The ‘True Love Story’ two-piece dress

 

I barely knew my grandparents.  I grew up in Hawaii, and my surviving grandparents lived in California, so my memories of them are limited to a few trips to the Mainland, and their few trips to Hawaii.

I last saw my grandfather when I was in university, six months before he passed away.  My grandmother had been gone for five years, my grandfather had just moved into a nursing home, and my aunts were clearing out the house.  I was about to head off to New Zealand to study abroad, and knew I might never have another chance to see my grandfather.

While I was visiting my aunts showed me a few pieces of Grandma’s clothes, and her enormous hat collection.  We had the loveliest time looking at all the hats, laughing at the flower-covered 1960s beehives, and cooing over little veiled ’40s numbers.  My aunts insisted I try on Grandma’s dresses.  They fit like a glove, and thus, as the only grandchild the right size (and the only one with any interest in old stuff), they became mine.

For the last visit with Grandpa, just before I went back to university, the aunts suggested I wear one of Grandma’s dresses – a fabulous blue number, wonderfully vintage, but also timeless.  I paired it with my favourite of all of Grandma’s hats, a charming, crazy little item in dark blue with diamantes and wings.

Grandpa loved that I had dressed up.  And he had a story about the hat.

When he and Grandma were courting in Joliet Illinois at the end of the Great Depression he took her to the movies.  On the way home they walked slowly, enjoying the evening and the date.  They stopped in front of the fanciest department store in town, and Grandpa noticed Grandma looking at a hat in the window.  He asked if she liked it, and she said yes, but that at $4.50 it was ridiculously expensive, far too much to spend on a hat.

The next day, Grandpa turned up at Grandma’s house with a parcel, which unwrapped to reveal the $4.50 hat.

And that was the hat I had picked to wear.

In addition to her hats and dresses, I own all of Grandma’s patterns, each neatly marked with her name.  The earliest of them Butterick 8044, which she must have bought and made up when they were courting, or in the earliest days of their marriage.

From the moment I owned the pattern I’ve imagined it made up in blue wool, paired with the $4.50 hat.  Blue must have been Grandma’s favourite colour, blue was the commonest colour among her hats, and three of the four dresses of hers that I own are in shades of blue (the fourth is her debutant dress, in white).

So here is my blue dress.  I picked the short sleeve version because it was clear she had made that version up.  I’m afraid it’s not quite done in the photos: I hadn’t let the bias skirt hang long enough to feel safe hemming it, so it’s unhemmed.

Just the facts, Ma’am:

Fabric: 2.5 metres of dress weight wool, thrifted ($3.00)

Pattern: Butterick 8044

Year: early 1940s

Notions: Metal skirt zip, thread, buckle, jet buttons, all inherited from Grandma (and, of course, the all-important hat)

And the insides? Finished with bias-binding in ocean blue, for extra blue goodness.  I was worried I would mix up the front and back of the skirt, so I machine-embroidered a blue bow on the back waist so I could tell the difference!

Hours: 5.5  I hand-sewed the hem and sleeves, which took a while, but was worth it.

First worn?: Wed 26 Sep for the photoshoot.  I just didn’t quite manage to get it done in time!

Wear again?: Oh yes!  I love it!  I’ll be using this pattern for many more outfits too.

Make again?: Yes, I make (and teach) this pattern all the time

Total cost: $3

For the photoshoot we went to the Old Museum Building at Massey University, which is my standard go-to photoshoot location when it is raining in Wellington.  It’s also where I teach, so I got to post in front of some of my students textile work (while hoping that none of my students came along to wonder about how crazy I am).  Also, it’s just a fabulous building.

And, lest you think that all I did was pose glamorously without smiling, we had some fun too:
There was even a perfect Marilyn moment when a well-timed gust of wind came along:

Author

Leimomi Oakes - The Dreamstress

Leimomi Oakes learned to sew as a child in Hawaii, and hasn't spent a day without doing it in the-more-years-than-she-would-like-to-admit-to since. When she was 18 she was nicknamed 'The Dreamstress' and bought the domain name, and now she's stuck with it. After getting degrees in Art History, Costume Design and International Relations she worked in a number of fabulous museums before going freelance as a textile and fashion historian and historical seamstress. She lives in Wellington New Zealand with a lovely husband and a world-famous cat.

30 Comments

  1. LOVE this!! Again, I wished we lived closer so I could “borrow” some of your patterns : ) My grandmother, who is still alive, loved blue as well. When she and my grandfather were married in 1939 she wore blue velvet. Through the years we knew if we made something for her, and it was blue, she’d love it. What a lovely story and tribute to your grandparents. And thanks for joining me in the haven’t-hemmed-my-dress-yet club this week : )

    • Thank you! One day we’ll have to do a pattern copy-swap!

      Ooooh…blue velvet wedding dresses. Swoon! This pattern actually does suggest that it can be made up in velvet, which I may try, someday.

      And if we hand’t told about our hems, no-one would have known ;-) I’m afraid the un-ironed state of my skirt is visible though!

  2. What a beautiful dress and what a beautiful story.

  3. This it’s one of my fav garment / memory story this week. I loveeeeeee it

  4. Wow! This is absolutely gorgeous, I love it! So cool hearing about your grandmother too.

  5. FAB-U-LOUS. In every way. What a great story and legacy and I am absolutely coveting this dress. Fantastic!

  6. I loved this post, loved the story, loved the pieces you made (and I love your students’ textiles!). I just received my great-granmother’s treadle Singer, but oh, how I would have loved to have her patterns as well….

  7. This is such an amazing story and outfit!! I love to hear all about other people’s relationships with their family. This is inspiring me to go search for my grandma’s old patterns in her apartment.

  8. Oh MY! Unbelievable. I drooled over this VERY outfit in Made on Marion just yesterday! And this morning it pops up here. Fantastic story! Will look for an opportunity to take the class.

    • The secret to this outfit is that I wore it unhemmed for the photoshoot, went to Made on Marion that very night for Wed craft night, hemmed it, put it on Lady Murasaki (the dressform) and came home and finished this post! I’m glad you like the dress on the dressform and on me, and hope to see you in the class (you don’t have to make that dress either).

  9. I have inherited my mum’s stash, and some of her patterns, and it’s a special kind of connection, isn’t it? Thank you for sharing this story.

  10. I love this dress! Seriously! I would wear it in a heart beat and I don’t usually dress like that-

    The story is amazing-thanks for sharing it!

    • Oh, thank you on both counts! That’s a pretty awesome compliment – I love how different our styles are, but every once in a while I look at one of your (much edgier) pieces and think “I would TOTALLY wear that’. It’s good to see it goes both ways ;-)

  11. THis is a beautiful out fit, And I have to tell you, as a grandma myself, as I read that you dressed up in your grandma’s dress /hat and went to visit your grandpa, brought tears to my eyes.. How wonderful that you did this.. And you inheirted your grandmas patterns, this is fantastic..Thankyou for sharing such a lovely story. I truly enjoyed it. and you look beautiful in this blue out fit. Happy sewing.

  12. I agree with Judy, a very touching story about your grandma and the sewing/fashion connection that you share. Your dress is lovely, I really like grandma’s hat too. My favorite pics are of you on the stairs and the Marilyn Gust! JUST ADORABLE. :)

    • Thank you! I really like the one on the stairs too, and the best part about the gust picture is that it is totally un-posed. It came directly after the earlier picture of me standing in front of the turning door – I was all serious, the wind came along, I made a grab for my skirt, and she snapped the picture.

  13. fantastic! your grandma would be thrilled to see you in that, I’m sure of it. That first photo where the light catches the folds just-so is beyond perfect.

  14. Very cool. Love the story and the dress is fantastic!

  15. Such a touching story! The dress is adorable, the hat is lovely. I have a fetish for hats like this but it’s quite absurd to be wearing such fancy stuff everyday.

  16. Thanks for sharing that lovely story. Oh, and I love that last picture, it’s just perfect and so full of life!

  17. Ah, this is such a pretty outfit. I like the idea with the embroidered bow. :) And the story about your grandparents is so touching.

    • Thank you! I’m always making things (tap pants, skirts, pyjama pants) where I can’t tell the difference between the front and the back, so I usually sew in bows, but sometimes I don’t want the bulge of a ribbon bow, so I’m excited about my new invention. :-D

  18. Fantastic outfit, the photos are great!

  19. You look amazing! The hat and two-piece ensemble suit you perfectly. You made me cry, and I would take your class on this pattern in a heartbeat.

  20. Love the pleats around the neck and your Marilyn caught on camera as well. You have a real treasure trove there with the patterns, fabrics, dresses and hats…I’m glad you can keep them all alive.

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