Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Vintage May


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Today I'm joining the ladies at Skirt as Top and Craftiness is not Optional for Vintage May. You'll find vintage sewing inspiration of their blogs all week long. 
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I grew up on a dairy farm that has been in my family for a long time. My siblings and I are the 5th generation to live in the house my 2nd great grandfather built for his family. As is the custom in our family (and many farm families) after my Grandfather died, we moved into the big farmhouse with my Grandmother. She had her own chocolate chip cookie filled kitchen, and living room with the only TV in the house. She told us stories about the time their buggy horse got struck by lightening and they had to drive a work horse to church, or about stopping at a favorite neighbors house to warm her hands when she walked to country (one room) school in the winter. Naturally, we spent a lot of time with her.

My Grandmother got married and had her family (especially my dad) relatively late. She was always much older than any of my friend's grandmothers and her side of the house with its ancient books and family heirlooms was a relic of days gone by. She had the aura of being completely unaffected by popular culture. Everything about her was sensibly old-fashioned, and based on the unselfconscious act of running a household.
She had a very specific way of dressing. Her basic uniform was a knee length belted shirt dress and oxfords with a sturdy low heel. She wore this every single day, whether writing letters, or weeding the garden, as if deciding what to wear was an impediment to productivity. For special occasions she wore the same style in finer fabric, and a better pair of similar shoes for company and visiting. She always wore her hair in a low bun secured with two big hair pins, and a comb at each side.

I feel very lucky to have lived with such a tangible connection to my family's history and culture. I've had a thought flurry of a Grandma inspired belted shirt dress for a while, Kristin's invitation to join Vintage May is the perfect opportunity to get that thought out of my head and into a dress. To be clear, I never saw my Grandma sew. Based on her era and upbringing I'm sure she could, but I never saw her do it. I suspect it didn't suit her temperment. I saw her garden a lot, but never ever sew.
That's the background, now about the dress.  The photo my dress is based on was taken in the mid-fifties at a family picnic. The key elements are the open collar, the tucks along the shirt front, the skirt shape and length, and the printed cotton fabric. I tried to remain true to as many details of the dress as you can see in the photo. The one conspicuous omission is a svelte man in button down and trousers. My svelte man is behind the camera, so I'm giving him a pass on posing as my vintage better half.
The glasses are actually an old pair of my Grandma's that we used to play dress-up with. She isn't wearing them in the photo, but I remember her with them on, so I included them. 
PATTERN: This is a heavily modified Alder Shirt Dress mixed with the Archer Button Up. For the sleeve addition I used the Grainline Studio Alder + Archer tutorial. It defies logic that you can make a sleeve opening smaller and still get the original sleeve into it, but it worked like a dream. I really intended my alterations to stop there, and depend on pretty fabric, and styling to make it look convincing. Once I got started, each individual alteration didn't seem like that big of a deal. One thing lead to another and before I knew it I had a completely different dress than the pattern.

Basically, I used the Alder View A as a pattern block for the bodice and a reference for the size/shaping of everything else. I made the sleeve short, and added a pointed cuff. I separated the top and the bottom at the waist, and cut apart the front bodice to add tucks. I left the back as designed on the top. I added 6 1/2" to the skirt length and used that point to straighten the hem. I measured the resulting waist circumference and the hem circumference divided both making 4 panels in the front with the right and left center panel seams aligning with the edge of the last bodice tuck. The result is an 8 panel skirt (4 front, 4 back).  I used the original neck opening, but created a front facing rather than the button band, and drafted my own collar without a stand to make the open neck. Because the final fabric was rather precious (see below), and I had no idea how it would turn out, I made two muslins.

This dress is almost unrecognizable as the Alder. The whole time I was hacking the pattern to bits and reconstructing it with scotch tape and copy paper, I was wondering whether it would have been faster to draft it from scratch. I have concluded that drafting something this complex from scratch is way beyond my skill level at this point. Having a starting point for things such as ease, and basic sizing, eliminates a lot of variables that I would have slowed me down. It took a well designed pattern that I knew fit me well as a starting point to get to the dress you see above.
FABRIC: Liberty of London Tana Lawn Heidi C from Fancy Tiger Crafts. I don't have to tell you how nice this fabric is. So smooth, so drapy, so fine! The only snafu was that I procrastinated the order and could only get 2 yards, rather than the 2 1/2 yards I needed. For a few terrifying minutes I thought I wouldn't be able to squeeze all of the pieces out of it. I realized if I folded the whole cut of fabric in half lengthwise, and made the skirt the exact length of the half, I would have enough. I was cutting it very, very close with the amount of fabric and had to cut very, very carefully. I cut scraps of bias tape for the hem to make the skirt as long as possible. There is barely enough fabric left to accent my next bias bound neck opening.
This dress is feeling a little bit costumey at the moment With different shoes, no glasses, and totally different hair, I think I could walk down the street in this dress and not feel like my shift just ended at a Walton's theme restaurant.


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A big fat thank you to Kristin and Jess for inviting me to Vintage May. It was a ton of fun! Follow along on the Skirt as Top and Craftiness is Not Optional blogs for more Vintage May action. Be sure to check out the Sew a Straight Line Vintage May post today too!




31 comments:

  1. I absolutely LOVE this post- the story, the dress, your Grandma sounds like an interesting soul! I can totally picture this with boots and a cardigan in colder weather... It's really sweet on you! Very well done, Kristi!

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    1. Thanks HG! Boots are a great idea. The dress is so prim and proper, I was having trouble seeing it as anything but a reproduction. Boots and a cardi would definitely break up the period look.

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  2. This is awesome. I love that you recreated your Grandma's look and that she wore the same 'uniform' every day. You did a great job!!

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    1. Thanks Suz. I think I need to find my own uniform, so practical.

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  3. Fantastic- what a wonderful story and dress. Happy to have found your blog and I look forward to reading more posts!

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    1. Thanks Ms. Cleaver, so glad you liked it!

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  4. Oh Kristi I love this! I never heard the story about the horse hit by lightning. I asked my mom once if Grandma ever sewed, and she told me no, she never had time--Aunt Eby & Aunt Lou filled in with the sewing duties, apparently.

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    1. Thanks Ginny. Did she teach her daughters to sew? Or was it the aunts?

      The end of the horse story is that some boys at church teased them saying "aha you have to drive the old gray mayor now, aha." and she was embarrassed. Her father thought it was just as well because he would have been tempted to make a race horse out of her.

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    2. Mom said it was the aunts. She must've known how to sew, though I expect with 5 kids it wasn't a priority.

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  5. That is seriously the best "Vintage May" outfit ever. I love that you recreated your grandma's dress!

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    1. Thank you Annika! It was fun to push myself beyond what I would have done for normal sewing.

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  6. I loved reading this! What beautiful memories and a strong family legacy!

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  7. I loved reading this! What beautiful memories and a strong family legacy!

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  8. You have captured Aunt Mary so beautifully here. I remember many visits with her, such fond memories. Love the articles you share. Keep writing!!

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    1. Thank you Susan! So nice to find you in my comments. :)

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  9. Thank you for sharing a little bit about your family and past! I always like to read your posts for your style of writing AND your sewing. And I totally agree with Kristin, you have become one of my favorite adult sewers. Your grandma sounds like she was a wonderful person and I immediately saw my grandmother before my inner eye in her white starched apron she always used to wear. The dress you made is so beautiful and I cannot believe it came from those two patterns. I think it would be lovely worn today and goes well with your style.

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    1. Thank you Ute, you're one of my favorites too!! Love that it brought your grandma to mind!

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  10. Beautiful! And I love, love, LOVE the inspiration for your dress! So special :)

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    1. Thanks Amanda! It was fun to make.

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  11. Such a great story and a beautiful ode to your grandmother. I think with some sandals and relaxed hair, and maybe a more modern belt you'll get away from the costume feel. Or chopping off some length down the track. Such clever alterations!

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    1. Thanks FT. I was thinking taking off the sleeves would mellow the look too. But I have to waste the precious fabric!

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  12. How wonderful! I'm sure my nana had a similar pair of glasses.
    The dress is superb and I completely understand that feeling when one small change leads to so many more. But you nailed it, it fits beautifully and you're definitely young and beautiful enough to pull this off as granny chic rather than frumpy!

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    1. This dress fits squarely into the "just to see if I can" category. Sort of like you Evel Knievel suit! :)

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  13. This is gorgeous in every way.

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  14. Kristi you totally blew me away!!! Seriously. The story, the way you altered the dress, the thought and love you put into it. I'm sure your grandma was watching down smiling. So wonderful to have an example like her to grow up with, and those values to pass on to your kids. Really, thank you so much for sharing this. I just love it all.

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    1. Thank you Kristin. So glad you asked me to join in, it was a lot of fun!

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  15. What a beautiful post! I loved reading about your grandma and think that your story, dress, and photo shoot are a wonderful tribute.

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  16. wow! Beautiful work! Awesome dress! I love the styling of everything!

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