Hermes Helmet

Hooray!  This is my 300th post!  To celebrate, I’ve dressed up in the 1950s finest.  This will be a bit of a different post in the way that the only thing me-made is a curious hat.  My dress is the true big deal here, though…it is an “Anne Fogarty” label!  Not only is it currently my most prestigious true vintage garment, but it is such a learning experience to examine, as well as a wondrous treat to put on.  This dress gives me a dream figure, and I hope my little handmade hat is the proper extravagant finishing touch to such a formal outfit!  More about that later.

For those of you that do not know who this dress’ label refers to, Anne Fogarty is summarized as “an American fashion designer, active 1940–80, who was noted for her understated, ladylike designs that were accessible to American women on a limited income.”  She was discovered because someone had the open-mindedness to see her potential, and she learned as she worked her way up…a true American story.  Her designs emphasized femininity especially seen in her “famous paper doll dress”, also the reason I am so excited to have found this dress in my size.

The dress I have on is a great example of the “tight bodice, wasp waist, and full, ballet-length skirt supported by layers of stiffened petticoats” which were the trademarks of an Anne Fogarty “paper doll” dress, seen as an American and inexpensive option to the Dior silhouette popular since the late 40’s.  I remotely dated my dress to the early side of the mid-50’s, and the happenstance of finding a similarly designed frock in an advertisement from 1955 has concreted my assumption.  There had to have been yards upon yards of rayon satin finish taffeta needed to make this dress with such a full skirt that is over and above a circle shape, so a ‘reasonable’ price must still have been expensive.  My Grandmother’s brooch even matches the one in the advertisement!

Fogarty seems to receive harsh flack in any write-up nowadays on account of her book, “Wife-Dressing: The Fine Art of Being a Well-Dressed Wife”.  I think this is sadly unfair because it not only overshadows her wonderful, resourceful career but, as a product of her times, it is going to naturally have stereotypes.  However, in my opinion, there is still a lot of good said in her book that can be relevant and followed today, just as her designs have such a lasting beauty and magnificence of craftsmanship that the couture world (or anyone interested in sewing) of today would do good to look and learn from.  We seem to live in a world where the runways have become a place to make a statement, show one’s art, entertain extravagantly, or display an idea, making it less about presenting something truly wearable to any but rich starlets who have somewhere to go in view of the paparazzi.  Goodness, with some of Balmain’s Spring Couture 2019 models going topless and the last few years’ trend of sheer fashions (these have a ridiculous amount of nothing there), even what clothes do come out of high design still make women practically naked!  One cannot put on a dress like this Anne Fogarty creation and – miss in some way – the covered up, but still sexy as all get out, appeal of a body sculpting garment which can craft a tasteful yet enticing figure with superior quality of artistry, yet still be accessible to an everyday fashionista.

Taking pictures of a solid black dress is very challenging, so we didn’t even really try to take many detail shots, but I can tell you about them instead.  The most obvious and perhaps the most confusing is the drop-waist/skirt seam.  The curving is ingenious, especially taking into account the many tiny cartridge pleats that comprise the skirt attaching into that seam.  Yes, it is not plainly gathered…mind blowing!  There is no boning of any kind for this bodice, but from the bust down the inside is double layered of fabric and all the princess seams double stitched and pressed out.  It kind of just molds my body into shape as I zip it on (there is a sturdy metal center back zipper).  Granted, I did follow Anne Fogarty’s advice and wear a petticoat with a vintage, strapless, full body corselet under this for the full and properly 50’s experience, and I actually lose a few inches in my waist!  She seemed to recommend two petticoats under her dresses, but this dress already has one built into it, made from the same material as the dress itself.  The skirt seams are almost all on selvedge seams, while the rest are simply pinked.

The upper bodice is very classic 50’s – kimono sleeves with a parallelogram underarm gusset so I have full arm movement (amazing for a fancy dress).  The neckline has a rolled edge which ends up looking like a collar.  There is a plunging back which more than accounts for the high covered front.  The bodice also has the very tiniest of flaws in this otherwise amazingly excellent condition vintage piece.  There two are pinhead size holes at the left front chest which I really wonder if they aren’t from a brooch, making me kind of feel badly for adding one myself.  However, I am careful to not poke roughly through the fabric.  The nature of this dress’ fabric is so stiff, tightly woven, and structured it is perfect for a design like Fogarty’s but it keeps frays in check.  I think I’ll leave those little spots be as they are.

Now, to talk about the hat I made since you get to finally see it best from behind!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a thick vinyl faux crocodile skin, ivory with gold foiled accents

PATTERN:  McCall’s #1571, year 1950

NOTIONS:  all I needed was thread, some cotton and interfacing scraps, and some wire for the “headband” that is part of the lining…

TIME TO COMPLETE:  this was made in about 4 or 5 hours

TOTAL COST:  I spent $5 for a half yard of the vinyl, and only used half of what I bought, so I suppose this hat only cost me $2.50!  I should just be able to squeeze in a little fancy purse out of what’s leftover, to be made in the future (but I will probably choose a view from an OOP Vogue #7354).

This hat ended up in a whole different direction than I originally intended, but that’s okay – I love it just how it is better than I had imagined.  The pattern I used actually came from my mom’s pattern stash.  I doubt it came from her mom or has a story behind it or I probably would have heard about it by now, but I’m now thinking I should ask her just in case there is a tale that just hasn’t come out yet.  Even with my small changes to the pattern it still is classic 50’s style of full crown coverage.  Only, here it received what I see as an avant-garde upgrade, too.

At first I sewed the hat up just like the pattern designed (sans lining) and it turned out mimicking something between a religious bonnet and a swimmers cap.  It completely covered my ears and hair.  Bummer!  Although difficult to sew on my machine, I was super excited because the three layers came together quickly.  It did fit my head quite well once I top-stitched the seams down (by hand).  The front needed to be pruned down and given interest to be made fashionable.

My solution was to work with what I already had.  The side curves had “wings” cut out of them.  The “wings” are still attached to the hat at the inner corners at the top of the head, and were left free of the lining when I stitched it around the edge.  The wings are tacked down on the sides of the head further back and decorated as you see them with vintage metal shoe clips.  This way, without adding anything new or doing drastic changes, there is room to show my ears and hair as well as have a sort of interesting underlying theme…my post’s title gives that away.

You see, Petasos is the closest thing that my hat reminds me of.  An ancient petasos was a metal helmet worn by a member of the Athenian cavalry, and it later became associated with the god Hermes (also later known as Mercury to the Romans) when it had the side “wings” on it.  Hermes was the messenger god as well as “moving freely between the worlds of mortal and divine”, and to accommodate his quickness, his petasos became more streamlined to the head, too, besides losing its wide traditional brim.  He was also the god of commerce, his very name under the Romans is related to the Latin word for “merchandise”, so anything of monetary value, especially precious metal and coinage has been associated with him.  My 50’s hat oddly aligns with all of this.  Its construction is plated, in a mock form of those crescent-shaped overlapping pieces which can be found on the back of an armadillo or on a knuckle in medieval armor.  I never really meant for such an association…the wings I added to my hat do add a lot to the original frumpy design and seemed like a natural adaptation.

Sometimes I do believe there is a lot of either subconscious planning going on or projects just make themselves what they are supposed to be.  Whatever the case, and whatever connotation my hat has, I always like what I make best when I don’t try too hard…thinking that is!  I just make beautiful and creative stuff that I do need more often than not and always do enjoy even when it’s made for others.  Makers gotta make, as the popular saying goes.

There are some designers that I can associate myself more easily than many others, and this is so with Anne Fogarty’s story and beautiful creations.  I don’t ever really go out for the purpose of buying vintage (I like to do controlled browsing), and goodness knows I don’t have enough fancy occasions to wear nice stuff to, but this was in my size by an well-known designer and it was too good of a deal to pass up.  As I have said in past posts (here and here) where I addressed the care for, benefits, and details to true vintage, this dress is worthwhile alone by being something I can learn from and aspire to.  Let me know if you have a garment that has a quality or story that has taught you something, or at least inspires you to create!

I am so happy to be writing my 300th post to all of you.  Thank you for all the comments and support you have shared with me along the way.  I pulled out the good stuff for you this time and hope you enjoyed this slight change of pace.  Here’s to many more blog posts yet to come!

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Living with Coral

Personally, I don’t ever put much weight or mental thought into the chosen Pantone Color of the year.  I kind of think it is some sort of gimmick or ruse to ‘sell’ a certain dye lot, besides being rather silly, if you ask me.  Fashion chosen for the populace through those companies higher up who run the money and production is not an organic trend by the populace, no matter what advertising makes it out to be.  Anyway, never mind my conspiracy theory rant because I am weirdly head over heels for the 2019 Color of the Year choice…”Living Coral” (#16-1546).

It is described as “an animating and life-affirming coral hue with a golden undertone that energizes and enlivens with a softer edge.”  Subconsciously this color is not a new tone for me to sport, but the chosen Color of the Year has opened my eyes to see it is already in my wardrobe and has been part of my fabric choices more than I realized. (This can be clearly seen in this 20’s style dress, my 1954 qipao, ’57 striped sundress, my convertible 40’s pinafore, or even this 80’s style outfit.)  I do love a good bright color but this 2019 color is something with more pop than a pastel but not overly confident.  I feel a softened orange-borderline peach tone highlights my light olive skin.  So, Pantone’s “Living Coral” announcement only gives me a reason to bring out an old favorite color and find original and absolutely awesome way to wear it with my classic vintage panache – with this post’s dress as my first example.  Made with THE goldmine of rare fabric, this dress’ lovely true vintage rayon gabardine shows a unique and special way circa 1949 to incorporate “Living Coral” into more than just summer frocks (a default item made of the color).

The gloomy side of such a happy shade is the facts that the real world living creature of coral is dramatically dying in growing numbers.  I’m not meaning to be melodramatic here, but nature is the original, pure form of color in all its most breathtaking and inspirational sources.  Fashion is a major world polluter and this year’s color is sadly ironic if it is not also used as a source for awareness.  Man-made colors do not level up the bright and glorious shades of nature.  Just think of a Birds-of-Paradise, a butterfly, and a show stopping sunrise or sunset for only a few examples.  What good is it to have the shade of “Living Coral” paraded in paint cans, on garments, and stationary if the real living coral is becoming so bleached out it is now only drab and sickly?  I’ll step off my soapbox now, but as one who is staunchly emotional about sustainability and thoughtful fashion choices, I had to share my two cents.   Let’s turn this Color of the Year trend around to actually do good rather than just promote sales for once.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a rayon and cotton gabardine blend vintage original fabric.

PATTERN:  a New York brand sewing pattern #867, a “Louise Scott” design, circa 1949

NOTIONS:  I only needed thread, a little interfacing, and a zipper (I used a vintage metal one).  All items were on hand

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was finished on November 15, 2018 after at least 25 hours put into it

THE INSIDES:  SO nice!  All French seams

TOTAL COST:  This dress cost only about $20…I got a great deal on the fabric!

What is so special about vintage gabardine?  I don’t really know why it is so rare, but I do know quality modern (as in no polyester) gabardine is hard enough to come by.  Yet I have found some primarily made of cotton over the years and it can be found in many of my sewing projects.  Gabardine fabric is defined as “a smooth, durable twill-woven cloth” and I love how it is durable yet soft and flowing at the same time with an interesting texture when you look closely.  It is one of my favorite fabrics but this vintage gabardine absolutely takes my breath away with its high caliber of excellence…why, it actually has a satin sheen and is not just a solid color!  It is so silky and wrinkle-free.  It was a dream to work with and is fantastic to wear and touch.  The underside is a smooth solid grey and the right side is a very detailed floral pattern with the twill weave showing through.

Looking at the inventory of vintage fabric sellers who can authentically date their products, I have been able to roughly date this material to the late 40’s or 1950s, one of the reasons I chose the pattern I did for it.  Also, American post war fashions did not need the 4-something yards that a Dior style dress would require and I didn’t have much more than 2 yards to work with!  Nevertheless, I did want to pair two lucky finds together – the pattern had been found for a steal of a price during our last trip to the fashion district of Kansas City, Missouri, and the fabric had been a lucky gamble for a reasonable deal bought to support a “Makerspace”.  What went into making this dress could be counted on a “Top 10 Best Finds Ever” list, if I had such a thing.

This dress might look simple at first glance, because it inherently is just that…which at the same time only shows off the smart, quality style of it.  It has details – they just aren’t flashy.  This is to me the lovely epitome of post-WWII New York fashion (and I don’t mean the pattern brand).  American late 40’s styles were so much more sleek, slimming, and subtle compared to the strongly padded, statement silhouettes of French fashion so often used to define this time.  Both had impeccable tailoring and lovely design lines, and I know (as and American) I am no doubt biased, yet to me it seems that there is a great art in being understated.  Dior styles overemphasize both hem width and the hips to create a tiny waist but many American late 40s fashions preferred slimming skirts, longer hems, simple design lines, and relied on details (such as pocket flaps, peplums, pleats, etc.) to softly visually widen the hips.  This latter I see as more universally flattering and working for more body forms versus the former.  I think I can personally work both sides of the post war profiles, but I appreciate the low key appeal and practicality of late 40’s state-side vintage while also enjoying creating it.

So – can we take few minutes here to let me detail the fine points that a camera doesn’t seem to capture very well?  Of course the double hip pleats on each side are the main event, even though you might have glanced over them.  They were drafted as part of the skirt side panels making for two very long and skinny cuts of fabric.  They stand in for a true peplum.  Post war 40s peplums, especially ’48 to ’51 were very low on the body line at and just below the hips much like the pleats on this posts dress.  I was afraid that the print would drown out the detail, so I made sure the hip pleats were not ironed down flat but kept their rolled edge appearance.

The sleeve cuffs mirror the hip pleats.  However the cuffs are slightly pointed under the arm in front of the elbow.  This little drafting point actually helps the cuffs stay folded up and keeps them from catching on things as compared to other cuffs on clothes I have which are straight cut in circumference.  That is smart engineering there!

The skirt is similarly fine-tuned.  I noticed it at the ‘cutting out’ stage when the sides of the center front panel had a concave bottom half, like a very gentle slope outward.  This way the center skirt panel flares out and rolls over the side panel seams from mid-thigh downward…just beautiful and unique.  Such a little difference in pattern shaping does so much!  Not only does this feature make walking elegant and easy-to-move in, but also it’s not every project that the finished garment actually turns out to pretty much have the same drape and qualities as the cover drawing.  Many drawn garment examples (both vintage and modern) only prove to be an idealized or a lame version of the actual draft on paper of a design, and it frustrates my detail-oriented brain to no end that the two don’t match up more often or not.  New York patterns sometimes do get a bad rap (from what I have read) for only offering a colorless sketch on their envelopes, but here, the drawing captured the exact small nuances of this style.  Needless to say, I am impressed.

Hopefully, this dress could fool a fashion historian or curator.  I wanted nice finishings to please myself, but also I felt the special fabric deserved to be made particularly well.  Hardly ever do I sew with true vintage fabric, so I wanted to only use notions and techniques which could be seen on a dress of the era which I was creating.  The only thing glaringly modern is the shoulder pads and maybe the thread I used, the second of which could only be ascertained by someone trained to know.  Otherwise, the French seams, the cotton interfacing, and the vintage metal side zipper do not date this dress as current.  The design certainly won’t!  The edges of the neckline and sleeve cuffs, the zipper, as well as the hem, were meticulously hand-picked for invisible stitching, adding to the subtle high detailing and because the wonderful fabric deserved it (saying it again).  These might also confuse anyone looking to date this garment.  All of this was something of an experiment, and the result brings just making another garment into something at a whole other level.  I actually get giddy just thinking about it.  Reliving the past isn’t old-fashioned or second-rate…it is really fun and a very nice treat.

After all my raving about how the dress turned out, what was not lovely about this was the sizing.  I have made New York patterns a few times now and they have consistently had small shoulders, long hems and very small hips and waist.  This dress’ pattern was the opposite fit.  Of course, the difference is they have been pre-mid 1940’s.  But it is surprising that just 5 or so years later could show such a marked difference.  I have nothing to back my theory up, but I wonder if the New York pattern company had new owners or at least new body standards after WWII.  I know the company did make it to the mid-50’s.  The dress had a very long waist (common for 1950’s dresses), very wide hips, and normal shoulders.  I had graded down to my body size but I had to take out in the waist and below what accounts to two sizes smaller still.  Any vintage pattern never ceases to hold a fitting surprise, I suppose.

Sadly, I have not been able to find out anything on the purported designer of this dress, Louise Scott.  I did find several other Louise Scott New York patterns (from 1950, some of which I passed up) along with this one, and any Internet search I have tried so far only shows New York pattern envelope covers.  Thus, I’m guessing she might have been an independent, small designer hired by this one brand of sewing patterns to get her fashion concepts out there and help their company, which was in its last years of business, step things up.  She might have just been their in house pattern drafter, too, even.  I don’t know, but it is distressing that for as many patterns as Louise Scott offered through New York Pattern Company we know nothing about her wonderfully classy and meticulous designs.

I wore 1950s accessories to emphasize the fact that it could even be a design from early in that decade, or make it an obvious late 40s style at least.  My Grandmothers vintage 1950s black glass jewelry set (bracelet and necklace) pairs with some older, some modern pieces – mid-1940s gloves, a 50’s velvet beaded head topper, me-made sterling earrings, and my decade-old favorite strappy dress heels in black satin.  I believe my handbag might be from the 1980s but it has that classic 50’s style.  Of course, I had to play up the “Living Coral” color in my dress by tying a vintage 40’s silk scarf to my purse.  It also doubled as very pretty neck scarf that day.

“Living Coral” is such a versatile and cheerful color, more adaptable than many might imagine, almost like it’s a neutral.  Here, it goes with a blue-undertone grey and the black with cream flecks are a complimentary muted contrast.  “Living Coral” tones were often paired with a ‘dove brown’ or ‘avocado green’ in the 1950s.  Of course, I think  bright royal blue pairs well with coral, too, after making my 20’’s style “The Artist” dress mentioned earlier.  Please, just don’t forget that the real living coral in our oceans need to stay just as bright and just as much in the limelight as 2019’s fashion color is!  If you have another interesting color you’ve paired coral with, do let me know because I’d love to try it!

Revamp

It’s a new year, and there are another 360-something days to come of fresh memories, novel occasions, unexpected changes, and general happenings to be made for 2019.  In my experience, where we begin the year is normally quite interesting and different as compared to when it ends.  Thus, I thought it would be appropriate to start a new year of posting with a project similar to the way the world rolls from one year to the next…a refashion.  Every refashion is a new beginning for something from the past which is remembered in a different manner by the time it is reworked.  A refashion is a fresh start.

This particular refashion is quite basic and fancy at the same time.  It has been – and now continues to be – my basic “little black dress”, which now takes a very classic vintage spin from the basic modern piece it had been!  This is my fanciest refashion yet, I believe, as well as my most used.  It is comfier than it ever has been thanks to my re-vamp, and it is versatile enough for a funeral, wedding, night out, or fancy party (such as this!).  You name it, and in all probability this dress can step up for the occasion.  To think…all I did was use something I already had on hand!

Of course, the happenstance of finding matching material was the only reason this refashion was possible.  What I needed practically fell into my lap.  This good luck does not come around often!  When such an event does pop my life, I listen and act.  It’s these good chances that help let me know I’m on the right track, especially when they come without my trying too hard to make things happen.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  some sort is polyester knit, thick like a Ponte with limited stretch and more of an open mesh finish at close inspection

PATTERN:  the few skirt pieces I added were based off of a year 1948 vintage McCall’s #7226

TIME TO COMPLETE:  several hours were spent on one afternoon in the summer of 2017 to do this refashion

THE INSIDES:  The original dress was serged stitched (overlocked)…but even my new additional seams were finished to match

TOTAL COST:  $5 for one yard of new knit – the dress I’m counting as free!

The original dress was something that my mom had bought for me through a ready-to-wear catalog when I was in late teens.  I appreciated the fancy neckline and the dressy but forgiving fabric that washes, wears, and packs like a breeze.  She correctly figured that a “little black dress” was something I would find indispensable going into young adulthood.  Now that I am a full-fledged adult (and mother to boot!), these last few years I realized my favorite dress now longer fit me as well as I remembered, but I loved it nonetheless.  Thus, after coming across the perfect material, I took the ‘cue’ given me but still hesitantly cut it open and put it under my sewing machine to make it work for the “me” I am today.

Luckily, the bodice still fit so it was the only part of the dress (besides the armscye) that I left alone for my refashion.  It is an awesome, well-designed upper half, anyway, for being an affordable RTW item!  The square neckline was made with the pleated front middle that I have not seen the likes of again.  The whole bodice was double layered, fully lined in the same fabric as the rest of the dress, and ends at an empire height.  The skirt portion was an incredibly basic two piece skinny and short style which fit like a second skin, probably at least two sizes smaller than the bodice proportions.  I suppose having kids really makes ones hips fill out – I remember the dress fitting like a nice pencil skirt when I first had the dress!  The sleeves were also very basic and extremely small fitting for a ¾ length.

Firstly, the original skirt was cut off (keeping the bodice seam).  I needed – wanted – a skirt that actually sits at a waistline for my idea to work.  Thus, I drafted my own midsection panel to be the in-between connection to the bodice and skirt.  This way there is a defined middle which is more complimentary and classic than an empire dress.  The midsection is double thickness like the bodice, because it has to support a lot…this is a pull-on garment.  The dress is all knit so a zipper would only mess up the fabric, anyway.  I stitched everything in a zig-zag “lightening” stitch so everything wouldn’t pop – only stretch – putting this on.

Next, I cut a whole new skirt back half using my newly bought fabric from the most available vintage pattern…McCall’s #7226 happened to be out at the time so I used it.  It has the basic, common 1940s three-piece skirt rear which I wanted for my dress’ refashion because such a design provides wonderful booty room and hip shaping.  I re-used the original front half cut off of the dress and, after sewing the sides and hem, the new skirt was sewn to the bottom of the midsection.  Now the hem falls at my favorite just-below-the-knee length.  The skirt is the same length as on the original garment but between the better fit and added middle panel, it suddenly hangs better and has more swish in it.  Perhaps this can be a swing dance dress, too!

Finally, the sleeves were shortened.  The original ¾ sleeves were uncomfortably confining around the elbows and the length seemed weird compared to the rest of the dress in its partial refashioned stage.  However, to match the little bias edging along the pleated neck front, I added the same detail to finish the sleeve edges.  The sleeves were cut to end at the horizontal middle between the top of the midsection and the pleated front neck detail.  It’s my mathematical geekiness coming out, sorry!  The short sleeves really make this an all-season dress.

Accessories worn with this dress change literally every time I wear this, but for this picture I chose items I have from some of the people dearest to my heart.  My husband had given me the amazing vintage hat you see on my head last Christmas.  He picked it out from my very favorite vintage shop in town, which happens to be the same place my vintage Cordé handbag is from, as well.  My hat has the label of the esteemed Henri Bendel brand, a women’s accessories store based in New York City which was open between 1895 and 2018.  There is an amazing quality and design to this hat, but it also happily happens to be in pristine condition.  The rich red velvet wraps around, over, under, and through the hat so that it looks different but still lovely from each and every angle.  The thick, black wool is a wonderful contrast to the velvet, lending a richness to the whole hat.  Of course, I did a twisted, complex, fancy hair up-do to match the hat and help keep it on my head!  My necklace and silk scarf (filling in as my bracelet) are from my dearest Grandmother on my dad’s side.  My mom had bought me my earrings (black jet in the middle of a twisted gold rope) as a Christmas years back to match with this black dress.

I have had plans on my backburner of sewing projects to make Marvel’s Agent Carter’s Season Two deep purple dress.  It’s the one with the lattice detail at the neckline and sleeve hems that she wears to meet Dr. Wilkes at the nightclub for some dancing and a little undercover information.  The way this refashion has turned out, however, secretly yet strongly reminds me of that dress, and although it is not the same, just might fulfill my frequent “need” for yet another Agent Carter look-alike.  Do you see the similarity, too?

A refashion holds a memory of the past yet starts off with a fresh face and another beginning. A refashion makes the most of what we have and presents a challenge which is only an opportunity for us to shine.  I hope all of you have a fantastic year ahead, with good wishes for some awesome sewing, fun fashion, and creative enjoyment as well.  I have some exciting projects lined up for the next few months, not just for myself either, so I have a feeling my sewing skills and personal style will be taking an interesting turn this year.  You might not see it on my blog just yet, but I wanted to let you know that it’s there and I’m excited.  What are some of your inspirations and motivations for 2019?

I Got Big Sleeves, and Don’t Care!

Last years’ “Designin’ December” challenge hosted by Linda at “Nice dress! Thanks, I made it!!” gave me the gumption to step up and make my own personal version of a 1937 Schiaparelli outfit I had long admired.  Well, this for this year’s 2018 Challenge I’ve chosen another Schiaparelli design to sew up in my own interpretation!

I was determined to be inspired by a Schiaparelli creation that has always amazed and mystified me – a Spring year 1951 voluminous sleeve blouse made of organdy, worn with a slim satin skirt, modeled in the original photo by Della Oake (click on “Show More” to read about her).  How was this garment to wear and move about in?  What is the symbolic inspiration Schiaparelli was thinking when designing it?  As a seamstress’ point of view, how were those sleeves made?  What did their pattern look like?  All these questions in my head could only be answered if I made my own version, I felt.  This is what I love about the “Designin’ December” challenge…I use it to push my boundaries and learn new things.  This project definitely has done that for me again.

I tried my best and, although my sleeves are not anywhere as dramatic as the original which inspired me, I am happy to say I think I succeeded in making a comparably impressive and recognizably similar blouse.  This doesn’t just meet look-alike appearances…it also has a generous movement for any pose or movement.  Yay!  I can officially say I am ending my 2018 year of sewing with a big bang!

My outfit is completed worn with a true vintage silk faille black pencil skirt and my Grandmother’s vintage earrings.  The vintage skirt is the bottom half of an old local “Martha Manning” brand suit set that I have dated with near certainty to 1952.  So my skirt is also very age appropriate to the date of my inspiration blouse!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a “burnout” velvet, also called “devoré” fabric

PATTERN:  self-drafted sleeves, but the cuffs and main body are from a vintage year 1951 McCall’s #1651

NOTIONS:  all I needed was thread and a fabric covered button kit (¾ inch)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was finished on December 20, 2018 after 30 something hours spent to make it.

THE INSIDES:  All fancy and clean in French seams.  As this is a sheer blouse and the material is very delicate and fine, French seams were the only way to go!

TOTAL COST:  On sale, with an end of the bolt discount since I took everything that was left, I bought almost 3 yards for the price of one regular price yard – $30.

People say that high fashion/designer style doesn’t make much practical sense.  This particular Schiaparelli blouse, when shared on social media, seems to frequently receive comments that compare it to having wings for flying, or picture the mess those sleeves would cause during serving or preparing a meal.  In reality, yes – that would be a problem and no, we can’t fly with some full sleeves.  As I have quoted before, though, Stefano Gabbana (of Dolce & Gabbana) has said, “Fashion makes people dream -this is the service it gives.”  Regular everyday clothes are boring and practical enough, in my opinion.  We need gloriously inventive and fantastically impractical clothes to realize something different and amazing is out there, and perhaps find a wonderful middle ground between the two by doing what I and all the participants of “Designin’ December” are doing.

Personally, I think a good percent of what is paraded down runways today is completely unwearable for many except the rich and famous, but that doesn’t keep me from still finding it all interesting and fun to follow because good and bad ideas alike are still creativity and inspirational.  Vintage designer fashion (also, my opinion) had a closer connection to and influence on everyday fashion, and the 1950s especially had a flair for the fantastic silhouettes and elegant fashions, so I love the way making and wearing this pared-down Schiaparelli-inspired blouse is so very wearable.  How often is a blouse exciting nowadays, much less sleeves?  But, hey…why shouldn’t it be so?!  Our desire for what is new and different can bring out the romantic dreamer in any of us, and fashion is a readily seen and popular medium for such inventiveness because we can literally and visibly wear our taste and personality!

The phrase “something up your sleeve” takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to this blouse.  I have room for it!  I actually started from scratch and drafted these sleeves myself from a basic block.  As far as I know there is nothing close to what I wanted and I didn’t feel like looking.  Anyway, I wanted to totally own this pattern and comprehend a new level of pattern drafting – another reason to start from a basic beginning.

These sleeves not just have extra volume.  Notice they still have a normal armscye (shoulder/armhole sleeve) with a hint of the vintage puff tops and the sleeve length down my arm is a basic ‘normal’ span for the top half.  I knew the design was more complex than what might be first thought.  The extra fabric is concentrated to under my arm on each side of the sleeve seam and all the drape and interest culminates at the front bottom.  This might not be how Schiaparelli’s version was constructed because there isn’t a whole lot to see in the one picture that is out there of that blouse, but I’m ‘reading’ it from the knowledge I currently have of both fabric draping and pattern making.  To ‘read’ backwards through a finished garment to reach the flat patterning stage is perhaps one of the hardest parts of trying to re-make something you see.

The funny this is that in the process of trying to figure out how to make these Schiaparelli sleeves I was helped by a finding a designer copy.  The great courtier herself, the mysterious (also French) Madame Grès had included very similar sleeves on a 1969 taffeta gown that was popular enough to be made in several solid colors over the course of almost 10 years.  As there were plenty more pictures of this designer copycat in many more poses, I could understand the workings of such a sleeve.  Yes – granted the Madame Grès dresses are in a much stiffer material (hence the full-bodied shaping compared to my Schiaparelli look-alike), but the fact that I had two designers to be inspired by for this one style makes me laugh a little at the trials of staying original and bittersweet taste of the ‘flattery’ of imitation.  Navigating the big fashion scene must be tough.

Engineering these sleeves was only possible by realizing the basic principle that you slash and spread directly where you want to add in extra interest.  I used my old pattern drafting manuals to change the sleeve block into a basic full bishop sleeve then adapted it to be as you see it from there.  My finished sleeve pattern was 60 inches wide by about 1 ¼ yards long, so both sleeves took a total of 2 ½ yards of material.  This is significant in the light that the main body of the blouse only needed ½ yard.

I religiously stuck to the vintage pattern for the main body as well as the sleeve cuffs.  The Schiaparelli blouse is a 1951 design and as this McCall pattern has fantastic details worthy of a designer besides being from the exact same year.  Besides – it is shown is a sheer fabric just like I was going to use to copy what Schiaparelli did!  Out of all the sheer chiffons and printed organzas I was contemplating, went with my personal preference and chose a French fabric (“devoré”) to copy a French design.

It has my favorite color purple, an enticing sheerness enough to fulfill both vintage trends and the modern one, and an interesting fabric pattern that I think is so much more appealing than the Schiaparelli polka dots!  It is so much better to ‘own’ a ‘look-alike’ by staying true to your own personal taste when it varies from the inspiration.  Especially when it comes to designer garments, not copying them line for line, fabric exactness and all, is actually more respectful to the individual talent of both you and the couturier in my opinion.

The scalloped, curved cuffs and collar were so challenging!  They don’t even show up very well compared to the rest of the blouse but that’s okay…the little details are always stand-out fantastic in designer garments, too.  As I was working with a mostly transparent material, I went with sheer and clear, slightly stiff organza in lieu of interfacing for inside the cuffs and collar.  This always works well for my sheer creations, but with the detail to the cuffs and collar, I had to snip seam allowances within ¼ inch or less and take my time with the edge top-stitching.

I wanted standout buttons to close up this blouse because figured the more detail the better, right?  I originally had big ideas of hand beaded buttons but I reckoned that would be too hard to push through a button hole.  No – there was enough going on and enough time spent already, I self-argued, so covered buttons made out of the velvet portion of the fabric are plenty ‘specialty’ for me.  I chose a larger size button kit because the Schiaparelli blouse’s buttons were oversized, too.

Buttonholes in such a sheer, delicate material as the velvet could have been a problem that I avoided with a little mesh seam tape under the stitching.  I totally avoided letting wide buttonholes messing with the fancy scallops in the cuffs by having them close by lapping over with tiny hook-n-eyes.  This is how I noticed the Madame Grès sleeves closed!

It’s amazing what a sleeve can do.  So often arms are regarded as too functional.  These giant sleeves do not really get in the way of life as much as you’d think, and my blouse happily seemed to attract many admirers like flies to raw meat.  To see mere functionality of the body as a barrier to limitless creative expression is sad to me – our arms are a means of expression, love, passion, and all the best activities of life.  Why not provide them with all the feelings that suit them?!  To make one’s arms beautiful and elegant at every angle through the use of clothes is a wonderful achievement.  I haven’t yet had an inner sense for the inspired perception that Schiaparelli might have had for dreaming up these sleeves besides the recurring life theme of a butterfly.  Just as the wings of a butterfly give it a new life and a certain sense of liberty in its fragile beauty, so a romantic and impractical sleeve blouse such as this is freeing in its unusualness of silent communication.

Kaleidoscope Colors

As a child, my kaleidoscope used to enchant and fascinate me.  I would love all the bright colors changing and mixing with every spin, and the patterns it created were something which reminded me of a snowflake with personality, making the most of whatever light you directed the toy at.  Now that I know how it works and have so many things on my schedule, sadly my kaleidoscope is packed away and not seen anymore.  However, I do have this blouse, a grown-up girl replacement!

Modern day winter wardrobes tend to be so droll and dreary compared to the fun with color the late 30’s enjoyed.  That decade combined and paired the most unusual colors in the most creative and attractive ways.  Bright and crazy colored stripes, however, are so classic to the late 30s and oh-so-popular again today.  It’s no wonder – they are like a ray of welcome and much needed sunlight in the world of everyday fashion!  True vintage items in such a stripe print today get sold so fast at high-prices that sadly such style garments are out of the question for many others like myself…and true vintage fabric like it is even harder to find in a usable, stable condition.  Reprinted modern versions don’t often do the 30’s striping justice either, which is why I am so happy to have recently found a newly printed crepe which does match the old-time mix of happy colors.  Together with a tried-and-true 1940 pattern, which has been adapted to copy a 1938 style, I have what may be my most complimented me-made garment yet!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% polyester crepe for the fashion fabric, and a scrap of cotton broadcloth the line the shoulder panel inside

PATTERN:  Hollywood #1991, year 1940

NOTIONS:  I had all the buttons and thread I needed.  The buttons are vintage from the stash of my husband’s Grandmother

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was made in about 8 hours and finished on October 10, 2017

THE INSIDES:  nice French seams inside

TOTAL COST:  under $15

This was really a simple blouse to make, but the fabric and the sleeves are what helps to make the blouse standout.  I got rid of the angled panels to the original pattern and cut this version in all sharp geometrics, which complements the stripes.  The collar was re-drawn to be pointed, and the wide front (as well as back) upper bodice was made completely horizontal.  I lengthened the blouse hem as I eliminated the attached waistband.  As the golden yellow stripe was missing from the color sequence across the blouse front because of the way I cut, I added the ocher tone in through my choice of buttons.

I was basing my new composition to the 1940 Hollywood pattern off of images of true vintage patterns I do not have but admire, old fashion advertisements, and past photographs of both celebrities and regular women wearing striped blouses which have a crazy assortment of color.  It seems as if this trend is concentrated in between the years of 1938 and 1940.  I can’t help but wonder if that mode of fashion was begun with the lovely “Alimony” evening gown (year 1937) from the American designer Elizabeth Hawes.  However, it seems that multi-color striped garments after that designer were frequently in housecoats or sportswear pieces.  To see more inspiration of late 30’s to early 40’s multi-striped garments see my Pinterest board here.

My very favorite multi striped garment for inspiration is in the Agent Carter television show Season Two with the character of Ana Jarvis.  Ana favors late 30’s style in her wardrobe, and her blouse in the episode 5 “The Atomic Job” is a true and striking sample of the best from that period.  The only obvious difference between hers and mine is that Ana’s is satin with a waist tie front, and mine is a crepe finish with a regular blouse middle.  She was the cheerful, hopeful, and helpful backup character that was supporting all the others embroiled in the possible-death mission of the “The Atomic Job” episode, and her wardrobe shows this fact.  I want my wardrobe to reflect my happy inside…or if my day is going badly, I want it to cheer both me and others up.  Elsa Schiaparelli has been quoted as saying, “Color gives me ecstatic pleasure” from her book “Shocking Life”.  I’m so in agreement, and so are many people I think.  It’s a shame that out of the many people who compliment me on my blouse, many admit that even though they want it off my back they really wouldn’t wear it.  I’m guessing it’s because they just have a certain color comfort level they’ve grown used to and might even be afraid of being too flashy or too different.  Whether my colorful garment flags people down or not, we all know need color in our lives and regular RTW fashion certainly doesn’t seem to realize that so this blouse’s kind of different is good!

The wonderfully wide bishop sleeves with its big cuffs and puffed shoulder tops are the only thing I left as the pattern designed…and why not because they are killer amazing!  The pattern for such a full bishop sleeve with such forearm-encompassing cuffs was almost confusing because it was as wide as it was long.  Just like for my recent 1962 “Beatnik Blouse”, the sleeves atop big cuffs are so much shorter than “normal” long sleeves I am used to and it throws me off.   It also takes a good deal of both seam allowance clipping and ironing to harness so much gathering into a cuff so it stays flat.  The cuffs have dual buttons with close under embroidered thread loops along the edge.  These are rather hard to do on myself but I like how they keep the cuffs wrapped flat and snug around my lower arm verses buttonholes.

Can we set aside a minute just to gush over my jaw-dropping belt!?  This was a very lucky and therefore ridiculously affordable second-hand find for me, and is a ‘dream belt’ come true!  All in leather and detailed tooling all around front and back, it is a perfect bold and statement piece to complement the already outgoing feel of my blouse.  Actually, though – the late 30s was all about statement belts anyway, especially wide ones that had complex or unusual closings, anyway.  The only thing is, I haven’t yet figured out if the buckles are supposed to be worn at the top or on the bottom!

Yes, I realize I have been posting a good number of both blouses and shirts lately, but this has been what I have been sewing most of this year!  Separates are to me the salt and pepper of my everyday dressing.  Especially when it comes to vintage garments, having something that looks nice, yet is still casual, and definitely comfy as well as practical for whatever life throws my way for the day is what I can never get enough of.  The 1930s had this down to an art, in my opinion.

I must admit I never thought I would be wearing all those colors I admired so well in the light coming through my kaleidoscope.  I have been searching long for the right fabric to remake this now popular vintage trend for myself.  Now that I can do so, I have something to resort to for the long, dreary, chilly cold weather season we experience here…because warm weather garments shouldn’t be the only clothes which get the prettiest colors.  Do yourself a favor and don’t be afraid to try a new color in your wardrobe today!