Joni

A Little Bird Told Me

by Joni on June 21, 2014 · 5 comments

in 1950s,Dresses

I’ve done coordinating dresses for my daughters before, but never outright matching. Browsing vintage patterns online I came across McCall’s 4346 (copyright 1957, the same year my mother was born), and knew that I had to do it for both of my girls. It took a little while to find usable copies in sizes 6 and 12 – these were supposed to be Easter dresses (don’t judge me) – but I finally pulled it off.

I was considering making both of their dresses in solid blue with a red bow just like the blondie on the pattern envelope there. But once I laid eyes on this Michael Miller print,  I couldn’t stop picturing my girlies in it. I mean, come on! It’s birds hanging dishes on a clothesline!

Other than my buttonholer’s continued refusal to cooperate, these dresses came together amazingly fast. I love how the simple lines work with an obnoxious novelty print (I’m already thinking about Christmas dresses). And here are my girlies all decked out with their new crinoline petticoats and big smiles!

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Rock Your Orange

by Joni on June 14, 2014 · 9 comments

in 1950s,Dresses

Ever since I learned how to sew I’ve wanted to attend Zoobilation, our local zoo’s black-tie fundraiser. (I’d always look at the photos from the event in the newspaper and notice how many women were wearing indistinguishable black cocktail dresses. As a person who sews vintage, I’ve always thought I could do better than that.) This year my husband finally scored tickets and I immediately began dreaming up my outfit. The theme this year was ‘Rock Your Orange’ in honor of the brand new orangutan exhibit our zoo has just opened. As it happens I look terrible in orange, so I decided to make a blue dress and accessorize it with orange.

I had a dickens of a time finding the right fabric (thank goodness for generous return policies) but I finally found a cobalt blue taffeta at JoAnn’s that I liked. It’s got just enough sheen to be formal but not tacky, and the heavier weight gives it a nice swish. (Ten dollars a yard but I bought it with a coupon, of course!) Surprisingly I didn’t have a pattern I wanted to use already in my stash, but I’ve been eyeing Retro Butterick 6018, circa 1952, ever since it came out. I actually think the pattern illustrations are kind of ‘meh’ but the pattern has really nice lines, especially View ‘A’ with the dramatic wide lapels and pointy sleeve cuffs. Incidentally, the line drawings are kind of misleading -

There is, in fact, a center seam in both the skirt front and skirt back, making the skirt eight pieces instead of six. On the front of the dress the center skirt seam lines up with that seam/faux button opening on the bodice, a touch I really appreciate, I should probably drop Butterick a line and see if they want to fix the misleading illustration.

Anyway, the construction of the dress itself was pretty uneventful until it came time to attach the skirt and the bodice. I found that the skirt side back panels were about 3/4″ too wide, meaning they wouldn’t match up flush with the bodice (and the skirt seams are supposed to match up with the bodice darts, naturally). At first I tried easing it in but that looked horrible. So then I undid the top 6″ or so of those skirt seams and re-did them with an adjusted seam allowance so everything would fit together nicely. Fortunately I had serged the raw edges of the pattern pieces individually before assembling (normally I sew and then serge) or I would have had a ravelly nightmare on my hands. It only took an extra hour or so, I just wish the pattern had worked right on the first try. This was also my first time doing covered buttons – I thought they’d be a fiddly nightmare but I got a kit from Hobby Lobby but they were really easy and – dare I say it – fun.

Enough talking: Pictures! I look a little weird here because I’m looking down at my 9 year old son who was holding the camera (I do have a neck, I promise). At least it’s not my usual bathroom mirror selfie.

With the husband. He got an orange tie and a new dress shirt with French cuffs for the occasion (mmm, I love French cuffs). Like anyone was looking at HIM.

I accessorized with a Malco Modes crinoline in a shade of orange that’s even more obnoxious than it looks here. (Obnoxious being a compliment when it’s coming from me.) Funny how their picture shows a petticoat that’s nearly ankle length and on me it comes just past my knees. I think I must have freakishly long legs or something. Also, my shoes don’t show up in any of the pictures but they are like my favorite shoes ever: Nina Crystah pumps, don’t they just scream 1950s? (Best part is I got them on eBay for just $15!) I couldn’t find any blue or orange shoes that I liked, so I went with an iridescent metallic which picked up the gaudy hues of my ensemble. And the low heel was practical for all the walking we had to do.

My dress was a huge hit among the thousands of well-dressed people at the zoo! I got a ton of compliments. Probably my favorite five words in the English language are “Thank you; I made it.” One lady even said my dress was the best outfit of the night! Here are some candids so you can see it in action. With an actual orangutan (he was sprawled out lazily on the ground but seemed interested in my crazy orange petticoat):

Roller coaster selfie (oh yeah, we rode the zoo coaster in our fancy clothes. It was awesome.) Also, you can see here that I really don’t know how to apply false eyelashes. I probably should have practiced more.

And this is my husband’s favorite shot of the night. We took a break on the playground that is very explicitly intended for kids age 5 and under, but it was an adults-only event. :) Tons of restaurants from around Indianapolis had booths set up with small portions of food and drinks (all of which was included in the cost of admission). Even the famous St. Elmo’s Shrimp Cocktail. I think I was eating a fancy bread pudding here – we looked at the map later and realized we tried something like 30 samples! Yum! Also you can see here that I accessorized my hair with an orange silk flower the size of a grapefruit, because why on earth not?!

All in all, I am VERY pleased with how my dress came out – it’s exactly what I was picturing when I first found out about the orange theme. I’m already plotting to wear it again to other events – maybe I can drag the hubby to the symphony? And I’m glad I’ve only got about another five years before I get to start making prom dresses for my girls.

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Plaid and Velvet

by Joni on December 26, 2013 · 10 comments

in 1950s

This was a last-minute, impulse project – that’s the only way I sew anything for myself, to be honest. The pattern is Vogue 9059 – one of my favorite Vogues of all time. It took me the better part of two years to find it in my size for a price I could afford – I ended up getting it for under $25, yay! Even better, the fabric for this dress was totally free. My sister found a bolt of this gorgeous Ralph Lauren tartan sateen home dec fabric at a thrift shop and bought the whole thing. She’s made a few projects for herself and she also cut off a generous dress-sized hunk for me. Everything else, from the velvet to the zipper to the vintage belt buckle, was scrounged from my stash. (Know what this means? It means I get to buy some more fabric.)

My first thought was that the elegant yoke bands should be a contrast fabric – maybe solid white.  However, as you can see from the line drawing, the bands end at the shoulder seam; using a contrast color would have caused awkwardness there. (Design elements that end abruptly at a side seam = my absolute biggest fashion pet peeve. Remember all those awful Nineties blouses with the vest attached on the front only?) 

So the yoke bands were plaid, but I eliminated the button overlap and cut them in one piece so they wouldn’t be too busy. Totally unintentionally, the plaid on the top and middle bands matched perfectly. Nice! The bottom band didn’t match and I needed something there to break up the yoke seam, so I cut the bottom band out of some black cotton velvet instead. (The bottom band doesn’t reach the shoulder seam – as you can see, it peters out around the high bust area.)

This pattern wasn’t really intended for a plaid – I don’t think it was intended for a print material at all, actually – so I knew I was going to have to fudge it on the skirt. So I decided to worry about matching the plaids on the skirt front seam only and let the others fall as they may. This was my first attempt at matching plaids, and I was clearly affected with some sort of beginners’ luck, as it came out pretty good. We just won’t even talk about the other skirt seams, particularly on the zipper side!

And here is the dress in action on Christmas morning, complete with red lipstick and pearls and my new chiffon petticoat!

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Making It Work

by Joni on July 15, 2013 · 10 comments

in 1950s,Dresses

I found some of the Amy Butler ‘Soul Blossoms’ challis on clearance at my local fabric shop for $5.00 a yard – it’s been on my Pinterest board for months so of course I snapped it up. We are going on vacation to the Florida Gulf Coast next week, so I thought this would make a great vacation dress.

Butterick 5773 was actually the first vintage pattern I ever made – I originally did it in a pink Kona, which was a little too stiff for the pattern. (The dress sadly got ruined a few years back due to some indelible staining.) I was hoping a challis would be more suitably drapey. What I had forgotten is that straight out of the envelope, this dress is actually really, really unflattering.

Just… no.

However, I liked the fabric a lot so I set about trying to salvage it. (This, by the way, is the reason for my cardinal rule: ‘Never work with fabric that you don’t love.’ If I had bought the yardage only because it was cheap, this whole thing would be in a dumpster at the moment.) I narrowed the sleeve tunnels by a few inches (I always forget that I don’t really like vast sleeve openings), put in shoulder pads as the pattern suggested, hacked SIX inches off the bottom, and put in a contrast belt instead of the self-fabric belt I had been envisioning. The belt buckle is vintage, by the way! I also found that there was enough ‘give’ that I could get the dress on and off easily without the need of a side zipper.

The finished product reads more 1940s even though the pattern is dated ’51 – but I think that works well with the fabric. The ripply front opening is the consequence of cutting slippery rayon on the bias; they didn’t say to stay-stitch, so I didn’t – I should have either stay-stitched or cut the bodice straight. Either way, it’s nothing I can’t live with.

Bonus outdoor shot (yes I do wear my dresses someplace other than my bathroom) so you can see the awesome shoes I bought just to go with this dress! (They’re Chelsea Crew ‘Carla’ sandals, in case you are wondering, and now I really kind of need a pair in black as well.)

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