Sweetly Spooky Spider Web Dress

There’s nothing to bring my sewing mojo back like reaching for a project that pairs my favorite color of purple with one of my favorite fashion years of 1939!  Add in a little Halloween whimsy via a vintage novelty print – but do so in the superior comfort of a cotton gauze – and I have a dress that is just so good, I’m absolutely thrilled.  I am not in the mood for anything scary or dark this holiday, so instead I went the cute but on theme look.  Does this make it ‘spoopy’?  

You may not see anything Halloween related to this dress at first glance, but – similar to every good 1930s or 40’s novelty fabric print – look closer and you will see the subtly hidden details.  To let the fantastic print be featured unimpeded by excess design lines, I picked a very simple style very classic of the late 1930s and early 40’s.  The basic pattern also helps the softness and whisper weight of the cotton gauze become a dress that is unimpeded by seams.  It is so pretty how it flows at my every movement or just a slight breeze and gives such a gentle structure to the silhouette!  Happily, this was an easy project to whip together and easy to make, as well.  This year I am having a Halloween free from the stress of any costume sewing and so my dress is even more wonderful being the sole extant of my spooky season efforts!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  ”Garden Cobwebs” print on an organic 100% cotton sweet pea gauze, 54” in width, custom ordered via Spoonflower (through the shop “raqilu”)

PATTERN:  Vintage Vogue #9294, a 2018 reissue of a 1939 pattern, originally Vogue #8659

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread and one long 24” invisible zipper

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My dress was finished in 8 to 10 hours and was finished on October 3, 2022

THE INSIDES:  All raw edges are cleanly, tightly zig-zag stitched together

TOTAL COST:  2 yards cost me $38

This is my second spider web print dress (my first is posted here) but it is definitely competing for being my favorite spider web dress!  True vintage original items in such arachnid related novelty prints can mostly be found from the eras of the 1930s to the 1970s and go for a pretty high price point today.  Thus, I am more than happy to sew, and therefore customize, my own versions.  I almost chose to make a blouse out of the Spoonflower fabric, but the fact I would have had so much material leftover, as well as the way I didn’t know what skirts or pants would match, dissuaded me from turning it into a separate piece.  This particular print seems especially suited for the springtime with the laurel leaves, pastel tones, and subtle webs, and I always seem to think of pretty dresses for spring.  Thus, my train of thought led to find the simple dress pattern I did.  All the pattern pieces easily fit onto only 2 yards with no nap (one-way direction) to the fabric’s print! 

Previous to this this project, I had yet to find a Spoonflower fabric that was anything other than absolutely awful.  I am not a fan of the quality of most of the base materials they offer.  Their cotton sateen is so stiff it can stand up on its own (this dress), their poly crepe does not hold the printed colors well (this blouse), and their regular cotton sticks to itself like Velcro (project yet to come).  However, this organic cotton gauze is an absolute dream come true.  It is slightly sheer, and has an unusual grid-like pattern as part of the fiber weave, but it presents the printing beautifully and is a joy to wear and sew with.  This is such a welcome surprise, as well as a game changer for me when it comes to knowing what to choose from Spoonflower. 

I realized after my order was completed that cotton gauze is found at our local fabric stores in the same aisle as the nursery materials, and so I suspect that this material is often used for baby blankets and swaddling clothes.  Oh well – if it’s soft enough for a baby, I certainly don’t want to be left out from enjoying something superior in cuddliness.  It’s just not what one would think of using for a garment sewing, I suppose, but I was desperate to find a Spoonflower material that was tolerable.  With the spider web print being what it is, and the way I was able to sew it into a cute dress, I don’t think anyone would be any wiser for what I pulled off here working with cotton gauze.  So – I fashioned baby blanket material for me, a grown adult, to wear as a classy vintage dress.  How freaking amazing is the ability to sew, right?!  If you try this experience out for yourself (and I do recommend it), my hot tip is to use a ball point needle (for knits) to sew with and take to time to finish off all raw edges as the gauze likes to unravel and come apart.   

I did see a few reviews and other seamstress’ versions of this Vintage Vogue reprint and it seemed to run on the small end of fitting ease.  The gauze I was working with is a very loose woven and not the type of fabric that I could see working well with a snug fit or stress at the seams.  Thus, I went up a whole size, and I am glad I did!  My sole complaint with this pattern is it has a very long torso length.  The bodice turned out extraordinarily long on me.  I had to shorten it significantly.  Otherwise, I love this dress pattern.  It would be the best bet for anyone new to sewing who still wants more than a plain dress, as well as anyone wishing to dive into vintage styles.  There is lots of room for customization, as well as being perfect for that oversized, novelty, or special fabric print you’ve been wanting to wear.  Just double check the sizing and proportions at the pattern stage before you cut, and you should be good to go.

I didn’t do any real alterations to the pattern beyond cutting the skirt front on the fold to eliminate the center seam. Then I switched up the neckline detail in conjunction with adapting the closure method.  The pattern, as per any true vintage dress, called for a small side seam closure.  Due to the conservative neck design, the pattern combined the side zip with a slit in the front neckline which closes with a tie extension of the bias binding.  Instead, I opted for a full 22” long center back invisible zipper for ease of dressing.  This way I could eliminate the need for the front neckline slit at the same time as making my life easier.  The gauze is so buttery, that I could not see attempting that front neckline slit as ending successfully or being anything other than a stressful effort.  I actually prefer the front neckline having relative simplicity and kept the bias binding tie in the back just above the zipper pull.  This is the same neckline that I already have on some of my past projects, such as this 1940s blouse and my classic Agent Carter dress, but for some reason I think I like it on myself best with this spider web print dress.

I’m so pleased with all the additional purple add in through my accessories.  My earrings are something I made by combining two gradient toned tassels with earring hooks – so simple!  My bracelet is actually a beaded necklace I made as well, to go with this outfit (posted here).  I have found that if a necklace is not too long, but sits close to the neck, I can wrap it twice around my wrist for it to also work as a bracelet.  I enjoy finding new ways to wear items I already have on hand.  My shoes were bought to pair with this “Little Mermaid” outfit I made but also match with this dress’ print, luckily.  I can never have too much purple, much to my husband’s chagrin.

Our location for these photos was a recently shuttered garden shop.  I think it added to the Halloween idea of decay, desertion, and dereliction.  Spiders love to find neglected places to fill in with their webs, and so it made sense to me to wear my spider web dress to someplace abandoned.  Previously, this business had been a standby staple to our neighborhood for over 80 years, and it is sad to see it closed.  It was a busy place while it was open, too popular for us to ever get pictures before now so at least there is some immediate good out of something bad. 

I love my dress’ delicate print compliments the details of the building’s wrought iron trellis work – it has a trailing oak leaf and oak acorn design.  The oak trees grow tall and stately and are the last to let go of their foliage.  To me, this symbolizes stability and strength to have such representation in some trellis work that holds up the front of the building.  However, I love the irony of a strong oak and a web represented next to one another, because a spider’s silk is just a strong in its own way!  Since an empty web is a home without a tenant, my dress has an added vintage-style jeweled spider brooch, ordered awhile back through “Nicoletta Carlone.com”.  Placed on the web over my chest, “Webster” the spider is not really creepy, but rather cute (the “spoopy” factor strikes again). 

This dress is a practical, low-key way to join in on the Halloween fun, but the way it is also a vintage style is so ‘me’.  I am thrilled!  For many, this holiday can be such an exhausting occasion involving so much drama and effort for all types and levels of creators.  Why not instead channel a bit of that creativity to do a quick and easy little selfish project that saves your sanity, as I did?  Don’t get me wrong though – I have had many a Halloween that becomes my excuse to make that full-out, over-the-top cosplay so I can understand anyone who lives for this holiday.  I am not there this year, and this pretty, purple, vintage spider web print dress is all I wanted to make the season special.       

Whether you celebrate, sew, wear a costume, or do none of these, I hope whatever you do for the day makes it a wonderful time. 

“Azure Tropics” Mid-1960s Bathing Suit

It is now September and I’m sad that it’s time the public pools are closed, the summer heat is waning, and the official start of our fall season is not far away.  I love the summer season, and hate to see it go, but September is happily National Sewing Month, at least.  Thus, I’ll see off the summer of ‘22 here on my blog by sharing one last swimwear set.  I squeezed this project in before the end of August for our last visit to the public pool. 

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a modern, very dense, stretch poly print for the fashion exterior and the inside lining material was a 92% poly & 8% spandex content

PATTERN:  Vogue #6175, featured in the pattern book for April/May of 1964 as well as the pattern book for December 1964/January 1965

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread, a waistline’s length of elastic, and a handful of buttons

TIME TO COMPLETE:  about 12 hours in total time – this was finished in the end of July 2022

THE INSIDES:  all raw edges are cleanly hidden inside the lining, so it looks so perfect inside

TOTAL COST:  The printed swim material was something I have had on hand in my stash for far too long to remember its cost anymore, but at half a yard I probably bought it at a very good deal!  All the other notions I used were from the stash I inherited from my Grandmother.  The two tank tops for the lining as well as the foam bra cups were my only true cost and came to a total of $8.00…how amazing is that!

I know I had said in a previous post I hoped to go all out and make a golden 1950s style Butterick #6067 by Gertie this year.  I ended up not having the time or energy for something so involved…and just succumbed to sewing a relatively easy two-piece set even bolder – but from the same era – as my last bathing suit (posted here).  With each swimwear piece I make, I am experimenting with techniques to improve the quality of something as inherently tricky as swimwear is to make.  Now I can proudly say this set is the best I have done with swimwear yet.  This doesn’t feel handmade – it feels deluxe.  It is so comfortable and easy to wear.  The print is so fun, too (though sadly our pictures aren’t showing how blue the colors are in real life)!  It is has such complimentary design lines that are interesting yet subtle and so tasteful – something which melds well into feeling like a very modern interpretation of a vintage style.

I love how the design is just slightly more risqué than my last two piece of 1960.  The skimpier top is just enough to ease me into a proper bikini, yet there is still a high waistline and full coverage fit to the bottom half that I am comfortable wearing.  My husband actually surprised me with this swimsuit pattern one day about 5 years ago – it was something he picked up when stopping at a local antique store – so I suppose this was obviously a vintage sewing project that equally appeals to both of us!  True love is when your better half encourages your passions, in this case my sewing.  He knows how ridiculously happy I get over sewing supplies.  He was hoping it was from a year that I needed at pattern from, and was so close to being spot-on – this pattern is from 1964 and I was needing something from 1965.  I have since found an appealing 1965 pattern to use in the future to fill that blank spot in my decade page, but can we all give my hubby a hand for having a good trained eye?  I must be wearing off on him, he he.

You can tell I am getting more at ease with sewing swimwear because I had to re-work some ready-to-wear items just to finish sewing this set.  Once something becomes a refashion project, you know there is a good story behind that project.  Nothing will stop me when I have a mission on my mind and a project idea I desire to see fulfilled sooner than later!  You see, I have specific blocks of free time for sewing, so that free time of mine often happens to be in evenings when the local fabric stores are closed.  That often does not stop me because I have a good stash that almost always has what I need in an emergency sewing situation. 

This time, I realized halfway through that I did not have plain white lining material for the inside of my swim set pieces.  I only had one more free evening to complete my swimsuit before we would have another open evening to go visit the pool.  I am getting good at estimating how much time my sewing projects will take and realized I could only finish the suit if I had found what fabric I needed that night.  I had this new suit in my craw and needed to see it done!  The knowledge that I had everything else on hand ready to be assembled was reason enough to go out of my way to sew what I did not technically need.  Why do I sometimes decide what I want to wear from out of my fabric stash instead of my actual wardrobe?!?

We stopped by our local 24-hour Wal-Mart store – I dislike setting foot in this store otherwise, so it proves how crazy and determined I was.  Where there is a will, there is a way, as the saying goes.  My husband (again) aided my project by finding some athletic wear tank tops which were perfectly suited to be swimsuit lining.  Clothes can be regarded as supplies just the same as raw cut material!  They were soft brushed in finish, with the right fiber content, and there were only two side seams to the tank tops – simple enough to fit more than one pattern piece.  Two tops were enough to do the job.

Then, I found a discounted sports bra that I could cannibalize the removable foam liner cups from to use for my swimsuit project as well.  This swim top was going to have soft, minimal structure and the little foam cups – stitched directly onto the lining during construction – were there just to keep a level of decency.  My swim set ended up better for cobbling my supplies from ready-to-wear than if I would have shopped at the fabric store. 

I love how challenging circumstances can squeeze out a whole new level of creativity that creates a pride in my sewing more than if I had gone about things in a conventional way.  Once I begin to see swimwear as not all that alien to garment sewing after all, and only that it merely needs certain materials that are not my everyday supplies, I was able to turn my bikini into a refashion project.  Seeing it this way not only saved the project but also saved lots of money (at $3 per tank top) and I was able to enjoy my new suit for our last pool visit after all.  Sewing saves my sanity and this newest suit gave me my necessary creative passion for that week, but getting to a good final place was really challenging.  Hubby was a very helpful project assistant this time, without which I would have had a different week! 

I didn’t use the old instructions and instead did some modifications to level up many aspects to this old pattern using what I have learned from the last two swim suits I have made.  Firstly, this bathing set is my first to have no visible stitching showing.  Leaving off the top stitching is contrary to what I feel like doing (I still want to think I need to stabilize every seam to the max for swimwear) but is one small step which really creates a smooth fitting suit with a professional finish.  This is something not just to be appreciated at a close distance (thank goodness)! 

Then, I adapted the bodice to the bathing suit to be a true front wrap closure for ease of dressing.  The pattern calls for a mock wrap front with a button closing back, but I did that closure for my last suit and was not completely thrilled with the results.  Doing the suit my way makes it truly unique, too.  I tried to do an internet search for a wrap-on swimsuit and couldn’t find anything.  Now, that idea may sound like an invitation to a wardrobe malfunction in the water, but I made sure the closures would be secure yet also versatile in fit.  There is a line of buttons along each wrap end so I can vary the sizing depending on how I feel like wearing the top, and I made a sturdy chain loop.  Flat buttons, sewn down very tightly, also make the loop closure more secure as well.  There is enough stretched tension in the wrapped swim top that I am confident when I wear it.  The success with which it stays in place on me in the water was really tested out when I went for a trip down the big water slide!

Before any cutting out or sewing could happen, though, I had to dramatically resize the original 1964 pattern, figuring how to make it work for a stretchy modern swim material.  First, I traced out all the pattern pieces I needed onto sheer medical paper.  Next, I added in 4 inches to grade the size up for a proper fit.  Then, I subtracted the “wearing ease” so my pattern would be compatible to working with a stretch rather than a woven.  I kind of knew how to figure this out after doing my 1960 two-piece set (posted here).  It’s a good thing the pieces were so small to work with because otherwise this step would have been a pain.  Even with grading up, I was surprised that everything fit onto my small ½ yard cut of swimwear material…just like all the rest of the swimwear I have made!

I portioned out the making of my suit in easy increments.  First, the pattern tracing, re-sizing, and cutting out took two hours altogether.  The assembly of the top and bottom in the printed swimwear took 2 hours, then doing the same thing to the white lining was another two hours.  Tweaking the final fit of the pieces took an hour, while bagging the lining and the printed swimwear together took 3 hours to stitch, clip, and turn inside out and adjust.  Finally, another two hours went into all the finishing touches. 

My husband took a good amount of time to avoid me having a meltdown when my water soluble ink pens were not washing out of my finished suit.  I recently tried out some LEONIS brand marking pens and it seems that between the fact they were new and I was working with polyester, the blue ink is mostly gone but still a bit of a permanent shadow.  The time I spent in the pool was the only way that most of the markings came out.  I do not recommend the pens at all.  Nevertheless, I do highly recommend sewing your own swimwear – I have only had good experiences doing so, and what I make always turns out fantastic and wonderful to wear.  Sewing in small increments – yet getting something significant done at each step – makes creating swimwear capable for anyone, even the most time crunched person! 

Swimwear is something so particularly suited to the personal tastes of each individual, yet buying just what you may want to wear for some fun in the sun may be non-existent or just something that could easily burn through a budget.  I hate to be repetitive, but seriously – creating swimwear is everything that sewing is all about, and definitely not as hard as it looks once you know what materials to use for success.  I know summer may be past for where I live but it is yet to come for the hemisphere opposite of me, so hopefully this post will inspire someone to find their own dream swim suit to sew.  What (if any) are your plans for the rest of National Sewing Month?  

Hoppin’ Dots! My Bunny Day Dress

What would Eastertide be without bunnies?  This year, I made that stereotype an enjoyable reality by actually spending some time with some real, live domesticated bunnies at a local photography studio.  They were hosting the visit of a rabbit rescue foundation to offer some Easter picture opportunities for the public as well as adoption prospects for the bunnies.  Why does Easter enjoyment need to be relegated to just children when adults can do something like get dressed up and hold some sweet fluffy bunnies?!  This is my kind of fun! 

I hope you enjoy my Easter post, which will attempt to be not just about the cute critters I am holding but also featuring my newest handmade holiday dress. It was whipped together out of a thrifted bed sheet.  Am I really ever completely leaving my sleeping quarters if I am wearing a bed sheet for the day, even if cut, pleated, and manipulated in the most glamorous manner?  I love how when you start with a fabric designed to be pleasant on the skin like a bed sheet, the resulting project is so wonderfully relaxed.  This was easy to make, had a spot on fit right out of the envelope, is comfy to wear, and has just the right amount of details.  This is perfect for what I am looking for Easter 2022 – I just want to stay relaxed, but eat well, and enjoy my day.  This swishy, simple dress is just the thing! 

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 60% cotton/40% polyester blend twin sized bed sheet (66 by 96 inches) for the dotted material and some cotton/poly blend broadcloth remnants to line the bodice for opacity

PATTERN:  Vintage Vogue #1043, a year 1953 pattern reprinted back in 2008 (originally Vogue Special Design #4382)

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of interfacing, thread, some bias tape, and one zipper for the side seam

THE INSIDES:  my dress’ bodice is cleanly lined while the skirt seams are nicely covered in bias tape

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My dress was completed in about 15 hours and finished on April 9, 2022

TOTAL COST:  pittance – the sheet cost just under $2 and the zipper and bias tapes were from a $1 a bag rummage sale find

The soft aqua colored polka dot print is easy on the eyes yet still cheerful.  I know the print is symmetrically round dots but it still somehow reminds me of multitudes of Easter eggs.   As I have said before (in this post), I am generally not a fan of polka dots and it has taken me years to be a bit more than tolerant with wearing garments which have that sort of print.  Yet, the irony to using this bed sheet for my dress is compounded in the fact I picked this up from a thrift shop a decade ago now…when I really didn’t like polka dots at all!  I love any aqua or teal color though, and I am always up for trying new things in my sewing project choices so I picked it up.  The fact the sheet was less than $2 also helped convince me to purchase it!  I had paired Vintage Vogue #1043 with the polka dotted sheet from the very beginning when I brought it home, and only just now felt the time had come to sew this project as I originally envisioned it.  I was finally ready for a full-on polka dot dress.  

At left is the underarm gusset first being sewn into the cotton lining. At right, I am showing the left side seam in the dress – you can see the sleeve gusset, zipper, and hand-stitched finishing details.

Since the cover illustration hides some of the dress’ details, let me give you a little general summary.  There is a basic four paneled ¾ circle skirt, and a simple dual darted back bodice (which I cut on the fold to eliminate the back seam), so the minimal pattern pieces were good for a bigger print like my polka dotted sheet.  Under the arms, there are gussets that form part of the sleeve.  This unique feature is the same as (seen here) the sleeves on my Princess Anna dress, sewn from a vintage Burda Style pattern.  Since that Burda pattern comes two years after the date of this post’s dress date of 1953, I found this an interesting nugget of information, but especially found it helped immensely to have done this type of sleeve gusset before. 

Other than the gussets, the majority of unique details to this design are in the front bodice.  It has an asymmetric faux wrap bodice, which creates a center front notch for interest at the neckline.  There is one deep knife pleat in each front wrap’s side seam to create soft fullness for the bust.  Yet, for as straightforward as this bodice may sound, I actually made it a bit more complex in construction so I could end up with a better finish.    

All the reviews I read through online about this dress pattern consistently mentioned 3 shortcomings to the bodice design if you sew it according to the pattern – a wrap front that is too shifty and revealing, a neckline that does not keep its shape, and finally facings which are fussy and cumbersome.  These issues were able to be ‘fixed’ through adding in a full bodice lining.  For the final touch, I added a trio of flower buttons along the chest of the bodice wrap so that it can stay down in its proper place.  The buttons add a little touch of fun and prettiness to this otherwise unadorned dress and keep the neckline notch looking as it should.  I wore limited jewelry (my Grandma’s earrings and an Easter hat, at least) to let my dress shine, with the pretty neckline details taking center stage.

My first step to making the bodice was to use the facing pieces only to cut out heavy weight interfacing for ironing down to the undersides of the entire neckline (for both my lining cotton and my polka dotted fabric).  This way the neckline was doubled up in support to keep its amazing face-framing shape and prevent the front notches from drooping (a problem I also read about in blogger’s reviews).  I only sewed together the back darts, the shoulder seams and godets with the right side seam at this point. The lining then was sewn in the method were all the raw edges were tucked inside for a smooth inside that needs no fiddly facings.  I bag sewed the sleeve hems before I tacked the lining down to the waistline and sewed the skirt to the bodice, wrapped over in front right over left. The white bed sheet was slightly see-through, so I needed a lining anyways, but doing so gave me a great solution to improve upon the bodice construction.  I am always willing to go the extra mile in my sewing projects if it will make even the smallest improvement to my satisfaction with the finished garment. 

Perhaps the best perk to sewing this dress together finally is discovering that it pairs spectacularly well with a short jacket that I sewed together years back.  This Burda Style “kimono jacket” has its own post which can be found over here.  Sadly this fabulous piece has hardly had any enjoyment out of the closet until now due to nothing specific ever really turning it into a “set”.  No other sweater or blazer or jacket in my closet matched with my dress, anyways, and this way my outfit is all me-made!  I love how the open lapels show off the neckline notch and decorative buttons on my dress.  I think the full skirt pairs well with the jacket peplum, too.

It is so funny how dressy and useful – in an unexpected way – something as mundane as a bedding can become.  My last bed sheet dress was even fancier than this one – a designer inspired 1950s Burda Style dress, posted here.  A micro-fiber bed sheet set went towards the lining of this 1990s jumper-sundress, posted here.  At the same time that I bought the aqua polka dotted sheet I used for this post’s dress, I also bought the tan floral bed sheet which went towards this 1940s dress, posted here.  I even had a post (here) about a top and a shopping bag both sewn from pillowcases.  It is not about the quantity or quality of what you have to work with, but how you use your supplies when it comes to sewing.  Even the most ordinary items can look glam or at least fuel your joy by supporting your creative ideas. 

Similar to the way sewing has given me an appreciation for using the most unexpected items others may take for granted, I found a new appreciation for bunnies at the Easter Selfie Room visit.  I realize the older generations do not view rabbits in a good estimation, especially anyone who has any interest or occupation related to the outdoors.  In our garden, they are such a bother (I’ll stop short of calling them a menace because they are cute, you have to admit).  Then again, I have loved the tales of Beatrix Potter since my childhood…so I can partially empathize with the plight of bunnies, too, at least from Peter Rabbit’s point of view.  The domesticated bunnies I met that day were soft and cuddly, curious and relatable, as well as free with their love and affection.  I was disarmed and touched!  What a delightful new experience, made even more special because I had the chance to share that event with my parents! 

I hope your Easter, if you celebrate it, is a wonderful, peaceful day full of happiness.  I hope the blessings that the beauty of nature can provide cheer your heart and soothe your spirit.  Also, I hope you have an outfit to wear to brighten your day, just as I have done for myself yet again this year!  I trust you’ve found an extra dose of rabbit appreciation through the critter cuddle pictures in this post.  Don’t forget to leave a carrot out for the Easter bunny!

The Legacy of Jessica McClintock

Fashion historians can talk about classic styles, definitive outfits, and remarkable designers until they’re blue in the face, but a humble Gunne Sax dress seems to outlast them all with its quaintness, audaciousness, and romanticism.  A Gunne Sax dress is a dressed down and nonchalant kind of finery.  It embodies a longing for a dream world, a sense of nostalgia attached to a sense of ‘what used to be’ that is their great appeal…incidentally also something to be found (in some degree) in every generation.  The persevering passion over this style of dressing, which has seen a renewed comeback over the last year, is made all the more poignant with the recent passing of Jessica McClintock (as of February 16, 2021).  

She was the brains behind crafting a popular American version of the English Laura Ashley style.  She had enough of a thumb on her times (70’s and 80’s) to use ingenuity to propel her both her Gunne and later independent McClintock brand to something anchored in the bedrock of fashion history.  This, my tribute to her long lasting legacy, was already crafted last year, yet only now I have a strong spur in my side to post this very special, pet project.  Much time, attention to detail, and emotional connection was poured into this venture.  Yet, often it’s the exceptional things I sew which are the ones I also am the most reluctant to share…and this project certainly falls in such a category.  By interpreting anew a kind of dressing that permeated my childhood and curated my lifelong taste in clothes, I have come full circle…and I just have to share this benchmark moment!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  All vintage printed 100% cottons from the early 1980s (I can tell by the selvedge stamps)

PATTERN: Vogue #9076, year 2015

NOTIONS:  Except for the thread and interfacing, all other notions are true vintage from the 1930s.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finished on December 9, 2020 after over 40 hours (lovingly) spent.

THE INSIDES:  From the waist and up is lined, and the skirt seams are cleanly covered in bias tape.

TOTAL COST:  I acquired the fabrics for this dress through a vintage shop that was going out of business last year on account of the pandemic.  A whole big box of fabrics was $25, and these were some of the many cuts in there.  This whole dress cost me mere pittance.

I just have to admit it to all of you – I am old enough to just remember the frilly, feminine, prairie dresses when they were the original fad (circa 1969 to 1989).  This was before they became cliché, only to eventually transform into the stylish trend of post-pandemic life.  Hello, “cottage core” and the “Target Dress Challenge” fads of today…what you’re pushing is really not a completely new thing, as many seem to half-acknowledge when they call it “retro”.  The source for this ‘look’ comes from a respectable designer label of less than 50 years ago.  It is not gonna be as attractive as can be when it is reworked through the cheap “fast fashion” means and thought of as costumes from “Little House on the Prairie”.  Hey, I understand we all need some fun and laughter nowadays, but no rehashing can come close to the beauty of a true Gunne Sax…unless I hope you’re talking about my version here. 

I sincerely hope I have given McClintock’s vision true justice here.  Sure, I’ll admit I did use a modern pattern to make my dress.  Nevertheless, it had all the trademarks classic to a Gunne Sax.  I hate to brag but I’ve worn my dress to a vintage shop which primarily sells such an aesthetic and they thought I was wearing a true Gunne.  Cue the internalized glee!  You have no idea how special this dress project is to me, and how successful I was at bringing a perception to life is the cherry on the top.

Her label’s offerings had an admirable excess of materials and perfection of detail not commonly associated with more modern ready-to-wear.  I needed almost 7 yards of material to make my version – 6 ½ yards of the 45” width floral print and ½ yard of the contrast blue!  Nevertheless, Gunne Sax original items were also created with easy-care materials at a modest price point for a universal appeal and accessibility.  As I mentioned in my “Facts” info above, my dress is all cotton, and being a vintage thrift find, too, it was luckily a bargain for all this yardage (which would otherwise generally be expensive).  The print has the classic “cabbage roses” which are quintessential for both Jessica McClintock as well as the decade of the 1980s.

She incorporated qualities of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, with a bit of Renaissance touches, to her designs – high collars, lace, and loads of buttons.  This was very anti-establishment and a bold experiment for the times.  Just think about how stark of a difference a Gunne Sax is from the proper 50’s styles or the Mod 60’s fashions.  Yet, the early 70’s was also riding off of the liberated ideals of the Flower Child and Ossie Clark explosion of the late 60’s.  Anything goes as far as style today, when leaving the house is an occasion in itself.  I say a Gunne Sax has to be one of the best ways to be ultimately comfy but still pretty in an instant.  One of these kind of dresses is like being in a princess dream while awake.

It all started for Jessica McClintock about 1969 when she invested $5,000 from her savings and became partners with Eleanor Bailey, who was the head of design and production for the Gunne Sax Company.  According to Bailey’s son, the name was a somewhat ‘sexy’ adaptation of the gunny sack – rough, burlap bags used for potatoes and sack races (info from here).  Eleanor soon stepped down, leaving McClintock to head the (then) small local San Francisco dress boutique.  McClintock refined the prairie style of the offerings into something “incorporating romance and beauty, and an elegant sensuality, into every product she designed” (from her obituary).  Very soon after she began selling profitably internationally, even branching out into offering nightwear and perfume. 

The first store under her own label, Jessica McClintock, was opened in San Francisco in 1981, which then fully merged with and took over the Gunne Sax line in 1987.  Many women who were teens and twenty-somethings in the 80’s (or even 90’s) know her line of dresses as the coveted, ideal prom pick or a preferred choice for a casual outdoor wedding event – all more formal wear than her previous line.  In 1997, “Women’s Wear Daily” ranked her brand under the “Top 100 most recognized”, ranked as the 7th behind Cartier and Tiffany.  McClintock once joked that she probably used more lace in her offerings than any other label.  In 2013, after 43 years in fashion, Jessica quietly decided to retire at 83, yet she continued to be a part of the brand under the direction of her son Scott.

My mom made most of my nice clothes for me as a child (before my teen years), as I mentioned in my previous post where I said how the color blue frequently appeared in my wardrobe.  Well, this project has several different shades of blue!  I made a few of my casual clothes myself back then, and I overall liked that most of my wardrobe had a general theme of lots of lace, pretty colors, quaint cotton prints…all features common to a Gunne Sax.  I even had ruffled pantaloons to wear under my childhood dresses!  Just because I was too young for a trend that was popular for girl 10 or more years older than me (at that time) doesn’t mean my mother and I were not fashion conscious enough to incorporate it into my younger styles!  As a teen, my sewing skills were not up to the details incorporated into a Gunne Sax, thus making my own back then was out of the question…but then again I did not have an occasion to need something like that anyway.  Now, all these years later, such is no longer the case!

Sadly, I have not yet handled or seen in person a true Gunne Sax dress to have a baseline for my re-interpretation.  They are much too popular and pricey right now for me to be able to do that.  Buying one for myself back when they were out sadly did not happen either.  However, I have studied pictures of many originals offered through Etsy, Instagram, or Pinterest and I have heard that they are often cleanly lined inside.  Being a Vogue, the pattern I used calls for full bodice lining and exhaustive details already, making a lie out of the “easy” rating on the envelope back.  There isn’t any complex technique called for per se, it’s just a lot of tight corners, precise stitching, and intricate piecing required.  This was a pattern worthy of becoming a Gunne Sax!  I chose the view C dress with the puffier sleeves and wider cuffs of view A.  Then I also added a wide ruffle at the skirt hem to make the skirt longer and more like popular Gunne styles of the late 70’s and 80’s.

I feel that I “improved” the slightly poor instructions in certain places to achieve cleaner finish.  Firstly, you are instructed to sew in the bodice lining in such a way that most of the seams, including the waistline, is exposed.  With just a little extra step, and some forethought, I have my bodice lining cover the inner body raw edges.  A clean inside adds so very much to the wonderful experience of this fantastic dress as a whole.  It would be a shame – in my opinion – to go through all the bother of making its exhaustive detailing and leave out one or two little touches which will add nothing visibly impressive yet something so special to see for your own personal pride.  Besides, a cleanly finished inside is so much more comfortable to wear.  A bulky waist seam is always better for comfortable wearing enjoyment when it can be covered if you’re going to add lining anyways.

Secondly, I know how much of a pain making tiny bias loops are in the first place, and how hard it is to have them become small loop closures which both actually stay in place and look nice.  I could see such a closure being bulky along the front and you can’t clip the extra allowance down because (as some blog reviewers sadly experienced) the loops will have a tendency to slip out of the seam.  After noting the details on true Gunne Sax dresses, I opted for something similar and used vintage loop tape. 

I bought this vintage loop tape understanding it to be from the 1930s on account of the decorative cotton twill tape which is the base for the loops.  I do believe the dating to be true after finding the exact same notion on one of my 1930s negligees.  Yay!  This makes the front closing daintier, lends my make to be especially unique, and is considerably more stable of a closing than bias fabric loops.  Practically speaking, nevertheless, there really wasn’t much fabric leftover to turn into button closings.  I hand stitched the trim down just along the underside edge of the finished right front closure.  It was too pretty of a notion to bury in the seam during construction.

However, a Gunne Sax is never overly straightforward, but always has a tasteful amount of unnecessary flourish.  To match with the 30’s era loop tape, I chose a vintage cotton lace trim to add to most of the seams where the contrast panels join the main dress fabric.  This was sold to me as a 1910s to 1930s era vintage notion, and the unusual feel of the cotton, the slight fading of the color, the irregularity of the design, and the intricate detail to the trim all lead me to believe this dating.  Still, I’m not 100% positive this is correct. Either way, I was ecstatic over the way it was the perfect match in color.  I love the way it adds the right amount of detail without also being fussy or distracting.  It nicely blends in the transition between the two fabrics.  It mirrors the way almost every classic Gunne Sax has decorative trimming along the bodice seams.  After seeing the ‘before’ and ‘after’ the trim was added to my dress, I was blown away at how adding the perfect notion can help a project pop.  I had 3 ¾ yards of the lace on hand and I had only 3 inches leftover when I was done.  It was luckily just enough length to work!

A Gunne Sax has an aesthetic of yesteryear, so I added vintage, Depression-era carved pearl buttons from the stash of my Hubby’s Grandmother.  Yes, more 1930s notions!  I sewed them down right alongside the seam where the underlap goes on the left side.  (The underlap covers up any gape along the button closure.)  My sleeve cuffs do feature non-working buttons, however.  I used buttons which were somewhat imperfect (that’s all I had left after finding 9 matching ones for the front) and I didn’t want any more fuss to work with just to get dressed.  I can roll my hands together to make them smaller and just slide the sleeves on but yet they are still snug enough to fit fine during a wearing.  One little bit of a cut corner isn’t going to hurt, right?

After all this, don’t get me wrong, though – I always chose very modern, bold, bright colored things when it came to my fashion modeling for department stores, my choice of a bicycle, or kind of Barbie doll I preferred in my grade school years.  Yet, Jessica McClintock often spoke of her belief that “Romance is a beauty that touches the emotional part of our being.”  The frilly, dreamy garments from my childhood are the ones which remind me of memorable occasions which were part of what makes the ‘me’ of today. 

Based on the year printed along the selvedge of the main fabric, I am dating this dress to 1982, which is before I even existed.  Nevertheless, the pandemic has helped me embrace my past and appreciate my loved ones in new ways. 

Sewing my own Gunne Sax is one of the many avenues I can tangibly materialize such familial nostalgia…which is why I’m wearing my childhood locket necklace, too.  I received this as a gift from my parents when I was 13.  Inside, it still has the old pictures of my mom and my dad back from when we had an unforgettably fun family vacation the year after.  

For better or for worse, it’s funny how what we wear can be so inexorably tied to the affections and reminiscences of life!  I know I will have many new, wonderful memories in the future while wearing this old-style Gunne Sax recreation of mine!  As the phrase for the modern McClintock brand says – every day is a celebration of life.  There is yet another McClintock dress in the works as I write this…