Monday, January 11, 2016

McCall 3953: The 'Tabula Rasa' Dress


Tabula Rasa is Latin for blank slate – both a good moniker for the basic black dress that I can add accessories to and also a good way to ring in both the New Year and my birthday this last week!

This pattern is McCall 3953 which was featured in the November 1940 McCall's magazine and was described thus:
The dress is designed to make one seem slimmer and taller.  It does this very simply by a fan cluster of pleats and tucks at the front. No. 3953.


The dress was originally chosen to be a graduation dress, but then I realised the impracticality of my deadline and decided to turn it into a birthday dress instead!

We ventured out to a part of the city called 'the Mound'--a high-point in the centre of town that connects the Old Town and New Town.  One of my favourite scenic spots is the University of Edinburgh's School of Divinity courtyard with the almost castle-like entrance on one side (with a statue of John Knox pointing upwards):

To the other view of the courtyard with space between the building to allow one to see the old Victoria Hall, originally built between 1842 and 1845 to house the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland; now serving as the 'Hub', the headquarters of Edinburgh International Festival:


You can take a full 360 virtual tour of the courtyard and buildings here.

As is my annual tradition, I got my hair done for my birthday by Ariana at Miss Dixiebelle, Scotland's vintage hairdressers (who have opened up their new location right in my neighbourhood...whoohoo).  I just love Ariana's early 1940s styling!  You can check out my previous hairdos from birthdays (and non-birthdays) past here, here, here, and here and vintage cuts here and here.


I made the dress out of black triple crepe dress fabric that I got at Edinburgh Fabrics (one of my favourite local haunts which was featured in this month's Seamwork Magazine, Issue 13! YAY!)


The pattern features a 'necklace' neckline (a 1940 trend to accommodate the wonderful jewellery of the period) and a long back zipper (there is also the option to have a button back but with the fabric weight, I decided on the zip).  The pattern also features a fan of tucks in the lower bodice that then match up with a series of pleats in the skirt front pieces.  There are also gathers at the lower bodice front and back.  The sleeve head features four darts and the sleeves are bracelet length (3/4 sleeve).

I also made a belt (with assistance from David) with double interfacing and a retro inspired belt buckle.  The belt is completely hand sewn.

I love the feel of crepe fabric.  It's a substantial weight yet still springy and doesn't wrinkle easily.

After our trip to the School of Divinity, we headed to the Scottish National Gallery, a January tradition in our house.  We go in January because they bring out J.M.W. Turner's watercolours in January only (to preserve the delicate watercolours from fading), and well, that in itself seemed like a good enough reason to start a new tradition! This is my second year of seeing the Turner watercolours in January and they never disappoint.


Not to mention the museum is absolutely breathtaking and inspiring inside (and you can even take pictures!)  The rooms include British, Flemish and Dutch masters and a delightful display of Scottish art.


Overall, a wonderful birthday excursion especially for a cold January's day!

This is David's favourite picture....he loves the way the light plays with the angles and says it's very evocative of 1940s style:

One of my exciting plans for this year is to revisit my accessories challenge from a couple of years back and to sew and create new accessories for this dress for each month of this year.  I'm excited to see how many ways this basic black dress can be transformed throughout the seasons.  I've got some fun ideas and many of those involve other 1940 McCall patterns. yippee... A tabula rasa dress indeed!


What about you?  Do you have a "basics" pattern that you can dress up or down and accessorise?  Why not join me and set a monthly challenge to see how many different ways to style that basic garment with different sewn elements? I'm going to try and post my accessory challenges by the third week of each month. Anyone else interested?

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