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The “Mix Up” Suspender Skirt

the artyologist image of suspender skirt inspired by 1939 sears catalogue

I’ve been sewing for probably 15 or so years, since my mom taught me when I was quite young. I look back to the early days of my sewing adventures, and the garments I made were often baggy, shapeless, ill fitting and unflattering. (Whew, that’s a mouthful of insulting descriptions!) I wasn’t very good at choosing garments that would look good on me, and not very good at fitting said garments either. Fortunately with time and practice though, my sewing skills have improved. I like to think that my style has improved a bit too 😉 I still have so much to learn, but each time, I get a little bit more accomplished. One of the garments that I am the “proudest” to have been able to make is this suspender skirt.

the artyologist image 1939 sears catalogue skirt

I came across this illustration in a 1939 Sears catalogue. This group of skirts are called “Mix Up’s”, because of their ability to mix-and-match in your wardrobe. Interestingly “Mix-and-Match” separates weren’t really a marketed item until the Depression and War Years, although of course people always did mix and match. During those years where poverty turned into rationing and people didn’t have the money or the resources to make new outfits, mix and match separates were worn to help stretch the wardrobe. It is interesting that in this catalogue- that is the marketed feature of this skirt. (Also jealous to note the $1.98 price tag for a wool skirt- although in todays dollars that would be. . . only $34. . .  ok never mind I am still jealous)

the artyologist image of suspender skirt inspired by vintage sears catalogue

I love the suspender skirt in the centre, so I decided to try and make something like it. I didn’t have a pattern, I had never drafted a pattern from scratch before, and I only had a limited amount of fabric, as I had already used most of the twill for a pair of trousers, so it was a bit of a learning curve! I used an a-line skirt pattern I already had for the bottom, but I draped and drafted the vest/pinafore/suspenders. It took a few tries, and a lot of fiddly fitting, but fortunately I have my mother- master seamstress- to lend a hand when needed, and so it turned out! I omitted the laces in favour of a non-functioning button, and didn’t put buttons on the straps, instead placing them on the back of the skirt. The skirt is also made of brown denim twill rather than wool. So the skirt is “inspired by” rather than a direct copy of the illustration. I am afraid that I don’t have pictures of the process, and actually I don’t really know what I did aside from drawing a shape I liked and cutting out a test muslin, so I won’t be able to tell you how to do it yourself. 🙁 Your welcome.

It is one of my favourite skirts however, and has become, like the advertisement said, a great “Mix Up” item in my wardrobe, as it goes with almost every top I own.

the artyologist image of button detail on 1939 vintage inspired suspender skirt

Excuse the excessive amount of crumpling in the photos. 🙁

the artyologist image of cloud reflections on a pond

the artyologist image of 1939 inspired suspender skirt and vintage scarf headwrap

Wearing a bow on your head makes your day just that much better, don’t you think? Just look at how happy I am in this photo.

the artyologist image of earthies oxford shoes

A note about these shoes. I bought these two years ago, and they quickly became one of my favourite pairs. Then while wearing them last year, when I was riding my bicycle, I crashed. I skinned my knee, I scraped my bicycle, and I did not cry. But I ripped the leather off the toe of these shoes- and that made me want to cry! I wasn’t sure if anything could be done, since there was a spot about the size of a nickel scuffed out of the leather, but I took them to my local cobbler and they came back like this! You can’t even see in this picture where the leather was damaged! So, the moral of the story? Take your shoes to the cobbler as they can work magic. Oh, and perhaps don’t wear your favourite heels while cycling, in the event of accidentally destroying them.

the artyologist- vintage scarf headwrap

the artyologist image of 1939 vintage inspired suspender skirt

the artyologist image of back view of 1939 vintage suspender skirt

the artyologist image of poplar trees and clouds

 

A Refashioned Wax Print Skirt & Thoughts On Authenticity

 

the artyologist- image of chinese wax fabric and needle

The skirt in my last post was a refashion of a dutch wax print wrap skirt I found in a thrift store last year.

I have had my share of thrift store “remakes”. You know the kind where it “only needs to be hemmed”, or it “needs to be fitted”, or “the fabric is so pretty, but the style is so outdated, but if I just did this” then it would be the most perfect dress/skirt/whatever. I go thrifting quite regularly and come across many such garments needing to be saved, and I used to buy them all, until one day I looked around and saw the abundance (translation = piles) of 1/2 finished projects lying around and I realized that I actually hate altering clothes. As much as I love salvaging, as much as I hate throwing things away, and as much as I love breathing new life into old garments, I just absolutely hate adjusting and altering.

So I created a new rule for myself that unless those “almost perfect” garments only needed an adjustment that would take me less than an hour to complete, or there was enough fabric to cut a new pattern out of it, I would pass it by.

So, when I found this wrap skirt I didn’t hesitate to pick it up, as I knew there was enough yardage to make something new, and I loved the African wax print material so much that even if I could only have made a pillow out of it I would have gotten it. 🙂 African or Dutch wax print fabric is hard to find (where I live), so it was nice to find a piece.the artyologist- image of african wax wrap skirt made of chinese wax fabric

This skirt was kind of strange in how it was constructed- the front and the back panels had been completely sewn, lined and finished separately and then topstitched together right where the flange down the back is, with a triangular piece set in to create almost a train or kickpleat. The yellow ribbon was topstitched to the material, and fortunately was easy to pull apart.

the artyologist- image of african style fabric out of chinese wax fabric and pin cushion

Once deconstruction was finished, I was left with two large rectangles of fabric, minus the shaped cut away piece on the front. This was perfect as it gave me enough excess to make a waistband. Originally the fabric had been turned sideways to create length, but I turned it back to give more volume, since I had already planned for a pleated skirt.

I didn’t use a pattern for the skirt- I just cut the two rectangles the same size, and then it was a straightforward process of pleating the fabric into the waist circumference. I just played with it until it was the right size.

First mistake: I made a slightly curved waistband to prevent it from gapping, but I forgot that the top of the curve would be smaller than the bottom (duh!). So, when I went to try it on after basting the pieces together- oof- it was a bit tight!! Of course I had measured once and cut twice, so I had to add a piece to my waistband. Good thing the fabric is so busy, because you don’t even notice it. Except that I just now told you about it. . . oops.

the artyologist- image of waistband piecing on african wax print skirt made of chinese fabric

The only other mishap- which I might add was my machine’s fault- was that I did a practice buttonhole, which turned out beautifully, then sewed onto my waistband and the machine jammed creating a huge zigzag mess. Sigh. I could have left it, as again the fabric is so busy- but that would just be a disgrace. So I spent about 45 minutes picking that mess out of the fabric. At least after that, the others went in properly and neatly.

the artyologist- image of african wax print style skirt waistband detail

(I would have been embarrassed to have this photo taken, if I had not corrected the error of my ways)

When thinking about what buttons to use, I thought that metal ones would look nice, and then I found these unique buttons in my mom’s stash. I stole them (thanks mom!) and they are perfect. So all in all, the skirt is exactly what I envisioned, and I love it to bits.

the artyologist- image of african style hitarget wax print fabric

When I took the skirt apart I discovered that on the selvedge was printed the manufacturing details. Now this was exciting, since I am interested not only in the “look” of African Dutch wax print fabric, but also the origins and history of it. Dutch wax print fabric was originally inspired by the Batik fabric from Indonesia and southern Asia. At some point along the way, it was adopted by West African countries, and the designs and patterns were tailored to suit the African market. The majority of the fabric was, and still is, made in Holland. So I looked up the manufactures name of my fabric, wondering where the fabric was from.

Ironically, I discovered the fabric was Made in China.

HiTarget is a Chinese factory creating wax print fabric, with traditional designs, to sell in African markets, at a lower pricepoint. In essence it is “cheap fashion”. Somehow I had just never thought about cheap fashion in places other than Western/North American markets, and I was a little bit surprised by the discovery that my “authentic” skirt, wasn’t so authentic after all.

However, after I thought about it for a while, I decided that even though the fabric itself is not Dutch or West African in origin, judging by the style of the skirt, I am guessing that this garment was sewn and worn by an African lady.

I read a bit about Chinese wax print fabric and found out that many African women buy the fabric, since it is cheaper for everyday wear, saving the good stuff for special clothes. So, I don’t think it is the same as me, a non-African woman saying, “I want the look, without the price” and purposely buying cheap fabric, or worse simply buying a “tribal print” garment from a chain store, which certainly doesn’t respect the cultural significance of the designs, and comes with a host of other issues (sweat shops anyone?)

Also, I decided that as this was a cast-off garment, which I found in a thrift store, I was able to give it a new life, and keep it out of the textile waste cycle. The fabric came from China, the dress came from Africa (in style at least if not physically), and I found it in Canada. 🙂 Taking something that already exists, and creating something new from it, I believe, is a good thing anyways, which is why most of my wardrobe is secondhand or handmade. This skirt lands squarely in both categories.

So, ultimately, how do I feel about my “non authentic” skirt?

While I won’t deny that I was disappointed at first, the more I thought about it, the fact that it appears to have been made and worn by an African lady, validates it’s authenticity, though it had a circuitous route of arriving there. I am going to wear this skirt with pride and enjoy and appreciate the beauty of the fabric and designs.

If you want to find out more about the history of Dutch wax print, I found these two great articles: Know Your Wax by Madame Tay & African Fabrics by Beyond Victoriana

the artyologist- image of african style wax print fabric skirt

Before and After: Hat Edition

the artyologist image of vintage hats to fix

Hats are by far the easiest way to introduce a vintage look to an outfit, for as much as people wear dresses these days, hats are few and far between. Millinery is always something I have been interested in, but not very good at as I am attempting to self teach myself the art. There is a lot of information online for sure, but it is always tricky to start something when you have no idea what you are doing- just a vague idea of what you want the finished product to look like!

Here are the three hats I mentioned a while back, that I picked up at an antique mall for a good price. The two black ones are modern, and the feathered hat is a vintage one from the 1960’s. I love the feathered hat just as it is, but the black caps, especially the one with the brooch and netting, are actually rather boring once put on. My thought when I got these, was that I could make them over and embellish them with a bit of vintage flair, without having to make the hat itself from scratch. As Lydia in Pride and Prejudice says, “Look here, I have bought this bonnet. I do not think it is very pretty; but I thought I might as well buy it as not. I shall pull it to pieces as soon as I get home, and see if I can make it up any better.”

So what are my plans for the hats?

the artyologist image of feathered hat before broken feathers

The pheasant hat was easy since I liked it as is, minus the broken feathers. I pulled them out and added a few turquoise feathers, once of which I twisted into a loop, and the tiny spotted feather. Much improved. Although now I still have to wait several months to wear it. At least I have something to look forward to!

the artyologist image of vintage 1960's feathered hat after in front of wallpaper

the artyologist image of vintage 1960's feathered hat detail

As for the other two, about a month ago I came across this beautiful mint coloured felt hat by master milliner Philip Treacy. (Phillip Treacy has made many of the hats we see the Royal’s wearing). I absolutely fell in love with the giant pompom flower, and immediately started wondering how I could make something like this. When I came across the black hat, I had my answer. I haven’t started construction on it yet, but will attempt something of the kind. I also really love the red hat, so if the flower doesn’t work out, I could always make a ginormous bow. If something in life needs embellishing, a bow should do the trick!

philip treacy fw15 collection

(Photos from Philip Treacy)

I am thinking that I will also make a large bow to fit on the other black hat. It needs some oomph too, as the velvet bow is a little understated. There is a hole under the velvet bow, where I think someone ripped some kind of embellishment off, so I need to keep that in mind whatever I decide to do. If all else fails and I can’t figure out how to attach a bow, I could always go with this.

philip-treacy-feathered-hat

(Photo from Philip Treacy)

Just kidding! As crazy as this hat is, it is AMAZING, but I don’t think I would ever be brave enough to wear a hat like this unless I was attending Royal Ascot or something. It’s fun to dream though!