Under Surveillance

I am never one to pass up an opportunity for what I sew to convey some understated irony.  The opposite of wrinkly is irony, after all (in case you haven’t heard that joke)!  In all seriousness, though – this post’s dress was perfect for a day traveling out in the middle of nowhere, on the edge of Death Valley.  I blend right in with my setting’s colors and am ‘under surveillance’ amidst the open scrub land in my boldly patterned knit version of a Rachel Comey designer piece.  My dress is paired with a casual, relaxed twist on the classic moto jacket for an outfit that accommodates the temperature swings of the desert in spring.

In 2014, Vogue Pattern Company released the pattern to her popular RTW item called the “Surveillance” dress.  It’s always so exciting when Vogue gives a home seamstress the ability to make her own ‘copy’ of a New York fashion item which sells for about $700 normally!!  Granted, I am in no way ‘up to date’ with things by finally getting around to sewing this six years later, but hey – better late to the game than never when it comes to personal fashion.  SO many times it is best to let my fabric and my patterns be paired up naturally as the inspiration strikes or as the setting feels right.  Forcing projects is often a recipe for later being unhappy with the outcome.

Making a jacket out of this lovely burgundy knit has been a long time coming as well, so everything about this outfit is something to be excited over.  As the wardrobe I chose for my travels out west was everything which would pair well with such a rich color, I finally dove into finding the right pattern for the burgundy knit and now have a new favorite versatile piece I dreamed of for years.  There never seems to be enough time in life for all the ideas and aspirations in my head and heart!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  For the dress – a cotton, rayon, and poly blend knit; For the jacket – a rayon and poly blend tiny ribbed knit, fully lined in a lightweight black poly interlock

PATTERNS:  Vogue #1406, a Rachel Comey dress pattern from 2014 together with Burda Style #105 jacket from March 2015

NOTIONS:  Just lots of thread, some cuts of interfacing, a few vintage buttons out of the stash I inherited from my Grandmother, and scraps of bias tape went into this ensemble!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The jacket took about 10 to 12 hours to make, and was finished on February 7, 2020; the dress was made in about 5 hours on January 30, 2020.

TOTAL COST:  As the fabrics for this whole outfit have been sitting in my stash for almost 10 years now (bought years ago at the now defunct Hancock Fabrics), I am counting these pieces as equal to free by this time!  Either way, I only needed 1 ½ yards for the jacket, and almost 3 yards for the dress (because I was working with a large scale repeated print) so I could not have paid all that much because I always found the best prices at Hancock!  My guess is no more than $30 in total.

Here’s how I cut out my pieces (single layer of fabric).

Now, for a designer pattern, Comey’s Surveillance dress has really simple but smart design lines.  The listings describe it as having an “asymmetrical neckline, hugging the body in just the right places, this fitted dress features a tailored bodice with clever tugs at the waist sides (gathers) for a flattering fit.”  I noticed that all the models in the RTW versions had no significant weight or body curves, so I surmised a close-fitting dress for their body type would not fit the same on me.  I made sure to go up one whole size than what the chart showed I needed, and I am glad I did so.  My sleeves were shortened because I like the versatility of ¾ length, and it made the sleeves easier to match with the striping on the dress, but otherwise no other changes were made to the design you see on the line drawing.

The original instructions call for very nice finishing techniques, such as cutting your own bias binding to finish the inner raw edges for the armscye and a fully lined body.  The detailed instructions are great because it gives a glimpse into how the expensive designer dresses are made.  Also, though, after you exhaust yourself doing such details, you may just realize that high end price is rather appropriate for the time, effort, and quality (RTW Surveillance dresses are silk) that goes into them…and they are made in the USA!

Now, I am not one to shy away from (or lack appreciation for) time-consuming ways of sewing high quality garments – goodness, I absolutely love spending ungodly amounts of hours to hand-sew suit coats!  However, my chosen fabric for this design was loose and much too relaxed to be highly tailored, so I stripped construction down to the bare bones here.  I eliminated the full body lining, facings, interfacing, and seam edge finishing (the knit does not ravel).  This made my dress only a 5 hour, ‘one-afternoon-sewing-binge’ kind of project.  As I had went up a size, and my material was stretchy knit, I left out the back zipper as the pattern called for, making this a pop-over dress for effortless dressing.  The center back skirt godet panel was also left out in my version and I merely drafted directly onto the dress itself.  This way the oversized print does not get broken up.

Even with the dress being simplified I had to think out of the box to accommodate supporting certain sections.  The one side of the neckline has a defined shoulder seam, which I supported with seam tape in with the stitching.  However the other shoulder – the one that wraps around from the back to come into the front at the neckline side that dips down – is one piece that drooped off my body.  To fix that I hand stitched down a strip of double fold, ½ inch wide bias tape to the inside across where the shoulder seam would have been.  Bias tape has just a tiny bit of give when it is double folded, but it is a pretty stable – yet simple – way for me to steady the one side of the upper neckline.  I also used double fold bias tape (the red is 1/4 inch wide) to stabilize the side seam and center back waistline gathers.

Can this dress still be in the shadow of New York’s high fashion or considered a designer knock-off when I have reduced it down to such a simple thing to make?  I almost feel badly, but hey – sewing my own clothes makes me a designer too, in my own right, so I am tickled deep down for finding my own unusual way of interpreting Comey’s design.  Even still, I do think that I stuck to her aesthetic, which is described as “combining thoughtful materials, bold prints, and modern silhouettes.”  That is the case with my knit which is a soft as a baby blanket, yet definitely bold, and certainly made into a modern body skimming fit. “Comey’s collections blend function, fashion, and form.  You will find designs that are sophisticated and cool, smart yet playful.”  I find that I made her Surveillance dress much more versatile with no closures needed in an easy-care knit.  My ‘downsizing’ of the details in no way brings this dress away from her trend of classy work-to-dinner-date wear so I’m happy to have a multi-purpose garment done my way!  With modern heels and chandelier earrings this would look so different.

My blazer is the opposite of the dress – it took more time, has finer details, and is not named designer pattern.  It is still a mix of casual and dressy.  It is fitted loosely, almost boxy, so there were none but two tiny bust darts to sew.  With the full body lining and soft knit this jacket feels as cozy as a sweatshirt but appears so much nicer!  The asymmetric closing has many differing ‘looks’ depending on how many (or if any) buttons I close, so it is closer to suiting in this respect, and a nice variant on the traditional moto jacket.

It does have suit jacket style, two-part sleeves for great mobility that doesn’t solely rely on the stretch of the knit.  I played upon the opportunity the seaming and moto style offered to use the other side of the fabric – the side with more of a black overtone and less of a twill finish as what is seen on the main body – for the underarm sleeve panels, collar, and insides of the revers.  For as bold as the dress is, I love the subtlety I added to the details of the jacket.  Choosing vintage leather buttons might not be the best in wash ability, but I liked how they standout without being too obnoxiously different.  As I said above, this is a set full of irony – yes, black, burgundy, and brown can complement one another and a moto jacket doesn’t always have to be in a stark biker style.

My outfit only has me chuffed to go along these lines even further.  As my second Rachel Comey dress, it is quite different from my first – this 40’s inspired Vogue #1209 pattern from 2010.  It will certainly not be my last, either.  I have several more patterns of her’s from Vogue in my cabinet, with fabric in my stash already picked out for them.  Also, I am itching to try another twist on the moto style jacket.  Burda Style has been really killing me with their amazing moto jacket designs over this past year.  Each one they release (and it has been many) has great features, so it will be hard to pick, but I will let the fabric “speak to me” to help decide things for next time.  One thing I do know is how easy it is to determine whether or not I am open to returning to the desert…the answer is a hearty YES!

A Sybil Connolly Skirt Suit

Of all the items I have made in my life, it is hard to believe that only now is my very first sewing using a designer Vogue pattern! Even though this might not be the most spectacular or glamorous project to start with, the beauty is in the details and the rich, significant background of the designer.  This is also a very comfortable and useful dressy set, to boot!  I present my year 1976 suit set of Sybil Connolly, the leader and founder of Irish Couture.

First of all, I want to say that I am counting this as part of my 21st century progressive Easter day creations I have been making since 2013, starting with a dress in the year 1929 style.  Since that Easter day outfit, I make something from the following decade for the next year’s holiday.  (See my 1930s Easter dress here, and my 1940s one here.)  Only since I made this set from the year 1954 did I begin keeping with suiting. This year 2018 was naturally supposed to be something from the 1970’s (after this one last year from 1960), but as our Easter day turned out to be incredibly cold and snowy, this suit set had to be put off being showcased until the next spring holiday – Mother’s day!  Happily, the grass and trees were overly lush and green by the time I wore my new vintage suit set!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a cotton-rayon blend “linen-look” material, in a solid orchid color for the contrast and a floral for the rest of the set.  Leftover polyester lining (in a matching orchid pinkish purple) from my stash was used to line the jacket inside.

PATTERN:  Vogue #1503, year 1977

NOTIONS:  I pretty much had everything I needed – thread, zipper, interfacing, and bias tape.  The only thing I needed to buy for this specifically was a button making kit for matching fabric buttons!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was a relatively easy pattern for being a detailed designer project – but of course leaving out the skirt lining step helped, too.  I made my suit set in about 25 hours’ worth of time and it was finished on April 8, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  I’ll admit I took the easy road here for the internal finishing.  My seams are covered by the lining for the jacket body, left raw for the sleeve seams inside the arm, and bias bound for the skirt.  Bias seams are not my preference for making my own copy of a designer garment, neither are raw edges, but this fabric doesn’t really fray and I wanted my set done for Easter-time…only I didn’t wear it for Easter anyway!  Oh well.

TOTAL COST:  This fabric was bought on deep discount when the now defunct Hancock Fabrics had been closing several years back.  I believe I bought the fabric for about $2 a yard. With about 3 yards used, and the notions I bought, this suit set cost me just over $10…how awesome is that?!

For some reason, I found it incredibly difficult to find a dressy suit set from the decade of the 1970s.  I have a sneaky suspicion that this is due to the casualness that the youthful-oriented and stretchy knit fashions introduced, as well as the greater political and social liberties of women.  Enough said.  Whatever the reason, suits of the 1970’s seem to be quite relaxed, mostly with pants for the bottom half, and frequently with a tunic-style jacket or a safari-style over shirt.  Leave it to a designer to offer my taste just what I was hoping for but having trouble finding!  This suit feels unpretentious, but still polished, as well as being timeless with a 70’s flair.  It was just enough of a challenge to make, yet still easy enough to enjoy the sewing.  It has unexpected details to make my creative heart flutter yet these are subtle enough to go unnoticed to the casual observation.  Besides, now I have the opportunity to both appreciate and share the story of a designer that deserves to be better known.

Ireland had long been considered a country without its own fashion.  Sybil Connolly changed that.  She had been brought up in Waterford County, and trained as an apprentice dressmaker in London starting in the late 1930’s at seventeen and by the time she was twenty-two (WWII times) she was a workroom manager and company director for Jack Clarke, a fashion retailer in Dublin.  In 1954, Carmel Snow, then the editor of Harper’s Bazaar, discovered Sybil Connolly who had just come out with her first collection, featuring the use of her native Irish fabrics and embellishments, most notably Irish linen, only the year before.  With the combined help of the Irish exports board, Connolly launched Irish Couture into an international spotlight with her introduction to New York’s fashion scene.  What she made often showed a woman’s natural body form (in contrast to the likes of Balenciaga) with such dresses as her white crocheted evening dress that was featured on the cover of LIFE magazine in August 1953.  Her inspiration the sentiment A woman’s body is inside. It breathes. It moves. So I must see movement in a dress.”  By being true to herself, her tastes, her roots, and her determination, she stood out in the fashion world, gave women attractive options to wear, and gained a new respect from the world for her culture.  By March of 1955, Vogue magazine was mentioning Dublin in the same sentence as Paris, London, and Milan!

Connolly was adamant about using her fashion line to support business and export trade in Ireland, by not only using Irish textile manufacturers, but even employing over 50 local women to hand make some of her laces. At the Glencolumbkill Agricultural show in 1956, she had said, “I feel that as long as we can show such beauty in design and texture as we do in our Irish cottage industries, we cannot ever be called a vanishing race.”  Click here for a “Glamourdaze” article to watch (in color!) Sybil Connolly’s 1957 fashion show at a lovely Irish castle.  Most of her designs at this time were inspired by rural, traditional garments and materials.  This is cultural approbation at its finest.

For me, I have strong Irish roots on both sides of my family, Sybil Connolly’s work is a personal thing that touches a tender spot.  I too love and appreciate the fine laces that my Irish (paternal) Grandmother hoarded (which I now have) as well as the Irish simple beauty of life that my Irish (maternal) Grandfather enjoyed.  If you follow my blog you have already seen and read my great appreciation for linen, in all its forms.  Now, I know – my suit is not real linen.  It’s made from modern linen-look fabric.  It’s also not in a solid color, as was her wont in her creations.  However, I feel that this is me personalizing my own Sybil Connolly fashion, and I can see this step as something she would approve.  I love a linen-look fabric, and I LOVE a purple print…so, this is a set that is all me, for me, designed by a woman that I respect who has my same cultural ties.

This pattern is from 1976, though, decades after the height of her career (the 1950s).  She had dressed all the most well-known social and political names such as Jackie Kennedy, the Rockefellers, and Liz Taylor through the 60’s and began designing for Tiffany & Co. (glassware) as well as releasing luxury home goods (such as fine table linens) by the 1980s.  So this, pattern was at the far end of her fashion career, when she was trading talents.  I have seen that her mid-to late 1970s patterns have very similar, repetitive qualities to my own pattern’s set.  Many of her skirts (excepting her trademark hand-pleated, taffeta-backed linen skirts) have the same paneling with pockets (see Vogue #2998).  Many of her garments had a recognizable continuity even in 1992 as they did 40 years earlier.

Often, designers who began in the pre-WWII times (such as Mainbocher) had difficulty dealing with the harshly contrasting ‘hip’ and youthful trends of the 60’s-70’s-80’s.  However, she was a multi-faceted woman (she even wrote books!) and found a way to keep her head up apparently to still have wonderful, lovely designs like this pattern for many decades.  That is pure ingenuity and a stamp of a classic style.  Connolly maintained that she knew, as all women designers should, that “good fashion does not need to change”.

One of the major details which slightly dates this suit is the enormous collar.  This is so 1970s and a natural style for Connolly to adopt here to be on point for 1976.  An oversized collar is the most common, recognizable feature to shirts and jacket necklines that I see and make from the 1970s.  Other than that, the rest of the details are pretty timeless, and finely crafted.  The sleeves are the classic two panel style seen on most suits.  The body of the jacket has a princess seam running vertical down through the bust, starting from sleeve and running to the hem, separating the front from the side panel.  The side bodice panel has a sneaky extra shaping dart close to where the side seam is while the back is pretty bare bones, yet still shaped nicely.  As this is supposed to be a warm weather jacket, I didn’t line the sleeves and I left out the shoulder pads to keep this lightweight.

As I left off the bias tube belt the pattern called for to wear over the jacket, I instead made sure to keep another accessory detail that can be spotted on the example garment shown on the pattern envelope cover.  Can you find it?  I made my own clip on fabric flower to match for the collar!  I used the 1950’s Dior-style bias method (which you can see here or here) to start with and slightly adapted it so the flower is more compact like a double rose.  Making fabric flowers is my new favorite thing to do with my scraps.  Not only does it use leftover fabric, but I end up with a wonderful matching accessory.  Plus it’s fun (very important) and is an excellent way to practice precise hand sewing.  Small-scale, often time-consuming details like this fabric rose remind me of the labor of love which went into Connolly’s creations.

My favorite feature to this set is possibly the smart button placket to the jacket.  It is only on the exterior front, made a bit more obvious by my solid contrast color.  There is only a wide facing on the inside.  This is unusual but lovely.  I couldn’t find it in my heart to break up the color and texture of the front placket by using anything other than matching fabric buttons, so I bought a kit to make them myself.   I feel like this brings the jacket’s detailing to a whole new level equal to a designer pattern.

My next favorite feature is the smart pockets in the unexpected gore design of the skirt.  It is a four panel (or gore) skirt with no side seams.  There are center panels in the front and the back, with one wrap-around panel to either side.  The waistline has small darts coming out of it, ending at the high hip, adding shaping there in the absence of a side seam.  I think I have only seen no side seams with a side seam darts with my 50’s pencil skirts (here and here), so it is another uncommon feature for the 70’s.  With such seaming, do you know where the zipper closing went?  In the left back side seam.  This makes it kind of tricky to close unless I twist it around to the front of me while dressing.  The pattern called for a flap closing back much like the front buttoning fly to men’s trousers and historical breeches.  I simplified that by sewing one side closed then adding a zip in the other.  Then I continued with the contrasting color I had been using on the jacket to make the skirt waistband out of the solid orchid color linen-look, as well.

I suppose you have noticed my hands slipped into some well hidden front skirt pockets.  What you may not have detected was how the skirt is a straight A-line shape from the front, while the back is gently fuller.  Anyway – back to the pockets!  They are so handy in the way that they are deep and generous to hold many things, and they are at the perfect height for my arm length.  The pockets inside swoop in towards one another, and to keep them that way there is a small length of bias tape to connect the two.  Whenever there are pockets like this I always think of them in connection to a kangaroo, because they give me room to hold things over my tummy!

The pattern I had was a slightly bigger size than what I needed, so I used the same method I used for this 60’s dress.  I cut off the seam allowance on the side and shoulder seams, and made slightly wider seam allowances.  Read more about it in this post.  I’m really liking the perfect fit I end up with this method.

I am now quite eager to dive into my next vintage Vogue designer pattern.  I have already bought a few more while I was in the post-project happiness – among them ones from the 80’s and 90’s for my Easter suits of the next two years!  I love how designer patterns give me a reason and opportunity to learn more about the talents, individuality, and biography of garment creators that made it big.  Unfortunately some of them have been better remembered in history than others!  In fact I prefer the forgotten or little known designers because it helps me associate myself better with them.  I might be sewing using a designer pattern, but most importantly anything I make means I become my own designer.  Home sewing is so underestimated.  One person does all the jobs of a whole fashion house.

Sybil Connolly had bystanders remark of her (at a party she attended in 1946, before she had her own line of clothing) that “Wearing her own designed dress, she was her own best model.”  That is my ideal, to have me – the creator of what I make – be the foremost representation for what can be accomplished at the hands of a dedicated seamstress.  It’s like wearing your art on your back and being your own silent spokesperson for what you do.  Whether it gets seen or appreciated, that fact should alone make one who sews happy.  You don’t need what you make be strutted down the runway to be proved it’s worthwhile…nowadays, half of what is seen on the runways is trash in my opinion anyway.  Just make sure what you make for yourself is 100% you for you to show the beauty, individuality, and artistry to the powerful talent of sewing!

Water Nymph

The month of April is synonymous with being wet from spring showers.  The month also frequently hosts the holiday of Easter as well.  I think I’ll just be ‘one’ with it all!

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To me, there is almost nothing that equals the calming noise, relaxing loveliness, and happy beauty of being at a woodland pond and trickling creek.  Top this off with a perfect spring afternoon and Eastertime – and we couldn’t ask for a better place to hang out, do some weekend recuperating, and take some photos of my newest dress.  It is made from a simple pattern at the heart of the “Flower Child” era, 1969, and has a water-marked sort of faded tie-dye knit to match.  My inner “nature goddess” needed a self-made lilac flower crown to complete the whole ensemble!  However, for some of my pictures later on you’ll see me stripped of the sash belt, flower crown, and even shoes to go more ‘natural’…

I see pastels everywhere (fashion-wise) this season, and I am not one to purposefully follow trends, but the new, rayon-based, super-soft knits at my local fabric store tempted me, too much.  They also happen to be a designer line!  Now I can be on trend, yet still sneak in my vintage love with this dress, he he.  Vogue 7463, late 1968 or early 1969

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a Kathy Davis Designer brand knit “Eraser Purple”- 97% Rayon 3% Spandex knit.

PATTERN: a Vogue #7463, from either late 1968 or early 1969

NOTIONS:  nothing but thread and two small strips of interfacing were needed –simple!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  the dress was finished on April 1 (2016) after about 8 hours spent to make it up.

TOTAL COST:  This fabric was a very recent purchase from my local Jo Ann’s fabric store.  I spent about $18 for two yards…a bit more than what I’m used to spending but worth it for a designer printed dress like this one!

This garment is part of two sewing challenges actually – the “Wardrobe Builder” dress project for April as well as the “Easter-Spring Dress” sew-a-long.  It is part of the “Wardrobe Builder” project because firstly, it is a dress, plus being one that is so very practical yet dressy at the same time.  This combo should make this a nice go-to for early spring, especially since it has long sleeves to keep me warm enough through the chilliness we so frequently have through the season.  My dress is part of the “Easter-Spring Dress” sew-a-long because of the obvious…it is perfect for spring and was specifically made to wear on Palm Sunday. This is part one of two dresses for this sew-a-long.

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Only because the design was so simple was I able to plan for two new garments for Easter time!  Although it is simple, the design is first class.  The instructions were very complicated for what one would think looking at the cover envelope picture and design lines of the dress.  The instructions were meant for a fully lined dress with fancy tailoring and made of a flowing woven as suggested by pattern back.  My own dress was much simplified, mostly due to the fact it’s merely made from a single layer of a drapey knit with no seam edge finishing.  I’ll admit I am not used to working with true vintage Vogue patterns – maybe such thorough instructions, fine designs, and nice details are the norm of all their offerings, whatever era they come from.  I do generally love the modern “Vintage Vogue” line of patterns for those same features.  Maybe, I just have a new ‘need’ to find and make some more old Vogue patterns!DSC_0036-comp,w

The rayon knit has a shifty, heavy drape so the wide bateau neckline, which is the highlight of the dress, needed to be interfaced.  I used a stiff, sew-in mid weight interfacing attached to just the one-piece, self-facing which gets turned inside the neckline.  However, the rest of the dress was left without anything to stabilize the seams and this seems to work out fine, but I still am not sure.  Was I supposed to add in seam tape to the long French bust darts, at least – or maybe to the side seams, too?  I didn’t.  The dress seems slightly generous in fit the way and I supposed it was because of the nature fabric but I don’t mind – it only adds to the comfort of wearing it.  However, I do have a very strong suspicion that this dress will “grow” after every wash, the fabric getting slightly bigger and out of shape.  That’s why they added in spandex to the rayon, to prevent this, so I shouldn’t be suspect.  So…for now I’m happy with it the way it is and if it does “grow” on me the more I wash and wear DSC_0047-comp,wit, I suppose I’ll either take it in or/and add on the seam tape then.

Only minor adjustment were made – to lengthen the dress hem and sleeve length by one inch.  I like this length of the dress (and it has a 2 inch hem) but the sleeves took about a 4 ½ inch hem to get them to the length they are and they are still a tad long.  Other than the fact that the sleeve armpit seam dips rather low for my preference and I raised by just under and inch, this dress was straightforward to make.

My floral crown was made from artificial lilac stems bought at the dollar store, carefully layered and wrapped around a band of floral wire with floral tape.  This coronet only cost $1 and I’m so pleased I could spend so little to come up with something every bit as lovely as I had hoped.  I would totally wear this out much more than I will, in fact – boo hoo.  It is so fun!  Hubby lets me do my own thing with my projects and outfits, but this floral crown makes him sigh and roll his eyes at me…really?!  Yes, really – it is awesome to wear just what I want and frolic in a lovely flower crown, just because I came up with an idea and was able to make something of it.  Luckily, previous experience from briefly working at a floral shop came in handy here…

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I do have to laugh at myself that I sew with a non-floral fabric and have it in my mind that it is inspired by nature.  It figures!  Oh well – after spending the week before at home being sick, this outfit gave me the prod I needed to get out and enjoy my favorite part of the outdoors.  Inspiration is everywhere.

For more pictures of my ‘frolicking’ through nature in this outfit check out my Instagram!

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“Poster Girl” – Hat, Dior Flower, and 1951 Dress

If it’s on the front cover of a magazine, or in a publicity shot, your outfit had better be good, right?  Well, the villainess for Marvel’s “Agent Carter” television show wears some pretty killer post-War 1940s and early 50’s fashions, and no less so for the outfit she wears for both the preview publicity pictures of her character and for the cover of a vintage “Fashion News” magazine (seen in “Better Angels”, Season Two, episode 3).

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In order to recreate her “Poster Girl” outfit, I made a bunch of different pieces – the dress, the hat, and the clip-on flower.  I’m not complaining – this was closer to being a labor of love to sew, not a bother.  It required a good flow of my creative juices, some good pattern sourcing, and taking my time to enjoy myself for things to turn out “just so” for an equally killer outfit which I would like to think could hold its own against the class of Whitney Frost.  Her sense of fashion is probably one of the reasons she was held as the face for Hollywood, as well as her seemingly ‘perfect’ life with her husband.  However, 'All eyes on her, but no one sees her'-combobeing a “Poster Girl” (definition here) was a hard standard to hold up to for her.  For Whitney, it only meant keeping up the façade of happiness and glamour, always smiling and keeping the truth hidden…and boy, did she have some dark secrets to hide.  George C. Scott once said, “Technique is making what is absolutely false appear to be totally true in a manner that is not recognizable.”  Here, I intend to only stick to Whitney’s fashion without her superficiality.  This is my closest copy yet of a Ms. Frost outfit, and I absolutely love it!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  THE DRESS and FLOWER: a 100% cotton sateen, a “Gertie” print; THE HAT: Simplicity 8390, cover front-comp,wa buff satin polyester solid in fuchsia color

PATTERN:  THE DRESS: Simplicity #8390, year 1951, “Misses One-Piece Dress and Stole”; THE HAT: Vogue #7657, view F, year 2002; THE FLOWER: the instructions and guide to how to make a ‘Dior’ rose came from a small “Easy-to-Sew Flowers” booklet, compiled by Threads magazine, copyright 2012.  The tutorial is listed as adapted from Threads article “Dior Roses” by the late Roberta Carr, in issue no. 34. 

Vogue 7657, yr 2002, pics onlyNOTIONS:  Believe it or not, this outfit was made with only what was already on hand.  I had all the thread, interfacing, closure notions, bias tapes, and other odd and ends needed for the hat, dress, and flower here in my “magic” stash.  The only thing I needed was to order a buckram hat blank base (more info where it came from and what it is exactly down later).  Ah – and the cotton velvet ribbon,  “Waverly” brand, was bought (of all places) at Wal-Mart.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The Dress was made in about 20 hours and finished on September 15, 2016, and the hat came maybe 10 hours later.  The flower was made in just under an hour the day or two afterwards.

THE INSIDES:  There is a combo of both French and bias bound seams inside this dress for a clean finish.

TOTAL COST:  The dress cost a reasonable but decent amount, about $7 a yard for about 4 yards.  The hat fabric combined with the buckram base and ribbon cost me just under $15.

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I had some problems dating my dress’ pattern.  My first problem was the presence of new pattern numbers stamped in grey on the back info of the envelope.  The instruction sheet has the date of the year 1951, but the newer stamped numbers of ‘4291’ would make this about year 1953.  However, as everything else to this pattern points to the year 1951 (the style of dress, the original numbers, the instruction sheet, as well as the double bars on the top left side of the front envelope), I am sticking to that early year in the decade.  I have not yet found any evidence of this design being re-released later under a new number, so I’m not sure why the stamped combination was added on (it does look quite official like it was a die cast impression).  One of the many wonders and curiosities that vintage patterns offer…

DSC_0384a-comp,w,combo, Whitney and Calvin

The dress design is lovely, and smartly designed.  It also fits very well on me – perhaps the best fitting 50’s pattern to date.  I usually find that the back waists are too long, shoulders proportionally too wide, and busts too generous on other 50s patterns, but not here!  The pattern was close enough to the inspiration dress that some small adaptations were needed to get to where I wanted it to be for my copy.  The fabric is, as you might have seen above in “The Facts”, another lovely Gertie print.  My other Whitney Frost dress that I made was in a different Gertie print, so this is the second time her fabric has been what I feel is the right parallel for channeling the Agent Carter villainess.  Sure my dress fabric has more grey with an addition of magenta and deep purple, but these last two mentioned are her signature colors, and the print is still a water colored in theme like the original, so I feel it is a good match.  From what I can tell, I suspect that the original dress on Whitney Frost is silk, and maybe a taffeta form of that, but Gertie’s sateen prints are quite luxurious without being impractical for a not-overly-dressy garment.  This means my dress will see more wearing…and as comfy and classy as I feel in this, frequent donning of it is good!

DSC_0419a-comp,wThe collar is of course the highlight of the dress and although the original design is neat, with a little mind crunching to figure out the curious construction method I was able to tweak it to have it more like Whitney Frost’s inspiration dress.  I re-drafted the over the shoulder portion to eliminate the notches, then curved and widened it a tad more.  I also had the facing be the same as the dress fabric, not a contrast as the cover envelope shows.  The underside of the collar has this interesting L-shaped method of piecing together the collar while the outside facing is all one, long, giant wrap around-to-the-back cut – I love vintage pattern details!

Maybe the collar is vying for the top favorite position among this dress’ feature because I also love the squared off armholes and the squared back of the collar.  This shows how subtle complimenting of details can go a long way and make all the difference for an awesome garment.  The square back of the collar end is something I haven’t seen in a pattern before and it is a nice way to add interest to the view from behind.  The squared armholes allow for extra room that my larger upper arms appreciate, as well as something extra different and lovely.

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The skirt had been a small, sort of adapted half-circle, bias-cut four-panel style.  What I did for my dress was to take the side seam side (over the hips) and add about 5 more inches out so I could gather the skirt over the hips.  This created and extra 10 inches over each hip which was then tightly gathered between side front to side back.  The gathers give my dress an extra 50’s style widening emphasis on the hips, slimming my waist (so I feel) and also (I think) balancing out the giant collar better than the original plain skirt as the pattern shows.  (This vintage year 1949 dress has the same skirt with gathered hips.)  Besides, I wanted to copy the same detail on the inspiration dress of Whitney Frost.

DSC_0416a-comp,wHowever, adding the gathers over the hips of the skirt portion to my dress did mean that I could not place a zipper in the side.  Where would I put the zipper?  Bing – on goes the light bulb over my head.  Down the front like a pants fly!  This idea actually came from seeing this kind of closure method on and existing vintage 1950’s dress I have – this is how I knew to re-create it plus the benefit of knowing this was done in the decade (keeping things authentic).  The front bodice of the dress is a wrap-over, double-breasted closure so I merely continued the closure down the front center seam of the skirt to include a small 7 inch zipper.  It took some forethought, but I love this part of the dress!  It’s so easy to get in and out of with all the closures in plain sight…not on the side or down the back like many other vintage garments.  I think the front zipper is pretty undetectable.  Knowing that I made something work out, besides its being different and new (for me), leaves me tickled.

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Now – onto the hat.   I must say that the hat itself is ingeniously designed and the pattern was excellent, very clearly explained and turning out a finished product better than even what the picture shows (so I think).  It is incredibly simple in its construction and design, but it is also terribly tedious and detailed work to make so that it turns out well.  The last part is where the ‘trouble’ comes in, especially for me because I cannot tolerate hand sewing (because my wrist and shoulders do not take it well).  However, every ache and minute spent on this hat was so worth it to me ending up with something like this!  I feel like this hat is my first fully ‘proper’ millinery piece, and it was good practice with good teaching steps towards diving into more detailed and professional headwear.

I was able to use everything that was on hand already, but the buckram hat base was something special needed here – no ways around it.  The good news is that I found the buckram hat blank quite affordable and very easy to work with…I was even able to stitch around the edge on my machine!  For this hat I used a 7 ½ inch by 5 ½ inch teardrop shaped blank from “Dance Costume Supply” on Etsy.  It did have a covered edge with a wire in it (not called for in the pattern’s instructions), but I think it gives the hat better, firmer shaping than otherwise.

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My first step was to cover the buckram blank.  The instructions say to steam the fabric or soak in water in order to shape over the hat blank (blocking method), but my chosen fabric is a poly blend and would not react to either method so I cut the piece on the bias and lightly stretched (then stitched) the cover pieces over both underside and top side.  Next, the head straps were made and stitched onto the side edges.  Then I made a bias binding and stitched it over the edge just the same as one would for the neckline or armhole edges of a garment – easy!

I am so glad I went with my gut and made the head straps to match my hair color rather than the hat.  I love how this helps the hat stand out all the better and the way it stays on all the more subdued.  I especially love the fact that I used good old-fashioned cotton velvet ribbon, too.  Not only does it add a bit more authenticity (being in cotton), but from a practical standpoint the velvet literally acts like Velcro to my hair keeping the hat band in place like glue where I put it without needing pins.  Cotton velvet ribbon hair bands for hats are literally the best thing ever!  I need stock in this ribbon for my next hats…

DSC_0383a-comp,wThe final step to the finished hat was the hardest – the stand-up crown.  This is really nothing more than an interfaced rectangular strip of fabric whose edge gets sewn right onto the very edge of the front 2/3 of the hat.  This was very slow, tricky work that did damage to my hands and required precision to make the stitches invisible.  Beforehand, however, I scavenged through the house to find something more poker-stiff than the DSC_0422a-comp,winterfacing sewn in the crown and – bingo – I came across a perfect sized strip of thick plastic laminate to slide in the rectangular piece.  Every so often my habit of saving “things-that-might-be-useful” comes in handy, as long as I can find what I want when I want it.  Anyway, this plastic worked perfectly – it’s still 100% bendable but keeps a shape nonetheless.  I cut the strip a few inches shorter than the fabric’s length on each end so I could fold the crown down and tack onto the hat base, behind which the bow sits.  In order to give the bow some pouf without stiffness, the final extra adjustment was to have a strip of sheer organza in the fabric bands.  In order to cover up the not-so-perfect bow center, I have a small bias band to finish things off nicely.

Last but not least is the fabric flower clip.  This flower was so fun and easy to make (one hour!) I am tempted to spend one day to make a dozen of these out of my fabric scrapDSC_0417-comp,w stash.  They do not need that much fabric – just three pointy almond-shaped ovals in consecutively smaller sizes cut on the bias.  My flower turned out very good without much difficulty and too much hand stitching (I was about done with hand stitching after the hat).  Some scraps of green felt finished off the bottom of my flower and gave me a lovely ‘leaf’ look as well as a base to sew on my hair clip.  I’d bought this how-to booklet at our local JoAnn’s fabric store a few years back, but finally just came to using it – I should have done so sooner!  If you’d like to try these Dior roses out for yourself and don’t know where to find the Threads booklet, visit the blog “Oliver + s” for an excellent tutorial along with a mini history lesson (link here).

Witney Frost cameo shot in collared 50's dressThis flower just so ultimately finishes off my outfit, in my opinion.  It’s that understated extra touch, not to mention the fact that it is a fabric rose in the style of the famous Dior.  This is so like Whitney Frost to wear an accent used by the “famous Parisian couturier whose designs were worn by the world’s most glamorous women” (to quote the Threads article).  It all adds to the sham of the “Poster girl’s” face.  For me, it makes my handmade efforts seem all the more worthwhile to be able to use my talents to re-create something from the likes of Dior, Hollywood, and the decades that had more style and class than what I see in most  fashion of today.

Speaking of style and class, a small part of this outfit is (I would like to think) also in the mode of the most sophisticated woman I’ve known – my own dear, and now departed Grandmother.  She was a young, newly married 21 year old in 1951 (the year of my outfit) and she frequently dressed up, and on these occasions would never go out lacking a hat, pearls, and a flower (she loved nature).  Grandma was also a “Poster Girl”, too – in her younger years she was a local vaudeville celebrity.  Oddly enough, I recently found a picture of her in a dress similar to the one in this post, with a large collar and double breasted front closing, from the year 1951.  I know her dress is in a solid with a notched collar, different from my own, but we do share the same smile and taste in clothes, so I would like to think she would be proud to see me wear something after her own heart.  This is why I’m including this dress in Tanya’s “Dress Like Your Grandma” sewing challenge.  Have you heard about this!  Maybe you could join in on the challenge along with me?!

DSC_0561-comp,w,combo, me & Grandma

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