Remember the ‘Deco Echo’ blouse I made back in February? You may even remember the pants I was wearing with it as a 1930s beach pyjama set. I didn’t tell you about them, because, well, they weren’t actually finished. And by not actually finished I mean ‘something that I’m terribly ashamed to admit was held on with safety pins’.
Yeah. I confess. I was so rushed in the run-up to Art Deco weekend that I didn’t manage to get the everything remotely properly finished, and the pants were one of the items that were terribly put together, terribly badly finished, and just not OK. (see example below)
But with a 20s/30s challenge coming up on the Sew Weekly and a trip home to Hawai’i I had the perfect opportunity to actually make my beach pyjama pants properly.
My inspiration for the garment and the look was the beach pyjamas that were so popular at beach resorts in the 1920s & 30s. They are such an elegant, practical garment, but not what we usually expect from 20s & 30s fashion.
Beach pyjamas on the Cote D’Azure, colourized postcard, 1930s
Beach pyjamas at Nice, colourized postcard, 1930s
My first set of beach pyjama bottoms went wrong because of an under-abundance of time and an over-abundance of engineering. I tried to include a high-waisted un-darted yolk with piping trim, side pockets, a fancy side placket fastening, period-accurate hook fastenings, a symmetrical, direction print,and french seams all into one garment. I also used the wrong interfacing because I didn’t have the right stuff to hand. Not surprisingly (like the camel with too many straws) the pants rebelled.
The yoke didn’t sit right on my bottom and gaped around my waist, the piping had to be re-done a half dozen times to be symmetrical, the yoke-facing ended up only facing half the yoke, the pockets gaped and getting them to meet the french seams was a nightmare, and the placket was a ridiculous mess. It needed fixing.
For my re-make I took the pants apart apart, ditched the pockets and the fancy side placket, set sun-burst darts into my yoke to make it sit properly on my way-curvier than the ’30s ideal bottom, re-did the yoke facing and a lot of the piping, and re-set the whole thing with a nice, simple, still-period-accurate side fastening.
Whew! Much better! I’m now proud to wear these, and they are a joy to wear. So light and comfortable in the Hawaiian summer, while still looking elegant and dressed up.
Isn’t the fabric fabulous? It turned up at a fabric sale in NZ, and I immediately snapped it up with Art Deco visions dancing in front of my eyes. I wish I’d got more! The print reminds me of scales from a distance – hence the ‘Deco Mermaid’ title. And it’s a delicious 100% cotton light, draping sateen. So unusual, but utterly luscious to wear.
Unfortunately my pants still have two problems – I got turned around sewing the hooks and loops into the placket, and I sewed them on to the wrong sides (hooks to back, loops to front instead of the other way around). Gah! I’m going to have to re-do that.
On the bright side, I need to show you where I sat to sew the unfortunately facing hooks and eyes:
It almost makes it all better, doesn’t it? ;-) Those are the woods around my parents house: not landscaped or anything. The dress I’m wearing in that picture is one I made when I was about 14. It still fits!
The other problem is that the pants simply don’t fit. I took these photos after two weeks in Hawaii, eating my parents incredibly healthy diet, and running around doing farm chores every day. I’ve dropped a full size. I’m not sure if I want to fix that
The photos were taken by my Mum at ‘the Cove’, a little beach just a 10 minute walk from the family farm. It’s where we always go to swim, because while it isn’t as big or pretty as other nearby beaches, it has the nicest swimming – it’s deep and sandy.
I wanted to capture both my island as it is now, and the sense of old Hawaiian postcards in my images. The latter was inadvertently helped by my Mum – she forgot her glasses so couldn’t see if the photos she was taking were in focus!
Sigh. Just looking at these makes me homesick again. It was the most amazing trip, and it’s good to be home, but I still miss Hawai’i dreadfully. I can’t have both!
Bagheera is fine, uncut pile velvet. It was originally made of silk, but after the introduction of cellulose fabrics it could be made of rayon. It was popular in the 1930s & 40s.
A 1933 fashion column describes it as ‘a crepe velvet with a matte surface’. The ‘matte surface’ refers to the rough, uncut pile which absorbs rather than reflecting light.
The crepe makes it crush-resistant, and gives it a lovely drape, making it very popular for evening wear. Heavier bagheeras are also used in furnishing, because the crush-resistant quality makes it suitable for chairs and other items that get heavy wear.
Bagheera is first used as a term for the particular type of velvet in the early 30s, and mentions in the early ’30s sometimes use quotation marks, indicating it was a novel term. It was used for evening dresses and skirts, glamourous house-robes (the replacement for the tea gown), as an alternative to fur for wraps and jackets, and in millinery.
Bagheera remained popular into the early ’40s, but was another textile that disappeared with the social changes of WWII.
“Clever new tricorn of black felt faced with mustard yellow bagheera” Alto Herald, April 1942 Via Texas History
It’s not evident if bagheera the velvet has any link to Kipling’s Bagheera, the panther in the Jungle Book. The books almost certainly predate the use of the term for a velvet, and it may be that the fabric was named after the books, either to evoke a sense of exoticism (hmmm…never seen that before!) or because the rough pile of the velvet reminded someone of a panthers coat.
Unfortunately, while I can find mentions of bagheera, and definitions of the fabric, I’ve been unable to find a reasonable image of the fabric itself! If you have one, or another period image featuring bagheera, or (the holy grail) an image of a period garment made of bagheera, please share!
And a bit of bonus terminology:
What is uncut velvet? An uncut velvet is a velvet where the pile threads are left as loops (like toweling and terrycloth) rather than being trimmed into discreet strands). It is sometimes called terry velvet.
O’Hara, Georgina, The Encyclopedia of Fashion: From 1840 to the 1980s. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd. 1986
Datta, R.K., The Global Silk Industry: A Complete Source Book. Delhi: APH Publishing. 2007
Last week’s challenge on the Sew Weekly was music. I had dreams of something elaborate involving metres & metres of blue crepe, but the plans went awry (not sewing mistakes) and made me very blue indeed. So I needed something to chase those blues away, and what better than one of my favourite songs, a fix up of my Little Bit of Red dress (remember how I was never thrilled with it?), and some Besamé Red lipstick?
The song is Red Lips Kiss My Blues Away, and the cover artwork is adorable:
My Little Bit of Red dress is not a perfect match to the Red Lips Kiss My Blues Away cover art, but I thought with a bit of tweaking the Little Bit of Red dress could effectively capture the mood of the poster, and rescue my sewing week (plus get something off my UFO pile).
So I completely pulled apart my Little Bit of Red Dress, re-shaped the bodice, re-set the bodice ruffles, took in the skirt, cut hip ruffles, hemmed said hip ruffles, put the whole thing back together and tacked everything down on the inside with little-tiny hand stitches.. It took just as long as just making a whole new dress, but I don’t mind, because at least this means that I actually love this dress now.
And I do. It’s mad. It’s ridiculous. It’s preposterous. It has hip ruffles. It’s completely frumpy and dowdy and yet inexplicably charming, in the way only a late ’20s/early ’30s frock with hip ruffles can be.
For the photoshoot Mr D and I celebrated the return of my camera (Yay Canon!) and took advantage of an exceptionally warm day in winter to risk photographing me in a little silk dress. For the background we drove round the bays to a particularly picturesque portion of the waterfront for photos.
I paired the dress with a red ribbon and my newest addition to my vintage shoe collection: blue suede heels with bows. Swoon. They may be slightly OOP, but they go perfectly with the dress. Risking the suede at the edge of the water and in wet gravel was probably a bit naughty of me, but they survived just fine.
What you can’t see in the photos is that I am also wearing a silk slip, a silk camisole, silk tap pants, thick stockings (with seams up the back) and am still turning blue.
What you can see behind me is Miramar Peninsula, home to my favourite restaurant, the movie theatre from the Little Bit of Magic photoshoot, and Weta Workshops. Also lots of boats, the occasional kayaker or seagull, and just off to the left in the widest angle shots, Wellington International Airport, which you will be flying in to when you come to visit me. Right?
Just the facts, Ma’am:
Fabric: 3 metre of 1930s inspired silk chiffon. $30
Pattern: Excella E3137
And the insides? Erm. Not my best effort. A combination of french seams, pinked seams, and plain-old-mess where the skirt meets the bodice. That’s OK, it will only ever be hand-washed.
Hours: Another 4.5 hours (for a total of 9 on this dress)
First worn?: Saturday 10 August, just for the photoshoot (cold. winter. cold. brr.)
Wear again?: Yes, when summer comes
Make again?: Nope. At least not until I’ve tried all my other ’30s patterns.
Total cost: $30