Sunday – The 1930’s “Quickie” That Never Happened

I am a member of Somewhere in Time Unlimited, Seattle. It’s an eclectic group who gather around their shared love of period costuming; both the making and the wearing. They are always doing fabulously interesting things: running about on field trips, gathering for talks, picnicking in the parks, dressing for commemorative events, and generally having a grand time way over on the other side of the Puget Sound.

As the raven flies, it is only 23 miles from my home to Seattle. That number, however, is seriously misleading when it comes to what it takes to get there from here. Lets say that I want to play croquet in a Seattle park in my as-yet-unfinished Regency dress. Here’s the drill. Get up early, dress, fiddle with hair for an hour until I remember that, as a spinster, I can just stuff it up under my cap and use the curling iron for a few “period” sausage curls around the face, spend the next 30 minutes carefully folding myself into my tiny little car and head for the ferry.

Depending on where the event is, I have one of three ferry departures points to choose from, all of which include driving down the peninsula and across a floating bridge which, when closed to automobile traffic (i.e., open for marine traffic) can stay closed for over an hour and result in a 2-hour+ backup on bad days:

1) drive an hour, wait for ferry (up to 30 minutes, usually), 35 min ferry ride, and drive another 45 min to an hour to the destination or

2) drive and hour and 15 min to the ferry, wait for the ferry (up to an hour), 20 min ferry ride, then anywhere from 30 min to over an hour to the destination, or

3) drive and hour and 15 min to the ferry, wait for the ferry (up to an hour), 20 min ferry ride, then anywhere from an hour plus to the destination.

All of this is an unnecessarily messy way of saying that when I discovered that there was a fabulous SITU event this past Sunday that did not involve a ferry, I was thrilled and decided I was going. Period.

One of the SITU members has been collecting extant historical clothing for over 30 years and twice a year she displays some of them in her home.  She and her spouse attend a variety of period events and have period wardrobes that would knock any serious historians socks clean off. This past Sunday she opened her home to share another portion of her stunning collection. Best of all, she lives on this side of the Sound and it only takes one floating bridge to get there.

I thought I’d whip up a quick 1930’s outfit for the day; just a top and a simple skirt – no big deal. At least it shouldn’t have been.

I started with the skirt and as I was laying out the last panel it looked to me that I may not have enough for the top, which has a bizarre-looking front piece. So I stopped and set the Vogue pattern out to make sure I wouldn’t run out of space. Happily, there was plenty. And I figured that since I had them laying there I may as well cut them out. So I did. And had a chunk of fabric left over. (I know you can see it coming, but I was blissfully ignorant.)

Since the top was obviously going to be trickier than the skirt, I started with it. Before we get to the construction, a few personal observations about the pattern.

I stopped reading the instruction to Vogue patterns in the 1970’s when, in the midst of deciphering their instructions for setting in a caftan sleeve (yes, a caftan), I realized that they literally had given eight steps, including two sets of 90-degree turns, for something that could be accomplished in two steps with no 90-degree turns. I put in the sleeves, they were perfect, and I never read another instruction from Vogue again.

This, however, was different. More M. C. Escher than standard Vogue fare. So I set out each piece and read the pattern and started pinning the pattern to the fabric. What a flippin’ nightmare. (IMHO, of course).

The pattern is printed on fragile tissue paper. Quite fragile, really. For reasons that completely escape me, and had best not be examined further, the first thought that came to my mind was that printing the pattern on the stuff used for edible underwear would have been better. At least it would have had some give without tearing. And I don’t know how I know that, either.

The next thing that became apparent is despite the ridiculously high price they charge for their patterns – I bought it on sale at JoAnn’s for a song – it looks as if the company decided to make further cuts by not using enough ink to print the pattern or the instructions on the pattern. Here are actual photos taken of the pieces laid on top of the fabric. Click on each photo to “not see” the instructions better.

I thought I’d finally found a piece with instructions that summed up my feelings, then I realized the directions said “tuck” “tuck” “tuck” instead.

2014-05-17 11.29.47

But I wasn’t going to let something like illegibility stop me, so I forged on. Of course I did.

At this point in the process, I think it is only fair to point out that Vogue lists this pattern as appropriate for experiences seamstresses only. They are spot-on correct. It also helps to have excellent abilities in understanding spatial relationships (which I so) and the ability to know when to trust your instincts and ditch obtuse pattern instructions (which I also do).

It was slow going, but coming together nicely and I was actually getting pretty excited about the daft thing. I was using cotton, which doesn’t have the right amount of drape, but it was looking OK. All I needed to do was set in the other sleeve part, sew the twisty “scarf” at the front neck and attach the ties and I’d be done. But it was getting late on Saturday and my still-healing eyes were tired. I knew the skirt would take no more than an hour, so I decided to get up early on Sunday, finish the outfit (I budgeted four hours) and head out for an afternoon of fun in style.

I awoke Sunday to a chilly drizzle, but no matter. I set up the remaining sleeve and was getting ready to start stitching when, for yet more reasons that I cannot fathom, it occurred to me to set the skirt pieces in order – all the front pieces with all the back pieces.

Which is when I discovered that I never went back and cut out the center back panel.

You know that moment…that pause your brain takes while all sorts of irrelevant chaos goes on inside your head…all the while being vaguely cognizant that something seriously and tremendously wrong has just occurred?


I didn’t have the center back panel, nor did I have enough fabric for the center back panel. I had nothing to wear with the top. So I stopped, dead in the proverbial water. If I can get more fabric, I’ll finish it up. If not, the whole outfit would look better in a rayon crepe with more drape and swing.

Then I remembered my late 1930’s vintage tea gown. I bought it because it fits great and is easy to move around it…it stays put and doesn’t tug or ride up. The lace sleeves were in pretty grim shape, but now I had a few hours to spare so I set to work hand-mending the lace.

It has a neckline made for dress clips and I don’t own any. But I did have a pair of my mother’s old screw-back rhinestone earrings that would do the job. So I used wire cutters to cut the screw back off and sewed them onto the dress. They look as if they’d been meant for it.

I recently had my hair bobbed, and borrowed a Marcel wave iron from my hairdresser to see if I could get the front waved enough to pass. It started out looking pretty good, but the high humidity took its toll fairly early on in the afternoon.

Modern lycra/spandex shape wear substituted nicely for a girdle. I wore my heavy travel compression hose and got that nice 1930’s cotton hosiery look. I put a coat of beeswax on my vintage 1930’s shoes in case I got caught in the rain and polished them to a shine. And the vintage handbag accommodated the iPhone without a problem.

What a save! Whew!

Did I take a photo? Of course not. *rolls eyes and sighs in dismay* But Julie, who shared her collection with us did. I’m stooped over, examining a finely detailed Edwardian dress, but it’s all I have. (BTW – I do not have my hand on the dress…it just looks that way.)

1930's me. Photo by Julie Ann Cheetham.

1930’s me. Photo by Julie Ann Cheetham.

Next time I’ll remember to take advantage of the photo-op before I’m caught at odd angles.

Tomorrow – those gorgeous vintage dresses on display.