Chiffon and Lace

There is nothing quite like a last minute dress. I’m pretty sure this dress was about 5 hours from start to finish – and started the evening before a trip! I needed a really light weight, soft dress to wear in the evenings at a dance event – it’s really hot and un-airconditioned at the camp were the event is held, and the evenings are brutal.

The chiffon was left over from another project (and I think I still have about 10 yards left!) and the lace was a gift from a friend. The dress itself is amazingly simple – I draped the bodice onto my dressform, hand sewed the lace on and attached the skirt. To make things even easier, the skirt didn’t even need hemming – the selvedge edges are neat enough to do the trick.

It is an absolutely delightful dress to wear in the heat, and I’m still surprised how flattering the 1920s is on my figure! normally I tend towards the 40s and 50s – nipped in waist, flared skirts – because they flatter my figure much more. But this is remarkably attractive! I’d encourage anybody who is unsure about the 20s to give it a go – the light fabric and soft textures make a big difference.





Swinging 50s!

I’ve had Butterick 5033 around for quite a few years, but it had always been the cute-in-concept-but-strange pattern in my stash. After seeing this dress made up on The Fedora Lounge I decided to give it a chance, and found some white eyelet in my stash.

Conclusions? It’s weird but awesome! The cutout neckline is sweet and different, but not that strange. I was worried how the neckline would work with very square, wide shoulders, but I think it looks fine!

The skirt is absolutely fantastic. Full circle with added pleats in the front. I fully lined it with muslin and then sewed on a tulle ruffle, which must have ended up about 20 feet long! Tulle is so light and insubstantial that you really have to lay it on heavy to get any oommph out of it. The lift it gives is subtle but effective.


Would I make the pattern again? Bodice… probably not. I feel like this is more of a one-off novelty dress rather than a closet staple. The skirt, however, is probably going to get made up many, many more times! I’m currently envisioning it in a dark red wool, about 3 inches shorter than it is here. Scrumptious!

Chocolate 1940s

I’m honestly not a very big fan of brown. I’m kind of a black girl – don’t know how or why it happened, but it did. I own only black shoes, besides two white pairs and a red pair. I own only black and grey tights. I only own one brown shirt, and no brown skirts.

So this dress is a significant departure for me, color wise! The fabric was my grandmothers – I think it’s a rayon crepe. I discovered it a bag deep within my closet among her other sewing items, and it came with matching lining fabric, seam tape, bias tape and thread. All that was missing was a zipper, and that I was able to find in the stash – it’s even metal!

I used the lining fabric for the belt and bow – I think I need to slip a bit of interfacing or belting into the belt, it wrinkles a bit more than I like on the sides. The bow itself is absolutely fantastic – a wonderful vintage style that I’ve come across once or twice in 1960s dresses.

The pattern is Vintage Pattern Lending Library’s 1940s Cocktail Dress pattern. Compared with the last VPLL pattern I made, this one had better directions, but the fit was a bit wonky. Instead of having just a bit extra ease (the given size is about 1″ bigger than my own) it was very baggy. I took about 2″ out of the bust and 1″ out of the waist, and the hips were a bit small. The sleeves were also quite baggy, and I took those in – that, however, might be more of a matter of personal preference. The cut of the pattern itself, however, is unique and charming. The unique cutouts on the neckline are fabulous, and worked well in a fairly sturdy fabric.

I changed the zipper from a side opening to a back opening. I’ve got a rather generously sized head (7 1/4 in men’s hat sizes!) and have found that necklines need to be fairly generous if I’m to get them on without smearing lipstick everywhere. That was the fault in my last dress and there’s makeup stains on it now to prove that!

You can also see my newest Goodwill steal here – a pair of Leg Avenue seamed stockings for half off of retail. Perfect for the authentic vintage look, but I still need to work on getting those seams straight!

The pattern suggests at least 2 1/2 yards for this dress. By removing the front drape, shortening the skirt by an inch, having a narrower hem and ever so slightly overlapping bodice pieces, I was able to fit it into exactly two yards of fabric. If I had known that it was going to be too big I could have saved even more fabric! However, squeezing an already economically cut dress into even less fabric really does echo the war time spirit of the 1940s.

It’s been really refreshing to make dresses this fast – this one took only six hours . . . before I had to alter it. Still, it’s record time for me. I’ve just started using a wonderful (free!) time keeping program called Toggl, which allows me to create tasks and track how much time I spend on them each day by simply activating a timer on my computer. It’s great accountability and lets me know how much to charge clients when I do custom work or alterations. I can’t wait to use it during the school year to track how much time I actually spend working on costumes. Hopefully my productivity this week will continue – I’ve got some fabric set aside for skirts, a whole bunch of half made vintage dresses to finish, and some fabric to list on Etsy! Stay tuned for more posts about that – I’m really excited about the fabric I have to offer, and the prices should be good too!

Thirties and Deep Red.

The 1930s hasn’t ever been my cup of tea before, but after getting a bunch of Vintage Pattern Lending Library patterns I decided it was time I had a go with another era. Quite a few 1930s dresses blend in well to a quirky vintage inspired modern closet, and I need some new winter dresses in my closet. (Summer ones, too, but it’s been so cold lately that winter dresses seem applicable!) Looking through my stash I located a fine wool suiting I had purchased from Jo-Ann on clearance years ago – it’s a very small twill, and about the weight of a heavy quilting cotton. Ironically, it’s almost the exact color of one of my Grandpa’s 1930s Chevrolets – so it must be an authentic dress!

I pulled out Vintage Pattern Lending Library’s 1930s Seven in One Ensemble. I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do with it – high necklines haven’t been my cup of tea lately, and I wasn’t sure about the skirt length and long sleeves. However, in looking at the pattern more I decided that I really did like the cut – it’s unusual and attractive, as well as being very 1930s. Over all it reminded me a lot of the costumes from the BBC series All Creatures Great and Small, and indeed, now that I have a dress from the pattern, I do feel remarkably Helen-esque.

The dress itself has a delightful cut – a large bias cut triangle shaped piece forms the majority of the front bodice, and is top stitched to the upper bodice. The skirt has four gores which are also cut on the bias, and I decided to cut the sleeves on the bias as well, to give them a better drape. The skirt was shortened about 4″ above the day dress length as marked on the pattern, and I shortened the sleeves to elbow length. The pattern fits very nicely on my frame and I didn’t make any alterations concerning fit. The only issue might be that the head opening is a bit small – I have to remember not to do my hair into a bun before I pull it on! This could be easily solved, however, with a little 4″ neck zipper.

The belt is made out of a beautiful silk suiting I had left over from another project, and the buckle is vintage. I’m pretty sure that I’ll be making this dress up again in another variation, and perhaps I’ll try my hand at the coat included with the dress pattern. 

Outfit details –
Dress – VPLL pattern – Seven-in-One Ensemble
Hat – Eddie Bauer
Shoes – Twila, by Born.
Jewelry – Christmas gift from my youngest brother.

Green Chiffon Twenties

This is the first time I’ve actually ventured into the 1920s for my own personal wardrobe. Previously, I never really got them, but after doing a bunch of dresses from original patterns, I decided that I actually really liked the concept! So without further ado, here’s the dress.

I made it from Vintage Pattern Lending Library’s 1920s Dress with Neck Frill and Sash. It didn’t exactly turn out like the pattern – mostly because I didn’t actually have the pattern here when I made it up! It got left back at school, as this was a dress that was halfway made up for a show and then returned to me late. A lot of the original details got cut out by me, simply because the dress was cut out very wonky.

 The dress itself probably makes me look a little stouter than I imagine myself. But you know what? I can get over that, it’s probably good for me. It’s so delightfully floatly and soft that I totally forgive all of its possibly unflattering lines!

It’s perfect for wearing on hot days dancing outside, when I’ve just changed out of a tight and heavy costume. It’s freedom! I definitely want to make a few more 20s inspired dresses – I’ve got quite a bit of white chiffon that I’m stewing upon. Maybe something with a bit more of a defined waist?  I’ll just have to wait and see what I come up with!

The Mysterious Allure of the Twenties

Ever since I got into historical fashion, the allure of the 1920s kind of alluded me. The level of weirdness that the twenties possessed ranked up there with the big sleeves of the 1830s and wide hip paniers of the 1750s-80s. The complete lack of hips and chest, both of which I have plenty of, along with the sudden departure from previous fashions, confused me, and pushed me away for a long time.

Then I ended up costuming a play set in the 1924, and ended up making twelve twenties dresses in four weeks, and designing six others. And you know what?

They grew on me – quite a bit. The fashions of the twenties are now regarded with fondness in my mind, and I find myself drawn to their aesthetic more and more.

Original 1920s dresses - Credit - Dear Golden

The way that the fabric becomes a canvas for embellishment and the lightness with which embellishment is accomplished is simply entrancing. In a stiff fabric, the columnar look of the twenties looses its appeal, but in soft chiffons, crepes, georgettes and voiles? It’s simply magical.

One of my reproductions, in green silk chiffon

One of the things I’ve noticed about my 1950s dress is that they’re so structured that they get very warm in the summer. It’s great in the winter, but even the smallest amount of heat is sweltering this year, thanks to an unusually cold spring. Slipping on a light 1920s dresses over only a cotton slip is absolutely delightful. It’s like wearing a beautiful whisper – light, delicate, not at all tight but still figure hugging enough to be flattering.

Three reproduction 1920s dress on stage

Looking back on the images of the show that I did, I can’t get over the simple charm of many of the dresses I made. Even unembellished, they have a quiet beauty that evaded me for a long time. Using a great deal of color defenitely helped tide me over to the side of the 20s, but even the neutral and white dresses have a loveliness all their own.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever warm up to hip paniers and big sleeves accompanied by matching massive collars. But I’m glad I gave the 20s a chance, and now that it’s summer time I’m looking forward to dabbling in them again.

Links of interest for the 1920s:
– Vintage Pattern Lending Library’s 1920s Patterns – I can’t recommend VPLL enough. Janice, the owner, is wonderful to work with and the patterns are simply lovely. Plus, they have an awesome rewards program!
Vintage Textile – Beautiful original dresses!
Woodland Farms Vintage – A lovely collection of original dresses. Currently they have some slips and pajamas on display that are lovely as well.
The Frock – Possibly the most beautiful collection of vintage dresses for sale online right now. It’s a bit hard to sort through their offerings, but well worth the trouble!

Little Brother’s Shirt

Every summer I end up making a bevy of folk costumes for one or other of my siblings. It’s one of those jobs that could become a chore . . . but strangely enough, it really isn’t. I don’t have to buy the fabric, I just get to exercise my creative muscles, so to speak, and make a few garments that show off my skills and make my siblings look fantastically outfitted on the dance floor.

The shoulder strap - hand stitched for flexibility

This week it was a new shirt for Little Brother. He’s an adorable 10 year old who manages to get EVERYTHING dirty and ripped, no matter what, so the challenge was to make a shirt that was sturdy, attractive, big enough for him to grow into but small enough to fit him now. The pattern of choice was Kannik’s Korner’s lovely Boy’s Shirt. It’s one of the best reproduction patterns I’ve ever found, along with the Men’s Shirt pattern. The instructions are simple to understand, but detailed enough to produce a shirt using the exact methods they have found on originals. The patterns themselves are almost exact copies of original shirts and original shirt patterns. I did make a few changes that mostly focused on the look I desired. I made the sleeves slightly shorter and narrower, and the body narrower in the shoulders and in the gathered area around the collar. The the collar was also made shorter and the shirt itself shortened to crotch level, not knee level. Normally I’d feel bad about deviating from the details provided by the OC (Original Cast) but this isn’t so much a reproduction as a folk costume.

Shoulder strap, neck gusset and collar

I didn’t finish it all quite in time for our weekend events, but what I didn’t finish wasn’t overly cosmetic – flat felling seams by hand, hemming the bottom and putting in closures. Currently I’m in the middle of the hems and flat felling – closures come next.

The bulk of the garment was sewn by machine, but I did do quite a few parts by hand. Hand sewing provides a lovely amount of flexibility and control, which is useful when you’re working with finicky gussets. This is especially true of where the shoulder strap interacts with the neck gusset, and the neck gusset itself, which is hemstitched into the neck slit, then backstitched for durability, and a matching gusset hemstitched to the underside to cover the raw edges. Doing that by machine would make the entire area bulky and stiff.

The genius of 18th century shirts is that almost all of the seams are finished in a way that provides extra strength to the garment. The finishing itself protects the garment from wear – no raw edges to fray – and the extra strength helps it wear even better. Shoulder straps and sleeve pieces provide extra material in areas that receive more wear.

Sleeve gusset - flat felled on the left and unfinished on the right

Flat felling is quick by machine, but on a smaller garment it is nigh on impossible to sew the sleeve and gusset seams. Hand sewing actually doesn’t take that long and makes it more flexible. We’ll see how it wears in the long run, but I think it’ll be a good choice. One big plus is that it is way easier to deal with the seam interactions – where the difficult gusset seams come together and converge into one. It’s taken years of practice and many garments to actually be able to machine sew gusset seams with ease, but now it’s actually pretty easy. Don’t let gussets scare you – once you figure them out it’s not that bad.

Kannik’s Korner’s directions have some bits and pieces that are specific to hand sewing – particularly how they have you offset the seams while you sew them to prevent you from having to trim one side as you are flat felling. When you sew the main seams by machine, this is pretty difficult on a 1/4 seam allowance. There isn’t that much of a difference to the total size of the garment if you don’t follow that instruction, so I just sewed it all at a 1/4″ seam allowance and trimmed one side down to 1/8th of an inch as I’m felling the seams. Tiny stitches make these seams really sturdy and invisible!

Detail of a flat felled seam

Tiny flat felled seams work best when you only catch 2-3 threads on the fabric of the garment itself, and equally tiny bites of fabric in the seam allowance. About eight stitches an inch is a good goal, though on finer fabric than this pima cotton, twelve stitches an inch would work better. On the right side of the garment, you only see little nicks every 1/8th of an inch.  The cotton lends itself really well to finger pressing – no need to iron as you hand sew. Just pinching the fabric between your fingers sets it well enough to fold under and sew without pins. The same is true on machine – finger pressing saves a your fingers and time at the ironing board.

One last detail of this shirt was actually an accident. At the first event of this weekend, one of two Scandinavian midsommer celebrations we attend, a large bonfire was lit. Too much kerosene and newspaper was used, and a hot ember landed on Little Brother and burnt a 1/4″ diameter hole in the sleeve of the shirt! At least it wasn’t his fault this time!

Patch from the right side

Patches are a long lost art, and I knew I wanted something very sturdy and long lasting. Modern instructions just wouldn’t do – I wanted something that was intended to last through the stringent laundry procedures of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The HEARTH archive of the Cornell library is a perenial favorite for vintage sewing guides, and a quick search landed me at  the book American dressmaking step by step: containing complete, concise, up-to-date, and comprehensible instruction in sewing, dressmaking, and tailoring : prepared to meet the needs of the home and professional dressmaker and pupils of this branch of domestic science in our schools, colleges, and universities – published in 1917. The chapter on darning and patches proved to be exactly what I was looking for, and I followed the instructions for making an in-set patch.

The patch from the inside of the sleeve

Here was time to pull out the hand sewing big guns. I cut away the scorched and burnt hole, enlarged it to a square and then carefully trimmed each corner. I folded back the edges and basted them towards the back of the fabric with 1/8th” stitches. The patch itself is cut about 3/8″ bigger than the hole, so that when the edges are turned under it covers all of the raw edges. Folding the edges of the patch under, I basted it onto the back of the hole, covering all the raw edges. Then, using a very thin needle, I first hemstitched the right side of the patch using minute stitches about 1/16th of an inch apart. Repeating that on the back of the patch I then had myself a very sturdy, and fairly non obtrusive patch! All told the patch itself is about 3/4″ square and the hole about 1/2″ square.


Little Brother in the (almost) finished shirt


Next up on the sewing-for-family list is a new vest for Dad, a new bodice attached to an old skirt for Little(r) Sister and perhaps a new vest for Little Brother. But first – to finish the shirt! I’ve still got some hemming, flat felling and closures to do.