Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Simplicity 0017 (1985): Morning in Miami

When I found this vintage 1980s fabric in the Lula Vintage store on Etsy, I fell in LOVE.

This light cotton piece featured large hibiscus flowers and uneven stripes.  The colorway was described by the shopkeeper as “very neutral” in tones of “salmon, mocha, mint, grey and white.”  

I had purchased it in January and stowed it away until I found a pattern worthy of its glorious 80s-ness.  This fabric captured my imagination like no other. I would take it out now and again during those short winter days and thought of warm summer mornings, the days stretching endlessly ahead…

...the smell of chlorine, reading Seventeen Magazine while I sat on my towel after swimming in my best friend’s pool….

...going inside her air-conditioned house in my damp bathing suit (BBR!) and seeing the opening credits (and hearing the theme song!) for The Golden Girls on the TV in her living room…..

It was during such reveries that I realized this fabric needed to live its life as a summer robe. 

A robe that might be worn while having morning coffee on the Golden Girls’ lanai.

What’s a lanai?  
It's the porch.

(If you don’t get this meme, please refer to Season 2, Episode 25  of The Golden Girls when Sophia asks Dorothy this question. Episode confirmation is courtesy of this blog, which recaps every GG episode in hilarious detail.)

Blanche, Rose, Dorothy and Sophia lived in an 80s dream of a house in Miami wherein they often wore awesome bathrobes while having heart-to-hearts, frequently in the kitchen.  (This fabric could just as easily have been made into throw pillows for the rattan couch in the living room.) 

I recently discovered a wonderful website called Golden Girls Fashion Corner which features excellent analysis of GG episodes and outfits (with plenty of pictures!).  I believe that Claire coined the term “Devarobe”--a play on Blanche’s last name Devereaux and her endless supply of flowy, gorgeous bathrobes.

Blanche is wearing a kimono robe here

I settled on a kimono robe because this design would allow large swaths of the fabric to remain intact and flow beautifully from the shoulders. I had a limited amount of fabric so I had no choice but to make it a short robe.

I omitted the patch pocket.

Because the stripes are uneven and the colors don’t repeat regularly, cutting out the pattern was a little challenging.  First, I had to get over my fear of ruining the project by making cutting mistakes on a piece of irreplaceable fabric. I couldn’t match every single stripe at the shoulders, because I didn’t have enough.   But that wasn’t critical because there’s so much going on and the stripes are irregular. I was able to match one stripe at the shoulders to establish harmony between back and front.

I wanted the front band to be on a white stripe, but I had run out of white stripes that were long enough and the same width.  I came up with a solution that required I cut the band in three pieces instead of two. I attempted to match the cuts with the shoulder seams but I failed to do so.  Luckily, I don’t think it’s noticeable and it doesn’t bother me.

This fabric is light-weight, slightly slubbed and semi-opaque.  The cut edges did fray quite a bit. So I used french seams and mock french seams (doing a traditional french seam on curved areas such as the shoulder seams can be tough) to enclose the seam allowances.   Here’s a shot from my Singer The New Sewing Essentials book (2008) showing how to do a Mock French Seam:

Instructions for a regular french seam are above.

Regular french seam:

Mock french seam:

This project took a lot longer than I thought it would.  To up the quality, I hand-stitched all hems. I used something called Snug Hug which I had purchased a few years ago after reading about it on the blog Lilacs and Lace.  This seamstress highly recommends this rayon tape to finish seam allowances and hems (she has a tutorial), so I had picked some up just in case I wanted to try it one day. If you want to see real couture sewing and vintage-inspired pieces from BEFORE the 1980s, visit this blog!

The oatmeal color of my Snug Hug tape was perfect for this project.  I sewed it to the edges of the sleeves and the bottom, pressed up the hems and hand-stitched, picking up single threads as I went so as the stitches aren’t detectable on the outside.

Now I’m ready for my morning coffee on the lanai! 

close-up of belt and carrier loop

This would have been a good bathing suit cover-up after swimming at Jean’s house back in the day.  To her and all the Girls back in high school: Thank you for being a friend!

Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe (1987)

Although the 1980s began in a recession,  the stock market soon began to soar astronomically, injecting huge amounts of wealth into certain segments of society before crashing in 1987.  For many, these were heady years, full of giddiness, good times and downright hedonism. Wealthy or not, the feelings seemed to be contagious. In came the big hair, the bold colors and the jewelry which at times seemed to channel that of the ostentatiously rich.  Regular girls wore ropes of faux pearls and fake gem brooches while rappers piled on thick gold chains:

Chanel jewelry circa 1980s

LL Cool J

The excesses of the 1980s were writ large in New York City, the home of all that is huge and over the top.   For the epicenter of that wealth explosion was Wall Street, and from there flowed many stories of social ascendency and moral decay. 

The Bonfire of the Vanities is one of those stories. 

This novel describes the rise and fall of Sherman McCoy, he of the Yale chin and $1M bond trader’s salary.  Or rather, it’s the story of a WASP who made more money on top of family money, and how the life he built all came crumbling down.  

Sherman’s story is supported by a vast and colorful set of quintessentially New York characters and crucial storylines that all weave together to create one epic tome.  I loved it. Wolfe provides such believable (and often hilarious) detail and dialog that the book feels like a piece of journalism at times.  

Those enduring themes of class, race and sex underpin the book and allow it to remain relevant over 30 years later.  But enough of the heavy stuff. And I don’t want to spoil this excellent read for anyone who may not have picked it up yet.

There are some fashion moments in this novel.  For example, when Sherman meets Maria at the airport:

“In this mob she looked like something from another galaxy.  She was wearing a skirt and a big-shouldered jacket of a royal blue that was fashionable in France, a blue-and-white striped silk blouse, and electric-blue lizard pumps with white calf caps on the toes.”

Later, at an exclusive dinner party,  Sherman scrutinizes the women, basically dividing them into first wives and second (trophy) wives.  The first (older) wives are “skin and bones”, “starved to near perfection”:

“To compensate for the concupiscence missing from their juiceless ribs and atrophied backsides, they turned to the dress designers.  This season no puffs, flounces, pleats, ruffles, bibs, bows, battings, scallops, laces, darts, or shirrs on the bias were too extreme.  They were the social X-rays, to use the phrase that had bubbled up into Sherman’s own brain.”

Tom Wolfe may have had Christian LaCroix in mind when writing those words.   This is a good article about the designer, whose clothing many feel epitomizes the excesses of the 80s.  He also invented the “pouf” skirt which had many variations.

The following are from Christian LaCroix shows in 1987, the year The Bonfire of the Vanities was published:

Her hair might be too big, even for the 80s!

Saturday, August 3, 2019

McCall's 8498 (1983): Cream Charmeuse Jumpsuit with Black Dots and Belt Variations

When I decided to sew McCall’s 8498 in charmeuse, I wondered:  Would the resulting jumpsuit look like pajamas?

Charmeuse: Satiny, Slinky and perfect for negligees and luxe loungewear

As described in my last post, Diahann Carroll and other Dynasty Divas had their names on some McCall’s patterns in the 80s.  As Dominique Deveraux, she strode into La Mirage dressed head to toe in luxurious creams and whites (complete with fur stole) for her first scene on Dynasty.  She immediately got frosty at the check-in desk because they wanted to put her in a junior suite.

You see, that wouldn’t do.  Dominique needed a suite with two bedrooms. One for her and one for her clothes, as she “does not sleep in her clothes, nor do I sleep with them!”

If my jumpsuit looked like something she’d sleep in, could I wear it out of the house in good conscience?  You know she doesn’t sleep in her clothes. So logic dictates her clothes wouldn’t look like sleepwear.

Your Logic is sound.

And this wasn’t the only conundrum I confronted once I settled on the charmeuse.  The very FACT of charmeuse was stress-inducing.

Why?  Because charmeuse, and other fabrics like it, are notoriously challenging to sew.  If you treat it like a nice simple cotton, you will be sorry. Charmeuse is complicated.  It shifts when you cut it. It puckers when you sew it. It tends to fray, thus all seam allowances must be finished.  Heat makes it shrivel and die. If charmeuse was a person, you’d consider her very high maintenance and dodge her phone calls.

Yet like many high maintenance individuals, charmeuse is also beautiful, charismatic and charming.  So, we make accommodations.

In the charmeuse’s case, that involved pre-treating it with a relaxing hot gelatin bath.  

The gelatin (original Knox brand, unflavored) stiffens the fabric (once dry).  I followed this method in Threads magazine for treating my charmeuse. Stiffening the fabric makes it easier to cut out the pattern accurately.

Other things I did to make sure I didn’t screw up my charmeuse include the following:

*sandwiching the fabric between large sheets of tracing paper to further prevent shifting when cutting out the pattern.

*buying the sharpest sewing needles I could find (to avoid the fabric getting mangled in the sewing machine) and pins designed for delicate fabrics (to avoid holes).

*Using a smaller stitch length (2mm).  This was advised all over the internet.

*Pulling the fabric taut from the back and front (but still allowing the machine to pull it over the feed dogs) while sewing (to avoid puckers). 

*Using french seams throughout (to hide fraying edges).

French seams are lovely.  They are often used for things made out of chiffon, charmeuse and other delicate fabrics.  But sewing a french seam involves sewing it TWICE. Once wrong sides together, then again, right sides together.  Thus, the seam allowances (with their fraying edges) are totally contained.  

I even used french seams on the in-seam side pockets, which I had never done before, using this tutorial.

French seamed pockets

This jumpsuit has two rows of ¼’ elastic at the waist.  The two casings for the elastic are created from the seam allowances where the top and bottom of the jumpsuit are joined.

The edges of these seam allowances also had to be finished.  French seams were not possible, I used a satiny bias tape to finish them.

I made the jumpsuit with long pants.  Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t make it with long sleeves because I didn’t have enough fabric.    I didn’t have enough to make the top’s front and back facings either, so I used a piece of black charmeuse I had leftover from my failure with McCall's 3167 (see previous post).   But I’m glad I didn’t have enough, because I think the black looks great.

I can’t be sure, but I don’t think this jumpsuit looks like pajamas.

Nope, I'm wearing them outside so they can't be PJs

I paired the jumpsuit with a few different vintage 80s belts:

Aqua looked snazzy plus I have matching VINTAGE 80s SHOES!!

How about a green belt and aqua shoes?

Pink belt with the top closed

Vintage Red 80s Belt!

This would be good to wear to a spring or summer wedding if you didn’t want to wear a dress.  

As to whether it’s Diva-worthy, I couldn’t say.  All I know is that the feeling of charmeuse against my skin makes me crave a glass of champagne!

I think we know who the real Diva is around here.

The Maddie Hayes Look

Remember Moonlighting?   I LOVED THAT SHOW!     And I loved Maddie Hayes:  her pastel silk suits, her awesome hair, her private detective a...