:  I really don’t remember.  I bought this on deep clearance when the now defunct Hancock Fabrics was closing.  Two yards of each fabric probably didn’t cost me much!

Sure, this might be a pattern from 1969, but I think it is quite timeless in design, if a bit unusual.  A kind and knowledgeable reader commented on this post on my wrap-on, 70s era, apron-sundress to let me know about Andrea Zittel and her “Smockshop” project of 2006.  Andrea Zittel’s basic smock pattern – with her simplified outlook to the basis for creativity – is really no different than this vintage pattern when you look at the basic outline.  A little tweak here and a tweak there to Zittel’s basic idea and we have this pattern.  I am not saying that either copied off of the other, but I’m just sharing a different way to look at this style of garment.  If you Google all the amazing versions artists and creators came up with using Andrea’s smock pattern (A wrap-on evening gown? Yes, please…), I am envisioning all the different ways this vintage 1969 pattern could be tweaked to make something completely different than where it started.  This pattern has so much hidden potential. Certain slight details to this dress have won me over.  For instance, I am completely enamored by the squared neckline.  It is such a subtle feature yet so different and appealing.  Something I never expected from making this dress is the way the back wrap half opens up when you walk or when the breeze blows and gives the impression of an overskirt.  The front skirt half fully wraps around to the back for full coverage and no fear of a peek-a-boo of thigh, but at the same time this makes the skirt seem more slim fitting than the back half which wraps over it.  Yes, the fact that I used a solid contrast color to fully line the inside of this dress emphasizes the impression of an overskirt.  But either way, this pattern’s neckline and lovely skirt were two surprises I did not see coming when looking at the tissue pieces as I was cutting it out.  Beforehand, I looked at plenty of other reviews on blogs as well as Instagram, with no hint or mention of these features, so perhaps it has to do with the very lightweight fabrics I chose.  Yet, I believe it has more to do with the slight changes I made to the pattern.

The most obvious change is the fact I added sleeves.  Sleeves to a wrap-on dress are not the norm, and you all know I like a challenge!  I traced out the little cap sleeves which are part of this mid-1940s dress because I liked how the ‘hem’ is really a fold so that there is two layers, i.e. self-faced sleeves for a pretty underside.  For a wrap dress, pretty undersides are important because fabrics’ wrong sides and any raw edges are easily seen unless the garment is fully lined or has French or bound finishing.  I slightly altered the sleeve pattern to have a longer armscye to work with the wrap under the arm and I also added more curving to the shoulder portion so as to match with the dress’ non-40’s style of a sleeve which is set further into the main body.  It was really much easier to add on than I expected and completely upgrades the overall appearance to the dress from saying “summer fun” to also “chic” in a really subtle way.

As a side note for clarification, I keep calling the solid light pink cotton side of my dress ‘a lining’ because I do not like polyester against my skin.  Because of that, I only intend on wearing this with the floral side out.  Technically, this dress is completely reversible, and the pattern intends it to be that way but I just do not really like this solid color when worn on the outside.  I look too washed out and think the dress seems more like nightwear that way.  I have a few reversible dresses already (here and here) and so I felt I did not really need this particular one to be yet another.  The blush pink is pretty enough as a sweet flash of a contrast.

The second major change I made to the dress is how I redrafted the tie closures of the front to be just above my waistline.  The pattern design has the front ties end at an empire level, just below the bust.  I am not a big fan of the empire waist on myself unless I am wearing a historical Regency clothing, or a style with similar proportions.  So I lowered the arching of the front overwrap, which is on the back panel, by just over 2 inches and redrew the curve.  I am so glad I did this adjustment but – as I said above – I do think it changed how the overskirt lays.  Even if some small intricacies to finished dress’ features came out as a very good surprise to me, I did engineer the rest of the features to be just how I wanted them.  Those turned out just as nice as I expected.  Every little tweak you do to a pattern has an effect on other parts to the overall design you might not expect.  Sewing is so interesting, exciting, and complex, isn’t it?!

The appearance of the dress can be slightly changed up just depending on what you do with the long closure ties.  If I want more of a loose and straight A-lined dress I merely tie the front ends in a bow or leave them hang.  If I want more of a defined waistline I wrap the long ties around my waist twice and knot in back.  I did choose to make my ties half the width as the original pattern.  To be clear, one tie cut out according to the original pattern gave me two ties because I cut the width in half.  They are just as long still, but I personally like the delicateness of skinnier ties.  They are much easier to tie anyway than wide ones, even though skinny ties are miserable things to turn inside out when making them.

The back closures you don’t see and the dress length were the last things to mention that I also changed.  I added a whopping 8 inches to the hem.  Yes, it might have been overkill, but I am all about midi length dresses at the moment and I like the elegance of it on this dress compared to the very 60s style shorter length of the original.  After making this 40’s era wrap top, I knew I didn’t want a repeat of the fussy way it closed behind my back.  This 60s pattern called for the same deal – two sets of ties.  The ties on that 40’s top tend to come undone on me after some time of wearing and if I make a sloppy bow they are a tad bulky.

Thus, for this dress I made small loops across from oversized buttons for a secure and simplified closing that is super easy to execute blindly behind my back.  The top closure to my dress felt better on me with an extra extension so I added a second loop for more than one option of comfort.  I was also able to make useful two random, mismatching, oversized buttons, too!  I know I said this dress was wonderful because it needed no closures, but then I go and add some so I can sound like a hypocrite.  Ah, anyone who has sewn long enough can sympathize with how sometimes a project can take an unexpected turn.  However, I suspect I secretly love to overthink things sometimes.  That is life.  I forget I tend to be a perfectionist.

To talk about trying to think about everything, not only did I come up with a clip-on flower, but I even made a face mask to match my dress!  This mask and all the ones I make have several layers for protection (one is polyester, two are cotton, with one extra interfacing layer).  I only had enough of my dress’ floral print scraps to make a second copy of this exact mask for my husband’s mother.  The pattern I use for all my masks is a free download from here (youtube.com/anjurisa), and I highly recommend it.  I slightly altered the pattern to give more room in the nose (many members in my and my husband’s family have a more endowed schnozzle than I) and figured out how to save on elastic by having most of the strap be a fabric tube, except for a little 2 inch stretchy section in the side of the mask.  Yes, here I go overthinking again.  Yet, my efforts do yield a very good, full coverage, highly filtering mask I do believe!

They are a necessity of the times, and all the other colors besides pink in this particular floral print – the green and purple – help the mask co-ordinate with plenty more outfits besides this one.  I personally don’t completely mind matching my mask so exactly to my outfit of the day, yet it brings up my self-consciousness that I am making it way too obvious to viewers I am wearing a self-made outfit.  Not that this is a bad thing, because I am proud of what I sew and am personally confident in my creations, it’s just I have been careful not to be overwhelmed by mask making efforts.  If you highlight the fact you make masks, there is the chance you can get inundated by peoples’ orders.  My stress levels have been high over these last few months and that is causing all sorts of unpleasant side effects to show up on my body by now.  Mask making stresses me out further, but I do realize over the past months, it is one of the most important efforts one can perform using a sewing machine.  Self-care is also very important in our world today, too, so I limit my mask making and keep up my sewing projects in between everything.

This is so far off from where I started talking about how peony flowers are like avocados, isn’t it?!  I’ve covered everything between my inspiration leading up to this outfit, making a flower brooch and a mask, to Andrea Zittel and her ‘Smockshop’.  It just goes to show that things are not always what they seem, nor do my ‘simple’ projects always end up so straightforward.  It is often the more basic sewing which leaves room for extra creativity, anyway.  After all of this, I hope you pick up this 1969 dress pattern and find your own way to personalize it the way I did so you can enjoy this easy but cute wrap frock the way I am!

Ready for Another Adventure?

Ah, I can’t help but interrupt my previously planned post for one that highlights Agent Carter…because she’s back!  Well, sort of.  Sadly, it has been confirmed Peggy will be back only in name only for the newest (and last) Season 7 of “Agents of Shield”, despite her romantic interest Agent Sousa being front and center in the most recent episodes.  I’ll admit that I have not been following “Agents of Shield” until now and I do despise the last ditch ideas of time travel which shows too often fall back on at the end of their run.  But if Agent Carter is back for some sort of relevant story continuation (which was cut short by the lack of an expected Season Three of her TV show), I’m here for it by adding more outfits from seasons one and two to my wardrobe and perhaps watching the new show.  I’ll pick up on sewin’ and postin’ more Peggy fashions, starting with recreating the first thing we see her in upon embarking on her new California adventure at the beginning of Season Two, “The Lady in the Lake” episode.  “Are you ready for another adventure, Miss Carter?” said Mr. Jarvis.  Oh how I do love having my own exciting escapades when in Peggy’s shoes!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a Matte Blue 100% Silk Batiste (sorry, but it’s sold out now!) accented my handmade bias tape of Dove White Cotton Sateen, both from Fashion Fabrics Club

PATTERN:  an adapted version of Butterick #6374, originally a year 1944 design, reprinted in 2016

NOTIONS:  I needed nothing extraordinary – just thread, a bit of interfacing, and 3 vintage buttons out of the stash of hubby’s grandmother.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Not counting the hour or two spent to re-draft the pattern, sewing the blouse took me about 6 hours.  It was finished on June 11, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  French seamed with a bias covered hem

TOTAL COST:  1 ½ yards of the silk and a ½ yard remnant of the sateen cost me a total of just over $30.

First off, yes, I am wearing separates – a blouse and trousers (which are the Marlene pants from Burda Style, posted here) – and yes, my pattern for the top half of my outfit was highly redrafted from a dress pattern.  You did not read the facts above wrongly.  I wanted to start with a vintage pattern, of course, and all the blouse patterns I had on hand were not remotely close to what I wanted.  Yet I did have the 1944 dress pattern which had a similar shawl collar and strong, slightly full, shoulders.  After all, Peggy Carter was known for wearing mid-40s fashions prior to her time out in California in the second season, so the dating would be perfect, too.  I was never a big fan of the original dress, although I might eventually try it in the future, but I bought it anyway a few years back on one of those $1-something sales.  This way I feel like it is not just taking up useless space in my pattern drawers.  It has now actually come in handy, just not in the way initially intended.  I might have a large stash of patterns, but I do not hoard…the patterns I have are cared for gently and often preserved and copied, but they do ‘work’ for their keep here and they are much more than a pretty inspiration!

I first had to trace out the pattern as it was, from hip length up, and then tweak it.  Next, I extended the collar to be wider, especially in the front over the chest, as well as making it roll over itself better.  The back collar was drafted by me to be just wide enough for the edging.  I am so happy to have ended up with a collar which was just what I wanted!  The shoulders and main body are pretty much the same as the original dress, but I added greater wearing ease all over so it would be blousier than the original slim fitting dress.  The back bodice had a dramatic re-drafting because the original dress had princess seams.  I combined the pattern pieces to become one piece, cut on the fold, with two vertical fish-eye darts.  Remember, it really doesn’t take much to change things up dramatically on paper for a sewing pattern…an extra ¼ inch may go a long way.

The semi-sheer batiste needed to be double layered to be an opaque blouse, which was rather hard to pull off on only 1 ½ yards.  This silk is so lightweight and breathable two layers is no big deal, though, once I was able to fit the pattern pieces in.  Silk is the world’s most all-season, easy to wear, and overall beautiful fabric in my opinion.  The listing for this fabric said it was matte finish, but there is still the loveliest shine along every soft fold.  Even a matte silk blend has the same lovely sheen.  Every time I create with silk, I find it is more imperative than other fabrics to use a new needle in my machine, otherwise it create pulls in the fabric as I sew.

Now both the silk and the sateen listings say to dry clean them…bah!  Only in a few exceptions – and vintage acetate is one of them – have I come across a fabric that is not washable.  I wash woolens, silks, rayon, cottons, linens, and of course any man-made (i.e. polyester), as well as any combo of those, and have never come across any unpleasant effects of doing so besides a few wrinkles, which a good ironing can easily remedy.  Even many decorator fabrics can totally be washed, although their first dip in water does shrink them like crazy.  Washing all of these fabrics must be better for them anyway over harsh, unpleasant chemicals of conventional dry cleaning!  When in doubt, I do try and wash a small, snipped off test corner first.  So, don’t be afraid to get your fabrics clean, just do so in the gentlest way possible.  For me, this means either hand-washing, or placing them in a zip-closed laundry bag before machine washing on the delicate cycle.  A cleaner garment means less attraction for hungry bugs that might like to eat them, remember!

I am still thrilled over the lovely novelty of self-made bias tape, as seen in my making of my last project, this multi-use apron/sundress/ jumper thing (posted here).  Especially when your bias tape will take a front and center stage, it is important to have a quality notion.  So I started with a quality fabric to edge this blouse the way I figured it, and I’m so glad I did.  The slightly heavier weight of the decorator’s sateen is perfect for keeping the collar in place and stabilizing the soft silk.  The slight shine on the sateen matches the finish on the silk, too.  The very slight off-white color is a gentler contrast than a pure white.  I just love it when an idea for a garment comes together as good as or even better than I expected!  It’s the best surprise.

This ‘blouse-from-a-dress’ experiment opens up all new doors for my pattern stash, now.  A dress can be tweaked to become a jacket, a vest can have sleeves added to develop a blouse, or a skirt can be reformed into pants when you approach patterns as a fluid tool with great potential to aid in creating anything with your hands.  This is the beauty of sewing.  It is all up to you – the skies the limit!  Anything can be sewn up anyway you like it.

With that said, I want an entire wardrobe of everything Agent Carter has worn in her TV series, and so my sewing creativity in this sphere goes towards personalizing and doing some historical basing of my ‘copies’ of Peggy’s outfits.  “Copying” an existing garment you admire can be every bit as challenging, if not more so, as trying to match your own individual idea.  Sewing is an exciting undertaking in its own way, and even small adventures are important in our times when there is so much wrong about the world today and a pandemic has forced too many of us into an unwelcome isolation.  Stepping into Peggy Carter’s shoes and clothes is my ongoing quest that suits me up with her spirit of independence, personal confidence, sense of equity, and – of course – great fashion taste.  How is sewing your special adventure?

Sewing A ‘What Do I Call It’?

Currently, more than ever, now that I am staying at home all too much as well as taking care of the tough stuff in life, I need clothes that are either supremely useful or a frothy delight.  My next post will be the latter, but this post is about a garment which is the former – so convenient and multi-purpose, I really can’t distinguish what term to use for identifying the creation I just recently made.

It can be a sundress, a jumper, or a full body apron.  It wraps on for ultimate ease.  It was made out a soft yet stable cotton with a print which so perfectly alludes to what I love to do in life…because I know better than to leave out the element of fun!  It was made on under 2 yards of material, paired with a few scraps.  Of course, it is vintage, as well, from 1976, to be exact.  Yup, it has it all!  Now, what can I call it?!  A sun-apron-jumper? A jumpron? A sunper?  I might just need to make up a new word here.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Simplicity brand sewing themed 100% cotton prints (found here at JoAnn Fabrics)

PATTERN:  Simplicity 7561, year 1976, from my pattern stash

NOTIONS:  Thread was all I really needed!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was a rather quick 6 to 8 hour project from start to finish, and it was ready to wear as of June 2, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  All the raw edges are cleanly covered in my homemade bias tape.

TOTAL COST:  under $20

First off, I am rarely into branded prints but a sewing themed one was too much for me to resist.  It is understated enough to not be tacky, and a casual glance can miss the details of it completely.  I like subtlety.  This is why I used my black fabric marker to darken the “Simplicity” logo all over the print I used on the main body.  The logo was originally much too shiny and bright so my slight coloring lends a tarnished appearance so the text blends in with the rest of the pattern pieces printed all over!

This was just what I needed for the moment.  It was an uncertain combo at first, only an experimental venture born of a cooped up spirit.  I ended up being cheered and entertained by this fun and unusual project.  Secondly, I wear my self-made wardrobe on a daily basis and have literally been unintentionally been beating up my favorite pieces lately.  Just the week before, for example, I was devastated to have somehow punched a hole into my Agent Carter skirt as well as dripped superglue onto my chambray maxi skirt.  (Don’t worry, I successfully made some repairs that are near unnoticeable.)  Ugh, I realize I probably need to wear grubby ‘work’ clothes for some of the things done around here to take care of the house.  Then again, I’m normally not as casualty-prone as I am lately and the amount of clothing in my wardrobe that I don’t care about destroying is quite small.  I picked up this sewing project because I was hoping to have a full coverage apron which would fill in that gap.

There are still more reasons why this was a perfect project for the moment.  It needed no interfacing!  There is a significant amount of bias give to certain parts of the straps, yet the fact that they are double layers of fabric helps keep everything in place, along with some tight top-stitching.  You kind of need just a bit of give to move around in, anyway.  I am wondering if the lack of interfacing, stripped-down-to-the-bare-bones kind of construction to this has anything to do with the fact the pattern is labeled as a “How to Sew” design.  It has a separate page insert, printed on the tissue paper, all about top-stitching and very basic construction details.  The pattern had no facings and, besides a lot of top-stitching and some tricky curved seams around the arms, it was super easy.  I was tempted to go ahead and interface the straps and the waist ties anyway, and I don’t think it would have ruined it, but this garment turned out just fine without it.  I wanted to save what I have for when I do really need it.  With all the facial mask making of today, acquiring interfacing is like finding gold, just like bias tape.

This leads to talk about the life saving tool for the seamstress of today that could use bias tape.  It is only to be found at a premium price in bulk or through vintage suppliers – it seems also due to the worldwide mask making.  Thus, I am so very glad I already had bought my own set of Clover brand bias tape makers so I can cut and iron out my own supply in case of emergency shortage!  Now, I personally do not sew my face masks with bias tape, and only reserve it for some of my garment sewing.  As this is a wrap-on garment which makes the inside finishing easily seen, and the cotton was too thick for French or lapped seams, I reached for the easy solution of bias tape bound edges.

I’ll admit to having a decent sized stash of notions to work off of in the first place at the start of quarantine, but even still – that does dwindle with use over the past 3 months and my basic black was the first to go.  I reached for a black lightweight cotton on hand leftover from a past project (thank goodness for saving my scraps) and cut it into the appropriate strips 2 inches wide to end up with ½ inch double fold bias tape.  I also have the tools to enable me to make 1 inch and ¼ inch double fold bias tape.  These are little, simple, hand-held tools that are really very reasonably priced for as handy as they are and the unlimited options they give a seamstress.  I highly recommend them with the warning to watch your fingers.  Using a hot iron with copious amounts of steam make for a well pressed bias tape but – if you’re not careful – also can mean burnt, sore fingers!

The size on my pattern was technically too large for me according to the size chart, but I rightly figured it would be okay as I was planning on wearing this over my existing clothes as an apron/jumper and not just a sundress.  It is a bit roomy when I do wear it by itself as a sundress, but loose clothing is comfortable in the hot weather.  As this was a wrap-on garment there was no real fitting needed, but I did find the bodice to run quite long and the waistline sits a bit lower than it should.  You can’t tell with the busy print and it doesn’t bother me, so I don’t really care about being a perfectionist here.  It was completely sewn together as it was straight out of the envelope.

The pattern called for the crossover back straps to be buttoned down along the back bodice edge.  The idea of that struck me as too fussy and possibly uncomfortable to sit up against.  I just stitched the straps down at a length that worked for me and it’s just fine.  It might be slightly confusing to put on and take off, but I like the security of knowing it won’t come undone on me and the comfort of not having a bulky button under my back shoulder blade.  I realize that so many of my sundresses have the same crossover back (my 1940 blue plaid one, my Halston-inspired 70’s one, and this 1949 brown striped one) but hey – it’s comfy and the positioning keeps the straps on the shoulders.  Maybe I can count this as one last, very tardy installment my late 2018 to mid-2019 series “Indian Summer of the Sundress” (even though this is only one of the wearing options to this garment)?  I was missing the decade of the 70’s out of covering the 1920s to the 60’s in that series.

To match with the 70’s date of this jumper-sundress thing, I layered a dated RTW tunic shirt underneath together with my 1974 stretch jeans (posted here) and some platform studded suede sandals when I was wearing it like an apron.  I do not personally see it as obviously vintage though, besides the fact it might look a bit different when worn over my existing clothes.  I have yet to try it as a jumper over a body-clinging knit top.  I can’t wait to see if this garment also works for the fall season with a turtleneck, leggings and tall boots!  There are so many possibilities!

I just love it when I can make something that will work for so many occasions in my life, for all the seasons, add value to my current closet offerings, and look different each time.  All this only means that it will happily find its maximum life in my wardrobe!  This turned out so cute, I might just have to make another out of some ugly patched-up scraps to really have something to wear for really messy household occasions.  Yet, I normally don’t ‘save’ my makes, but always like to integrate them into my everyday life, no matter the risk for mishap.  If a me-made item (or even my few RTW clothes, for that matter) does find a bit of wear and tear from enjoying what I had made, I’ll just figure out a way to fix any such boo-boos, and be happy my time spent making it has proved its worth.  I sewed it – I can fix it, and “giving a darn to mend” is always important!

If this sewing project is as versatile as it seems, I will be spreading the silent word as to my love of sewing for every wearing – and that might be frequent, after all!  I do think having images of pattern pieces, and the notions we need to accomplish our tasks, be more visible is an important testimony to the wonders that sewing works through paper and fabric.  We seamstresses have worked wonders for centuries, but nowadays it has become an important lifeline brought into the limelight!  It’s about time.

Windows

A different view into a space apart from our own is essential to human existence.  We crave, we need an alternate vision, whether that view is into another living space or outside of our own quarters.  Windows keep us attuned to nature, in touch with society, and help us realize a bigger picture.  At certain times of our lives, we need to take advantage of a window in time to the schedule of our life and grab an escape, which is deeper and more lasting than a mere distraction.  “A distraction is momentary – an escape helps you heal.” (Quote from “We Look to You” in the Broadway musical “The Prom”.)  That process of reaching out – even if it’s as short as pausing to soak in a lovely picture, or as long listening to an orchestral piece, or as animated as a phone call with a friend – can be an opportunity to learn, grow, love, and find refreshment.  Such a train of thought is important in our world today, when the living quarters and life possibilities for many of us have become more limited.  Yet, it is also an important reflection for “Multicultural May”.  Take a trip with me then, into the wonderful world of India.

The Indian culture has as many grand architectural entrances as it does interesting open-back sari blouses for the ladies.  The bare-backed bodice of my tunic is my interpretation of the “chaniya choli” traditionally worn by Kutch women, a style which became prevalent throughout India beginning in the late 1940s.  My loose hipped, tapered leg trousers are in reminiscent of the kind of bottoms, called churidar pants, worn underneath an Indian tunic, the western words for what’s called a kurdi.  Together, I have merged a casual, all-occasion style (the kurdi and churidar) with a features of a garment for fancy, special occasions (choli, aka sari blouse) into one creation of individual interpretation.

My main accessories are fair-trade, handmade Indian imported goods bought from a local market.  My bracelet matches in the way it is a small window of itself.  I was so excited to find it!  It is a raw hammered brass wrist cuff.  My necklace is a combo of aqua grass beads and more brass with the excess of chain.  Finally because one’s treasured, best gold pieces are an important contribution to any Indian outfit, my hoop earrings had been a sweet Christmas gift from my husband and had to be included here!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  I used 2 yards of a printed 100% rayon challis direct from India for the tunic, and fully lined it in a buff finish polyester lining. The pants are a Telio Ponte de Roma knit in a 65% Rayon, 30% Nylon, 5% Spandex medium to heavy weight opaque material in a spruce green color.

PATTERNS:  Burda Style “Cut Out Back Dress” pattern #124 from June 2015 for the tunic, and a true vintage McCall’s #5263, year 1959, from my pattern stash

NOTIONS:  I just needed thread, two zippers, and a small bit of interfacing for both projects.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The tunic was finished in late last year (2019) in about 15 hours, and the pants were made this May of 2020 after only 8 hours.

THE INSIDES:  The tunic, as I said, is fully lined, and the pants inner edges are left raw because they don’t unravel

TOTAL COST:  The Ponte knit (from “Sew Stylish Fabrics” on Etsy) was about $25 for the one yard I needed, and the material for the tunic was about $15 (the rayon was on sale at “Fibers to Fabric” on Etsy and the lining was a discounted remnant at JoAnn).  My total is $40.

Kutch district is in the Gujarat state is the culture of India that I am most familiar with through some close family friends who are like family to us.  So it’s no wonder that I chose it as my influence once again (see this post for reference)!  I will be exploring more regions of India in my future ethnic-influenced self-made fashion…I did already touch on the central region with my “homage to the Rani” vintage dress…and Gujarat is west.  Goodness, I acknowledge there is such a richness of traditions, artisan crafts, environment, history, and special people everywhere you look, but especially India has such fabulous fashion to boot!  I greatly respect how every detail to traditional Indian clothing has a reason, symbolism, and meaning.  Yet, I also love how the India of today is not afraid to merge modern renditions of clothing with a homage to their traditional past.  Personally I like to take a 20th century vintage twist on India’s fashion, on top of all that!  That’s a lot to take in, right?!  So you see there are many ways to interpret Indian clothing with proper provenance.

This set is half vintage really.  As “The Facts” show, I used a true vintage pattern and a modern Burda Style pattern together.  Modern or not though, the tunic is strikingly similar to vintage – especially 1930s – styles.  In the depression era, many styles of fashion for women – mainly evening wear – were all about making a grand parting by sporting a “party from behind”.  I am all for that trend!  I have a whole Pinterest page here full of eye candy for the open-back trend.  It is a common feature to women’s Indian cholis (see this post or this post for some modern examples)!  Luckily, Burda keeps offering designs every so often with such a feature, too.  Now, I have sewn many open-back garments before (look under my “Modern” and my “Burda Style” pages to see them) but this one was by far the trickiest to find the right fit.  This is the main reason why I chose a 50’s pattern for the pants, because let’s face it…I find the fit of vintage patterns to generally be spot on for me, especially when it comes to pants.  Something guaranteed to be an instant success was welcome after the many issues I had with this Burda Style tunic.

I had to resize both projects due to them being in petite sizing.  Firstly, I’ll address the wonderful pants!  The “multi-sized” pattern were supposed to have three different proportions, but the ‘regular’ was missing from the envelope, the ‘tall’ was uncut, and the ‘petite’ was cut down to shorts length… ugh.  I had to retrace the pattern onto sheer medical paper and add some width for the smaller size to be my measurements, and then I was good to go.  No other adjustments were necessary and so I doubt a new pattern could offer better than this – it’s just what I had in mind!  Too bad they are mostly covered up by the rest of my outfit but no worries!  As basic as they are, I will certainly be wearing a lot of these pants with plenty of other tops, though.

Secondly, the tunic was the first time I had worked with a Burda petite pattern and I wasn’t quite sure how much to add horizontally to bring it up to regular proportions.  As I was sewing it up, I regretted adding in any extra allotment because this pattern seems to run long in the torso (very weird for a petite sizing).  I did do a tissue fit beforehand, but paper cannot quite account for the give of the bias grain, and there is a lot of that in the design of this tunic, especially when it is cut of something as slinky as rayon challis.  Thus, I had to take the garment in along the ‘kimono’ style (non-set-in, cut on sleeve) shoulder seam, which threw off the neckline, which messed with the proper bias.  Now do you see why this was a problem project?

I do like how changing the neckline forced me to be creative and add details to the tunic that I like better than the original design.  There was a lot of extra room in the chest because of the fit adjustments I made everywhere else.  I needed to bring that extra fabric in to fit by using a means that looked intentional, and not just what it was – an adjustment on the fly.  The best I could come up with was to make a soft, slightly angled pleat on each side of the neckline to shape the bust from across the upper chest.  It reminds me of a frame for the face and my necklace, as well as adding symbolical angles to the “window” theme of my outfit.  It’s so funny how a “mistake” taken with the right outlook can add so much good to the originality of what you create.

There were quite a few small tweaks I did to both pieces, as well as lessons learned.  I did not really need the zipper up the back of the back waist to the tunic – mine fit loose enough that I only wasted my time on a perfect invisible closure.  I did get rid of the back neckline button to less complicate things, then sewed down a hanging decorative tassel instead (sari top/choli reference).  How this pattern works as a dress I don’t know because the bottom hem was so confining and tight, besides being so short (I lengthened it by several inches for my version)!  I did plan on opening up the one seamline to be a thigh slit anyway so the snug hem width didn’t really matter too much anyway other than figuring out the pattern’s original design fit.  The pants originally called for a sewn-on set waistband, but I found them sitting high enough at my waist as it was.  I used the interfaced waistband piece to instead make a facing to turn inside so as to have a smooth edge for a very simple, streamlined style.

In case you noticed, I have been calling my upper garment a tunic in this post, as I feel it is a modern hybrid of a traditional cultural garment.  Kurdi are usually a bit longer in length than this, at least to the knees in my understanding, but I was short on fabric to make it any longer in length.  The tunic I made still makes the ethnic reference I intended and has the general properties of a kurdi the way I am wearing it.  A good churidar pant has its stretch coming from being cut on the bias grain, but modern Western-influenced young people often wear leggings or skinny pants as a substitute and so my bottoms are along that vein.  I do like the subtle reference to the May of 1960 split in the Bombay State along the Gujarat-speaking north by using a vintage pattern from ‘59.  I absolutely love the high waist, comfy fit, cozy body-hugging Ponte knit properties, and the slightly tapered but still full enough to be easy-to-move-in legs.

This outfit is very fun as well as quite different and very freeing.  I enjoy wearing it!  It is a unique garment combination for me to sew, too.  As out of the ordinary this set is for me to make and wear, it is a more ‘common’ Indian ethnic outfit for my wardrobe (versus dressy dresses and my fancy Sherwani coat).  I do love variety in my wardrobe, but variety is more important to help us to being open and understanding of other people and cultures.  Understanding India can be both challenging and intimidating because of its richness of history and traditions, so please never resort to easy-to-find stereotypes as a source for information.  I hope my little posts can shed some extra light on India that you never saw before.  However, don’t just stop at the month of May to focus on growing a multicultural understanding!  It should be a year ‘round effort, especially when there are so many beautiful clothes to see and appreciate!  What is your favorite “window” to a world outside of your own?