Friday, October 25, 2019

A 1980's Gunne Sax Dress

I love Gunne Sax dresses. I remember being a small girl, looking at old photos of my beautiful mother in Gunne Sax-style dresses. I loved the old fashioned appeal. To my young mind, they were exactly right the look for an "olden day" outfit and my little heart coveted a calico gunne sax dress. Then and only then, I thought, would I look like Laura Ingalls. In my teens I discovered eBay and oh! joy of joys! Lots of listings for vintage dresses, both true Gunne Sax (pricey!) and the slightly lower quality, cheaper knock-offs. I purchased several dresses and skirts in my late teens and wore them to death. I didn't attend any dances or proms, since I was homeschooled, but for my 16th birthday my dad took me to see an Andre Rieu concert at the Peoria Civic Center and I dressed in a lovely white lacey Gunne-Sax style dress for the occasion. When I graduated homeschool-highschool in 2004 I wore a white eyelet Gunne Sax dress with petal sleeves and a faux front laced bodice.

Just-turned-18 Sarah in 2004 with friends Adam and Laura

Then in 2005 I got married after a 2 month engagement (yikes. Don't do that, kids) in a purple and white Gunne Sax knock off, after my one and only year of community college (alas, I majorly regret not finishing my program!) and babies started arriving a year later. My new mom body no longer fit into those old, pretty dresses so eventually they were donated to thrift stores or the material repurposed into newly sewn items. 

Fast forward thirteen summers and here we are ,this past September, at the 4-H building at the county fair. On a table in the back were free patterns. (It seems there are always free sewing patterns at these 4-H functions!) I picked a few to take home with me, one a simple shorts and blouse pattern for the girls, one for a 1970s trio of bags and a set of gaiters, and, the shining jewel, a 1980 Gunne Sax pattern!

I was feeling pretty uninspired at the time. I hadn't sewn much all summer, or for that matter all year. I really loved the dress pattern though and thought I'd like to take a slow time of making it. Nothing rushed, nothing with a deadline. I wanted to make it thoroughly and well, and follow the instructions exactly, and buy actual new fabric for the sole purpose of making the dress. I began to think about the dress and look for material when I went out. I had it in mind to make a light colored dress, maybe cream or yellow or pale blue, in a tiny floral print but one day a vision of this dress made up in a somewhat gaudy floral black fabric popped into my head. Um, black? I absolutely did not want a floral black dress. Ew. But the vision would not budge. I sighed, resigned myself to the fact that this is what this dress wanted to be, and went to Hobby Lobby where I bought five yards of this nice, smooth appropriately gaudy black floral fabric. It reminded me at the time of the wallpaper common in ye Olde Days of when I was a child. The pattern called for a lot more fabric but I was fairly sure I could eke it out of 5. I did, but just barely.

The pattern, just one size, was close enough to my measurements that I was sure it would fit. I decided to make it exactly as the pattern was drafted and not try to fit it to my individual body. I cut out all the pieces carefully and began sewing it together. The method of sewing was odd to me, with lots of hems  with raw edges and lots of lace trim, but it looked okay. Once the bodice was put together I put it on and was disappointed with the armholes. They were so low. The bottom of the armholes went basically to boob level. And considering I wasn't wearing a bra, nor do I wear one with the dress, this is *really* low. This not only made raising my arms very difficult, but it made the whole bodice look frumpy. But still, I persevered and made and attached the skirt, which is a lovely gored skirt with a lot of fullness at the hem. I tried it on. It fit. . .kind of.

I didn't feel content with it. Not only were the armscyes ridiculously huge, the bodice itself seemed too long from shoulder to waist. There were weird wrinkles radiating down from the shoulder to mid chest. I didn't like it. It is quite true I could have left the dress as it was and likely no one would have ever noticed anything off about the dress, as it fit about the same as any off the rack dress might. But it bothered me. It didn't sit right. I felt awkward and conspicuous. So. . .

I redid the thing. I disassembled the dress, took the bodice apart, shortened the entire bodice from the shoulders and  reset the sleeves, redid the collar while I was at it, making it a 2 layer collar instead of a single layer (the single layer collar didn't have enough body to hold its shape nicely) and sewed the skirt back on. While I was at it I redid all the previously serged seams with french seams. The dress fit, and felt, much, much nicer when I was done. I put it on, zipped it up, and immediately felt right. This is how the dress was supposed to be!

I cannot describe in words how much I love this dress. 😭 It feels so good to wear. Not just materially, although the fabric has a nice feel, but spiritually, emotionally, it just feels right. I feel like myself. It's easy to put on and move in, doing everything I normally do, without feeling restricted either mentally or physically. It's a glowy dress. Does that make sense? It probably doesn't...but that's ok. I know how it makes me feel, and I like how it makes me feel. I know that this fabric and this style isn't everyones cup of tea, and honestly, before I made it, this was not mine either! I really resisted making this pattern up in this fabric! πŸ˜‚ I am glad that I didn't put my preconceived aesthetic ideals on this dress and let it develop as it wanted to. It turned out exactly right.

It's definitely not the tight-bodiced Gunne Sax styles that I liked and wore in my youth. With the long sleeves and high neckline, it could be considered almost too modest. But I like it. My mother was 17 in 1980, when this pattern was published. I envision her in my mind, wearing a similar type of dress and feeling as happy as I do now when I put this on. I love that this dress makes me think of my mother, and our shared love of Gunne Sax dresses!

Thank you to Malachi for taking these photos for me, the first day of autumn at one of our favorite nearby places. I brought my Native American style flute with me that day, as I had recently received it, and  it was fun playing it out in the open without other people around to annoy! πŸ˜‚ Isn't Rosie the sweetest??

Much love,

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Once Upon a Dream

I think it was August when Rosie told me that she wanted to be Princess Aurora for Halloween. Over the summer she had fallen in love with an old video cassette we had of Disney's "Sleeping Beauty". Despite iffy audio quality and fuzzy picture, she watched the video over and over. So, she decided, the only thing that would do for her Halloween costume was Aurora's blue dress. More modern interpretations often depict this dress as pink, but the authentic blue was the obvious choice for Rose. 
We couldn't find a gold tiara and necklace so Rose helped
me spray paint a cheap silver-colored plastic set with gold
metallic spray paint and dust with LOTS of gold glitter!
I put off making her dress until this month because I wasn't sure if she would change her mind or not. She did not. Aurora's blue dress it still was, so that is what we made. While we were at it we made a dress for Anne. Anne couldn't quite decide what kind of costume we wanted so I told her that I would make her a dress and she could decide if she liked it or not. Thankfully, she did!

I made these dresses from a modern generic girls dress pattern, using only the bodice pieces to get the size about right. For Anne we used size 8 and for Rose size 4. Using a modern dress bodice pattern gave us a round waist, versus the Disney princess-style pointed waist but that was ok. To save myself stress I decided I was going for the general look and impression rather than making a detailed copy! This was, I think, the right choice. It sure made these dresses much easier and quicker to make!

I used two blue sheets for Rosie's dress, since Aurora's gown was also made in two shades  (sometimes three?) shades of blue. The brightest blue was used for the skirt, with a lighter grey-blue for the sleeves and the peplum/belt. Some illustrations show the bodice as being the same blue as the skirt, but some show it darker, so we used a bit of leftover indigo denim for the bodice, lined with more of the bright blue sheet. For the stand up collar, I used some white cotton scraps stiffened with interfacing. The collar was constructed separately from the dress and simply topstitched into place on the finished bodice. To cover the seamline between the bodice and collar I added a pale pink ribbon and two rows of gold metal soutache, also left over from previous projects. Rose asked for the heart shaped "jewel" from a broken dollar-store necklace to be sewn onto the collar for decoration. She was very happy with her finished gown! I stitched in a gold zipper and immediately she put it on and has worn it almost everywhere since. 
She absolutely had to have a petticoat, so we made this one from
a ruffled pillowcase.
Anne's dress was inspired by the a tablecloth I had sitting on my shelf for the past almost two years. When we moved into this home two years ago one of my favorite rooms was the dining room, which the previous owner had made over from a porch. Our much used dining room table looked tiny and shabby in the middle of that big room but it was all we had at the time. When  my parents came to visit a few months later my dad brought out their old, enormous dining room table - the one my siblings and I had spent many years around! - with two leaves and eight matching chairs and their lovely gift fit perfectly in the dining room. It has meant so much to me to have this beautiful piece of my history in my own home, and to now have my own little ones making memories around it - meals, parties, crafts and nights of homework, decorating Christmas cookies and kneading bread dough - is a truly wonderful gift from my parents!

Along with the table my mother brought a stack of tablecloths and I have never used a single one as a tablecloth. πŸ˜‚ I have used several for sewing projects and the gold one seemed absolutely perfect to make a version of Belle's dress for Anne! I dug through a basket of scraps for the bit of yellow fabric I had left over from making my yellow peasant blouse earlier this year. I had just enough left to make a draped shoulder piece and some trim for the skirt. The tablecloth didn't have quite enough yardage to make a skirt long enough for Anne's tall legs, but the last bit of yellow scrap was enough to piece out a modest ruffle to extend the skirt length. Since the yellow fabric is so thin I backed it with yellow cotton cut from a sheet. The bodice is lined with the same yellow cotton. My last bit of gold trim was sewn to the seam between the bodice and skirt and the seam between the skirt and the ruffle. Anne looks beautiful in her new dress and I am so happy that she loves it!

We kicked off Halloween season with a trick or treat last weekend. The weather was perfect and we all had so much fun! 

Much love,


Wednesday, October 9, 2019

A Drum Circle Dress

At the beginning of the year I attended my first drum circle. I will never forget it. I had just made my New Years Goals list and one of those goals was to find and participate in a community of like minded people. Almost immediately a "suggested event" appeared on Facebook for a local drum gathering (it's almost believable to think that Facebook does indeed read your mind! )πŸ˜„and in the weeks leading up to it, I faltered in my resolve to go. Though I can get along with almost anyone I am an introvert and have struggled my whole life with social anxiety. As a child and teenager it was almost debilitating and I blame my anxiety for a whole lot of negativity I experienced in those years (certainly avoidable negativity! I let my fears get in the way of SO MUCH.) Now as an adult I find going out in the world and talking to strangers much easier, but I still get anxious about going to new functions and meeting new people.
Turning leaves at Rosie's field trip to the Nature Sanctuary last week. This year, we
have a lot of plain browns! No less lovely than the yellows and crimsons and oranges and purples
of previous years.
I forced myself to go though, and with Malachi and the 3 littles in tow, and some homemade cookies, we bundled up in our warmest things and went. It was freezing cold as we parked in the dusk and walked up to the bonfire where a small group of people huddled with blankets and instruments. . .a variety of drums and some rattles. From Facebook, I knew the organizer, Stan, and was grateful when he recognized and greeted me. We found a place to sit and I wrapped up the little ones in a big wool blanket while Malachi dashed off to put the cookies under the picnic shelter with the food everyone else had brought to share.

The drumming began, and though I had no instrument of my own, I felt the vibrations reach into my very soul. It was a magical time, sitting there on the lake shore, beneath the dark, naked trees, under a cloudy winter sky that once in a while thinned enough for the cold white glow of moonlight to shine through. Rob, who sat near us, offered the use of his many drums for the kids to try. Malachi was quick to take him up on the offer and thoroughly enjoyed himself. Later, he cut and served pie to everyone around the circle.

I had no intention of getting a drum for myself but I found a second hand djembe drum for Malachi soon after that first gathering. I eventually felt that I would like a drum, too, so I got a bodhran, after a lot of anxious, thoughtful wavering on what kind of drum to get. I felt that, in the end, a bodhran is the most appropriate for me when I consider my personal heritage. I have enjoyed getting to "know" my drum since then, and enjoy playing both Malachi's and mine. The little ones also enjoy playing on both, along with their own small homemade drums.

The gatherings are nice for me since everyone who comes is open and accepting of everyone else. I  have never heard an angry or ridiculing word and everyone radiates happiness, love and contentment to be in that place, at that time. For the first time I feel able to let my feelings build up, unchecked, and find expression without worrying about what others think. For me, this has been a huge deal since I have always held back on everything, often struggling with the idea that we must do what we do not like or want to do, and if we allow ourself the freedom of unbridled joy, we are somehow "less" than those who go through life with a stoic resolution of performing "duties". I missed out on so much, and it was all my own doing. Over the past few years, I have slowly come to question and reject this notion. Certainly we must sometimes do things we would rather not do, but to be suspicious of happiness? To actively try to NOT let yourself feel "too" excited and joyful? That's kinda effed up.

So, it has been a good thing. Anyway, I got this super fun red fabric earlier this year and knew I wanted to make Malachi a "drum shirt" with it. He normally is a t shirt and jeans type of guy but something fun, loose and flowy is nice to dress up in for these kind of gatherings. I had exactly the pattern I wanted to use - the Mens Breeze Shirt by Twig and Tale - and last week I finally cut it out and sewed it up.

Alas, disappointment struck as he tried it on and wiggled and writhed to get it over his head and forced down around his torso. It was, simply, too small. Nooooooo! I didn't have enough fabric left to make another one in a larger size and I looked in dismay at the finished shirt that he could not use. I tried it on myself and thought it fit around my body, it was tight at the hips so I couldn't use it as a shirt. Benjamin, the  next boy in line, is much too small for the shirt. I posted about it on the Twig and Tale facebook group and one lady suggested adding in wedges at the sides to expand the hip area. I had enough scraps left to do this, and it worked brilliantly! The shirt, however, was a weird length on me. Not short enough to be worn as a shirt yet far too short for a dress. I didn't want to shorten it since I had made the option with pockets and cutting it shorter would ruin the pockets. I decided to add a band around the hem and this added a few inches of length. Just enough to make it a nice dress length, and, of course, I can wear it with leggings later in the year when it is too cold for bare legs.

Red is not a color I wear all the time and I had some doubts as to if it would look ridiculous on me or not, but I actually really like it. Other people may think it looks ridiculous, but that's ok - they are entitled to their opinion. πŸ˜‚ One nice thing about growing older is realizing I can wear what I want because the only person I need to please by my dress is myself. I've worn this twice so far and I know I will continue to wear it often. I definitely did not need another dress but all in all, I'm glad I have this one now!

I will make Malachi a bigger shirt out fabric left over from the shorts I made earlier this year. It's kind of hard to believe my 10 year old needs a bigger size than I do, though! He's growing up way too fast!

Much love,