“South of the Border, Down Mexico Way…”

The great thing about America (allow me to brag about my homeland), is that we are a country of diverse peoples, with equally diverse nationalities, who can celebrate that individuality freely.  A past head of state, President Reagan, once said “…our strength comes from our own immigrant heritage and our capacity to welcome those from other lands.”

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This weekend (May 5th, actually) marks the celebration of Cinco de Mayo, and I have made a 1945 wrap-on blouse to wear for the occasion.  The 1940’s had a fascination for Mexico (due in part to the Good Neighbor policy), often using stereotypical prints on blouses, aprons, and skirts.  Here, my blouse only quietly nods to Mexican culture through colors and decorative rick-rack.  Every year, I see tasteless Cinco de Mayo pictures, store sales, and meals that have no intention of being respectful and it angers me.  I like to have the opportunity to learn more about different cultures, their history, their traditions, their clothing, and celebrate with them the right way.  If I can do all of that by sewing a vintage pattern, then I have succeed in my aim.

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In case you were wondering, my blouse becomes an outfit thanks to a 1980s-does-1940s skirt, my Grandma’s vintage earrings, and modern 40’s style Worishofer wedge sandals.

THE FACTS:Simplicity 1412,front cover-comp,w  

FABRIC:  basic 100% cotton

PATTERN:  Simplicity 1412, year 1945

NOTIONS:  I had on hand all the thread, bias tape, and ¼ inch elastic scraps that I needed to make this blouse.  The neckline’s baby rick rack half vintage – the green is a recent Jo Ann’s Fabric store find while the red is a slightly smaller width and is true vintage.  My back closure ball button is also vintage from my Grandma.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was completed on May 5, 2017, after spending maybe 5 hours in total.

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This blouse was a fun, simple, and different little project that came together quite well.  It is seriously so awesome, easy, comfy and cute that I think every one of you vintage and non-vintage gals would love this.  I’m even considering somehow coming up with a PDF of my pattern to share on my blog at some point, because I know I now feel an 1945 LIFE magazine aricle on wrapped clothing to make yourselfunrealistic ‘need’ for about half a dozen of these wrap-and-go blouses in my wardrobe.  I do not think this blouse looks like an obvious wrap-on top.  I also think it fits remarkably well for as basic and squared off that the garment looks on a hangar.  This basic design was apparently in a year 1945 LIFE magazine article on easy wrapped clothing to sew, and obviously (and smartly) Simplicity pattern company jumped on board.  At first you might question whether a pattern for something so simple is necessary, I know I did!  However, Simplicity #1412, not only has killer accessories to boot, but the top does has lovely bust darts, a curve in the back half of the wrap, and shaped shoulder seams.  It might look like a square, but I believe those subtle added shaping details add so much more to the success of such a top than a basic drafted square ever could.

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My pattern is a medium, which turns out is the perfect size for me.  This fitting designation is unique.  Usually vintage patterns tend to go by numbers for their sizing and not “small-medium-large”.  According to this size rage chart for the medium I should have technically been fitting into a small.  No – I think going up a size gave me enough extra wrap-around room without being too much.  Having a wrap-on top makes fitting not as cut-and-dry as a ‘normal’ blouse!

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There were a number of changes that I made to the blouse which greatly add to its finished success.  Firstly, I doubled up on the layers to eliminate any see-through issues and the need for fiddly facings around the neck.  In other words, I cut and sewed two tops – stitched only at the shoulder seams – then sewed them (right sides together) at the neckline, snipped, trimmed, and turned right sides out so as to top-stitch the neckline down.  Then I reached underneath and sewed the outer sleeve edges from inside out so there would be no visible seams.  Secondly, I cut the back tie on fold eliminating a vertical center seam.  Thirdly, the back waist tie (which closes in the front) was supposed to be a single layer but I folded it in half and sewed it just like a casing to cover all the rest of the seams and make the waistband smaller for my shorter frame. In other words, it’s half the width the pattern planned it to be.  Fourth, I lowered the high, almost choking-high neckline by 1 ½ inches.  Fifth comes the most important adaptation of all – the ties which attach to the front panel.  Not to blatantly pat myself on the back, but the way I made them makes this blouse truly work, so I will explain in detail.

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The pattern calls for ties on either end of the turned under hem to the front bodice panel.  With just these ties, the blouse cannot be worn by itself – the arm openings gape too much…I would’ve needed an extra tank or camisole top underneath.  Besides, a regular tie would just be uncomfortable to get snug.  So – my answer is two-fold.  Six inches up from the bottom hem is another set of ties keeping the arm openings closing higher to cover my lingerie.  Also, my blouse’s ties are skinny bias strings attached to a 3 inch remnant of ¼ inch elastic.  The elastic end is sewn to the blouses’ side edge so when I tie the strings behind my back they have a very comfy ‘give’ that is not confining.  This elastic especially comes in handy with the upper ties!  I can stretch, and my blouse stays closed, but stretches with me.  A plain old bias ties would not be this forgiving.

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This is pretty much the first time I have blatantly used rick-rack for obvious decoration, and I do like it.  Using baby rick-rack makes it delicate and understated to me, not something that is screaming homemade.  Adding interest to a high and/or otherwise basic blouse seems to have been a common practice for the 40’s.  There is a Witness2Fashion post on ”Simple, Glitzy Tops from the 1940s” and a third of the way down she shows McCall #1283, from 1946, a strikingly similar wrap-on blouse with a Grandma pics,wfeatured sequin neckline detail.  Even my Grandma’s high school pictures (1944 to 1948) show her with several high necked, simple sleeved blouses similar to both this post’s blouse and Simplicity #1692 and they all have decoration at the neck such as fagoting and trim shown in the Witness2Fashion article.  See?  Apparently I have a little of my Grandma’s taste in me…

I know I am lacking one color of rick-rack for my neckline trim to be the colors of the Mexican flag, but I was going for tasteful, ascetically pleasing, and symbolical all at the same time.  Some informational sites say that the red color was originally intended to represent unity with Europe.  I’ve also read that the red represents the Spaniards that joined in the quest for Independence as well as the blood of the national heroes shed for Mexico’s liberty.  The green stands for hope, independence, and nationalism.  My cheery yellow top underneath pays homage to Mexico’s traditional culture of the sun – from the sun comes positive energy and life, and “Tonathiuh” is often given the highest honors in festivals and traditions.  Yellow is also the color of corn or “maize”, not just a crop but a deep cultural symbol intrinsic to daily life and in ancient times revered as “what the gods had chosen to create to feed mankind”.  Of course, on a practical sewing level, I was also inspired by this vintage Simplicity #4440, a circa 1942 apron pattern with its two-color rick-rack on yellow.  However, researching the color meanings to my Mexicali top helps me better realize just some of what they are celebrating this weekend.

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My title is named after one of my favorite classic “ranchero” western songs.  “South of the Border, Down Mexico Way” from 1939 is a lovely song that I remember my dad singing “…manyana…” along to the refrain as he would listen to his recordings of WWII and pre-war tunes.  No wonder it makes me happy and peaceful even though it is an intrinsically sad song.  I had to have it as my title…it makes me think of all the best of what I picture Mexico to be, even though I haven’t been there.

I think I reached my goal of understanding Cinco de Mayo better this year than before thanks to making my blouse and typing this post.  I will not bore you with all the related history I would love to share, and for now just hope I gave you enough inspiration and eye candy, with a little sharing of my research, to make your day.

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My ‘3 hours to Elegance’ 1950 Blouse – and a 100th Post Giveaway

Can something so incredibly easy to sew it takes 3 hours or less be also amazingly elegant to wear?  Before I made Vogue #7180, a 1950 ‘easy-to-make’ pattern, I might have said, “Sure.”  Now I can definitively say, jumping up and down “Oh, yes, yes!”  I found a “magic ticket” with this top.

Clean simple lines and posh fabric made all the difference with this beautiful 50’s era wrap.

100_3901-compTHE FACTS:

FABRIC:  A thick, double sided, 100% polyester fabric bought from Hancock Fabrics store. 

NOTIONS:  I had on hand all the notions needed – just bias tape and thread.

Vogue 7180 yr 1950PATTERN:  Vogue #7180, year 1950

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Three hours or less!  It was started and finished on September 22, 2014.

THE INSIDES:  All seams are either hidden by facing or bias bound.

TOTAL COST:  About $14 was spent to buy 2 yards of my fabric on clearance but the pattern actually only used a yard and a half.  Thus in total, I spent just over $10.  How many people would believe this total to look at the finished product?!

Vogue 7180 yr 1950 - back     The Vogue pattern used for my blouse has a copyright under the Conde Nast Company, and is an unprinted, “easy-to-make” pattern.  That might sound like an oxymoron because unprinted pattern tissue unfairly has the stamp of being difficult while it has only a few major pattern pieces to make it really easy.  This pattern would be an excellent one to use for someone who is trying to understand/use unprinted tissue or for someone just learning to sew.  There are no zippers or closures called for (just a few darts), and it is a quality design with good shaping and fit for a pretty much fail-proof project.  The design makes for a versatile pattern, too, as you can pretty much use any kind of fabric and embellishments or personalization to change the top up and make it your own.  I’m imagining versions with a tie at the side, maybe a zipper for a modern “moto” look, even using two different solid colors for a color blocked top, or eliminating the facings and making the whole thing reversible with lapped seams!

100_3904-comp     My fabric is a deceptive combo.  The manner in which the fabric is together makes it more like a woven textile together with the way it is a double-sided reversible print makes it technically a damask according to the wikipedia definition. However, the print or design of the fabric indicates it is a brocade.  I’ve heard the word “brocade” means “embossed cloth” and (I believe) my choice of fabric is a “cloud brocade” to be exact.  Cloud brocades were used mostly for imperial clothing and were from the Yuan to Ming Dynasties (1271-1644), during which gold was often wefted into the designs (info from here).  From further research, it seems that the cloud brocade is part of a greater division of three celebrated “Song” brocades.  Song brocades commonly have an overall geometric pattern, but include natural items such as peony flowers and clouds, like my 1950 top’s fabric.  Clouds are a symbol of good fortune, so maybe I had hidden help with my wrap blouse project 🙂

100_3914-comp     Brocade, damask, and jacquard really does get its best fashion treatment from vintage.  Asian/Indian influence was especially popular and glamorous, in my opinion, during the 1950’s, but it also was used in evening dresses in the 1960’s (see this page for examples).   Doing an internet search showed a vintage brocade jacket for sale on Etsy, with a wrap front similar to my own blouse, and a brocade/damask that is the same as mine, just in a different color scheme.  I don’t mean to be advertising, I merely thought it was interesting to share info and fashion similarities I’ve found.

At the outset of making this blouse, I intended to make it with the pink side out and gold side in.  However, I was so intent on the construction, the blouse ended up being made oppositely, with the pink side in and gold side out.  You know what?  I’m happier with the way it turned out in primarily gold…I’m working my way up to enjoying the color pink.

100_3903-comp     It was really basic enough in construction that I didn’t need the instructions.  There are two small, maybe 5 or 6 inch long princess seams in the back bodice to shape the waist, and long French-style bust darts in the front bodice panels.  The sleeves are kimono style, 100_3929-compcut in one with the bodice.  There is a wide front facing piece which connects to a skinny back facing, to finish off the entire outer edge and make the front lapel opening have the ability to look like a contrast (I used the other side of the damask).  I added ribbon and snap lingerie loops to keep it in place on my shoulders.  The optional snap closure to the blouse was left out because I plan on using my collection of pins and brooches to close the blouse and get an adjustable fit this way. 100_3926-comp

There is also a fabric weight hanging from the back neckline facing to keep the front from drooping down and the back from creeping up.  I had that problem the first time I wore the top and it’s no fun to wear something you have to adjust constantly.  To make the weight, I made a simple rectangular pocket and slipped in a small money coin.  Nickels and quarters are completely washable and readily available!

100_3927-comp    The basic construction hides the small, subtle, but beautiful tailoring and shaping that is part of this blouse.  These fine details and great fit set the 1950’s “easy-to-make” patterns a whole grade above the easy “Jiffy” patterns which came in the 1960’s and need plenty of tailoring to fix their normally unpredictable fit (I should know, I’ve done my fair share of them).  The side seams have an amazing undulating line for optimum shaping…I rarely see this outside of the 1950’s patterns and it is the best thing ever for shapely women with real hips – like me!  The shoulders, too, were interesting to see.  The shoulder seams look like a wide ‘U’, and, together with the fact that the bias of the fabric is across them, provide wonderful shaping and a very comfortable feel.  My favorite part about the top is how the bottom flares out gently to complete the classic 1950’s silhouette.

With my top are a retro faux-suede pencil skirt, bought years back at a re-sale store, and a pink lace tank top underneath to cover my décolletage, as the pattern instructions recommended.  I do have a picture with the wrap front neckline of my blouse closed, but leaving it open makes it seem more elegant to me.   As our pictures were taken on a still warm, but slightly chilly, early fall day – hence the suede skirt – and later in the day before the early evening – hence the brown stockings, not nude toned hose “proper” for day wear.

100_3918-comp100_3920a-comp     Our photo shoot location is at the lush Chinese Garden, (modeled on the “scholar’s gardens” of the southern provinces of China, near Nanjing) at our town’s Botanical Gardens.  Nanjing is our town’s sister city.  This garden’s plants, rocks, and architecture design originated from Nanjing.  It is a “scholar’s garden” since it was built with the theme of flowing, powerful, creative contemplation.  Since my top is a cloud brocade “used for imperial clothing”, I posed with the only animals to this garden, two guard lion statues at the entrance walkway, but couldn’t help acting up at bit, he he!

In honor of this post being my number 100 on my blog, I would like to share with you my readers a free giveaway of something I found within the pattern I used for my 1950 wrap blouse.  I remember when receiving Vogue #7180 from a friend of mine, I thought it was a bit thick for a simple pattern, and – lo and behold – I now have my first seasonal advertising leaflet.  It has a date of August 1, 1951, and it has eight pages.  We scanned it into a PDF format and you should be able to get it by clicking on the photo below.  This is my first time offering something like this on my blog, so if you have any problems viewing or downloading it, contact me and can email it to you.  If you like the leaflet, a comment letting me know would be very much appreciated!  Enjoy.

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Click on me for the full downloadable PDF booklet!