So I’m going to start off by warning you that this is not really a recreation of the iconic Dior Bar Suit— it’s more of a tongue-in-cheek version that I’m throwing together for fun. It may have the general look, but the details are purely for my own amusement.
I really do love the whole “new look” that came out after WWI– it’s so fluffy and fun and suits my body type much better than the long, lean looks of the first half of the 20th century. So I figured I’d have a good time making this outfit, which I’m hoping will be recognizable to my costuming friends at the various events I’ve got going this year.
My inspiration for the outfit came from this fabric:
It’s from Northcott’s “Happy Hour” collection (“bar” suit, get it?) and I thought it would make a great base for the black skirt. From there the whole idea came together fairly easily.
I’m going to have a full skirt made of the Happy Hour fabric, and a plain ivory jacket up top with some kind of novelty buttons down the front. I have high hopes for the hat I’m planning– straw, like the one in the 1957 photo above– and I found a perfect purse, but I’ll save that for another post.
Let’s see how this works out!
After I finished the main dress, I decided to add some decorative touches in the form of an antique lace collar and cuffs. I bought mine as a set on eBay, and while they may not be strictly period-accurate– I think the set is probably from several decades after the 1840s, at the earliest– they’re lovely and work well with the dress.
One issue I had was that the lace was extremely yellowed from age– I knew I’d have to whiten it somehow. Soaking in a baking soda solution did nothing, as did Woolite, so I brought out the big guns and soaked it for an hour in an OxiClean bath. That did the trick! A quick press with a warm iron and it was ready to use.
After finishing the body of the dress, I still had to decide on the floral embellishments at the hip and shoulder. My Etsy ribbon-flower appliques did indeed arrive in time, but they were kind of boring-looking– too pale, not enough color to them. Besides which, when I pinned them to the dress they looked a little off– too fancy compared to the simple fabric.
I decided to go in a different direction, making ribbon flowers out of ombre-dyed taffeta ribbon. And because I can never take the easy route to things like this, I decided to dye my own ivory ribbon rather than buy it pre-colored.
So while I was working out the bodice block pattern for my green 1920s dress, I did some experimenting to determine whether I wanted to do a pintucked detail at the shoulders. I thought that the tucks might be a good way to narrow the shoulders while still allowing more space through the torso and around the hips, so I gave it a try on an early mockup made of a blue cotton sheet, figuring I could always cut it narrower if it didn’t work out.
I started out by cutting my torso piece as a rectangle instead of a trapezoid– the difference meant that each piece (front and back) was about 4″ wider at the top than it had to be. To take in the extra width I stitched in four 1/4″ tucks on either side of the neckline before stitching together the shoulder seams, grading the tucks so they were longest towards the center and shortest towards the armholes. They actually looked pretty decent once the shoulder and side seams were done, and they did provide a little shaping in the shoulders that let the dress hang nicely without needing an underarm dart.
In fact, despite the fact that I eventually decided not to do pintucks on the green dress, I liked the effect so much that I decided I might as well complete the mockup, so as to have another option to wear to future events.
Once my insertion was in, it was time to actually cut out the dress. Like I said, I went with a One-Hour Dress pattern, which is basically a glorified T-tunic– you just cut a hole on the top fold for your head, cut in some sleeves, and fuss with the hipline a bit to get pleats. Here’s the diagram I ended up using:
I made a mockup out of an old sheet to be sure I didn’t have too much or too little ease, and to determine a flattering hip level (on me it was 21″ down from the shoulder). I ended up using 2″ of ease from the widest point of my hip, which meant that there was 7″ of ease at the bust.
You’ll note that I basically used every scrap of fabric, using the cutout panels from under the sleeves to add extra width to the hips– I was incredibly lucky that I had exactly enough, because I couldn’t find any matching fabric to make up the difference. It took a little piecing together, but it all worked out!
Going off momentarily in a different direction, I also started on a 1920s-style day dress for yet another vintage-themed event I’m attending this month…
I admit it– I’ve never really been a fan of the standard 1920s silhouette. It basically makes everyone look shapeless and dumpy– I mean, if even the ladies of Downton Abbey look like they’re wearing gussied-up hospital gowns, what chance do the rest of us have? But when I got the chance to attend a 1920s lawn party I figured I may as well give the look a shot– after all, the columnar silhouette was popular for years, it couldn’t be all bad!
I even had the beginnings of a day dress in my fabric stash already– some vintage pre-embroidered white cotton that had originally been set up to make a Victorian or Edwardian blouse out of. I couldn’t be sure of the precise time period, but the padded satin stitch embroidery just screamed “turn of the century” to me. I found it on eBay and bought it for a song, and it was just long enough to make a knee-length dress out of! (photo darkened so you can see the embroidery pattern)
I decided against using the embroidered neckline as an actual neckline– it was too wide and drew too much attention to the bust– so I turned the whole thing upside down and decided to use it as a hem decoration. There were also some smaller areas of embroidery that I could use to decorate other parts of the dress. I sketched out my basic design, planning on using a variation of the One-Hour Dress I’d seen online.
I bought some vintage insertion trim to add some interest to the body of the dress– it has an area of central embroidery and cutwork, with entredeux on either side. What is entredeux, you may ask? It’s basically an embroidered ladder-like trim, often inserted between fabrics to make a decorative line of openwork. It helps make the embroidered insertion look more deliberate, in my opinion, and less as if it was just pieced in.
So, let’s see how it works out!
After making those Spring Watercolor Cookies, I started getting the urge to indulge my “cute food” obsession by making other kinds of decorated cookies using different techniques. When a friend of mine decided to have a fancy tea party for her birthday, I knew I’d found my excuse. Continue reading
Going to Anime Boston this year reminded me that I haven’t told you all about my hat project. THE hat project. The big one. The mother of all projects. The project that spanned years, involved international commerce, and still has remnants floating around my house. And it all started with a single hat. Or, the lack of one.
A few years back, as the steampunk trend was just on the upswing, I decided to make myself a steampunk costume for Anime Boston. It would have a tweed skirt, a brocade bustier, some interesting leather doodads and brass thingies, and of course a miniature top hat. The problem was, I couldn’t find a hat that I liked– the pre-decorated ones were insanely expensive and the craft-store felt ones were really cheap looking, being more like flocked plastic than real felt and too small for what I had in mind. I did try to place an order for the largest available cheap felt hat from an online supply store, but they were out of stock. That, I think, was the turning point in the whole endeavor, because I had to think outside of the box. (why I didn’t just make a hat out of cardboard and cover it in fabric, I have no idea…)
As you know, if you do an in-depth search for an item on eBay the regular results eventually give way to hits for overseas wholesalers who will sell you bulk quantities of said item. While I personally had no need for huge numbers of tiny hats, it occurred to me that if I was having a problem locating a reasonably priced, decent-quality mini top hat, other people might be having the same problem. Pretty soon I had an email conversation going with a hat company in China that could ship me 150 black felt mini top hats for what worked out to be just under $4.00 a hat, including shipping (which was the most expensive part).
Sparing you the logistics, eventually I ended up with two giant cardboard boxes of hats and about 3 months in which to prepare them for sale at an Artist’s Alley table at Anime Boston.