Un-Selfish Sewing: Pet Deer Dress and Pajamas

This is the latest collaboration between Lila, Me, and the Ice Cream Social Dress.  It’s all her own doing, I just stitched it.   I told her she could pick her own fabric for a dress several months ago.  Lila spotted this “Pet Deer” fabric last time we dropped by Voodoo Rabbit. (They also have an online store stocked with distinctive prints, but I LOVE dropping in on their shop. So does Lila.)  Like the Panda Dress, I had my misgivings about her fabric choice but in the end she’s so delighted with her new little frock I’m glad I made it.

She helped me through the sewing process, sitting on my lap and putting her hands on the fabric under mine.  You can read the full write up (how the dress pattern grows with her, the sushi train, and the guy who called her a hipster) on Sew Weekly. 

Speaking of Sew Weekly, the next challenge is the 1940’s.  I love the 40’s- the quirk, the scroogy cutting layouts, and over all “utilitarian-chic” flavor.  My first thought was to whip together my Advance 2997 Make Do and Mend Blazer Re-Fashion, but I want to savor that project and carefully document the process, not sew in a few hours of manic stitching.  Besides, I can’t find the damn pattern.  It’s around here somewhere- I probably stuck it in a sewing reference book and then put it back on the shelf.

Instead, I’m making some 1940’s pajamas for my husband.  I promised him pajamas three winters ago and have yet to make good on my word.  Until now!

Vogue patterns are very difficult to date- I spent quite some time digging around the internets for clues, but it seems with Vogue you should trust your instinct based on the style of the pattern.  To me, this looks like the 40’s.

The instruction sheet looks like the 40’s and besides it has that “scent” about it.  Old paper.  I love that smell.  The instructions themselves look like the early 40’s to me, especially the facings and cuffs. Do you have any ideas?

The pattern pieces are unprinted.  When did Vogue start printing on the pattern pieces?  I couldn’t find any information on that in my searches.

Just look at how perforated the front piece is.   It’s all the buttonhole and pocket and stitching markings which are perfectly ordinary once you sort them out, but it does look a little scary doesn’t it?  I wrote about working with unprinted patterns a little while ago, take a look if you’re working with one for the first time for this challenge.

A long sleeved pair of winter pajamas takes a lot of fabric- 4.5m! He wasn’t interested in something fun like skulls or tiger stripes or green army men, so instead I bought 1.5m of plain navy cotton flannelette quilt backing (double the normal width).  It’s sturdy and washes well, I used it last winter to make my 30’s housecoat.  1.5m was enough to cut the top only!  I’ll go back tomorrow and get a little more of the same for the trousers. I cut the upper collar, the pocket bands and the sleeve cuffs from a fat quarter of manly check I had lying around.  I feel like I spent most of this week behind the computer so I’m really looking forward to a few hours of quiet stitching, turning seams, pressing, etc.

Do you make things for other people?

Tomorrow: I feel some design inspiration for deliciously SELFISH sewing coming on…

Remember to tell me about your favorite dress to enter the Frock Out Giveaway!

Finished Object: 50’s Dress and Useful Tips for Making One

Remember that lovely little pattern from Emma in Montana that showed up on my doorstep last week?

I went ahead and made her up for Sew Weekly’s “Mother’s Day” Challenge (without photo-shopping my grandmother’s face on the envelope).  I really think 1950’s fashions celebrate fluctuating mother-bodies without sacrificing style or mobility.  Check out my write up along those lines (including the cheap and dubious source of my fabric) on Sew Weekly.

Rather than double-post, I thought I’d offer a few tips for bringing a 50’s dress ensemble into the casual-modern age without causing a migraine:

  • Make the Bolero- But go down a size and Use a Knit

It’s been a little chilly around here lately and according to my Me Made May pledge I’m only wearing stuff made in the past 6 months.  I had some nice thick sweater knit cotton I picked up on sale a few months ago.  Perfect!  These little boleros often get overlooked in favor of the flashy dresses underneath, but I absolutely love them.  They work great for knits- this pattern was size 32 and I usually use a 34, but that’s just about right.  I fastened the CF with a trouser hook and bar because *this week* I like the uncluttered look of a buttonless front.  (I could make it overlap like the pattern envelope, but I like the way my dress peeks out when closed this way.)

worn with my hair bump and Dior Rose hairclip– you can make one too at Frock Out Night

Tip- instead of hemming or facing the lower edges or the sleeve hems, I just used my standard method for binding knit edges.  The bolero went together in no time.

Don’t Overcomplicate the Fit- And Don’t expect to look like the pattern Illustration!  No One Does!

It’s a fairly simple kimono sleeve surplice with gentle underbust gathers on a midriff band- nothing too tricky to fit.  Past Stephanie (from a year or so ago) would have agonized over a full bust adjustment and all that jazz, but Present-day Stephanie knows it probably wasn’t worth it for a relatively unfitted top.

Present-day Stephanie is a little lazier and more experienced.  I cut it about 5/8″ longer on the front bodice and 1/2″ wider at the side seams on all pieces.  I know the 1950’s size 32 back fits me fine, so I left it as-is.

  • Match Stripes One Piece at a Time:

I do love matching stripes, it’s not terribly difficult if I cut the pattern pieces one at a time instead of on a doubled piece of fabric.

Once I cut the first bodice front, I flipped it so it was right sides together with the remaining fabric.  The stripes on my duvet cover were irregular, so I took a little time to fiddle around and make sure the stripes on my pattern piece matched the ones on the fabric before I cut.  This makes stripes-matching very, very simple.

  • Side Zipper- Invisible, Extra Long and Upside Down:

With very few exceptions, I only use invisible zippers.  I like to insert them in the side seams of my dresses- that’s my preference.  If I haven’t mentioned it before, I live in a bastardly hot climate, and I used to HATE wriggling into my dresses on steamy afternoons when getting ready for evening classes.  Then, once the dress is on, I have to find my dresser husband to zip me up, or go through all kinds of yoga to pull the zipper up.  Irritating.  I “fixed” this problem by buying longer zippers (easier to get in and out) and by putting them in upside down.  I’ve been doing this for years now, I don’t know why I never mentioned it.  It’s much easier to pull a dress zip down than up.  I don’t know why.

We try to come up with “concepts” for taking photos, because standing around being posey makes me feel silly.  This time, Lila and I had a little picnic in the backyard, including some cottage cheese, egg and spinach muffins.  It was a blast.  (I made her little coat-dress, too.)

Do you wear/make 50’s style dresses?  Do you have any cool tips to share?  Don’t worry, I’m no stickler for period accuracy…

Anatomy of a Jacket: Plain and Sturdy Fijian Tailoring

Some time ago, I got my hands on Advance 2997- a WW2 era pattern.  I love patterns from this time because they tend to use fabric in a very scroogy way, and the severely utilitarian lines delight my inner Puritan.  This pattern features in a “Make Do and Mend” type leaflet I found online called “You’ve Got the Goods on Him,” which I have assembled for you into an easy to print pdf file.  It’s pretty good.

The cool thing about re-working an existing jacket is I can re-use most of the original tailoring- front edges and lapels, the pockets, etc.  I have to be careful with my cutting, but it’s almost like an “instant jacket.”  At least it is in my head.  I’m thinking about the social conditions such a leaflet sprang from- women holding down the homefront, men gone.

The reasoning goes something like this: “It’s ok to cut up his suit jacket- you need one anyway for your new job and by the time he gets back he won’t mind.  Here’s a handy leaflet to tell you how- and since you’re such a busy woman it’s a bonus you don’t have to do much of your own tailoring.   Just reuse the existing pockets, lapels and collar!”  I can almost hear it.

Here I am modeling the $5 Fijian Suit.  It’s- uhm- not my size, though curiously, the pants seem to fit quite decently.  It’s a very tough cotton-poly twill, navy with a white pinstripe.  It’s quality enough that I’d wear it once I’m finished (if the experiment turns out well!) but on the other hand it cost $5 and it’s not like it’s made of yak fur and angel’s eyelashes so if it’s a bust I won’t beat myself up about it.

The weather changed here to “cool” and while I have a neato cotton-cord 1940’s Army style jacket that will easily stand up to another “winter” in Brisbane, I have long wanted a “blazer” type jacket, preferably pinstriped.  Viola!

Here’s a few snaps I took during the autopsy- nothing outre, just a plainly well-tailored jacket.

For Pattern Geeks and Rogue Quilters: Megan’s Mod Dress

Yesterday, I took some time off from working on electronic patterns (serious computer fatigue!) to make a pattern for Megan’s dress.  Not surprisingly, I couldn’t locate either my already-adjusted fitted bodice with midriff or my dress block.  That would have been too easy.  I did find a sleeveless bodice that fit well, so from there I chopped up the pattern for a bodice/midriff combination.

Once I had a final pattern that fit, I marked the contrast bands.  The front midriff section had the most bands, so I started there by dividing the CF of the front midriff into five even sections.  From there I used the photo as a guide to drawing the seam lines, and I labeled each section with the color it should be and a number to make sure I didn’t get lost.

I laid little bits of polytrace over the top and traced the shape of each individual piece, then added 1/4″ seam allowances to the insets.   I decided to approach them as a quilter, not a dressmaker.

I don’t understand why it looks puckered in the photo and flat on my work table.  The raspberry is a little heavier and much darker than the other fabrics so I interfaced the white and pink with a lightweight woven fusible.

The back is my favorite.  You can’t see the back of her dress on the show, so I opted for a v-back and changed the color placement slightly.  On Megan’s dress, the raspberry color is closest to the neck.  This makes sense.  Necks make white necklines look filthy.  However- I want my V to touch the raspberry in the back midriff section so I switched the colors.  I’m tempted to bind or pipe the neckline, but that would take it further from Megan and that’s not what I’m doing with this dress.

Again, it looks puckered here but not on my table.  I haven’t pressed the pink-raspberry seam open yet, I just pressed the seam flat.  That should make the difference.   It was very pleasing to put the insets together.  Once I started, I didn’t want to stop- I wanted to keep sewing and sewing so I could watch this dress finally come together!

Now I just need to assemble the dress and lining, nothing terribly difficult.  The tricky hard parts are over.  Will it look like Megan’s dress?  Will it be wearable in public?  Will I like it?

It might be too early to tell.

Fluffers At Home- Betty Draper

I’m curious how styles from the late 50’s (especially casual wear) moves and breathes and lives, so I’m re-watching season 2 of Mad Men.  It’s “research.”  I couldn’t tell you much about the plot of this episode because I was watching the clothes, taking notes and the occasional screen shot.

The work of a detail oriented costumer/wardrober (who does their homework) always leaps off the screen at me.  In the case of Mad Men, watching the clothes is a special treat because I like to wear many of these styles.

I LOVED this dress from the first time I saw it.  It’s not flashy, it’s not a gorgeous cocktail dress or the wiggly secretary outfits this show is known for.  This is a simple shirt-dress for at-home wear.  I’m a sucker for plaids.  I love the bias placket on Betty’s dress and used that design feature last year on the Mirabilis Top:

It’s a nifty little method of avoiding matching plaids at the CF of a button-down shirt.  Even if you cut with 110% accuracy, chances are the placket will slip around either during the sewing or the wearing.  A bias placket is attractive and forgoes the entire matching issue, I’m a fan.

In a modern context, this type of dress might be too “dressed up” for coffee at home.  What do you think?  I know dressing well was pretty standard at the time- but isn’t Betty a little bit of a “doll” of a lady?  She always seems slightly more dressed up than her friends, and a little bit conscious of it.

As Betty and her BFF gossiped maliciously about Betty’s old roommate-cum-callgirl, she stood up to fold laundry. (I tried not to listen.  Most of the time, the characters on Mad Men do not impress me very much.)  Fold laundry.  She’s wearing pearls, a fluffer and a girdle, and she’s folding clothes.  Yes, it’s all worn with a sensible shirtdress, but still!

I mean, I do understand the fluffy skirt.   Sometimes I wake up and it’s a fluffy skirt day, regardless of whether I’m going out or not.  When I do wear one around the house, I don’t find it actually gets in the way.  You’d think it would, but it doesn’t.  Kind of how full skirts are actually pretty comfortable and practical.

Do you ever wear petticoats at home?  I like it, but then again I like petticoats in general.  It might also be fun for someone who wouldn’t be caught dead wearing them outside the house.

This is the pattern I found that came closest to matching to Betty’s dress.  It doesn’t have a separate placket; in fact I couldn’t find any full skirted shirt dress patterns with a separate placket- how odd.  I would use a firmly woven but soft cotton (for summer) or wool (for winter) to make this dress.

I want to make this a regular feature- picking apart a Mad Men outfit on a Saturday night- until the new season starts in March.  Do you have a favorite dress or outfit from the show?  Which one?

Wardrobe Assessment: Old and New Basics

This year, one of my personal sewing goals was to quit sewing with black. In fact, I said “No more black at all.  Period.”  When I started experimenting with sewing for myself, I sewed with black.  Black linen, black cotton, black silk, black dresses, black blouses black pants, black skirts, black black black.  Monotonous, but generally tasteful.

I also made a goal this year to severely limit the fabrics I buy, with the intention of learning to become a more thoughtful consumer (not to mention saving money).  Both of those goals helped teach me which colors work well for me, as well as how to combine them in a pleasing way.  When taken together, these colors look rather bright, but when mixed with my other clothes they make more sense.

I dyed some tencel-linen blend fabric blue recently using iDye.  (I also dyed the aqua colored voile pictured, to see what would happen.)  I played with this photo to show the texture of the fabric.

iDye is very simple to use.  I use it for many of my dye projects and find that it generally holds the color well. (Tip: Wash the fabric a few times after you dye it, drying between.  I wash with like color loads, it helps freshen the colors, too.  The dye doesn’t bother my washing machine, in fact it seems to clean all the gunk out of it.)

This 1930’s ensemble pattern finally arrived.  It was a sad, sopping wet little package on my rainy front step but luckily LanetzLiving knows what she’s about and the patterns were wrapped in thick airtight plastic bags.

I have a suspicion that this skirt might prove one of those excessively useful skirts I want to make over and over in different colors- a “new basic.”  Bonus- it fits on 1 yard of fabric!

The only change I’ll make is to add side slot pockets and either a super-high waistband or a contour band. It’s very long, reaching within 6 inches of the floor. Suggestions?

I know I slacked off uploading patterns over Christmas, I’ll finish out the sizes shortly.  Apologies if you’re hanging out for one, it will be there soon.

A Christmas Pattern Miracle!

…Allow me a little hyperbole, I’m ridiculously pleased with a packet that turned up in my letterbox (mailbox? postbox?  Which one is American?) the other day.  I saw this sexy-yet-ladylike blouse on Handmade Jane’s blog and- well- love at first sight is no myth.  I posted about my frustration over the hours spent fruitlessly combing the internets for this or a similar pattern.

Eventually, I gave up the search like a reasonable adult.  I could wait and see if it turned up somewhere in a few months (vintage patterns often do) or I’d get around to trying to drape it as per your excellent advice in the comments section.

Then Jane sent me an email offering to let me borrow her Advance 7701!  I think that’s really special, that’s the kind of sewing cameraderie one would expect from a neighbor down the street.  From a fellow sewing blogger and vintage pattern addict on the other end of the world- well.  I’m really touched. Thank you, Jane.

I’m petrified, terrified something will happen to it.  When I have a little time on Christmas, I’m copying her and sending Advance 7701 straight back whence she came.

I have this old silver (I think) clasp, rescued from an antique store.  I’ll muslin the pattern first, tweak if necessary, then make it up in this teal merino with the clasp.  We still have to get through mid-summer, but I’ll be wearing my snuggly wrap-cardi-blouse in no time.

Check out Jane’s recent post about her favorite wardrobe pieces, a la Colette sewing book.  Since I’m new to reading her blog it’s a great way to get to know her style.  (Let’s be honest… If I were a cat burglar, I’d be sorely tempted by those sailor pants… ;))

Shopping for 30’s Suit Patterns with a “Make Do and Mend” Surprise

I bought a jacket pattern.  Three, actually.  As much as I adore Robin’s jacket, I know my drafting skills aren’t quite up to scratch.  I just want to sew, not fink around with drafting gorgeously complicated lines and angles.

When I shop, I set out with a clear idea of what I want.  (Have you read Zoe’s timely post on shopping and consumption?)

I wanted a 1930’s suit jacket, smart and pert with clean lines.  The 30’s can be challenging to a modern eye, even if I like it.  Example:

I know I’m not the woman to pull that off, though it appeals to me.

Eventually, I discovered this treasure at LanetzLiving (20% sale on too, which cinched it):

Oh!  Oh!  OH!  I will make every one of these pieces, I have the perfect fabrics for each!  That blouse!  So 30’s, but I could so easily make it in a plain smooth batiste in one of “my colors” and it would work very well.  Note the jacket is neither double nor single breasted- what do you call that?  Finally, while the skirt looks relatively nondescript, I’d be willing to bet it’s one of those perfectly useful 30’s skirt patterns.

This was an impulse buy, albeit a long-considered one.  The past two winters, I wanted a tailored cape-jacket.  I’m one step closer.  This is my favorite cape-jacket in two years of looking.

(Stitches and Loops, great customer service)

After my pleasant experience with a 1940’s Advance suit pattern, I’m thrilled to add this to the queue.  Look at those long, slim lapels- and the same closure as the late 30’s pattern.  But wait, there’s more to this pattern:

I found (and printed) a leaflet from the war years called “You Have the Goods on Him,” all about making a woman’s suit from a man’s with conceptual advice and cutting layouts.  Like Zoe, I shop as a “hunter gatherer,” so now I’m on the hunt for a great big wool gabardine man’s jacket!  When I find a good one, I’ll be sure to share the “make do and mend” experience.  I wonder what color it will be?

Do you like the 30’s, or have any experience sewing from the era?  Do you know what those front closures are called?  Who are your favorite online pattern sources?

While I was finding patterns, I discovered this amazing page on the social history behind 30’s fashion.

Finished Object: Terra Incognita Dress

I wore her to a dinner just the other evening.  I was aiming for casual, dramatic, and feminine- all at once.  The initial inspiration came from 1950’s full-skirted halter dresses, but I think the final dress has the tang of a vampy flapper.

As a rule, I don’t often show my knees. Or my shoulders.  Or my décolletage.

Or my back.  This dress is “terra incognita” for me.

Yet I’m in love.  This may be my favorite dress ever, after Wholesome.

For the dinner I wore my hair in my beloved reverse Victory Roll but we were too rushed that night for photos.  Last week I got a loose perm because my hair won’t hold pincurls- ever- and something had to be done in the hair department.  Since then, I’ve been experimenting with relaxed fingerwaves and reveling in the Return of the Reverse Victory Roll.

Close-up of the front pleat detail.  I had thoughts of creating a separate midriff section and building a bra into the bodice.  Instead, I kept it simple and I’m happy with the result.

I used my overlocker/serger to make a rolled hem on the skirt.  It’s clean and strong and light and quick.  The skirt is cut from the same octagonal-circle pattern I used for the Hemp Snowflake skirt.  I was chatting with a friend as I cut the skirt, and cut the waist waaaay too big.

The simplest way to fix my careless mistake was to gather the skirt into the bodice.  The combination of gentle gathering and circle-skirt fullness creates an incredibly swirly skirt.

I want to make several of these over the summer.  I left a little ease through the waist so it won’t stick in hot weather, it’s as cool as a cucumber to wear.

Check out the drafting notes for the bodice, if that’s what you’re into.

Tomorrow: Waists and How to Measure Them

Note: I’m sorry the T-Shirt pattern is taking a little while to put up.  I have the drafts and I’m happy with them, but learning to use Gimp is a little tricky.  I hope I spent enough time with it these past few days, maybe if I give it a short break and come back to the problem I’ll see the solution immediately.  I’m still interested in fitting issues and proportions, feel free to add your voice to the thread.

Design Inspiration: Fine Batik Cotton and 50’s Halter Dresses

We have a dinner this week, a “dressy casual” at a nice-but-not-snooty restaurant for my husband and his fellow thesis-finishers.  I have many dresses- cotton day dresses and silk cocktail dresses, but somehow nothing seemed quite right.  It’s not a silk crowd.  A lady should always be suitably dressed for a given occasion, right?  I trolled The Vintage Pattern Wiki for halter dress inspiration.  Click an image to visit its wiki page.  Please enjoy the eye-candy!

I feel a batik obsession coming on after the Not-A-T-Shirt.  A shop around the corner from my house (I used to work there, it’s Sewco Sewing Centre) carries a decent range of fine batiks, unfortunately only a few are online.

The batiks come from Indonesia.  Though large wholesalers handle the export of the fabrics, many of the batiks from Indonesia support local village handcraft.  I like that.

I also like the crisp, fine cotton fabric.  It feels delicious and cool in the heat.

Then I thought- it’s the perfect excuse to call the batik-tiki-halter 1950’s style dress into being!  She sashays through the edges of my imagination and has for a few years.

Luckily, I found the perfect batik- a sharp print in black and blue.  Tropical but not tacky.  I had my eye on it for a long time.  It’s an extra-wide fabric, 240cm (roughly 2.5 yards), intended for a quilt backing.  It’s a tight, dense weave, yet light and airy.  I only needed 1.3m for a great big 50’s-style halter dress!

Which design elements appeal to you?  Pert collars, petal hems, ingenious wrap treatments, or sweet simplicity? There’s so many ways to design a halter, I think I may need to make several of these dresses before the summer is over!