Friday, December 30, 2011

1940s Halter Cocktail Dress: Skirt and Final Construction

Remember way back when, I started posting about a dress I was making? Yeah, me either.

In fact, I finished the dress weeks ago, and wore it to a party, and already made some adjustments to it. But with the holiday rush, I didn't show you the wrap-up!

To recall--this is a 1940s halter dress, made of silk charmeuse, from Butterick pattern #5209.

The biggest change I made to the pattern was to assemble the skirt differently. The original pattern calls for a gathered skirt, which I didn't have great confidence in. Oh, it would be easy enough, of course--but there's also the potential for belly-pooch-poofing--which, I tell you, can strike with a gathered skirt with or without a real belly pooch.

So I pleated the skirt instead. Big, simple, dare I say nearly architectural box pleats.




I worked the pleat placement on the dress form, and pinned the individual pleats and pinned the skirt to the bodice. I then stitched down each pleat by hand, and then sewed the skirt in place between the bodice layers.



All this pleating, fussing, and working over the same spots time and again was made much easier by the little step I took first thing--zig-zag stitching the edges in a sort of faux-serging finish technique. No fraying. And no need for hemming the interior of the bodice lining, either.

In its not quite finished glory, pinned and unpressed:



Of course I failed to get a picture of it complete, with me actually in it. Instead, Sophie Biscuit in a Christmas tree.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Pretty Things I Want to Make in 2012

I confess. I'm a project scatterbrain. Or perhaps a sewing magpie. You see, I have a million projects on my wish list, and whenever I see something pretty and shiny and special, I add it to the growing tally of Pretty Things I Want to Make.

The New Year gives me a chance to focus a bit. Not that I won't meander off the first time I spot something enchanting, but at least I can start the year with bit of focus.

Without further ado, my wish list of projects for the coming year!

1) Regency ensemble. I started last year with the intention of pulling this together for an event, and then my plans changed and the project fell by the wayside. No more--I have a potential event in March and plan to drop in on the Jane Austen festival in July. Plus I have pattern, fabric, and other sundries just sitting in the sewing room, waiting for me to get back to them. Sorry, pretty pale blue linen--I've ignored you too long. The gist of the gown I plan to make at right--bib-front with oddly droopy sleeves that I plan to rework. I also *hope* I can pull off Regency stays in time for the event, too--in my ideal world, one makes underthings first, clothes second to ensure accuracy and proper fit!

2) I really don't *need* it. But I *wants* it. A 1910s era gown. I don't know if it's Downton Abbey fever, the Titanic anniversary, my own personal weird interest in WWI, or what, but the zeitgeist has spoken, and it's swept me along with it. I'm unsure as of yet if I'll make this as a strict reproduction or use 1910s as an inspiration for a modern formal gown. I don't really have an event for 1910s...perhaps I shall have to create one? Anyone want to come over for a 1910s dinner party? (*crickets*) Regardless--it's something about the square neck, the column silhouette, and the sumptuous layers. This pattern (left) from Promenade captures pretty much what I'm after.

3) This may be a full-blown project, or it may be a vintage-shopping/modifying adventure, but I have a Prohibition-era party to attend in February. I would love to create a simple but fun 1920s dress. Alas, 1920s is not at all my research forte, so I wouldn't have a clue where to start on my own...and haven't found a pattern yet for a dress I would like.

4) More 1930s-1950s era repros. I would love to get a more varied wardrobe of wearable "new vintage"--skirts and blouses I can wear to work, dresses for church, that kind of thing. Too much of what I have veers too close to costume. So this is that open, magpie-friendly category--I sees what I likes, I makes it. The pattern at right, from Butterick Retro, is in my "bought it for a dollar" bin of maybes at home--I might give it a whirl.

5) As I said in point the first, I like to think of costuming in terms of underthings first, outer clothing second. In that spirit, knowing I want to create a late Victorian ensemble at some point in the undefined future, I'd like to try my hand at a 19th century corset. This may be an experimental work in progress--or it may surprise me, like the 1780s first-round stays did, and turn out eminently wearable! This isn't a priority, but corsetry fever may strike me...perhaps in the lazy summer months.

6) And of course, projects as they come along! I may find I've worn out an eighteenth century piece, and need a replacement, or a friend might ask for something for reenacting purposes. I have the green linen stays half-finished, for instance--I plan to have them done early in January. Then...who knows what else 2012 will bring?

Do you have any big creative plans for 2012? Projects that have been sitting on the back burner? New creations just waiting to come out and play?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011 Sewing Roundup

This year was a good one for me, sewing-wise--each project taught me something new, and really expanded my understanding and abilities. I can't wait to launch into another year of historical sewing and learning and general geeking out, but before I do, the year in review.

First up, the Procrastination Project. The short cloak should have been done in 2010--I had the fabric and everything I needed. But. Somehow it didn't happen until fall 2011. No worries. I learned more about pattern drafting, and used a gridded, scaled pattern by itself for the first time.

Next, a 1770s jacket and petticoat ensemble for my mother, made of the most cheerful block print in the world. Happy, happy, pink, pink. I played a bit with historical construction methods, and am totally sold on what I learned.

The easy one--a quick and simple 1940s cocktail dress. Not sure I really learned anything here--but I did refine my dart-making techniques :)

Perhaps my favorite project of the year, and the one that stretched me the furthest--1780s stays. I started these unsure that I could make corsetry work for me--and I did! This whole project was a learning process, so I can pretty much safely say everything I did on this piece was learning something new! Now in the midst of a second pair, and loving it more the second time around!

Not quite a sewing project, but the new wig rounded out the tweaking and refining of my best 18th century ensemble. The details really do make the outfit, so I've learned--and proper hair is the best accessory. And, wigmaking (er, styling, since I used a pre-made wig) isn't quite as scary as I'd feared!


Lastly, the 1880s-inspired modern Sapphire Gown. I enjoy modern dressmaking even more now that I have a better foundation in historical methods--it gives you tricks and hints when the modern method doesn't quite cut it, and opens a whole world of inspiration! I learned how to create a boned foundation piece--a technique I have a feeling I'll be repeating very often!

And one final project, complete but not up on the blog yet--a second 1940s cocktail dress. Skirt construction and final product posts are forthcoming, but she makes it onto the 2011 list since she came out to play for my 2011 Christmas Cocktail Party!

What's your favorite project of 2011? And--looking forward--what to get started on in 2012?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Holiday Films for the Vintage Enthusiast

I have a pet peeve. It's when, on December 26, people decide Christmas is over and start taking down the decorations and packing up the holiday cheer until next year. To me, the season is twelve days long--and we're only at the very beginning! To celebrate, some of my favorite old holiday movies that you may not have seen 500 times already.

If you like White Christmas, you'll love Holiday Inn. If you can ignore the blatantly racist blackface number. Some film channels cut it, for obvious reasons, but here's the thing--it's actually somewhat integral to the plot to know that the number is in blackface, and I've contended that since Bing's black housekeeper sings in the number, the producers probably thought they were being progressive. Muscle through it, call it a history lesson, and be glad that we've learned a few things since 1942.

In all seriousness, it's a charming film about a hairbrained business scheme--an inn and nightclub that's only open on holidays. Between Bing's chocolate-smooth singing voice and Fred Astaire cutting a rug (and providing one of the best-choreographed inebriated scenes in film), it's pure Golden Age entertainment from the first frame to the last. Watch for the straight-up WWII propaganda midfilm.

You know what's fun at Christmas? Nuns, that's what. The Bells of Saint Mary's was released as a Christmas film. I don't know if Come to the Stable was or not, but the live nativity scene opener would indicate so. Regardless. Nuns having fun. Enjoy.


OK, here's one I thought I'd never see. Yes, Santa and Satan, together at last.


It's a truly horrible low-budget production from late 1950s Mexico, entitled Santa Claus. Why does it make my list? Because it's hilarious. The gist--Santa's magical child labor-fueled sweatshop (not kidding) gears up for Christmas, but Satan has other plans--sending his best minion Pitch to Earth to turn children away from the jolly old elf and to a life of paltry crime. Christmas Eve is a battle from the moment Santa winds up the mechanical reindeer (still not kidding) to the moment he drugs some parents in a restaurant with his "Cocktail of Remembrance" (also not kidding, and sounds like something that's illegal in 67 countries) to the climax where has to call on (no, still not kidding) his buddy Merlin for help. For extra hilarity, cue up the Mystery Science Theater 3000 take on the film.

I was wondering while watching the 1938 version of A Christmas Carol if Dickens' holiday tale might just be the most oft-recreated story in film and on stage. Anyone know?

I recommend the 1938 version for two reasons. First, it's short. At an hour and a half, it gets the whole story out without spinning its wheels (much like Dickens' original novella). Second, it spend more time on Fred, who's a larger character in the book than most films portray, and in doing so, creates a much more cohesive storyline with an element of emotional family drama that's usually missing.

Oh, and a third reason. This particular Tiny Tim is less obnoxious than most. Seriously, Tiny Tim is usually so saccharine-sentimental that I'm rooting for him to bite it and leave that empty stool in the corner.

Costume aficionados--no, I also can't tell when this version is supposed to be taking place. Vaguely 1820s, perhaps?

So leave the holly out a few more days, and curl up with a new old movie!

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Happy Christmas to You All!

A Happy Christmas to All!

I will be away for the next week or so with holiday travels. Carry on without me, blogosphere! May your holidays be filled with comfort and joy, and may the New Year bring peace and bright shiny opportunities!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Happy Christmas

I have a finished 1940s dress to show you.

I have writing news and thoughts in the hopper.

I have holiday recipes I could totally share...if you like mincemeat.

But instead, all I've got is a Sophie Biscuit photo.


Five minutes after getting the tree up, she was in it. She was incredibly well-behaved, given the fact that she was a small kitten in a tree and could have wreaked havoc: no broken ornaments or chewed wires. However, she's been banned from the great room until the tree comes down after Twelfth Night.

And to all a good night.

Monday, December 5, 2011

An Eighteenth Century Christmas

An eighteenth-century Christmas party isn't so different from a modern one.

Sometimes it's BYOB.


And there's always way too much food.



After dinner you might get down with your bad self to some of the latest music.



I don't know about you, but I always try to wear my best clothes to a happening party.



And my best hair.


At even the nicest parties, someone inevitably says something to cause someone else deep offense, and you end up having a duel in the front yard.



But in the end, no one ends up too horribly gored, and you make some new friends.



Need I say that I had a thoroughly enchanting weekend?




(Thanks, friends of ye olde Facebook from whom I swiped photos!)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Wanted: Camp Follower or Pack Horse

Women following the 18th century army did a lot of odd jobs. Laundry, mending, nursing. Gathering firewood, cooking, hauling water. I haven't come across this job before, though:



In a very common 18th century print trope, a dog appears in the foreground. Seriously--check out any selection of 18th century prints or political cartoons. At least half will feature a dog. Half of the dogs will be piddling. Some art historians suggests that the piddling dog serves as a commentary on the scene depicted--that it's meant to be taken satirically or derisively, because of the piddling pup. I'm not sure that's always the case, but this dog's actions definitely seem to be a commentary on the scene! Mother dog hauling puppy, hearty camp follower hauling officer.

Come across anything that's made you laugh today?