In the Spirit of the Rani

Even today, women of India grow up with the name of the Rani, a warrior for Independence and queen of Jhansi (circa mid-1800s), as a household celebrity and role model, so I have heard.  Now that her inspiration has transcended the continent of India, thanks to some authentic representation through Hollywood (the likes of which has not been seen before), women of American can now also love the exciting historical story of Laxmi Bai.  “The Warrior Queen of Jhansi” movie, released November of 2019, is purported to be the very first United States movie starring an Indian woman as the main character, besides being produced, written, and directed by the mother-daughter team Swati Bhise and Devika Bhise.

As the manifestation of finding a new personal hero, this vintage mid-60’s style dress is the visible result of me channeling my own inner “Spirit of the Rani” since I first found out about Queen Laxmi Bai a few months back.  This outfit mirrors both the traditional clothes of Maratha province of India, besides imitating the outfits worn by the leading lady in “The Warrior Queen of Jhansi” movie.  Now more than before, I am fully invested in continuing to add to my wardrobe of Indian inspired fashion (see my 1947 Independence Remembrance dress here and my 70’s inspired Sherwani jacket here).

I love the beautifully rich complexity that every Indian inspired outfit offers – a whole new aspect of their culture and history is opened up every time I dig deeper into the traditions of every different region.  I am in awe of the detailing and thought that goes into the practices and the fashions of India every time I sew something related to it.  This dress is not as culturally compelling as my last two Indian inspired garments and the ones I have plans for next, but the feelings behind it are just as strong as for the others…especially with the Rani as my muse!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% rich-toned cotton print with gold foil accents; the bodice is fully lined in an all-cotton broadcloth

PATTERN:  Simplicity #5702, year 1964 (Is it just me or does the middle woman in black remind you of Sophia Loren?)

NOTIONS:  All of what I needed was on hand already – zipper, thread, seam tape, bias tape – but the authentic Indian trim which is on my sleeves was ordered from “Fibers to Fabric” on Etsy.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was made in about13 hours and finished just in time – November 13, 2019 – for us to see the movie on its premiere weekend for United States showings.

THE INSIDES:  all either cleanly bias bound or covered by the bodice lining

TOTAL COST:  The foil-printed cotton fabric is something I have been holding onto since the late 90s or early 2000’s.  It came from the now defunct Hancock Fabrics.  I always received the best deals from Hancock but after about 20 years in my stash, this fabric is as good as free to me and more than deserves to be seen and worn – finally!  My only cost was the lining cotton and the trim…$15 or less altogether.

The actual design lines to this dress are deceptively simple.  It is basically a standard sheath dress with a few lovely tweaks for a very nice fit.  The neckline is a rounded boatneck, the skirt has a mock-wrap look with its deep-set asymmetric knife pleat, and the full back zipper makes this easy to get on.  It fit great right out of the envelope, after only slightly shortening the rather long bodice.  I left the length long for more elegant air.

I do believe it is the rich-looking, detailed print of the thick cotton I chose (look at all the colors in it!) as well as the proper ethnic accessories which add so much to my dress.  There is no sense making an Indian inspired dress without the proper attributes!  Except for my shoes, which are vintage-style Chelsea Crew brand, my vintage golden belt, and my hair comb, which I made myself, all else was bought from local stores who carry ethnic sourced items.  Although this is a modern merge of Indian traditions, I would be remiss to leave out a dupatta shawl.  This one is woven rayon from India.  My necklace is composed of beads made from recycled sari remnants and my earrings are blue agate beads – both handmade in India.  However, my prized and proper, true ethnic addition is the mirror-work trim sewn down to the sleeve hems of my dress.  This was ordered direct from India out of a shop that specializes in supplying traditional buttons, trims, as well as woven and natural dyed fabrics (Fibers to Fabric on Etsy).

Looking back, Indian inspired fashions had seemed to explode in the global fashion scene in the 1950 era, especially so in the 1960s.  Sewing patterns (particularly ones idealized for border prints) which call for saris as suggested material and saris made into fashions according the mode of the day can be easily found popping up in vintage selling spheres today.  Sadly many such designs lack any sort of traditional approbation.  (See this Pinterest board of mine for some visual examples.)  These are great examples of the many ethnic influences which were prevailing in the Mid-Century Modern times.  I am wondering if the Indian influence of these decades past is due to something else besides a general outward-focused interest or desire for foreign inspiration, perhaps.  Maybe there was a steady influx of immigrants from India sharing their culture in America and elsewhere?  If so, was this maybe because of good visas abroad or because of some homeland political upheavals popping up in the decades following the 1947 Independence?  I have so many unanswered questions.

Either way, my dress follows the norm of such loosely influenced Mid-Century designs, with greater attribution coming from my accessories and idealism of the Rani.  Even the foiled cotton print is something which would have been very popular for the times as well, with fabric pioneers such as Alfred Shaheen bringing such a basic material up to a whole new level of classy with metallic accents and rich, vibrant colors and patterns.  Not everybody knows that old cotton prints in their pristine gloriousness can put contemporary versions to shame.  A cotton dress was by no means plain in the Mid-Century – I mean look at this vibrant Valentine’s Day dress I made of true vintage 50’s cotton!  This dress is only made of a newer version of an old style.  Yet, as I stated above in “The Facts”, the cotton I used for this Indian dress was edging dangerously close to becoming modern vintage in its own right, though – it has been in my stash for the last 20 years!  All the more reason I am so happy with my new dress!

For someone trying to make something from practically most of the last century, finding a pattern that appeals to me from the year 1965 is still a will-o-wisp I cannot capture.  Nevertheless, this year 1964 project is a satisfying close-call.  After all, 1965 designs seem to be either quite plain or a mere repeat of the same styles I see in the years both before and after, such as this Pierre Cardin design, Vogue Paris Original no.1443 from 1965 (also with a pleated, mock-wrap style skirt to the dress).  I’m hoping the right year 1965 pattern will eventually fall into my lap, but in the meantime I’ll secretly be counting this dress as close enough to the middle of the 60’s.  There are other projects with a louder siren call to listen to!

I really did not see or plan for this project in my sewing plans queue, but was an easy make, an opportunity to learn more about my favorite foreign culture, a very good use of some lovely materials (if I do say so myself), and fulfilled my personal ‘need’ to honor the Rani at our viewing of such a wonderful film.  Many critical reviews are scathingly hard on it, but ignore them…the movie was beautiful. I cannot stress how important such historical and ethnic representation like this is to have today.  Besides the inclusiveness this film affords, the historical fact that the Rani – a woman – was the first popular freedom fighter and one of the top icons for Indian nationalists is not something only one country should acclaim. She believed women were just as powerful, smart, and worthwhile as men in a time (1850s) and place when she was fighting every side of societal and cultural norms for those ideals, not to mention standing up for her homeland first in diplomatic relations then in valiant battles to free it from the grip of the East India Company. Please make an effort to see this film for yourself or at least learn about the wonderful life of Rani of Jhansi.

Happily, my Rani inspired dress has prompted some discussions and sharing of my limited knowledge about her to those who happened to compliment me on my outfit the night I wore it out.  Any woman with an independent mind, courageous will, compassionate heart, loving temper, and patriotic fire inside manifested outwardly is the “Spirit of the Rani” today.  Not to be reckoned with lightly, such a woman is a powerful force in the world of today.  When women believe in their worth and capabilities they can do whatever it takes to fulfill their destinies and bring any dream to life. The Rani became more than a heroine, she became an idea.  When someone acts on an idea, anything can happen.  When the men around the Rani did not believe they had a chance of successful rebellion, she set up a formidable women’s corps to fight…which idea was also repeated during WWII with the ‘Rani of Jhansi regiment’ under Lakshmi Sahgal.  Let’s follow the Rani and act on those inspired ideas for the good of ourselves and others!  I started with only a dress, in this case

Red Roses for a Vintage Style Lady

Admittedly, for someone that briefly worked as a florist, I’m not much of a real roses fan.  Don’t misunderstand, I regard them as simply beautiful, and when in quantity add up to a good day’s total at the cash register.  As a customer, though, they just wilt too quickly for their cost.  Even the outdoor bush and plant variety always seem to soon enough become sick or mutated and die in our yard, sadly.  Now I have the kind of roses whose beauty will last and make for a great deal!  Heck with the old song, “Red Roses for a Blue Lady”.  These are roses for a lady who likes vintage styles!

Here is yet another garment where I’ve repeated what I know I love in a project – channeling a feminine ‘Betty’ outfit from the television show Mad Men again (second season this time; other Betty dresses here and here) and also using a true vintage fabric (my most recent one here).  As good fashion never really goes out of style, I do think this dress has the same qualities as the costumes of Mad Men, period-appropriate but also timeless and fashionable even to modern viewers.  I paid attention to details like I had all the time in the world, and did tons of hand stitching, even adding seed beads, for a dress which is my own perfect Valentine’s Day treat!

My fabric choice is a pristine condition, polished, printed cotton from the 1950s (surmised from many recurrent similar extant garments of that era).  I found it as a lonely piece at a steal of a price thrown in the corner of an antique mall shop.  How could I just leave it with its saturated red goodness at that cost?!  So – a good fabric deserved a really great pattern…one that has intimidated me every bit as much as I adore it.  I came upon a find, I saw a perfect project in mind, and I have conquered it!  However, the finished wiggle shaping ends up making my body look like a very shoulder-and-hip-heavy hourglass ‘Joan’ silhouette that I really am not used to but am completely taken by nonetheless!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a true vintage cotton lined and contrasted in a solid black cotton broadcloth

PATTERN:  Simplicity #2727, a ”Slenderette” pattern, year 1958 (I plan on coming back to this and making the jacket, yet!)

NOTIONS:  The basics I needed were on hand – thread, interfacing scraps, a hook and eye – but the zipper (22”) and the beads I bought recently just for this as I realized exactly how I was going to detail it!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  It took me about 10 hours to finish, but I actually spent a handful of hours just on figuring out the pattern piece layout before cutting out…there was no room for error…or the pattern pieces, really…

THE INSIDES:  A fully lined dress means all inner seams are not to be seen…

TOTAL COST:  This vintage fabric was only 8 freaking dollars, people!!!  The cotton lining I received for free, and the beads were only $2.  So this is an under $10 dress!  Such a deal.

Why, oh why is it that the best fabrics I find seem to frequently come in small cuts?  It’s like some sewing Karma wants to test me at every turn and always make sure my projects are a challenge.  This rose fabric was in a ridiculously small 35 inch width (one of the reasons I can estimate the vintage) and was a hairs breath under 2 yards long.  Under the envelope back listing for 35” width fabric, it says I needed 3 yards for this dress.  Yikes!

The only way I could make things work was to piece together a full one side back bodice panel and to add a horizontal waist seam to what had been intended as a smooth center front.  The print is complex I do not think the extra seams are noticeable but I know they are there, nonetheless (well, so do you now).  The center dress panel change especially makes me a bit sad (seen or not) because I loved the streamlined look of it with one-piece, streamlined, princess-style drafting as on the original design.  Not too shabby of a compromise, though, and at least the lining was cut properly without extra seams!  Granted, every piece was butted up against one another when laid out, so it’s a lucky thing I did not have to grade up in size at all.  The skirt had to be shortened by about 5 inches and the kick pleat eliminated to make things work, so I was literally left with nothing but tiny triangles of scraps leftover.  Although stressful, even mind stretching, it feels so good to be super-efficient and determined with a project idea!  If there’s a will, there’s a way, as the saying goes.

I am glad I had put off tackling this sewing project until now when my sewing skills are where they are at.  The overall dress was not hard to make.  It was the detail points that were the challenge, which was a difficult one that I have not had in a while.  Luckily, I had some practice ahead of time to help me out on the trickier spots of this dress.  A few of the projects I have made already have had some of same the details I encountered in making my red roses dress when all of them were in one project.  The underarm bodice panel/kimono sleeve combined into one element reminds me very much of my 1955 Redingote, as does the belt attached in at a front waist dart.  The side paneled bodice shaping is just like on my recent 70’s style Burda jumper.  The pleats which cover up a seam, like the ones at my waist, are call to mind the pockets on my “Spring Green” Easter suit of 1954.  It is good to challenge oneself, but at the same time I want to stress it is beneficial to work up to that scary hard pattern by finding projects ahead of time which prepare your skills for a successful turnout.  A fruitful finished sewing creation makes all the difference in confidence and estimation of worth in time and effort.

The bodice panels turned out the best I’ve ever done yet, happily, thanks to knowing what to expect.  I do love the way such a design element in the garment provides the best ever shaping for ones bodily curves, besides being the most comfortable form of a kimono sleeve…better than one with underarm gussets.  Look for something similar to try for yourself – you will love the way it wears!  Only, I thought the bust for this pattern ran large until I put on the period-appropriate longline bustier.  Then, suddenly I had that curvaceous 50s figure and a perfect fit that put me in awe.  So, a word of warning – in a 50’s pattern, beware that their curving accounts for more than what modern women are used to with the lingerie of today.  Unless you are willing to try a different style of underwear, or unless you find such a design element in a pattern from another decade closer to now, the wonderful shaping which you will find with a bodice panel/kimono sleeve combo might be more than you expect.

Those front waistline pleats where the belt is attached were the toughest part to tackle.  It took me about 4 attempts to figure them out correctly…but just look at them!  They remind me of the interesting pleats which can be found on some 50’s or maybe 60s couture garments.  Two of the pleats that provide the slight hip poufiness are angled out and folded down.  The pleat that encloses the belt and bodice side panel seam is perfectly vertical and folded towards the other two pleats away from the center front…so confusing on paper but awesome finished properly.  The fabric makes it really hard to photograph these details as clearly as I see them.

I’m not complaining about this wonderful fabric one bit, though!  Modern cottons are sadly missing out on the lovely sheen which vintage polished cotton has, not to mention the saturated dying process that makes it almost reversible.  Yet, vintage polished cotton is a bit sheer and stiff on its own, thus another solid opaque layer was needed under my dress for a non-transparent and natural-bodied hand to the fabric.  Besides, I am silly and would rather make a whole second dress as a lining so as to have an impeccable, second skin finish inside…not just to cover all the seams but mostly to eliminate the fussy neck facings.  Having more than enough cotton lining gave me an opportunity to cut the dress out the way it should have been with no adaptations.

Except for the major seams inside, all else to this dress was hand stitched invisibly.  This has been the first garment where I really sense that my hand sewing skills have grown to be similar to my machine skills – accurate, fast, and efficient.  The lining is hand tacked to the zipper (which was also hand installed to the point it is as good as invisible); the neckline, sleeve hems (after a machine added ¼ inch bias binding), and skirt hems (after lace tape added to the under edge) hand finished.  Not that it matters – who else but me really sees inside or even gets close enough to notice the details?  Whatever.  It’s that choked-up, happy emotion I get inside seeing the unnecessary extra particulars so fine as I’m dressing.  It makes you feel special, and reminds me that the beauty inside a person, like a garment’s inside, although unseen, is the best part.

It’s these same sentiments and the urge to try something new that prompted me to add a bit of beading to the neckline.  Not that the neckline is not a statement in itself!  This is one of the best fitting boatnecks I have come across, and the little notched front heightens the neck and shoulder emphasis by centering under the pit between the collarbones.  I merely added some clusters of 4 to 6 seed beads at a rose center which might be near the neckline center top edge, with a few smaller 2 or 3 bead accents on some petal tips as shading.  I was tempted to go and add the whole package of beads so it would show up better, but there is something I love about the understated elegance to not going overboard.  I do not want gaudy or distracting details to subtract from the dress and its fabric, and the more I bead, the more there is pressure to turn it into some sort of defined design…then my beading skills have to be better.  I did attempt to make a simple 3-D flower out of strings of beads to add on the end of the back waistband.  It’s not perfect, but pretty nonetheless, and just the perfect touch if I do say so myself.

Vintage is admired and long lasting because of its understated quality and beautiful ingenuity…these are the details I miss the most in modern ready-to-wear.  So, if I can bring a small part of that back in my own life and be the example, then I am happy.  If I can remind others they are worth feeling good in their skin by a wonderful dress, and that creating is good for the soul, than my garments are beneficial to more than me alone.  Hopefully with the time, attention, and care I put in towards my dress project, this red roses vintage fabric will have a lovely new life for many more years to come!  I know this dress will be seeing more than just a Valentine’s Day wear!

White Poppy

The Poppy is one of the most widely used symbolic flower around the world.  The blood red poppy flower is often (and rightly so) associated symbolically with a remembrance for those gone out of this life, especially those who gave the ultimate sacrifice during the First World War.  However, the pure white form of the same poppy flower has a very lovely meaning in the Asian culture.  Chinese flower experts recommend the Poppy for couples because it means a deep and passionate love between two people, but white Poppies are tied to death in those cultures, too.  Even still, poppies are also seen as a cheerful plant to have in a garden due to its large size and available variety of cheerful colors.  One flower can mean love, happiness, loss, sleep, or death all at the same time.  It sounds like a summary of life.

Here is something symbolical, combined with a garment already so very symbolical – the qipao.  This is a Mandarin-derived word for a one-piece garment for women which has evolved itself rapidly in the last 100 years, even surviving being outlawed (when communism rose in China circa 1949).  Many fashion details have been added or taken off them, many fabrics from either end of the price rage have been used for them, and they have changed fit to suit each era and feminine ideal, but a qipao – a derivative of traditional menswear – has nevertheless persisted in being a statement for the freedom and knowledge available to the modern woman.   Although it originated in Shanghai of the 1920s, it was emerged in full force circa 1950s in Hong Kong, after that, as that country was a British colony at that time, it became a strong part of Western Europe and American fashion through the 1960s.  It is this tumultuous, transitional history that I would like to highlight and honor with my modern vintage Mandarin dress.

My coral pinkish-orange color is as bright as a cheerful paper lantern or the flashy electronic street advertisements of Hong Kong.  My satin edging is as black as the poppy seeds which have caused so much fighting and human misery through the ages of the opium trade.  The printed poppies, thanks to a full body lining, are as snowy as a classic bride’s dress.  A qipao was deserves much more respect than to be whipped up without a thought behind the details.  This one of mine strikes me as sending a bold, cheerful, yet peaceful message, faintly touched by sadness.

Now, I am by no means in any position to explain the qipao (sometimes informally called a cheongsam in Hong Kong).  It is not my culture and there is so much symbolism, meaning, and national beauty to this garment that I could never know it all nor explain as well as others.  Yet, I am wearing it not to ignorantly continue to Europeanize or secularize it, as was done especially in the 1950s, but to learn more of what I do not know, and interpret what I do know of the qipao in my own way to add to the respect of the garment.  The more we know about others from around the world, the more I would expect it should bring a greater compassion and understanding of humanity (yet this is sadly not always the case).  We are all going through life together be it our neighbor next door or one on the other side of the globe.  Today more than ever – with all of our means of communication and social networks available – we are able to connect and learn about each other.  Let us take advantage of that to be well-informed and thoughtful to others.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  printed quilting cotton lined in solid white cotton broadcloth

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8244, a re-issue of a year 1954 design originally Simplicity #1018

NOTIONS:  I had to go out and buy the knot closures as I was finishing the dress, but everything else was on hand – interfacing, thread, zipper, and black satin binding – only because I have been wanting to make this dress for the last few years.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  After about 10 to 15 hours, my qipao was finished on May 29, 2018

I have been wanting to make this for far too long, and it is a relief to be finally able to wear it.  You see, for some reason, I had expected this to be difficult looking at the design.  Perhaps it was the fact that the one shoulder where the neckline closes and opens is sewn on as a separate panel.  Sometimes when you add pieces like that it’s easy to cut them out of the wrong side of the fabric or find it fiddly to match if the connecting points are not clearly marked on the pattern.  However, it was much easier to make once I thought the construction out and just dove into it.  The most time consuming parts are actually making all those fish eye darts that give this dress its amazing wiggle shape, and doing the hand stitching on the frog closures along the neckline.  I guess making my own satin bias tape was a bit time consuming too, but I enjoy that step so much more than sewing darts or closures!

I found the sizing to be pretty good – maybe even a tad roomy.  For my dress, I did go up a half size just in case it ran small.  The finished garments measurements told me I probably would have been fine following the size chart to choose sizes.  However, I figure it’s better to be safe than sorry because you can always take a dress in just a tad but when you need extra inches…that can be a problem.  I get so used to working with true vintage patterns that I am actually unsure of the re-printed re-issues because you never really know how it’s been ‘modernized’.  In the end, I left my dress a bit roomy because I don’t want the horizontal body wrinkles show up as the tell-tale sign when something is just too tight.  I know this is a wiggle dress and all, but it still has such good shaping that it can be a comfy dress and still show off one’s silhouette!

There is one small tweak I did to the pattern to incredibly simplify the construction and save the print of the fabric.  It makes all the difference in the world.  I eliminated the full center back seam and cut the back on the fold instead.  Yes, I did lose some of the curving and shaping to the dress, but that was remedied in another way.  You see, to cut the center back on the fold, only the bottom half – from the high hips to the hem – was actually straight enough to line up.  The waist and above curved in too much.  Thus, my solution was to I mark the curving I was going to be missing with a disappearing ink pen and stitch in smaller that difference as a dart.  This way there is a seam that only extends to the waist in the back, and the rest of the print is not disturbed.  I find a small dart a lot less bulky than a full seam, and quicker to make anyway!

Other than this dramatic seam adaptation, there are several fine-tunings I made to end up with a dress I was finally happy with!  As I fully lined my dress, I buried the interfacing in between the two fabric layers.  As I was bias binding the edges, I left out the facings along the neckline and sleeve hems.  I also left out the facings for the side slits to the skirt portion, and merely turned the edges under and stitched like a regular hem.  The overall length ran long, and the pattern called for a wide hem, but I liked the elegance of the longer length so I did a tiny hem instead.  The back bodice poofed out as if for a hunched back woman, so I trimmed the back neckline lower by 1 ½ inches to easily smooth the excess out.  Other than these little modifications, I really did leave the general dress design as-is!  I’m especially proud of the clean and hard-to-find hand-picked side zipper.

To complement my dress, I added some dangling hair flowers (which actually rather remind me of half of a pair of Hana kanzashi – sorry!), my summer fancy patent wedge heels, vintage gloves, my Grandma’s vintage drop pearl earrings, and a fun thrift store find of a handmade slatted wood purse.  My lipstick is a classic Revlon color, true to the year 1953 called “Cherries in the Snow”.  It seems that heels, a hair updo, and little white gloves are rather classic to wear with a 1950’s era qipao, so I suppose I am sticking with the safe and predictable outfit pairings here.

‘Classically’ paired together or not, this is still a standout dress, I think, and I rather like it like that…not to draw attention to me or my clothing, necessarily, but because a qipao to my understanding is a form of art, a message with fabric, a cultural beauty.  This is what I miss the most about being an American – most other countries have a garment, a way with fabric, which offers a special cultural outlet for native personal expression.  If I want to honor my country’s past by a garment, I tend to make historical clothes for attending a living history event or participating in a re-enactment.  In other countries, there is a dirndl, a qipao, a kimono, a sari or a kurta, and an ushanka hat to name just a few of the most well-known examples of wearable culture.  However, just wearing one of these items is not respect enough without awareness behind it.  “Knowledge is power” is a phrase degraded because it is too often thrown out today, but when it comes to cultural garments, this is so very important.  Is there a culture other than your own that you particularly appreciate and enjoy?

A 1958 Happy Ending Horror in Knit

As pretty as this dress might seem at sight, this beast was a nightmare to make.  Luckily there is at least a happy conclusion!  I do love wearing this – it totally feels like the best of a classic dress (in a vintage design no less) which is comfortable, feminine, handy (with the pockets), and oh-so flattering!  This is a faux asymmetric wrap dress reissue, first released by Burda Style in January 1958, very applicable and wearable for today.

I did have a different plan for how I intended this dress to turn out for this project but I felt it was best to listen to the fabric and leave what’s well enough alone!  I’ll admit that a good part of the problems I encountered here were because of my choice of fabric.  I hate the fickleness and frustrating delicacy of an all-cotton knit!  But that can’t take all the blame.  You see, I find Burda Style’s vintage designs to be quite problematic and almost always an exhausting near disaster that requires much fine tuning and the outlook of possible tragedy acceptance to turn into a success.  It’s not so much the fault of the garment design lines…I find the problem is mostly with the patterns’ ill assembly and poor sizing.  This is why I stupidly keep using Burda’s vintage designs – because in the end they do turn out a wonderful vintage garment with a modern, timeless feel!

A 1950s Dior-style flower, made by me as well from fabric leftovers of the lining, was sewn onto a clip and became both my matching accessory and color contrast.  My prized vintage style leather Miz Mooz heels tie in the retro feel and provide a neutral tan.  However, the blooming rhododendron bushes (behind me) at our towns botanical gardens sure made me realize that blue is more of a neutral color than I thought.  It pairs well with all the colors of spring!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  dusty blue 100% cotton knit for the outside, and polyester interlock to line the inside

PATTERN:  Burda Style #122, “Retro Style Dress” a 1958 design from January 2018

NOTIONS:  All I needed was thread and a zipper, both of which were on hand

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My dress took me about 30 hours, which is twice the time it takes me for a “normal” dress.  It was finished on April 20, 2018

THE INSIDES:  All raw edges are completely covered by the second skin interlock lining inside!

TOTAL COST:  Taking into account that the fabrics for my dress have been in my stockpile for maybe up to 15 years now, I’m counting this project as a free, no-cost, stash-busting success!

Now, as for any Burda Style pattern, printing and/or tracing is necessary to have a usable pattern to lay on your desired fabric.  My pattern was came from the monthly magazine issue, using a roll of sheer medical paper to trace the pieces out from the insert sheet, but if you buy from the online store, you download, print, and assemble the PDF file you receive first.  It’s at this preliminary step that I pick out my chosen size and add in your choice of seam allowance width (I normally add in 5/8 inch allowance), but others do this directly on the fabric as they are cutting out.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide attached helps immensely for adding on the seam allowance easily.  Sorry to repeat something you might already know, but this is just an “FYI” for those that don’t.  Now, prepare yourself for unbridled criticism in the form of a sewist’s horror story.

When I was making this dress, there were so many inconsistencies with the balance marks not fitting quite right and little areas everywhere that needed stretching in the ease just to have everything match up.  I do not necessarily think this was due to faults from my tracing out of the pattern either – I am usually so very precise about being ‘perfect’ at the preliminary stages to a project.  These pattern irregularities make me definitively say that this needs to be made with a knit.  I’m not talking about one with a high spandex content or one that is super drapey.  The model garment is I believe made using a wool jersey.  I can see a quality scuba knit even working out well here.  Either way, I would recommend choosing something with a nice body and a stable give to its stretch for this dress to be a success.  A knit will be more forgiving to the inadequacies of the pattern’s assembly, yet it also needs to be a material that will help this lovely dress keep it wonderful 50’s design.

However, the most glaring and sad shortcoming of the pattern was the way the waist length of the un-pleated asymmetric bodice front was several inches too short to connect to the skirt or even match with the bodice back.  I am mystified at what happened here and want to blame the pattern but at the same time I cannot positively rule out that it was an error on my part.  Either way, I was stuck to adding on a panel swatch to lengthen the waist.  There was no more fabric leftover for another bodice piece to be cut, so an awkward add-on was my only bet to save this dress project.  I do not think it is really that noticeable, although I have called it to your attention now!  It kind of looks like a mock belt to me, anyway, and half of that bodice is tucked under the overlapping one after all.  All I can say is watch out for that spot on this pattern if you try it for yourself.

The mock wrap to the bodice is further unconventional in the way that the left is over the right for my dress.  This is the tricky part about asymmetric fashions there is a very precise right side up to the pattern pieces.  In order for them to specifically be for the left or for the right side they have to be cut with a foresight that justifies the puzzle that asymmetric fashions are.  I traced out the patterns as they were on the insert sheet and assumed they were giving them to me with all the right sides up…not so!  The bodice fronts actually are traced out wrong side up.  Do not put too much faith in a pattern but always think things through for yourself.  That said, I myself am not perfect, and have been struggling with some ill heath lately, so I was not at the top of my game going into this.  Only when I was too far along assembling this dress did I realize how my asymmetric front was oppositely convoluted.  At that point, I felt it was more important to have the pleated half as the top layer of the mock wrap bodice.  I reconciled myself with the fact that this would be a uniquely individual garment, and as long as it turned out I would be happy with the right and left side traditional closing being off.

As if these last problems weren’t enough, I had a mishap with the fabric and was forced to turn my dress into short elbow length sleeves.  I originally intended on the full quarter length as shown, but there was an inkling in the back of my mind that I might not like them.  As traced from the pattern, the sleeves were actually quite longer than quarter length – more of a bracelet length, reaching just a few inches above my wrist.  I felt that such sleeves might overwhelm the dress and make it seem more like a winter garment (it was released in January 1958). However I wanted a transitional cool weather spring dress.  Well, the dress made up my mind for me.

You see, I do not get along with all cotton content knit.  Sure I have several success stories with it in the past (here and here for only two examples).  Yet every single time I use it, I hate it.  I think this blue knit is about the last of its kind in my stash (there’s one more), and when it’s finally gone I should celebrate.  I use the right needles that I should be using (ball tip, for jersey knits), and in the past I have tried every other kind of needle just as a test, and I still get the same sad results.  This fabric for me is a no-mistakes allowed fabric because wherever there is a stitch made, there will be a hole leftover if that stitching is taken out.  It says together decently enough when stitched as long as those stitches are left alone, but even too much stress on a seam and things will get ugly because cotton knit gets runs in it just like pantyhose!  Has anyone else run into these problems with all cotton knit?  Surely I am not unique with this.

Anyway, I had particularly bad hole, leftover from an unpicking attempt, start unravelling the fabric in one of the sleeves a few inches down from where the underarm gussets end.  Well, I had to laugh.  I had been struggling with this dress enough, and still had the entire lining to sew at this point.  I wasn’t sold on the full length sleeves in the first place.  The best fix was to go with my gut and make them short sleeves, like I thought!  I love the length of this sleeve and must say I think it does wonders for the overall shape of the dress.  The sloping shoulders and the gussets are a tad confining, anyway, so the short sleeves make this dress much easier to move your arms in, too!

I did not really make any major or unnecessary changes to the design, except those done to save the dress from ruin.  After all the troubles I had come across, I kept the skirt simple and opted for no back walking vent.  Such a feature would not really work with a knit fabric anyway.  Having a one piece skinny tapered skirt really amps up the curvy silhouette to this dress, after all!  I am not one for popular, stereotypical pin-up styles, but the no-slit skirt is I feel as small nod to those fashions.  I have no trouble walking in it without the leg vent, as the knit is a bit forgiving anyway.  There is a very wide 4 ½ inch hem at the skirt bottom to make as long as you see it on my 5 foot 3 inch frame.

The front skirt details were the most successful and relatively easy part of the whole dress.  Granted the pockets did not fit together very well when I lined up the skirt over the side hip panel.  Big surprise!  But the mismatching pockets actually helped the hip section of the dress to pouf out properly, which in turn disguises how roomy those pockets actually are.  I have already made a dress from the previous decade (one of my Agent Carter 40’s fashions) which had a very similar side front hip pocket style so this must have been a popular feature in the middle 20th century.  I not surprised.  Since when can you have a dressy dress that actually has very useful pockets that are part of the smart design lines?!  Just remember, with this kind of skirt you cannot have a tight fit because not only would that pull open the pockets, but it would ruin the important element of that design feature.  The skirt front is meant to complement the waist by exaggerating the hips (as the 1950s were wont to do) in conjunction with softening the shoulder line by using kimono sleeves and underarm gussets.

One last note that is neither bad nor good – the waist to this dress is quite high.  I didn’t see it on the model until after I realized it on myself.  The high waist on my body is about 2 inches below from the dress’ waist seam, and it looks to be about the same for the model dress from Burda Style, too.  This is kind of odd, and I don’t think that lowering the waistline no more than a few inches would hurt the overall design.  In same breath, I also would like to say that much as I’m not crazy about the higher waist seam, I actually think it does this dress good.  Many 1950s dresses or tops with kimono sleeves have them so deeply cut that they are supposed to taper right into the bodice at a high waist (such as on this dress of mine), thereby shortening and widening the top half of the female body (image wise, granted) and overemphasizing the hips by not just padding, pleats or what not, but also by starting at a high hipline. Even though the 1950s were heavy on the body mage crafting, especially when it came to employing torturous undergarments to achieve that idealized shaping, the general silhouette can still work well today on many body types.  Accepting and embracing our womanly curves and shaping with fashions that delicately, thoughtfully compliment them (such as this dress) is empowerment at its best.  It is the 1950s finding its modern freedom of re-interpretation.

When I was planning out what fabrics to use for this dress I had these grand plans to add cut-out floral designs to the bodice and skirt hem of the dress.  These designs would have been in the style of the amazing Alabama Chanin – see what I mean here.  This is the primary reason why I used my lovely peach remnant of interlock as the lining.  I expected the peach lining to show through when I would cut away the dusty blue top layer.  I do enjoy how the little bit of peach peeks out from the seam edges along the pocket tops and bodice wrap neckline!  It’s like a sneaky peek hint of the time I spent to make the inside just as pretty as the out, besides being a fun and unexpected color combo.

After the dress was done, I sort of like the chic simplicity of the design as it is.  Is has a refreshing appeal that can be made a bit more casual or dressed up with the right accessories, and a clear asymmetric design that would be detracted from with any other added business going on.  Besides – the way the fabric frays and comes apart I was definitely not doing any unnecessary cutting!  My dress was done, it was lovely, it fit me and I saved it from way too many near disasters.  Most importantly my sewing sanity was still intact.  I’m smart enough to know when to stop with the ideas…most of the time!

I do hope I haven’t scared you off from trying this pattern for yourself.  Rather, I would hope this post might be regarded as equipping you to succeed if you try the pattern.  The 1950’s are indeed at decade of lovely fashions, and I think this dress is a really easy way to wear a truly vintage look without appearing to be in a retro style.  It’s like vintage blending in with the modern world, and this is the styles I love to find.  Our fashion of today is often lost and misdirected in the whirl of four seasons a year of new fads, new ideas, and attempts at creativity.  Sometimes we just have to slow down, look around back to where we came from and let those smart fashions been seen right in front of us, where they have been all along…in the past classic styles which have never gone out of season, never needed updating.