Diving into Swimwear!

It’s a good thing I whiz through my sewing projects as quickly as my blog’s name references.  There is so much I want to find time for!  There is still so much to create which I haven’t yet done before!  One of those seemingly “holy grail” items to attempt to sew has long been swimwear.  This year, certain occasions called for me to have a swimsuit that I felt completely comfortable wearing and has all the features I wanted.  Nothing I have found to buy seems to ‘suit’ me 100% – if it does, it is at a price that the cheapskate in me balks over.  As I have sewing patterns for swimwear already on hand in my stash, I realized it was time to pull out my bravery to try out something new.  It was time to check off another box in my list of achievements.  Now I can announce a successful achievement in handmade swimwear that I absolutely enjoy.  You truly never know what you can do until you try!

If you notice, my theme for this month has been both local pride as well as water related, so a swimsuit is the perfect way to end it.  Our pictures for this post were taken along the banks of the Big River in Missouri to visit my sister-in-law and for our son to have his first float trip.  However, my new swimsuit is very on point right now with the Olympics having started a week ago!  Also, the athletic wear of the 80’s is in focus right now and coming back in popularity with the new Apple TV+ drama series “Physical” about the rise of aerobics to counter the body anxiety of the times. 

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  one yard of a high density, lightweight, super stretchy, active knit polyester/spandex/lycra for both the print and the nude ‘bra’ lining with scraps on hand of a black scuba knit for the contrast.  The hibiscus print is called “Aloha Stripe” from Stylish Fabrics in Los Angeles, California.

PATTERN:  McCall’s #4301, year 1988, from my stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  4 yards of elastic, lots of thread, and a pair of molded bra cups

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was finished in 4 or 5 hours on the afternoon of July 2, 2021.

THE INSIDES:  clean! More on this later on in the post

TOTAL COST:  I spent only $15 on all the supplies!

This pattern was labeled as “The Creative Tank” by the prestigious Palmer & Pletsch instructional institute.  True to the 80’s era, this is can be a tank (for exercising and the like) or a swimsuit…it is whatever or however you want to make and wear it!  This may be a one-piece, yet there is complex but smart engineering to its construction.  True to Palmer & Pletsch, thankfully, the thorough and easy-to-understand instructions helped making this suit become palatable.  The stitching and finishing techniques are catered to serging (overlocking) but show three other ways to sew this, which was helpful as I only have vintage machines to use.  Every point to the suit design is adjustable to cater this to your taste and body type, and the instructions tell you just how and where to do those.  There are two options for leg openings (I chose the low cut), there are different strap stitching marks according to your torso height, and many bust and cup size options.  Together with the three different style views, this pattern has everything going for it and I couldn’t have picked a better one to help me make my very first swimsuit.

This pattern’s main selling point for me was the options and helpful assistance, for sure, but I absolutely loved the low dipped, fully open back as well as the bold 80’s color-blocking opportunity of the pattern.  I had some scraps I wanted to use as well, so I went with an adapted means to end up with view C.  First off, at the pattern stage, I raised the front dip of the neckline by 1 ½ inches and widened the back panty lines so as to have more booty cheek coverage.  All else is pretty much unchanged from the pattern lines…almost.  I disliked the idea of the bottom solid panty portion being its own separate piece, stitched to the rest of the suit’s body as a panel.  I do not yet trust my swimwear sewing skills enough to know for sure that such a seam will be strong and hold together for me, especially with that tricky center front angled point to manage.  So I cut out a full one piece suit (view A) and applied the bottom panty portion on top of the suit and top stitched it down.  This way the crouch portion has an extra layer of opacity and support since I was not going to add an inner panty.  Also, I didn’t have to stress out over whether or not my suit would separate on me into a two piece.

As one yard (at 60” width) was double the amount of fabric that I really needed for this suit pattern, I doubled up on the white striped print for the body.  This knit was super sheer, and getting it wet exasperates the issue…duh, it’s white.  The nude colored lining I chose for the bust area was very sheer on its own as well.  I figured stripes under more stripes will add a bit of confusion to the print, enough to cover any remaining sheerness of the fabric.  I put the two layers of striped fabric body cuts wrong sides together, right sides out, after the side and crotch seams were stitched.  I end up with two perfectly clean and mirrored sides to the body of my suit.  This was something not in the instructions, merely something I improvised so that there would be no raw edges to be seen inside.  Anyone who knows me or has followed me through this blog knows I am a stickler for a professional, clean finish.  In my defense, I was merely guessing that raw edges might be a bit uncomfortable to feel against the skin in this project, and so justified going the extra mile.  I’m so happy that I did.  RTW swimsuits that I’ve seen are not this nice.

As I alluded to already, there is an inner shelf bra to help shape and support this swimsuit.  I had to pinch in the bottom hem of the shelf bra because it ended up being too loose to do any supportive action, but that was accomplished with 3 tucks done next to the side seams and at the center front.  I also added molded foam cups.  As the swimsuit has completely different ‘finished’ measurements when it’s off of my body versus when it’s on being worn, I couldn’t justify tacking the sides of the cups down 100% along the edges to the shelf bra.  It was very frustrating and near impossible enough as it was to try and figure out where they needed to be placed evenly as it was.  I mostly did this job when the suit was on me, but ended up poking myself too many times and bleeding onto my new creation.  Luckily, swim knit polyester is hard to stain!  I merely tacked the edges down of each cup in a handful of strategic edge corners.  The shelf bra, once I got it to fit, does the rest of the job that my “almost floating” bra cups do. 

Yes, I am wearing my Captain America themed necklace – it was Independence Day!

Even still, the trickiest part of sewing this whole suit was definitely doing the elastics on the edges.  It wasn’t *hard* to do (yes, really) because I’ve done it before and understood the concept of stretching the elastic out to match with the fabric’s excess, and stitching it down while pulling the fabric taut.  The instructions also showed me how to do it with a zig-zag stitch very effectively, too, because swimwear finishing is NOT the same as sewing lingerie.  The main challenge was matching up to the suit all the separate points along the elastic cuts and dealing with completely differing amounts of ‘gathering’ and stretching.  It was both tiresome and very tricky to accomplish correctly.  For example, the leg opening from the hips down to the back crotch had a tighter “gather” in than the front which was about equal in length with the fabric.  This way the suit stays pulled in over the booty.  I luckily did remember to add or subtract all the inches I added or took out of the suit to the total length measurements of each cut of elastic.  Yay for me!  It was very hard to remember to do one more adjustment along the way.  There was a lot to remember sewing this thing together, and I was scared to whole time it would fail. 

At a family member’s pool here in this picture!

Even still, sure I didn’t get certain portions of the edge finishing just “perfect”.  This is still such a triumph of a sewing project anyways that I am saying “well enough” is good enough.  The seams don’t bubble, the finishing looks as good as RTW suits, and I feel it is sturdier than a bought suit.  It is also very comfortable.  It completely moves with my every move to the point that I forget I have it on.  This baby is solid.  Even with the entirely open back, the suit stays put where it should in all sorts of water fun or exercise…I’ve already tested it!  My swimsuit sewing success is sweeter than a summertime iced tea.

All this being said, I am generally uncomfortable to post this of myself in a swimsuit.  I am unsettled at being so “seen”.  I also am not in optimum shape right now.  So go easy on me, please.  This handmade suit though feels so right for me and I am so proud of this project, nevertheless, so I can’t help but share!  I had to be out where I love being in nature, near the water, in my favorite season of summer for me to be at ease enough to have these pictures taken in the first place.  I find that there is dual physical and physiological well-being in wearing anything I make for myself.  Thus, I hoped by making my own swimsuit that sense would extend into even a garment normally uncomfortable for me to wear.  I was not wrong!

Making your own swimwear is now something I can definitely recommend for anyone to try.  First make sure you are comfortable sewing with knit fabrics, however, but please do give it a go…especially if you can find yourself a copy of the same pattern I used.  You do not need much fabric – about ½ yard – (which means spending is a minimum) to end up with a big reward.  I completely understand why the nicest suits are so expensive though, now after making one.  They are challenging!  However, the risk is worth the possibility of the reward of a custom made swimsuit that can make you feel like a million dollars.  This suit is only the first in a new obsession of things I suddenly love to sew.  I have already made a 1960’s hot two-piece set, and have plans for about three more, including a golden 1950’s suit.  I need a pool membership at this rate, right?!

A Cardin Inspired Coat, a Coral Blouse…and a Crab

The way my 9 year old is so easily savvy with the newest technology and hooked on anything electronic makes me painfully aware that I am part of a generation that grew up without the internet.  However, overdoing nostalgic comparisons makes me feel like I’m overly emphasizing my age.  Thus, I’ll try to narrow the focus of this post on both the amazing details of my outfit and its symbolism to me.  I will never cease to be amazed at how pleasantly avant-garde the fashion of the 80’s and 90’s can (on occasion) be.  I don’t think designer fashion of today can compare to it, for all our technological advancements.   

Notice the toy crab as my companion – here’s my major princess reference, as this is indeed the part two post for my Ariel (of Disney’s 1989 “The Little Mermaid”) inspired clothing.  (The part one post can be found here.)  Yet the fact I could easily start crabbing about surviving a childhood without being hooked to a ‘smart’ accessory places me as the peevish one.   Both Sebastian and my enameled Ariel lapel pin are both items from my childhood, picked up when the animated movie was first released. 

Thus, let me return to ‘89 again with both Cardin and Coveri as my inspiration this time, with a mind to further transform the pants of my first “Little Mermaid” outfit into a chic, sporty yet dressy, full collection suitable for more than just wintertime.  Using the little bits leftover of my lovely “Alta Moda” Coveri designed material, I was able to eke out a matching jacket.  Its fabulous back reminds me of a waterfall!  A scrap of outdoor cotton in a branching coral print becomes a blouse for me to enjoy the weather outdoors. 

Imagine if a track suit went high fashion in the very best 80’s way…and this is what I think you would end up with.  I absolutely, wholeheartedly treasure these pieces in a special way!  It is yet another great example of how certain 80’s styling can be timeless when well crafted, but on a personal level, these quite possibly were done in my best hand stitching work to date.  I am not one to ‘save’ my good items, nevertheless – the only way to enjoy them is to wear them!  I found it appropriate and comfortable for a trek through the woods to visit my favorite creek-side haunt on a chilly, rainy day for some water related pictures.  I would think any mermaid princess would go to a creek if that’s all she could find, or that an Ariel of 1989 would do so wearing something like this!

THE FACTS:

FABRICS:  Jacket – a 100% wool twill, marked on the selvedge “Alta Moda – Enrico Coveri”; Blouse – a Waverly brand printed 100% cotton duck (outdoor fabric)

PATTERN:  McCall’s NY NY “ The Collection” pattern #4181, year 1989, from my stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread, a few hook-n-eyes, and a couple cards of buttons (new)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse took me only 4 hours to make, and was finished on March 6, 2021.  The jacket was finished on March 26, 2021, and took me about 40 hours to make.

THE INSIDES:  Clean as can be! The jacket and blouse – as both are unlined – have vintage rayon seam tape and/or French seams.

TOTAL COST:  As I said in my post about the making of the trousers, the woolen Alta Moda fabric was a rummage sale find and therefore a dollar or two, while the blouse’s cotton print came from Wal-Mart’s scrap clearance section, as it was only one yard, for $2.50.  My buttons were a few dollars more.  Altogether, my total is probably $8.00!

What I specifically love here is that a different pattern was used for these two top pieces than what was selected for the fall-front trousers (McCall’s #4537, posted here).  Even still, the jacket and blouse of this post seem to flawlessly match with the bottoms and become a perfect set.  I attribute it to the fact both patterns are from the same year and same NY NY “The Collection” line.  

According the numbers, this pattern came first before the other I used for the trousers.  I definitely will be revisiting this to sew up the jodhpurs and the paper-bag waisted skirt which are included, too.  The way these NY NY patterns have a complete wardrobe in one envelope is really the best, not to mention the awesome, unusual styling.  This is the third one I’ve posted about (my first here) and you will be seeing plenty more of this line of patterns on my blog in the future because I now have a significant number of them.  They run from the late 80’s through the 90’s and are supposed to be designer, or at least designer inspired.  I definitely recommend you trying one out for yourself!

The style lines to these pieces, expressly the jacket, reminds me two great fashion designers who were were highly successful in the 80’s.  As I mentioned in my post about the trousers, my fabric is an Enrico Coveri brand “Alta Moda” woolen from pre-1990.  Coveri worked at the “Espace Cardin”, the vast design institute set up by Pierre Cardin, when he moved to Paris in the late 70’s, before he started his own label.  (In this previous post I expounded upon more details of his life.)  I think the futuristic thinking of Cardin rubbed off on Coveri – both were men ahead of their time in the 80’s.  Coveri was designing in the late 70’s garments we associate with the “look” of the late 80’s or early 90’s, yet as he died young he does not get the credit I feel he deserves.

The blue jacket is one of several different iterations of this kind of back detail Pierre Cardin produced in 1980.

Then there is Pierre Cardin who released a “Computers” inspired collection at the turn of the new decade in the year 1980. When computer usage for the populace was a very novel and limited item still, his jackets where designed to echo the functional venting of a computer’s body (see picture at right).  The introduction of three preassembled mass-produced personal computers was just launched in 1977. IBM Corporation, the (then) world’s dominant computer maker, did not enter the new market until 1981.  I would like to suppose that, just like as he did in the 60’s with his Space Age looks, Cardin was banking on the expectation of the new frontier ahead that was seen in the new dawn of computers for all to use.

Now to me, Cardin’s short, hip-length, blue “Computers” coat is not that far off from this NY NY McCall’s jacket.  In reality, my jacket is probably closer to an early 90’s Claude Montana creation (seen on the left) at first glance of design lines.  Not knowing the construction details of either designer piece, I could just be completely off here with my references.  Yet, I see what I see and love the irony of perceiving a Cardin and Coveri influence, especially for my Ariel inspired clothing.

Back to what I’ve made.  How was this particular jacket constructed though, you may be wondering by now?  First of all, it is unlined which sounds like it should have made it easier to sew, but no – it did not.  The already confusing and challenging construction was complicated by my need to see this jacket have a pristine finish inside.  Wool is not the best medium to do French seams and a tiny rolled hem.  With some steaming, seam clipping, and careful hand-stitching, I made it work though.  The ‘waterfall’ back (as I call it – don’t know what to term this otherwise) was too flowing and beautiful to receive a ‘normal’ hem, as the instructions directed.  I made a very tiny rolled hem, which I learned by finishing the flounces on this dress, to keep the panel from becoming stiff and restricted.  Even the sleeves were French seamed!  All of the top-stitching to the hems and lapel facings was done by hand so I could keep the thread invisible.  If my fabric is high class, and I see that it has couture inspiration, I felt I should raise the bar of my finishing techniques to match.

This jacket has a lot going on when it comes to details to list, and somehow they all seem to work together.  I don’t know how, but I am in awe.  There is the extreme boatneck which leaves little of a true shoulder seam.  The sleeves are wide cut at the shoulders and taper to a snug fit at the wrist.  The curved, high front lapels can be thrown open or flapped closed for a variety in the look.  There are no bust darts, surprisingly, and I kept the front bodice smooth by substituting buttons for hooks and eyes as the trio of closures.  The waist is high, which worked out fine paired with the above-the-waist trousers.  The shoulder panel and ‘floating’ lower waistband, which sits under the bias cut ‘waterfall’, are the only two anchors keeping together the back of the jacket. 

The weirdest but coolest part to this jacket is that there is no real back.  Yes!  The flounce-like ‘waterfall’ back falls down loose from the shoulder panel, attached only at the sides.  There is a back waistband, heavily interfaced and a just a few inches wide, stretching across to connect the hems of the front bodice.  The ‘waterfall’ flounce meets only at the outer corners of the hem to bring in all the pieces.  Hidden underneath, the back is completely open.  If you lift up my flounce back, you can see my blouse underneath.  

This odd feature makes the jacket appear like a haphazard mess when it is anything other than on my mannequin or my body.  Some of the most interesting things I sew are also the hardest to explain, so I hope my pictures do some justice.  It is simply indescribably curious…and was therefore even more challenging to grade up to my size on paper, believe me.  I went into this sewing project “blind” because the pieces and instructions didn’t makes sense until I had a go constructing the actual garment.  I’m so happy this turned out and that I like it as much as I do…because if ever a sewing idea has been a gamble for me, this one was more so!

The blouse is much more low-key, to be sure.  It’s the fine tuning that makes it fantastic.  It pairs with the jacket by filling in the open neckline and paralleling the boat neckline with high-cut sleeveless shoulders.  The blouse is boxy in fit with a wide and shorter hem length.  It also has lots of small buttons to close the front…so many I had a hard time finding enough.  The buttons I chose to match – frosted aqua ones that reminded me of sea glass – could not be found anymore, so I pared the number down to 8 from the 10 that were called for.  I used the provided customized armhole facings for a change, too, so this would have a finished inside that matches the fabric of the outside.  The pique-style waffle finish to the cotton duck adds an interesting texture as well as keeping this top nicely weightless for cool summer living.

Notice how the bust darts come into the bodice from the front armhole? So different – I love it!!!

I have paired other blouses, mostly collared ones, with my jacket and trousers set, and I must say that they actually look better than the high-necked one worn here.  Sure, it came with the same pattern.  Yet, it is not the best at staying tucked into the pants with its boxy, cropped length.  I still very much like the blouse I made on its own, and I do like the fact that it is something different to wear with the jacket and pants I probably wouldn’t have tried on my own.  It perfectly fills in my “Little Mermaid” reference though its details such as the sea glass inspired buttons, the perfect ocean blue aqua tone, and a print that reminds me to give a care about the alarming damages of bleaching to coral.  Whenever separates match with plenty of other pieces in my wardrobe rather than just the set they were intended for…well, that’s a good thing I won’t complain about!

At this point I have sewn 5 items from 1989, all from McCall’s “The Collection NY NY” patterns mind you, and I think none of them are what normally comes to mind when anyone might think of the last year before the 90’s.  I actually feel quite comfortably myself in these fashions the way that I know it is still my penchant for vintage (borderline, I know) without seeming so.  It is the kind of faux “modern” wear that I can totally be on board for!  This NY NY McCall’s was a nicely impressive surprise I did not expect, yet another one of the (currently many) reasons I am enjoying a new appreciation the 80’s and 90’s. 

Designer Pierre Cardin is shown during a dress fitting for his “Computers” Coat, 1980

Just some parting reflections – seeing a couture designer like Cardin ‘honoring’ computers with a collection is weird to me.  I love irony in fashion, and so I find myself delighted yet confused at the same time.  Anything inspired by a technology 30 years back was not always flowing and elegant but often angled and overtly “sci-fi” (I’m thinking of the costumes to the 80’s movie “Tron”, especially).  This is not so much the case today, I realize, especially at the hands of Iris van Herpen

Also, I’d like to point out that a computer system is not necessarily the best friend of the traditional way of creating couture.  I am a manual, free-hand pattern drafter, so I know I am biased, but did you know that as of 2019 there is such a thing as “Algorithmic Couture”?  A body is 3-D scanned to determine its exact proportions, which are used to create customized clothing for zero waste, perfect fit, and maximum sustainability. “Algorithmic Couture aims to democratize haute couture customization culture prevalent in the 19th-century, by revitalizing how we fashion our own style through personalization in the digital design process,” said the team of “Synflux”.  Kind of like in the story for “Tron”, this “Algorithmic Couture” puts power into the hands of the user by letting the ideas of each customer be the guide for each of their projects.  Technology of today is rewriting the historic rules of couture (see this article).  In my opinion there is nothing quite like what human minds and human hands can create…I wonder if Cardin had any idea back in 1989 that computers and fashion would go this far together.

The CAD system has no doubt its benefits at the consumer level.  It can provide a multi-dimensional ‘finished product’ view at the conception stage of a design; it has helped expand the Indie brand world of patternmaking; it aids the ease of offering wide range of inclusive sizes as well as the commercial availability of various designs…all for a just a start to the list.  So much to consider! 

Making marks on pattern pieces via computer, March 1987

In 1989 Cardin had THE most fascinating interview in which he said what I feel embodies a lot my outlook on the importance of quality fashion being a normal part of how we dress, as well as the importance of it being accessible to many.  This is why I believe so strongly in the importance of great patterns for home sewers…ones that are designer or at least ones that offer unique styles to both challenge and suit every sewist’s unique tastes and body types.  Yet, I’ve learned from experience in being a patternmaker who can create a tailored custom garment, today’s modern means of digitizing patterns falls short from a quality I encounter in the early 80’s and older. (See this picture).  I am very aware of noticing that the curves, the perfect body fit, is subtly diminished the newer (90’s on up) you go in commercial patterns.  This is one of the many compelling reasons I prefer vintage sources for my sewing.  Here I go crabbing about things again.  Move over Sabastian!  You’re not the only crab.  It is clear I am an 80’s era grouch.

So how about ending with a little fun, geeky, 1989 related trivia that I find entertaining and related to computers, Cardin, and ”The Little Mermaid” animated movie?  Did you know that the first feature film to use the CAPS process, the “Computer Animation Production System” developed by both Disney and Pixar which had 2D/3D integration, was in the production of The Little Mermaid in 1989?  It was only used for very few scenes such as at the end where King Triton sends a rainbow into the sky for his daughters’ wedding (see pic below left).  Furthermore, if King Triton’s palace was a place on land I think it would most definitely be The “Bubble Palace” on the French Rivera.  This fantastic and futuristic living space was completed in 1989, and I swear it looks like something I would see on the ocean floor in “The Little Mermaid”.  Everything is round!  Pierre Cardin acquired it for himself in 1992 to live in as well as for presenting his fashion shows. 

Well…I *mostly* focused on my newly sewn princess-inspired outfit in this post!  I hope you enjoyed reading my musings here, as well as what I have made for myself, and chime in with my grousing through the comments!  What do you remember about 1989?  What strikes you about the fashion and the times of that year?  “The Little Mermaid” was my first princess, the one that completely sucked me into the realm of Disney, so Ariel was a pretty big influence for me when I think of that year.  Fashion and technology came into play for me that year also because it was my first big pageant show…bringing back memories of being in the limelight of the local media and modeling some styles that I shake my head over today.  Luckily, I like my 2021 versions of the 80’s decade much better!

1930 “River City” Beach Pyjamas

Living the Midwest of America, I am surrounded by land and thus far away from any real beach.  However, I am surrounded by rivers, streams, and creeks!  The lack of real coastlines doesn’t stop me from sewing myself a set of 30’s beach pyjamas, complete with a matching short sleeved jacket cover-up.  These pieces are the ultimate vintage garment for casual living, so good they’re timeless, really.  It is yesteryear’s equivalent of a loose fitting, wide legged jumpsuit that’s as unassuming as your nightwear yet flawlessly chic.  They are now over 100 years old now, being born of the atmosphere of leisure following the end of WWI, and were the first popular trousered garment to be worn in public for women.  After spending too long being overly anxious to take on such an unusual project, I have now conquered and succeeded in coming up with some ‘new’ vintage for my wardrobe that I absolutely love.

It is actually quite hard to photograph black in a way to always show that my bottom half is actually divided and not just a skirt.  Between the breeze on the flood wall where I was and the evening light, it was challenging to demonstrate these beach pyjamas as truly trousers!  This is half of why I like them, nevertheless…they are a sneaky bit of a chameleon garment, especially since I made the jacket cover-up reversible!  Its look is variable at any given moment.  Passerby people probably wondered, “Is she wearing a dress or is that a sort of a jumpsuit?  Wait, how does she get that on?  Is it vintage or some modern resort wear?”  The resolutions are not obvious merely looking at my pictures either, I’m guessing.  All will be answered in this post! 

For these pictures, I am at what is one of the most classic spots for St. Louis’s Downtown – the Mississippi riverfront at the base of our emblematic monument “The Arch”.  Behind me is the famous Ead’s bridge.  My hometown is called “The Gateway to the West” for more than one reason, among which is the fact that our location is prime for travel and transport of goods among the river route.  The Eads bridge added to our prestige as the first south of the Missouri river, now the oldest still existing to span the “Mighty Mississippi” river.  It was commissioned by Andrew Carnegie, named for its designer and builder, James Buchanan Eads, and completed in 1874 with a dedication ceremony by President Ulysses S. Grant

The Eads bridge was installed and built with what was then pioneering technology, so much so that it still holds several records for its construction feats.  Happily, due to recent (but costly) maintenance, it still is being used for its original purpose to this day.  I suppose I am one of those old-fashioned locals that takes a higher pride in our useful, historic bridge – a symbol of St. Louis that now takes second sitting to ”The Arch”.  Both are equally tied to the river town that we are, and therefore the perfect backdrop for celebrating some regional pride while in my vintage summer fashion!  

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  the black portions are a 100% rayon crepe, while the contrast is a 100% cotton quilting print.  The jacket lining and pyjama facings are in a bleached, sheer, white cotton muslin.

PATTERN:  Past Patterns Company “Beach Pajamas and Jacket Pattern”, circa 1930 reprint

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread and one zipper for the pants side seam

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The pyjamas were finished on August 28, 2019, after 30 something hours of sewing.  The cover-up coat was made in 4 hours, and completed on September 4, 2019.

THE INSIDES:  The jacket is fully lined, the pyjamas are French seamed

TOTAL COST:  The cottons were from my local JoAnn Fabric store, the rayon was an online purchase – both bought many years back now.  I have no idea as to my total cost anymore.  Keep in mind, though, that beach pyjamas need a lot of material – almost 4 yards (45” width) for the solid black and 2 yards for the print contrast.  

Just to clarify before I go any further here – in the United States (where I live), we tend to use the spelling “pajamas”, so by now you may be thinking I have plenty of typos.  Yet, that spelling is all too commonly associated with nightwear today for those who are not accustomed to the past fashion history for this term.  I am using the term “pyjama” because of the way this garment was spelled when it first became popular.  When including a “y”, the term also strongly alludes to its European origin.  Beach pyjamas blossomed at the Italian Lido in Venice and the French Riviera in the 1920s, especially so at the hands of Chanel.  She took it upon herself to turn them into the fashionable pieces we know them as today versus the practical, sun protective cover-ups they were in the late 1910s when they began to be worn on beaches and not just indoors.  There have been other sites who have written extensive, informative posts on the history of beach pyjamas (such as “The Vintage Woman” magazine, the BBC, the British Pathé, or “Messy Nessy”) so I will not do so myself, here.  I have already addressed the early beginnings of bifurcated bottoms for ladies in this post of mine on the history of the jumpsuit, after all.  I’ll not repeat myself, but now at least I have explained myself!  

The preliminary challenge I faced in sewing my own beach pyjamas was deciding on what design to choose.  There are so many reprints and vintage inspired patterns out there now!  Check out this post at “Vintage Gal” for some inspiration.  I personally gravitated towards the Past Pattern one, as it was a set with a cover-up and it had complex seaming.  I knew it would also be difficult to adapt to my needs as it is a much larger size than what I needed.  Nevertheless, I am a long-standing patron of that company.  I love the quality and accuracy of their pattern reprints. Therefore I painstakingly pinched out a total of almost 6 inches from the width (spread out in many small ½ increments), then equaled up the horizontal bust-waist-hips points, and trued up all the lines.  This was quite tricky to do with the contrast pieces being so very zig-zagged along the joining seams, but I chalked it all up to being good for me to gain practice in grading.  Sheesh.  Yes, I do tend to be hard on myself.

I meticulously measured the heck out of everything after I was done re-sizing to make sure at the beginning that this would fit.  My chosen “wearing ease” was about 3 ½” so I could have something in between a close and a loose fit.  I only had one chance at this with the ‘only just enough’ amount of chosen fabric I had on hand!  That being said, testing the fit of a paper pattern is nothing like actually cutting and sewing those same pieces out of a slinky rayon crepe.  My finished pyjamas fit just a little more loosely than expected, which was fine because that’s what helps make them the effortless, breezy casual and cool summer garment that they are, but – all in all – turned out perfectly!  Once it is understood how to ‘read’ and refine a pattern at the preliminary stage, it can save much grief, time, and cost of material.    

It was interesting to construct as a wrap-on garment and is a bit counter-intuitive to put on.  I couldn’t bear to sew a welt “window” opening right through the center front of the bodice for the one wrap waist closure tie.  This was how the pattern instructs.  I felt the rayon was too supple for that and I liked the simplicity of a solid main body since the contrast was busy and bold.  So I improvised slightly.

Unlike most wrap-on dresses or jumpsuits, this one – as I made it – does not have one tie slip through a gap at the opposite side seam.  I merely attach the left wrap, which is sewn to the pants halfway across the front up until the center front seam, to the right side seam from the inside seam allowance.  I chose to close it with a button (on the end of the left wrap) and buttonhole elastic (on the right side seam).  This way the closure is both adjustable and comfortable and it is also easier to close with the elastic.  Then I take the other wrap half, the top wrap which has a tie at its end, across the front over to the left side seam, which has another tie end attached to the side seam just above the zipper.  I like to wrap the ties fully around my waist, as if a belt, and finally pull up the zipper.  Now I am dressed!  Explaining the process makes it seem a lot more complicated than it really is.  However, through the explaining, I am also laying out some of how it is constructed as well.  I hope you are encouraged or at least have your interest piqued enough from my description to try this pattern out for yourself!

As if this closing manner isn’t curious enough, sewing on the curved and pointed contrast panels made for a hearty trial for my skills.  I added to my woes by drafting the hem contrast in a curved and pointed manner to mirror with the neckline paneling.  A major part of the challenge was on account of the differences in “hand” between the loose rayon crepe and the stiffer quilting cotton.  It is not a combo I would recommend, yet I made it work.  It took me having to take my good old time not stretching the grain of the rayon, being very precise and clipping all corners and curves of the tiny seam allowances.   

Don’t get me wrong – having the contrast hems, neckline, belt ties, and jacket be something more substantial gave great support to the overall beach pyjamas.  When you have 3 plus yards of a heavier draping material for the rest of the main body, which you do need to have the general air of a proper beach pyjama, it would look like a sloppy, wet rag hanging on me if it wasn’t for stabilizing the contrast.  For clean insides, I faced those printed cotton parts but did not interface them.  They didn’t need to be made thicker, just finished nicely for me to be fully happy with my work.  I just adore how Art Deco the cotton contrasts are with the sharp angles of the design lines and the zig-zag print!  Here, I would like to take a minute to unashamedly brag at how sharp all my corners turned out.

The cover-up jacket was a super simple project, one that I adapted slightly, as well.  I shortened the long sleeves and curved the front corners of the hem.  There were only three pattern pieces to the jacket and no closures so – in theory – it should be easy to match up the crazy print.  If only I wasn’t so short on fabric, I could have had the pleasure of matching precisely, boo hoo! At least it was also easy to fully line.  The way the lining cotton is quite sheer has me doubting whether or not I can truly call this reversible, but all raw edges are clean by being completely hidden…so I think the word can still apply.  I did draft the shoulders to be a bit more generous for my thicker upper arms, and it’s a good thing I did.  The jacket seemed to run a bit small already so I didn’t have to grade out quite as much as I did for the beach pyjamas.  Otherwise it was breeze to come together.

 It’s nice to have something like this cute little extra matching piece to keep the chill away for when I step indoors amid cold air conditioned buildings or out in the cool of a riverside on a summer night in Missouri. Hopefully in the future I will have an actual beach trip to plan for…and then I can bring my vintage pyjama set and wear them on a location proper to both their history and their name.

This outfit is such a personal accomplishment for me on so many levels, some of which I’ve already mentioned.  A more analytical reason of mine is that a year so long empty on my 30’s decade page – 1930 – can finally be filled in on my blog.  I have been having some difficulty finding a design from that year which I felt was something I could make.  Sure, I have seen many old catalog images and fashion prints from that year which are to die for, yet the perfect pattern and inspiration combination hadn’t struck me for anything else but these beach pyjamas.  Now I have something really good to add to that section to start off my decade page with a bang!   

Gift Sewing: A Reversible 1940s Apron

My most common item I create as a gift for someone is a really cute, finely detailed apron…and if not self-drafted, there is one pattern that I use for all of them.  It’s a vintage re-issue, Simplicity #1221, originally Simplicity #4939 from 1944.  This is a true winner of a pattern, with one cut piece needed to make it and a good design that has a complimentary fit.  Not every apron is so good at being fashionably waist slimming yet with full coverage for food stain protection, too.  Neither are all aprons so good at being a one yard, two hour project!  One of these days, I need to get around to making a version for myself, especially after making so many for others.  Here’s the post on my first gift version of this same apron pattern.  This particular one was going off to my hubby’s godchild as a present.   

This is the first time I had made a reversible apron, and I love how it turned out.  I wanted her (the recipient) to have something she would not find otherwise, something fun, and ultimately useful!  Just one layer of material (printed cotton) alone was too thin to be a useful against food splatters anyways.  As the apron design is so simple, it was easy to merely have the backing fabric become an optional, yet wearable, second side.  The entire raw edges are encased in ¼ inch bias tape so they look the same on either side, too, besides being an easy and colorful finish. 

The sizing is good for gifting, as well.  It is in loose, general blocks of measurements as small, medium, and large gradients rather than precise numbered sizing.  As long as I can estimate the recipient’s body as compared to my own, I can find the right size.  The waist of the apron should just about cover the front 2/3 of the wearer’s waist, so that always gives me a good way to choose what size to make after measuring the pattern in comparison.  The godchild is actually a 20-something who is my size body (or slightly smaller) so I made the apron to fit me.  However, it is always harder to let something go to someone else once you try it on for yourself, you know what I mean?

I made the ties as long as the pattern calls for, which is short enough for only a knot and not a full bow.  The neckline has no closures and flips over the head to lay on the neck and shoulders like a collar, so I feel the shorter ties complement the overall simplicity of the design.  At the base of the ties, I added a small name tag to credit me, the maker, so the recipient can remember who gifted it to her!

What is your go-to for handmade gifts?