Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Pyrrhic "Sew for Victory" Victory

After the success of my Sew for Victory blouse, I thought I'd go for broke and try a dress from this 1940s pattern. It's a fairly simple pattern, and I thought it'd go well with this yellow flower print I'd picked out. I really dug the diagonal darting on the sides of the bust, as well as the classic 40s cut of the skirt.

I went the whole nine yards with this thing: vintage metal zipper, vintage self-fabric belt, all of it, and I sewed happily along riiiight up until I started tailoring. As sewn, the waist was a little long, and the shoulders didn't sit quite right, coming off the form a little rather than lying flush against it.  Having done a not inconsequential amount of fitting/tailoring, I thought these would be pretty easy fixes, but man, I was wrong. The waistline debacle was my own fault--I raised it too much, then didn't realize it until I'd put in the zipper--but the shoulders were a nightmare. The instructions for the shoulder pads were, at least to me, indecipherable, so after trying a couple alternatives, I simply sewed a thin crinoline version rather than the stuffed shoulder pads the pattern calls for. 

The tough part here is that the pattern called for four end sections. I used the drawing in this direction to shape the pads, but they were still too oddly-shaped.
This is what I came up with originally, and it was close, but no cigar.
The pattern pieces created shoulder pads bigger than my palms.

The sleeve shape may have had something to do with the difficulty of fitting in the pads: because the sleeves are raglan cap style, they already broaden the look of the shoulders. Adding that much padding brings the line out even further, and because they cut straight out to the sides, adding height just pushes up the neckline, unless the wearer's shoulders slope downwards.  Aka this looked like a football uniform complete with sunken-in neck.

When all's said and done, I'm fairly happy with how this dress turned out, but boy, did I not want to look at it for a solid week after finishing.  This summer I'll be working on my sewing skills, so I hope to revisit it and fix the fit issues I still have here--it still doesn't sit flush against the shoulder/neck, and it rides up a little at the waist.

So, this one was more a pyrrhic "Sew for Victory" victory, but hey, it's my first dress, so I'll take it.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Nylon in Newport

Last weekend, Kate and I took a trip out to Newport, Rhode Island to get a little sun and sea.  Spring's been a little late in coming, so it felt really great to sip drinks by the ocean and catch some rays. Mmm. Bloody Marias.  

It was also Kate's first go as official photographer, and I think she did a great job! A beautiful background never hurt anyone, right?

Since the weather decided to be nice, it was the perfect opportunity to wear my nylon dress for the first time.  The peachy, sheer color made me feel terrific, even if I was slightly nervous about snagging it on a pier.  Though the original belt's missing, the slip did come along with it, and thankfully it was thick enough to provide just a little warmth against the sea breezes. 

Now, I grew up in Texas, where beaches are warm and sandy. The New England coast is gorgeous, but I'm always surprised by the rocky terrain and the cooler temperature.

But what the East Coast lacks in warmth it definitely makes up for in color-- the beach I went to as a kid was all brown. Brown sand, brown opaque water, brown.  I didn't even know you were supposed to be able to see through ocean water until we went to Florida when I was maybe 12.

So I'll take the rocks if it means beautiful blue water--particularly if the rocks are such a stellar black!

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Peek Inside the July 1944 Issue of Cosmopolitan

One of the best ways to learn about history, and style's place within it, is through vintage magazines.  I only have a couple in my collection so far, so when I found the following magazine in the same Etsy shop where I found self-fabric belt buckles for my Sew for Victory dress, I thought, "Well, isn't that convenient?"

It's the July 1944 issue of Cosmopolitan!  Now, if you pick up a pre-1950s copy of Cosmo looking for the sex columns and limited concept of beauty in today's issues, you'll probably be disappointed--Cosmopolitan, or Heart's International Combined with Cosmopolitan, as it was called from the mid-20s to the 50s, was originally a literary magazine.  Publishing short stories, novel excerpts, serials, and nonfiction, Cosmopolitan's roots explain its sophisticated title. Starting in the 1950s, the magazine published less fiction, and gradually became the sex-oriented Cosmo we know and have mixed feelings about today.

One of the biggest factors that attracted me to this particular issue is its cover, which features a U.S. War Savings Bond.

The Series E bonds, essentially small loans to the government that accrued interest, helped finance the war, and in this wartime issue, they're plugged on nearly every single page. Even advertisements include small text supporting the sale of bonds--an ad for Roma Wine says, "BUT-- BEFORE YOU BUY WINES, BUY WAR BONDS AND STAMPS."

The war is, of course, a constant theme throughout the writings and ads in this issue.  Much has been said about the drastic cultural difference between World War II and today--how during World War II, the war was a daily concern of the whole nation, while today it's a burden carried by just 10% of its citizens.  This issue, published 14 months before the war's end, tells this story throughout.


"DON'T WASTE SOAP! Soap uses vital materials needed to win the war!"
1944 style... she stays
sweeter with NEET"

"DON'T WASTE SOAP: It's patriotic to help save soap.  Use only what you need. Don't let your cake of Lux Toilet Soap stand in water. After using, place it in a dry soap dish. Moisten last sliver and press against new cake."
Sometimes the war theme takes an unexpected turn:

Say what?
Sometimes it's a tribute, plain and simple:

"Every American is pledged to do his or her part toward the attainment of victory and peace. Those in the service are doing more than their share. We salute the men and women of our armed forces. Let those of us who have supporting roles to play so conduct ourselves that on their return they will be as proud of us as we are of them.

And because you can't have a World War II mag without some pinups:


HIT BUNK 0230, HEAVEN 0231
I wonder what story today's magazine ads will tell in 70 years?

Thanks to Etsy seller The Cherry Chic!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Rebel Without A Cause

When I found this faux leather jacket, I knew I wanted to do a shoot inspired by James Dean's look in Rebel Without A Cause (1955).  When I saw the gorgeous architecture of the Providence Public Library, I knew I'd found my location.  What better place to rebel than an institution for learning, right?

Since Dean's look is rough-and-tumble less-is-more, I went really basic here, pulling the color from Dean's jacket for the skirt. Only the blouse is vintage, but I think it really goes to show you don't need head-to-toe vintage clothing to put together an era-specific outfit.

By and large, I prefer to take my own photos, using a tripod. With few exceptions, I feel a lot less self-conscious doing self-portraits than with a friend taking my picture. Honestly, I get a little Ricky Bobby about it--suddenly I have no idea what to do with my hands.  What do I do with my hands?!

It's definitely not the most time-effective way to do shoots, but it works for me--or at least it did before coming to Providence.  I don't know if I was just spoiled by how hard it is to impress New Yorkers ("Lady taking her own photograph? Whatever."), but I've been really shocked at how people in Providence seem to handle photo shoots.  I've been hollered at every time I've gone out. While I was snapping photos of my Sew for Victory blouse, a stranger stopped in his tracks to watch me until I met his eye; during the tuxedo pants shoot, people shouted at me (dare I say heckled?); during this shoot, someone walked all the way up the steps to see what I was doing, and then spent the next 20 minutes staring at me while I worked.  I will say, it definitely helped with the rebellious, don't-mess-with-me mood I was trying to evoke, but man it felt weird. 

Sideways glances and brief stares are totally normal--I'm used to getting double-takes when I'm out and about--but we're talking lingering to the point of loitering.  I'm sure nobody meant active harm, but I wish people were a little aware of how it feels, as a woman by herself, to be confronted and stared at.  Honestly it might not be such a big deal, had anyone's tone been just kind or curious, rather than demanding and vaguely hostile.  The solution might lie in just not taking photos in the city center anymore, but it's sort of a bummer.  Getting a comment now and then, or a few brief stares, sort of comes with the territory of dressing out of the mainstream fashion, and I get that.  But I'm not sure feeling uneasy is part of the deal.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A "Sew for Victory" Victory!

It's been quiet on the blog frontier, but I promise, I have good reason-- the show I've been working on had its premiere this weekend!  I'd meant to get some shots of what I wore that evening, particularly since I got to wear the bird's nest headpiece I got for a wedding this past fall, but I spent nearly every moment before curtain working on my Sew for Victory blouse-- and it's done!

When Frances visited a few weeks ago, she found this terrific 1940s pattern, but since she already had something similar, she handed it to me, and I'm so happy she did.  I'd been hoping to take part in Sew for Victory, using a dress pattern I bought before I could even sew (hey, it was motivation!), but since I'm still a beginner, I figured it might be nice to ease on into the world of barely-marked patterns, rather than diving in head-first.

I decided on View C for this go-round.

The envelope is missing two pattern pieces, one of which I didn't need for the particular blouse I chose, but the other of which was pretty important--the front facing where the buttons/buttonholes go.   Since it's essentially a long rectangle, I was able to reconstruct it by measuring the dimensions of another pattern piece, comparing it to the piece as illustrated in the instructions, and using those numbers to scale out the dimensions of the missing piece. Guys, I haven't done that much math since the GRE.

So many numbers.

As the pieces are only marked by different-sized circles--extremely different than the patterns I've been using from the 1960s and today, which are pretty thoroughly marked and explained-- I thought it'd be a pretty tough sew, but to my surprise and relief, it actually sewed up pretty easily. The toughest part was actually the shoulder pads. Fun to make, hard to install.

Tracing out the pattern for the shoulder pads
Me + making shoulder pads. The shortest love affair that ever was.
I'm really, really happy with how well it came out--it fits really well, and I lucked out in picking a very comfortable cotton fabric.  Honestly, I'm just so proud I managed to make something cool out of fabric and thread.

There's two pleats on either side, both extend below the waistband.
I really dig the shoulder gathers.
There's four pleats on the back.

Just before I started, I thought about switching the neckline to include the jabot, but I'm glad I didn't. The light color of the fabric makes the pleats and tucks really visible, and I think the softness of a jabot would've been jarring against the visible architecture of the pleats. I like the pattern so much, though, that I'm already thinking about doing that neckline in a print, which I think might balance out a little better.

And, now that I've conquered one 1940s pattern, I'll be doing the dress next! I'm hoping to make it in time for another wedding, this one in Baton Rouge in less than a month (eek!).