Here in the Reskills column of VeganReader, I have often urged increasing your self-sufficiency by learning to sew your own clothes and I thought readers might like to take a gander at my latest sewing project.
This is a 1920′s style sundress that I made over the weekend. I bought the fabric on Saturday afternoon at the local quilting supply store and by Sunday night, I was ready to take this photograph. My kind husband aided me with some of the ironing and rotary cutting, which was a big help.
I didn’t have a pattern, though you can find really neat vintage patterns on the web. Instead, I essentially made this dress as though I were making a tank top. I traced a tank top onto a piece of kitchen parchment paper to serve as a guide. I took my own measurements several times to be sure I would be cutting my pieces in the right proportions.
The dropped waist that gives it that 20′s look is a simple rectangle to which the tank top shape is sewn. The skirt of the dress is made out of two big rectangles which feature 4 pleats in front and 6 in the back to give it the appropriate shaping. These are then sewn together into a skirt and, finally, joined to the waistband.
The finished dress is ankle length and relatively loose, making it both modest and comfortable with plenty of movement possible. Made of cotton fabric, it’s definitely lovely and cool for summer wearing – so much nicer than those rayon, nylon and polyester sun dresses found at most department stores.
I think the fabric really makes this dress! I wasn’t sure what I wanted when I walked into the fabric shop, but when I saw the beautiful tan and antique red print with its very vintage Arts and Crafts era look, the whole dress popped into my mind as if I’d already finished it. If you have ever looked at advertising or sewing books from the 1920′s, you will recognize these colors and motifs as being true to that era. Artists inspired by both Native American and Asian folk arts developed a new design style that was used to embellish the fabrics, wall paper, furnishings and other elements of Arts and Crafts homes and textiles. This is one of my favorite eras of historical design and I was really thrilled to find this fabric.
The accent fabric, in that same antique red, again features a very 20s print of symbolic arrows. It looked to me like something I would find in a museum of historical fashion and it went just right with the main fabric.
The neckline and armholes are outlined in bias stripping in simple black, completing the garment in a graphical, era-appropriate manner.
So much of the sewing I do is utilitarian. Hard-wearing farm woman dresses are my specialty, and my project previous to this 20′s dress was a pair of denim jeans. This time, inspired by these unusual materials, I wanted to indulge my sense of the lovely, and finished off my dress with an elegant bow. It’s done in the red arrow fabric, backed by the black and I happened to find a button that highlighted both the colors of the gown and some of its design motifs. I think it gives just that tiny, special last touch to the dress that shows it was made with real pleasure.
Early summer is a good time for farmers to sew. Our crops are all planted and weeding and watering pretty much sums up the daily work we have to do. Spring is so much busier. If you find yourself confronting the heat and looking at the department store racks in despair, why not sew a new sundress for yourself? The style of mine may not suit your own tastes, but whatever you do like, you can make it. Sundresses tend to be made out of a few rectangles with minimal shaping and are a good project for beginning seamstresses, especially if you work with 100% cotton instead of those stretchy synthetics that give even experienced sewers headaches are are not very nice to wear.
If you’re looking for inspiration, look at old magazines and patterns. You can look at new ones, too, but for my own sense of aesthetics, classic and folk clothing tends to be so much more interesting to sew and wear. 1920′s clothing for women was a major breakthrough, designed to enable free movement. Those ‘modern ladies’ of a century ago were some of the first to demand equality in work and play and the fashions of the era reflect this, especially when you compare them to the stiff and unyielding garb of previous decades. Make a 20′s dress and you’ll find you can kick up your heels while maintaining a graceful appearance in our own ‘modern times’.
|Most of Earth’s creatures don’t have to bother about dress. They live in climates and settings that enable them to get on with the business of daily living correctly clad in their respective feathers, skins and scales. We humans are definitely at something of a disadvantage when it comes to this. We’ve got to figure out how to clothe ourselves in a manner that respects the weather and allows us to attend to our own business without tripping, catching on fire or being restricted and discommoded. It’s a challenge, but you can find fun in it.||
Like those birds of South America who select different tints from the jungle with which to paint their feathers, we have a choice of ensembles. Unfortunately, though, when we rely solely on big box stores to provide for us, we may be receiving the lowest possible quality for our time and money, coupled with a poor fit. Even if you are the fortunate possessor of wealth, good luck finding anything that’s been made with care if it comes from a factory! I started to sew because I didn’t admire store bought fashions and could almost never find anything that fit my tiny height. My woes ended with the hum of the sewing machine and I now view sewing for myself or my husband as some of my happiest times spent indoors.
I’m not much of a one for vanity. I don’t use cosmetics and if I remember to glance at myself once in a mirror at daybreak, I’m pretty much good to go. I worry about people who’ve bought the marketed pitch that all of us need dozens of products and hours of time focused on our appearance in order to be acceptable to some unspecified other or ourselves. Mostly, my mind is occupied with what I’m doing; not how I look doing it.
That being said, I do love lovely things and this was a treat for me to design and create a gown I feel I will look charming wearing. I will feel special wearing this dress, because of the whole process that went into it and because the sewing skills I’ve acquired mean that I can have this dress instead of something somebody else made. That feels good.