“Soft with a Touch of Tailoring…”

Many times I take a cue for a sewing project from the cover image envelope, but this time my post’s outfit 100% takes its cue from the entertaining original descriptive text to a pattern.  There is a lot of things which give this outfit unique qualities amongst both my wardrobe and my list of items I have made, though, besides following an old leaflet’s text for inspiration.  “Important silhouettes destined to go places…” as the tag line says!  With an outfit like this, I find myself actually loving my winter wardrobe enough to be totally okay with spring taking its good old time coming around!

Firstly, I considered few things coming into my outfit idea.  What material has both structure and softness?  Is it possible to find a fabric which will simplify the creation of the tricky details on the designs I have chosen?  How can this be comfortable, warm, and possess a 50’s appropriate classiness all at the same time?  Is there something I haven’t yet done, something new, that I can integrate into this project?  Can combining two different sewing patterns dated exactly 10 years apart – years 1948 and 1958 – even work or at least be made any less risky?  Happily, this my first project with scuba knit – and a lovely floral suede finish version at that – has both answered and solved many of those considerations.  Making my ‘dress’ (one-piece in appearance only) into two versatile separates, a blouse and a skirt – solved the last concern.  Ah, I love the unlimited creativity available through sewing.

I think I nailed interpreting “Soft with a touch of tailoring” my own way.  The brushed, textured suede finish compliments the softly rounded pleats and angles to the lines of both blouse and skirt achieved through the foam-like thickness of the material.  The raw, unfinished edges of the scuba knit – one of the features for which this material is so handy – brings what might otherwise be a very dressy style a par down to being unpretentious, easy-to-wear, and unique.  The floral print might be a bit dark but it lends an undeniable femininity to the designs.  It hints at the promise of spring in a dreary, leafless season.  Having a golden yellow and black primary palette pairs perfectly with gold jewelry, yet can be fancied up or down as I please.  Scuba knit is quite cozier than I expected, yet is a light warmth for a providing a wonderful winter set without the weight of a wool or tweed.  You get the idea.  I am loving this set, yet another very good sewing project!

To balance things out, the skirt is a true vintage pattern from my stash and the blouse is a modern reprint coming from Burda Style.  Together I feel that this outfit – worn together or each on its own – has a very sneaky vintage look.  It is not in your face, unmistakable old-style, and can pass as a sort of call-back modern spin.  I like that!  As I said above, versatility is what I like, in more ways than one, and as much as I love vintage styles, I do love the flexibility to merge it indistinguishably into today’s fashion.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Polyester suede finish scuba knit

PATTERNS:  The skirt’s pattern is a true vintage Simplicity #2616 from October 1948.  The blouse’s pattern is Burda Style #121 “Cross Neckline Retro Blouse”, a reprint from December 1958 included in their October 2018 magazine issue

NOTIONS:  All I needed was plenty of thread with a strip of interfacing, a zipper and a hook-and-eye set for the skirt waist

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse was made first and was finished on February 27, 2019 after 8 hours.  The skirt took me only about 5 hours to make and it was done on March 3, 2019.

TOTAL COST:  This was bought from my local JoAnn Fabric store.  It was on sale, with a coupon, so it came to about half the original price – about 3 yards cost me about $30.

There were no recognizable changes I made to each design, just slight adaptations to make this set work as separates made out of scuba.  Otherwise, it was really pretty easy to sew in the way it was straightforward and quite simplified.  Firstly, the fact my material has stretch gave me a reason to eliminate the need for a zipper or neck button for the ultimate cute slip-on top.  Manipulating the pleats in the skirt was the trickiest part of this outfit because they were layered on top of one another at a slightly fanned out angle.  Sewing in the underarm gusset panels was immensely easier than ever before in scuba, though.  Also, ironing down interfacing to the underside of a plain waistband I cut for the skirt was easier than I expected.  The scuba is thick enough that I wasn’t too worried about eliminating the facings to the ties and having them be one layer.  I just don’t pull the ties too tightly, but I wouldn’t want to do that anyway because it would twist the blouse out of shape as well.

I lengthened the ties so I have the option of multiple ways to tie the front – getting back to the idea of versatility.  There’s the twisted criss-cross thing I mostly do with the ties, or I can merely lap them over each other on my chest.  In any other fabric, this design would be equally as interesting – such as a tissue-weight silk (like the Burda sample), yet a structured wool would be on the opposing end of the spectrum.  A sharply tailored woolen adaptation of this blouse could very well end up looking like the bodice of this dress from the film “Motherless Brooklyn”, a 2019 American neo-noir crime drama set in 1957.  The original pattern actually called for a soft jersey knit as the material, though, admitted in this Burda blog post.  As it was, I made this outfit last year primarily for the blouse because I wanted to be part of the “Sew Twists and Ties” challenge.  Either way, I need to have my neck covered in the cold because of my sensitive thyroid gland, and the ties on this blouse make for a much more fancy way to do so fashionably, compared to a neck scarf or a turtleneck.

The belt is adapted from the arched waistband of the Simplicity 40’s dress pattern.  It’s worn on the reverse side and cut of a single layer of fabric, since scuba knit doesn’t fray!  I love how scuba knit is often reversible, this one especially so.  I played with that here.  Because the neck tie edges are raw, a bit of the solid underside shows and highlights a feature which might otherwise be lost in a busy print.  That also worked for the belt, and was a way to easily match with the rest of my outfit as well.  The only places where there was a conventional hem – the sleeve ends and skirt bottom – were stitched down by hand to have the thread be invisible and accommodate the stretchiness of the fabric.  Otherwise, as I learned, for both the neck ties and the belt piece, you can’t be messy with your cutting practices in a scuba knit or a jagged edge clearly shows!

My first project-from-scratch experience with scuba fabric was fun and successful. (I’ve worked with scuba to refashion RTW fashion for my paid commissions for others.) It is a great fabric, I will admit.  As I recently told a friend, scuba knit goes against everything I believe in about quality, earth-conscious sewing (there is no seam edge finishing needed, besides it being non-breathable, plastic polyester) so I was initially a skeptic.  Scuba knit is so forgiving to sew, you don’t have to be perfect stitching it together, but it still looks good nevertheless…so it would be perfect for a beginner to knits. As long as you use a wide zigzag stitch, you don’t need to stretch it as you sew, unlike other knits. An all scuba garment can be hot to wear in the summer though, as it is lofty and thick like foam, but these are good qualities for a winter piece.

I have sighted smartly crafted scuba knit garments carrying respected designer labels on them when browsing my local Neiman Marcus store, so this kind of fabric has surprisingly really progressed in status over the last 10 or so years!  I really don’t want scuba to be something I reach for on a regular basis, but I do enjoy the fact I have come to terms with it and found some of the reasons behind its popularity. This is not my last project in scuba, believe me!  I had a little bit of scuba knit on the collar and waistband of my most recent bomber jacket, after all.  Let me know what your experiences with scuba knit are!

Cerulean Streamline Moderne

If the last gasp of the Art Deco era could be a color, I would say it is unmistakably a pastel baby blue.  Many people do not know that a beautiful but mutated form of the geometric architectural style prevalent in the 1920s and 1930s was still strong in the WWII era.  We often think of fashion as being inspired by nature or movie costumes or world events but I see a correlation between the blue angled buildings of 1940s Streamline Moderne era and many of the powerful, angular garment designs of the Second World War.  There is no better example of this than the frequent use of plastron features on ladies’ dresses between 1942 and 1947.  Of course, I had to interpret such a pairing through my sewing…

This follows on the heels of my first post of the year where I shared a 1988 dress with a plastron front which has strikingly similar elements to this mid-1940s dress.  The 80’s frequently rehashed many WWII era points in its clothing styles but you gotta go back to the source to figure things out.  Firstly, I addressed what a “plastron” is in this post here – it is generally defined as a type of interfaced chest yoke that fills in the hollow between the shoulders and bust and frequently extends down to the hipline.  The fact that it was so popular in the 1940s can be seen in this 1943 leaflet, which has several different plastron style dresses, and Constance Talbot’s sewing book from 1947 which defines the word.  Just as Streamline Moderne architecture was seen as sleek, futuristic, and modern for its times, no doubt a plastron front was regarded in a similar mindset.

In our town, Streamline Moderne architecture is defined as the end of the Art Deco built environment, lasting between 1936 and 1945 (with a slightly earlier timeline for Europe).  The building behind me is a perfect, classic example of the American interpretation of the style despite the fact it is merely a façade front added circa 1943 (the year of my dress) to the lowest level of a brick late 19th century building.  Its “rounded and sweeping lines” of chrome-plated trim reminiscent the means of wind resistance used on trains, ships, and autos.  It has minimal ornamentation and color on an angular plan, highlighted only with the creamy blue glass tiles called Vitrolite.  Many Streamline Moderne buildings were made working through the last funds of the Public Works Administration, the second half of the New Deal agency that made grants for construction to local governments between 1935 and 1944, so no wonder it had an Art Deco air.  Even though the building behind me had been a small department store in its heyday, it has the same look of the Greyhound bus stations built across the U.S. during the Streamline Moderne period.  The idea of the style was to add movement and convey the sense of travel to something stationary, after all.  My photo’s location has been named the “Paris style” building ever since its 40’s refresh, to give us mid-west people a trip over the ocean to France where the Moderne style all ‘began’ (at the 1925 Exposition of Decorative Arts).

A plastron dress is not so unlike the buildings of its times.  Plastrons really widen the shoulders and slim the waist (especially when in a contrast color), just like what the 40’s and 80’s preferred.  Streamline Moderne buildings are impressive in a confident but pleasing manner, just like WWII women’s fashion.  A well-tailored garment can add complimentary appearance movement to our bodies – whether stationary or not – and can transport us to a happy, confident place in our internal mental vision.  A smartly designed garment can deceive and please the eyes with the visual appearance of a sleek form.  They are not much different after all!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a slub-textured, navy and oatmeal colored linen and rayon blend, with the solid contrast being an all rayon challis, and the entire dress body fully lined in a buff satin finish poly lining

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1777, reprinted in 2012, originally Simplicity #4463 circa 1943

NOTIONS NEEDED:  thread, a long 22” zipper, and interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Making this dress took me about 20 hours, and it was finished on November 4, 2014

THE INSIDES:  Nice!  The side seams and armscye are finished in bias tape, and the plastron facing covers up the center pleating, but all the rest of the seams are French.

TOTAL COST:  All the fabrics for this outfit came from the now defunct Hancock Fabrics, and were picked up on clearance.  I don’t remember the cost anymore but my total could not have been over $20.

For as much as I love this dress, it is a problematic re-issue because it had been significantly changed from its original 40’s design.  The blog “Black Tulip Sewing” has an excellent and very eye-opening post that clearly lays out the differences between her original (Simplicity #4463) and the reprint.

No wonder I had problems shaping the back waist (it ran long and wasn’t curved nicely)!  As much as I made a deal in the post of my Agent Carter dress about how full back zippers were apparently a real “thing” in the 1940s – albeit unusual – I had problems with all the curving that was drawn into the center back seam.  This gave me a suspicion something was off even before I saw The Black Tulip’s post.  There was supposed to be a side zipper or neckline closure.

Looking at The Black Tulip’s blog review, this dress’ skirt was supposed to be flared and have most of its leg room from the shaping in the side seams creating a general A-shape.  The reprint has a basic straight skirt, then added so much more pleating in the front, at and around the bottom of the plastron, to account for fullness and ease of movement instead.  However, it only made things quite bulky and challenging to sew (although the fanned out darts are quite beautiful).  1940’s patterns are generally pretty smart the way they are originally and such dramatic changing does not do anything but harm when you’re starting with something just fine to begin with.  Leave the good stuff alone, Simplicity.  Unnecessary fiddling is nothing but a waste of everyone’s time. Luckily, ever since 2016, Simplicity started staying true to the vintage lines for their reprints…only now, they are no longer giving us any past styles it seems – boo hoo.

That being said, I’m glad I persevered through all the quirks that made this a pain to sew and fit.  Fully lining the dress was probably not the best idea, but the linen blend material was thin and loosely woven so I didn’t have much of a choice.  One step which I am glad I did do was heavily interface both the inside (lining) and outside plastron.  If I hadn’t, no amount of clipping would have disguised or held up to the thick seam allowances sandwiched in between.  These older Simplicity vintage reprints often have smaller sized sleeves so I thought ahead and cut mine on the bias.  The sleeves are still closely fitted but at least the fabric is not restricting.  Besides, I really like the change in texture I get just by cutting the sleeves on cross-grain.  I do wish I had added a few extra inches to the hem length.  I only hemmed by adding bias tape on the edge and turning that under because I did not want to make the dress any shorter.  Can’t win at everything all the time!

What proper 40’s outfit would be complete without hat and gloves?  I even bought out my old shoes clips!  All accessories are true vintage, yet only the hat had a makeover before it could pair with my dress.  It was originally from the 1970s.  Those 70’s fedoras are close to a proper 40s hat…but as the saying goes, “close only counts with hand grenades”, ha!  It had a really deep pinch at the tippety-top of the crown that kept the hat sitting too high on my head.  Luckily, it was an all woolen hat.  These are easy to re-block with some hot steam!

I first stuffed the inside of the hat with a very tightly wadded up bath towel, rolled into a ball.  Some sort of inner base – be it a kitchen pot or wooden mannequin head or bundled towel – is necessary to both help shape and protect the hat as well as keeping it from shrinking too much when it cools down.  Then, with my iron on its highest steam setting, I kept shrinking the tacky pinches out of the crown.  You never really touch the wool (unless you cover it with a pressing cloth) only come close with the seam.  Being careful of my hands, I would reach in and flatten/reshape the crown in between good steaming episodes.  As you can see, I kept a fedora double ‘pinch’, but just made it more shallow and higher up on the crown. I made the mistake of coming too close to some of the fabulous iridescent feathers on the side of the hat and they shriveled up and wilted, needing to be cut off.  Thus, there are less feathers and more weird fluff than I would like to decorate the hat but at least I ended up with something I like better – and will wear more – than leaving it in its original state.

Unfortunately, both my dress and many 1940s Streamline Modern buildings are generally underappreciated today.  My dress was just fit when I first made it so many years back now, but my body has since changed slightly since then and I am no longer comfortable in it.  This post’s dress is currently hanging on my part of the rack where clothes go that need a bit of tailoring or repairs to be wearable again (it is a very small portion of my closet, fyi!).  Luckily, I have been holding onto a good yard leftover of my linen blend material, so giving myself a little extra room will be an unidentifiable fix the way I am planning it.

Sadly, many 80-something year old buildings which are being stripped of their ornamentation or completely torn down are not as easy to bring back to life as my dress.  Either in the rush towards ‘modern’ improvement or from neglect over time, such architecture is beginning to disappear (especially in my town).  When it’s gone, it’s really gone, because both the capacity to and general desire to recreate such things are missing today.  That only means that part of our story – the tale of our city, our collective history – is absent, too.  In the US, our societal account is not as ancient as Rome or Athens, for two well-known examples for contrast. Thus, it’s important for us to learn to appreciate the built environment that we do have and learn how to transition it into today while learning about what storied locations which have been lost to time and relegated to memory.  If making one simple dress can help me do just that, than I am pleased.  I love how finding such little hidden gems gives my research-loving mind a wonderful purpose to find out about and understand.  Here’s a toast to those awesome photo backdrops which make me feel like I’ve stepped back in time while wearing my self-made vintage!  Here’s a wish to having these great spots stick around all over the world so everyone else can visit and enjoy them, too!

Dior Animal

If – according to Stacey Londonanimal prints are really a neutral, than what color do I pair best with itI have made a few other animal print garments before, so how do I make yet another stand out from the rest?  Which direction do I go to sew something fantastic with some precious leopard print scraps from my Grandmother?

Christian Dior, Paris, France autumn-winter 1947

By using that old opinionated quote to start things in this post, I am only hinting that I merely went back to the very source of a very long-running ‘trend’.  That was the best way in my theory to find suitable direction.  I happily ended up with the ultimate self-made designer copy of a standout garment which is burned indelibly in fashion history.  I drew direct inspiration from a rich green, leopard contrast, fur-muffed coatdress in the premiere collection of Dior in late 1947.  Now I have my own fabulously warm yet classy home couture garment for “Designin’ December” 2019 challenge hosted by Linda at “Nice Dress! Thanks, I made it!!”.  I totally look forward to the chilly weather just for the opportunity to wear this special yet unusual combo of both coatdress and muff with a strong vintage panache!

There is perhaps no other designer of the 20th century who has remained so perennially popular and widely imitated quite like Dior.  Next to Chanel’s “little black dress” stereotype, Dior’s “New Look” of 1947 has become its own icon, a bigger than life story.  Yet, with all popularity and familiarity the Dior silhouette has become, it is not always recognized back to its proper designer source by people.  To highlight the most modern example of this, the popularity of the show “The Marvelous Ms. Maisel” is now encroaching on the Dior glory, and many recognize the nipped waist, full-skirted, multi-seamed “princess” silhouette as being linked to the personal style of a fictional character.  The situation is not too different with the ever popular animal print in fashion.  It has been so overused as a movie character’s visual aid and featured in the collections of many prominent designers up until this day, that I wonder just how many people really know the influence Dior had on popularizing such a material design.  The silver screen has a powerful way of influencing fashion like no runway show has!

The democratizing of couture fashion, which started in the 1930s, certainly made a major impact on the Dior New Look post WWII, with many companies (from the “American Dior” Anne Fogarty to home sewing patterns like the one I used here) offering means of achieving a French high end style on any budget no matter where you live.  Although many countries, especially the United States (I’m thinking of you, Claire McCardell), showed their capability to offer creative, trend-setting fashion during WWII privations.  As soon as peace was signed, French clothiers were more than ready to regain their previous place of esteem.

With his premiere collection in the year 1947, Dior has afterwards never been really far from the spotlight of fashion, never not making some reflection into the current clothing trend of the time.  Yet for all the commonness of the princess silhouette of the 50’s, it still has not lost its luster of attractiveness, that aura of beautifully crafted design lines which makes both those lacking in sewing knowledge and those well-versed in it marvel alike at the creation of such structured, wonderful garments.  Here’s what I hope is a worthy tribute to the perfection of the very first vision of Dior’s popularity, wild animal that it is!  Practicing couture techniques, working at a slower pace, trying to primarily use invisible hand-stitching, executing professional finishings, and using high quality materials on this project all were due in part to being inspired after attending the exhibit earlier in the year at Denver, Colorado “Dior: From Paris to the World”.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  COATDRESS: 100% wool felt, 1/8 inch thick, in a forest green and a 100% cotton flannel for the animal print contrast; MUFF: a faux fur and anti-pill fleece

PATTERN:  COATDRESS – Vintage Vogue #9280, a reprint from 2017 of a year 1948 pattern, originally Vogue #491 Couturier Design; MUFF – Simplicity #4851 (also printed as no.8910) a circa 1840s to 1860’s accessories pattern from 2003 by designer Andrea Schewe

NOTIONS:  nothing extraordinary was needed – thread, interfacing, a zipper for the side, and a button (in my case I used a kit to cover my own to match the leopard print), and stuffing with decorator’s cording for the muff

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My version of this dress involved much hand-stitching because I wanted invisibly finished edges and higher-end techniques, but even then, it took a relatively reasonable time for those details – it was made in about 40 hours (maybe more) and finished on March 25, 2019.  The faux fur muff was made in 2004, if I remember correctly, and only took 3 hours or less to make from start to finish!

THE INSIDES:  The dress’ flannel is interfaced along its edges, and the wool felt needs no finishing, so all edges are au natural!  The muff has all enclosed edges.

TOTAL COST:  The wool felt was from my local fabric store, and was originally over $20 a yard, but with my discount on top of a sale, I bought all of the 3 ½ yards I needed for only $30…how’s that for a deal?!  The leopard print is free, coming out of the fabric stash of my Grandmother.  I am also counting the muff as good as free because the materials were bought for me by my mom and I made it so long back…but in reality I used less than half a yard of both materials so this was probably a pretty low cost project…even with me picking out some really nice fake fur!  Altogether, the only real cost was the $35 for the dress!

Leopard print and a saturated green seem to be the quintessential combo (next to leopard and bright red) when looking through past fashion inspiration beside Dior’s 1947 coat.  I’ve noticed an explosion of green paired with animal prints starting in the 1920s and most frequently used on such items as nice suits and detailed coats.  Such a pairing was featured through respected sources – fashion illustrations, style magazines, pattern book covers, and Hollywood starlets.  I in fact have a 1930s French fashion print of a green coat, with leopard accents and a muff (see it here), framed on the wall of my sewing space!  You can browse through my related Pinterest board “Animal Prints“ for further sources and inspiration.

Rather than creating a line-for-line recreation of the Dior coat, I preferred to mix the influence of other pieces that inspired me and use a Vogue Couturier reissue for my means of interpretation.  No matter what designer I am inspired by, I love to stay true to my own tastes and respect the original creation I have my eye on by varying my version.  This Vintage Vogue reissue was supposedly directly inspired by Dior’s coats and dresses of his first big year, but the pattern itself is dated to the year after – 1948.  That is enough of a provenance for me to be happy, but also not feel like I am taking anything away from the designer except a good lesson in sewing.

I kept closely to the pattern, except for switching up the contrast box pleat in the skirt from the back to the front, making the added collar and cuffs not removable but permanent, as well as simplifying the means of bodice button closing.  I personally hate skirt back box pleats – they never stay looking perfectly creased and I always see them as progressively becoming more messy and out-of-place with every sit.  When you smash a complex fabric fold like a box pleat under your bum, things cannot bode well.  Thus, I switched that detail to the front, using the exact same pattern piece as was given for the back.  I love the fact that the front box pleat makes my version of the pattern appear to be even more of a coat-and-dress combo piece than the original design intended.

The pattern called for cufflink-style button closing in the bodice, and as much as I like the idea of it and how unusual it would be, thinking about that detail actually enacted brings to mind something bulky and fussy in the wrong place.  I wanted to make my own buttons out of the contrast leopard as well as continue the aura of this being a coat, and so one simple button in the front does more, in my opinion, with less.  My sole button also keeps the tummy area nicely flat and the bodice flaps out of the way!  I had to add a small leopard print square panel underneath the front closing just to fill in for when it does gape slightly (because there is only one button there), but as I mostly wear a lightweight knit top underneath my dress, I don’t really need that extra piece anyway.

As intimidating as this might look, this design was not hard to sew – it’s just tricky and needs precise execution.  I love every item that I sew (otherwise I would re-work it ‘til I was!), but not too often am I left in absolute wonderment and find myself humbled and respectful of what I just made.  I am not meaning this in a bragging way, only meaning that I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to use such an ingenious pattern and successfully made something of it, this is really that good.  The front is practically one long piece with dizzying curves and odd bust darting.  The back is one piece brought in by darts which meet together to form a V above the waistline (quite tricky).  The back of the collar joins to the bodice in a lovely point (weirdly not in the line drawing).  The sleeves form the perfect fit for elbow room the way they subtly flare out, just right for showing off the cuff lining if you don’t always want to fold up the hem.  Everything altogether feels very fine indeed, and is so complimentary in all the best ways.  I found the fit to be pretty spot on – I graded between sizes according to the chart and I didn’t need to do any additional tailoring.  The bust and the sleeves tend be on the smaller side, just a bit, than I would like but all’s well that ends well!

The wool felt that I used for my dress was important for me to use on several levels.  However, first of all, it is such a beautiful material – so lofty for winter wear that keeps you warm yet breathes, easy-to-sew, easy to iron, and not itchy at all!  That being said, it had the perfect structure for this dress, as well.  The thick wool felt is stiff enough to make this coatdress keep a very stable shape without the need to add interfacing, horsehair trim at the hem, a crinoline slip, or boning along the insides like many tailored 50’s garments (and all Dior one’s!).  At the same time, it is soft enough to work with the curving seams perfectly, and be comfy to wear as well as simple to use.  Now that is a big win!

Mostly, though, aside from aesthetics, I wanted to use felt for the historical significance.  As I talked about in the beginning of my post, the Dior look was so popular that fashionistas on a budget immediately found ways to acquire the same thing through a different means.  Perhaps no other attempt at this is as well-known as the stereotypical “poodle skirts”.  The performer/singer Juli Lynne Charlot is credited for inventing the felt circle skirt in 1947.  Today they are loosely called “poodle skirt” because of the popularity of one of her many (frequently dog inspired) novelty pictures above the hem.  They had a humble beginning as her response to both finding a cheap and practical way to wear the newest Dior look as well as find a means of making money.  Fortunately, her mother owned a factory which used felt, so she had a free source of it, and as felt is made with a wide width, it’s perfect for a seamless circle skirt…just a hole in middle for the waist and you’re done!  By 1952, Juli Lynne had her own factory and was producing patterns.  You can read an excellent interview with Juli Lynne on this blog page from “The Vintage Traveler” where you can see images of her life and career, and more recently (August 22, 2019) “Dressed” had a podcast on this subject.

According to the blog interview at “The Vintage Traveler”, Juli Lynne wanted her clothing to be conversation starters.  I like that idea, too.  My clothes frequently get people talking, asking, me questions, or sharing the memories my style conjures!  This Dior inspired coatdress of mine so far has garnered many compliments, a few “oh, I sew too!” shares (this is the best), and even a few of the older generation telling me I remind them of classic Christmas movies or something a dear relative wore in their younger years.  It is all very sweet!  I am secretly a very social and people-loving person at heart, anyway, but experiences like that connect what I do (sewing) and the vintage styles I wear in a very meaningful manner both to me and the world around me.

The ‘Dior-ness’ of my outfit is fully continued with my accessories.  I am quite proud to sport a true Dior belt buckle.  I realize it is of a newer vintage (probably 80’s), but it has the name across the middle and carries the same idealism of the 1947 original that I was imitating.  Not too often do I get to go ‘all out’ and both find and buy a pricey designer brand item to complete one of my outfits, so doing it this time was a real treat!  I my garment is not instantly recognized for its Dior influence, my low-key but still obvious belt buckle will spell it out.  My earrings are French Dior-style studs, with a ball in front and one behind the lobe to cover the stud.  I couldn’t find a true Dior pair of earrings I could rationally afford after splurging on buckle, so I ordered the bronze ball/crystal back ones you see here from the Etsy shop “ArtandFact“.  My hat is a true vintage post WWII piece, and my shoes are Miz Mooz brand vintage reproduction heels.

Last but not least, my faux fur muffler needs a few words to be said for it!  It was made by me about 15 years in the past now when I wanted to get into Civil War reenacting and start with something fun which might be worn for other occasions.  I don’t remember much about it other than it was super fail-proof and ridiculously easy for a newbie like me (back then) to sewing with fur, and I used a bag of fiberfill polyester.  I rather wish I would have used something nicer than fleece for the inside but it does keep my hands so very warm!  I added the cording to make it less fussy and wearable over the shoulder or around the neck.  Without its cord, the muff would always need to be held, and I am the type who would grow weary of that and set it down to mistakenly forget it somewhere…never to be seen again.  Can’t you tell I’ve done such a thing before?!  A furry muffler is such a practical luxury item (it’s both glamorous yet good at keeping your hands from freezing) that happily came back as a trend in the 30s, 40s, and 50s.  One day, I want to tweak this pattern and make another version in a faux astrakhan that is secretly a wallet inside, just as they did in the 40’s!

If you’ve made it this far down reading through my thorough post, thank you!  Well, this about wraps it up here for this decade.  I’ve been blogging for 8 out of the last 10 years, and am so grateful to each and every one of you for following, liking, and commenting!  I’ve been putting pressure on myself to decide what would be perfect to share in a post before a new decade.  Nevertheless, I realized it is just yet another year, and I have plenty more good stuff to share here and to do in the background just like this past one!  Life goes on and I’m looking forward to many more years of sewing and writing about it here!  This Dior coatdress was my chosen holiday outfit for this year.  It was the one I wore for our Christmas card pictures, after all, so I felt my end of year outfit to share was rather a natural choice.  Taking part in the “Designin’ December” challenge always ensures that I have a really amazing project to reveal and wear at the end of the year, anyway!

Little Letterman

A little bit of necessary and unselfish sewing which had been finished in time for the arrival of cold weather is my new pride and joy.  After all, it is worn by my little pride and joy!  The fall and winter holidays are all about family and appreciating those in our lives, after all!  My son needed a warm yet dapper winter coat and I more than stepped up to the challenge.  By using a vintage pattern with scraps leftover from other projects, I came up with a no-cost classy children’s coat unlike what any store has to offer with all the benefits of vintage and the longevity of brand new.  When a utilitarian garment like a coat can be as much as a fashion piece as a great shirt or a nice pair of pants, then outerwear is no longer an unwelcome covering merely necessary due to the weather.

It rather alarms me how successful my project was because of how grown-up this new jacket makes him seem.  Being that I see him on a daily basis, it takes something out-of-the-ordinary on him in a photograph for me to see our son in a different light.  I think kids’ clothes are way too casual in general today – kids are underestimated.  Dressing nicely in no way hinders them…rather the opposite. Children can be so cute all polished up and put together in something nice and halfway grown up.  It’s a good practice to get them in the habit of doing so every now and then, anyway, it gets them in a good frame of mind.  Sadly though, it is hard to find them dapper and somewhat fancy clothes in the ‘normal’ RTW circles.

Children’s clothes lacking attitude, lettering, and brand logos are hard to find today; however, letters were popular in vintage kids and teens clothing too (30’s to 60’s, peaking in the 50’s), with a different purpose.  Back then it was all about school pride, name initials, and occasionally movie stars like Roy Rogers (for one example).  Most of this lettering went on outerwear, like the well-known Letterman jackets and sweaters.  This particular jacket I made is very much a combo of the youthful Letterman style mixed with the more grown up Gabardine style.  A men’s Gabardine jacket is about hip length with little to no shaping at the hem (straight cut), regular set-in sleeves, and a collar (normally).  It was popular in the 1940s.  A letterman jacket for the youthful crowd often had two-tone colors going on with the sleeves – frequently raglan style – being a different color than the body, a banded bottom and collar.  Both styles have front welt pockets.  The pattern I used is a quaint “Father and Son” mini-me design after all, so I love the way the adult and the child features combine to make my son look like the little man that he is!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  the plaid is a rayon suiting, the forest green accents are a vintage cotton corduroy from my paternal Grandmother, and lining is a combo of fleece quilted to a poly lining

PATTERN:  Simplicity #7744, year 1968

NOTIONS:  I only used what was on hand – thread, interfacing scraps, leftover fabric, and even a zipper which was cut off an old RTW sweater of his which has been long ago been thrown away after he wore out.  I even had the snap system leftover from doing the placket on this dress of mine!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  After 30 plus intense hours over the course of just over a week, the jacket was finished on November 4, 2018

THE INSIDES:  Full lining means “What raw edges?!”

TOTAL COST:  Nothing, zero, zilch is pretty much the full cost.  Leftover materials from several other projects plus using material given as a gift for the other half of it means this coat of his is as good as free!  How’s that for a homemaker’s dream!

What I particularly love about this project is that because I am using up remnants for it, besides emptying my stash, my son and I end up matching each other just a bit.  Let’s fluff off the “Father-Son” look the pattern advertises and give a big ‘yay’ for a not so commonly seen “Mother-Son” pairing!  My 1945 Glen Plaid me-made skirt suit set left just enough leftover – one yard – to be more than just a scrap.  At first I was thinking of using it for a purse, but rayon suiting it too nice for just an accessory I probably won’t use all too often.  Great fabrics need to be seen, worn, and enjoyed!  By chance I asked my son if he liked it – he sometimes likes to “pet” my softest fabrics and his opinion is normally quite thoughtful and interesting.  His positive enthusiasm lined it up for something for him.  A winter dress coat was the next big thing he needed, and one yard was just so close of a cut for my chosen pattern so it seemed like those two were meant to be together.  It is not too obvious of a mini-me look (compared to my suit) for him to mind but it is still enough of a pairing that I am thrilled!

It also continues his mommy-made wardrobe sort of like a theme.  If you look at the 1940s overalls I made him a few years back and his recent 1960s house coat, leftovers from both projects are in this coat – one seen and the other unseen.  The forest green corduroy for the jacket’s sleeves and trimmings are leftovers from the overalls, which is already leftover from my Grandma’s stash.  She used this corduroy to make things for my dad and his siblings when they were little so I feel all choked up over how special it is for me to carry on the tradition.  The puffy lining to the inside of the jacket was made possible by the leftover “lily pad” fleece of his house coat.  I mock-quilted it to the poly lining in angled lines that meet at the back center for a bit of a decorative touch to something very practically meant to merely keep our son warm and toasty.

It’s the details that make a garment standout and stand the test of time, just like all the vintage items that are loved by so many or like the high fashion items crafted by design houses for superstars and runway shows.  There is something to the love for the beauty of sewing – or the love for the recipient, too – manifesting itself in the excess time which goes into fine details.  Such details make creating in the first place have a bit more easily visible worth, sort of like a proof of time well spent, remotely tangible for those open to appreciating them.

Such reasoning is why I spared no amount of effort in my zeal for a fantastic, professionally finished coat.  My first mission in this goal was to make the best welt pockets I have done yet.  I normally am not adverse and stressed out by a sewing technique as I am with creating welt pockets, even though I know how to do them.  The pressure was especially hard because of several irreversible steps before the pocket needs to be created and if I messed up, well…the coat would be no more.  However, I happily feel that I succeeded in not ruining my project, but still failed in making the best welt openings ever.  I am just overly critical on my own work, so to every other eye they are great welt pockets.  Working with tiny and precise seams in corduroy is not by far an easy thing.

That fact also applies to setting snaps though corduroy.  I had to make several “test run” tabs, complete with interfacing to mimic the thickness, and we failed with a few settings before we both realized we were running short of snaps and rather finding the right pressure to use on the press mechanism.  These sort of things – much like welt pockets – get to a point where you just have to take a deep breath and just go for it!  We made one ‘male’ snap on the hem tab itself and two ‘female’ snaps on the coat to give the option of pulling it in…or not, if wanted.  Having options to one’s clothes is lovely!

We did not want to push our good luck with the snap settings, and I wanted something lower key, so I stitched down large, black, easy-to-handle snaps at the sleeve cuffs and neck closing.  As much as this was mostly my idea, and my creation, I was thinking of him throughout the process.  I made sure the large snaps were something he could handle all by himself.  I made the front pockets bigger (they reach all the way to the front zipper and end at the bottom hemline) because I know all the things he likes to stash in his coats.   The front zipper is recycled off of an older garment he wore out and grew out of so I knew it worked for him.  Even the choice of green corduroy was really his choice – he could have chosen navy blue or burgundy cords, too.  I did think ahead and made the sleeves just a few a few inches longer in the hopes of this jacket lasting an extra winter.  The way he eats more food than us, though, and grows like a weed that thought is just a hope, perhaps.

Ironically, or maybe appropriately, the pretty fall backdrop for these photos is his school’s front entrance street-view grounds.  This was soon after he went back into a new year of school and after class picture time.  Sometimes, those school pictures are not always the best so we had a good excuse to take good shots of the jacket – going out and try to capture the real side of him in a much more ascetically pleasing look than a uniform.

For a jacket that resembles the symbol of the elite in a school, he really is nothing stuffy no matter how nice he may look.  He is just an eager, individualistic little man who is still trying to get the hang of finding the words for everything he has to say (it’s a LOT lemme tell you!) and the letters that form such.  Thus, he has no logo inscriptions.  I appreciate the fact he does seem to be forming another sphere of his life at the same time – a rather dapper, fun style for himself in his non-school-uniform clothes.  Sometimes we have to remind him on weekends to reach for the printed tees in his closet and not his plaid dress shirts!  If I can encourage and help him along in this sphere (especially since, for the moment, he likes my taste and I enjoy his), than my sewing is very worthwhile to be such a means of expression for one of the most important people in my life.  Never underrate the power of a boy and his mother.

Persistence of Fashion

Even with my complaints in the last post about fitting my recently changed size, I still do happily fit in many of my old me-made items.  Not to brag, but not everybody can say that they fit in things back from 20 years ago, much less have them still wearable today in both condition and aesthetics!  I luckily liked to make rather classic pieces that still work with my style of today.  This post’s outfit is a prime example.  A skirt I sewed 20 years back combines with a 50’s style blouse I have been meaning to make since I first dove into vintage in 2010 to give me an outfit that perfectly defines my unified past and present outlook on my fashion.  Add on a little self-made flower sewn down to a hair comb and I am a contented little maker!

Andrea Venier of Recycrom has said, “One of the big problems is that today we don’t expect to wear something for a very long time.”  (The Italian Recycrom from Officina+39 is a revolutionary sustainable dyeing solution made of 100% recycled clothing, fibrous material, and textile scraps.)  Boy, Andrea has not met the likes of me.  There is a specific comfort level to wearing items that are old favorites, and for me, when they also happen to be handmade…all the better.  Sure they are made in ways I would not do today.  However, it is nice to keep these reminders of my progress especially when they are still wearable for me.  All it takes is a little something new to renew my excitement for an older me-made, and I feel like I have a fresh ideas and bright possibilities again.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The skirt is rayon challis and the top is polyester shantung

PATTERNS:  For the skirt, I used McCall’s #8796 from 1997, while the top is Simplicity #4047, a 1950’s era ensemble released in 2006

NOTIONS:  Nothing unusual – a zipper for the side, thread, and interfacing for the neck facing is all that is needed for the blouse, while the skirt required thread and elastic.  Simple, really!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The skirt was indeed a two hour project from what I remember back to 1998, and the top took me about 8 to 10 hours and finished March 17, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  My skirt has overlocked (serged) edges with a hem covered in hem tape and the blouse has bias bound seams.

TOTAL COST:  I have no idea.  You’re talking about fabrics out of my mom’s stash from over half my lifetime ago.  It’s all as good as free to me.

Let’s talk about the patterns first.  I’ll start with my favorite out of the two.  My skirt is from an old standby pattern, literally made into a two dozen varieties between 1998 and 2004 when I began filling my wardrobe with handmade, comfortable, classy, yet easy-to-make separates.  This particular rayon floral one was one of my first attempts.  I had made a paper copy of the whole pattern at my nearby office store because I was using it so much.  The slim, two-piece ‘View A’ I had used as a base for add-on details, a draft for lining other skirts and dresses, or just by itself.  The full, four-paneled ‘View C’ was the version I used the most, especially when using rayon or a lightweight poly print, while the in-between breadth of ‘View B’ was great for stiffer materials like cotton.  As the cover states, this really is a two hour skirt.  It took me 30 minutes to cut the pieces out of 3 yards for ‘View C’, and 15 minutes to cut out of two yards for the slim ‘View A’.  The elastic waist is easy to do and provides a nice waistband that doesn’t roll, thankfully!  The rest of the skirt is simple, long, straight lines, however, the wide, bias-influenced hemline takes up most of the rest of the two hours.  The simple pieces taught me how to successfully work with the bias grain as a beginner at the concept.  This pattern has a gold-medal in my estimation, amongst my substantial stash.

The blouse’s pattern offers such a wonderful variety for building a great basic 50’s wardrobe. Give me the most for my money, in my opinion!  This blouse is a very chic anchor to the ensemble.  I told you (a few posts back, here) I wasn’t done with the color blue and peplums, anyway! However, it frustrates me that I cannot authentically date this pattern, like most of the other vintage re-issues, by finding its original.  The iconic actress Lauren Bacall had a very similar blouse in the 1957 movie “Designing Woman”.  That year is a popular date for many of the 50’s reprints, so I’m guessing the styles are from mid to late in the decade.  They do have #4047 still as an on-demand custom print-out (link to that here), so Simplicity must realize how good this pattern is, too, although finding an old out-of-print copy would probably be a cheaper option.

Sizing ran small for my blouse, and I do wish I had went up in size. After all, working with a tight, unforgiving woven like poly shantung leaves me no room for a big meal of a body sizing change.  Oh well, it was really much easier to make than it appears and poly shantung is not as precious as its silk cousin so it’s no big loss if I need to make another down the road.  The blouse pattern has a long back bodice I wish I had shortened, but otherwise came together beautifully, with good instructions and wonderful details.  There were no mistakes or hiccups encountered with the blouse.  It was whipped up with no alterations and fits as you see it.

Oh, how I wish I knew the name for the kind of neckline which is on this blouse!  I love it, along with the box pleats coming from the shoulder!  It is so unique and beautiful the way it all frames the face.  The curving and angles made the neckline by far the trickiest part of the top.  It’s not hard to do, I just had to be thorough with marking points and seam allowances before I could be precise with my sewing.  There are two ¼” wide darts along the back neckline to help bring it up to sitting above the base of the neck, like a collarless collar.  Then the sides of the front neckline bow out on the side to square out at the bottom, so there is lots of clipping and trimming of seams involved.  I never could get the darn shantung to not be puckered at the corners.  Deep down, I will always hate anything polyester.  Yet, the fabric looks pretty enough and only I will ever probably notice such “failings” so it is and easy success.

The skirt is very true to size but then again working with bias cut skirts with elastic waists is naturally going to be forgiving…the reason why I am still wearing them all these years!  Many times I even went down a size for the skirts to cut down on the excess material that needs to be gathered at the waistline (what I did for this version; see picture below), but also because I sometimes just added darts and only back elastic to make my skirts smoother fitting over the tummy.

Length measurements for the skirts can be deceiving, however, because of the sweeping hem fullness and bias grain.  My advice is to go long and try it on to decide.  Let hemming be the last thing you do after letting a skirt like this hang for at least 24 hours.  I learned the hard way with this rayon floral skirt.  Circle skirts or those cut on the bias, even if they are on a dress, change their hemline once the grain hangs down on a completed garment for a day.  I remember I was in a hurry to finish this skirt, and I immediately hemmed it as soon as it was together.  By the time I wore it, the hem was embarrassingly wonky, which was obvious because the original length was down to my ankle.  Even back then I hated unpicking as much as I do today, so I merely recut a new, slightly shorter yet straighter hem.  It was hard!  The fabric was always shifting and I got to a “good enough” attitude and used hem tape to cover the skinny hem edge.  Straight grain hem tape is not ideal for a curving hem, so I found out.  It is necessary to ease in the fullness of one edge.  Ah, you sew and learn.  You’d never guess the ‘oopsies’ I made with this, would you?!  The day these pictures were taken, it was windy so my skirt might still seem uneven, nevertheless.  Twenty years later, my sewing “mistakes” are still happening (but decreasing), and I’m still learning.  Just so long as my projects turn out just as successfully and are enjoyed as much as this skirt, I am happy.

My hair flower was a last minute creation to complete my outfit by utilizing some of the few scraps leftover.  I cut a pointed-end oblong piece on the bias, single layer, about 10 inches in length, about 7 inches at the middle where it is widest.  If you think of how a kid would draw the playing ball to the American game of football, that is what my piece looked like.  That was folded in half along its length, wrong sides in together, and loosely stitched along the curved raw edge.  The loose stitches are ties off at one end and brought in tight, and the piece is curled into itself, jellyroll style.  The raw ends are stitched together and covered with some fake plastic leaves after sewing it to a small hair comb.  I want to make every last remnant count for something so they might as well help me accessorize!

No matter how fast styles change, and how quickly clothing is given away before it has reached the end of its wear, fashion of the past decades is persistent and has a way of coming back around again.  I feel like the 90’s was the last of the good quality ready-to-wear that is part of the reason why the label of ‘vintage’ is synonymous with lasting style.  Now that we have had a few decades of cheap tees, under $30 dresses, and poor-quality clothing made in third world countries (paying them an un-livable wage) can we just go back to making garments that are worth wearing and keeping for even a fraction of how long I enjoy my wardrobe?  I mean the fashions of the 90’s is subtly coming back, and older vintage styles are comfortably mainstream, so I don’t know why wearing what one has for longer is such a hard concept for the masses.  Then again, what might be better for the world is not necessarily the first thought in the face of a flashy bargain…or good for the pocketbooks of big business.  I realize I might be “preaching to the choir” here, however, this is my site to write down not just my sewing process, but also my thoughts and the passion which goes into every outfit I share here.

Look for more of my old reiterations of this skirt pattern to show up in future posts.  I am still going through my past makes and constantly finding new ways to style them with my even newer makes!  As for my blouse, this might not get a whole lot of wear in shantung, and I might not fit in it before I wear it enough to satisfy me, I’ll figure out something for it when that time comes.  Until then, I feel so special in this set!  I am stubborn about what I want to wear.  I like things that make me feel good and confident enough to be myself.  Yes, that does include things that are not necessarily new or up to date…and I’m quite okay with that.  If you have something made years back but you are still proud of it, please do share!