Where else but in vintage wear can you look all prim and classy while also feeling as comfy and easy to move in as if in casual clothes? The 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s had mastered the use of pleats, godets, bias cuts, and the like to make clothes styled well and also move nicely, keeping up with a modern woman’s busy life. Here I’m getting down to deep, rich earth tones in a “down to earth” outfit of easy to make, effortless to wear early 40’s pieces.
This is the first post which is officially part of my “Agent Carter” Sew Along.
I feel this is a perfect “Agent Carter” inspired clothing set. It is a mix of two of her style tendencies. She often wears wonderfully tailored blouses in deep colors, with collars so beautiful I always sigh when I see them. Although she is not afraid to stand out, she is also leading a secret life as an SSR (Strategic Scientific Reserve) agent, so she also tends towards nondescript, often neutral separates. Let’s think of charcoal grey with lavender or dark brown with pink. However, working in a man’s world, she needs a feminine touch. Finding that perfect blend of both can be challenging and fun, but I think if it can be actualized for your wearing, it is generally flattering and also classic of the 40’s era.
FABRIC: For my skirt, I used a very fine, medium weight, 100% wool twill. It is a tan/brown color that is slightly heathered in bits of grey and cream. The blouse is made out of a lightweight 100% cotton broadcloth which just seems to get softer at each washing.
NOTIONS: None were needed to buy – everything was on hand, which is very convenient (and practical). The buttons for both pieces are vintage and come from my hubby’s Grandmother’s stash. I used regular lightweight iron-on interfacing for the collar and cuffs on the blouse, but I used tarlatan, a a thin, stiffened, open-mesh cotton fabric, to support the waistband of the skirt. (Teaser…I’ll soon be posting more about tarlatan and a neat, new project I made using it!)
PATTERNS: Simplicity #3961 was used for the wool skirt. #3961 is a year 1941 suit and skirt set with the option of two different top halves – either a jacket or a blouse. I used Simplicity #4602 from the year 1943 for the cranberry cotton blouse.
TIME TO COMPLETE: My blouse was completed in 6 to 8 hours and was finished on January 18, 2015. The skirt was made in 5 or 6 hours (start to finish), and was done on January 26, 2015.
THE INSIDES: Every seam of both the blouse and the skirt, excepting the hems of course and the blouse’s shoulder seams, is done in French seams for a clean and couture finished look inside and out.
TOTAL COST: The fabrics for this outfit were bought at Hancock Fabrics on a deep discount. The total cost for the 2 yards I needed for the skirt came to $4.60, while the total cost for the blouse was about $4.00. I did buy a zipper for the skirt side closure, but it was purchased maybe half a year ago and I normally pay under $1, so I’m not really counting this as well. In other words, I suppose total for the set is just under $9.00.
There’s not too much to say about my blouse except that I absolutely love everything about it. This is the second time I have made this blouse (you can see my first version here and here), and this time I made sure to take the time to have this pattern last for many more years so it can become my standby 40’s blouse pattern. The pattern itself is on unprinted tissue, and has slight water damage, making it fragile and brittle. I was able to use it “as is” for my first blouse, adding on the fitting adjustments where needed and making thorough notes so as to repeat what I had done for a perfect fit. However, some slight tears in the paper were inevitable, so…this time I traced out a brand new paper copy of the blouse with all markings transferred and my personal fitting needs added on to become part of the pattern. I love the fact that this blouse has the collar in-one with the blouse and facing (there isn’t a separate piece to sew on) because this always seems to make this blouse very quick, easy, and fun to whip up. Now that I have a custom paper copy, creating Simplicity 4602’s blouse should be easier than ever.
As I mentioned above, one of the features of my blouse is the “all-in-one” collar that’s part of the blouse, but there are plenty of other redeeming and classic 40’s features to this blouse. First of all, I love the fact that this pattern only needs three buttons – how easy is that! Personally, I find quite a number of really cool vintage buttons in a count of three. I suppose it is an odd number that is not needed in too many patterns. Besides this point, it is always easier to find special vintage buttons in small numbers than it is in large amounts, like a dozen or more. For my own blouse, I wanted to avoid buying anything, but Hubby’s Grandmother’s stash doesn’t have many buttons in red, so I chose a single interesting odd-ball button for the top, first closure, and two matching/contrasting buttons for the rest of the blouse. All the buttons are vintage and have a the same type of fiber optic style glow, but the top one is definitely older (more possibility of being 40’s era with its center carving) than the other two. After all, the 40’s were all about “making do” with what was on hand! Pardon the raindrops speckling my top…
Secondly, the blouse has the very flattering and very classic forward shoulder seam, with gathers where the front panels meet to create soft gathers for subtle bust shaping. The darts to shape the hips and waist are curved in such a way that they make the blouse have almost a peplum look when it’s not tucked in, and also minimizes too much excess blouse to tuck in like some other blouses. (Don’t you hate when there’s too much bottom fabric to a blouse to tuck in a snug fitting skirt and it looks funny? I do.) As is usual for my blouses, I finished the cuffs of my cranberry cotton top in two pairs of 5/8 inch button holes, so I can close the cuffs using cufflinks.
I hate to be a bore or seem too predictable, but look for yet more versions of this blouse to come. I’m contemplating adding an interesting pocket to the front of my next Simplicity 4602 blouse. It really can’t get any better once you find that perfect vintage top pattern which gives you all the comfort of modern “play” clothes in classy past style. No kidding, I totally have room to do anything in this set – swing at the playground with my little one, look nice at a restaurant, or even do some Peggy Carter’s athletic “good-girl-taking-out-the-bad-guys” type of moves. You see my feeble attempt at re-creating “the tiger”…I suppose it shows how much I like watching ‘karate/kung fu’ movies.
The skirt was easy but slightly hard for me at the same time. Confused? Well, I am a very precise type of person, to the point of making things hard on myself. This skirt put my precise skills to the test. Even though it looks easy on the pattern envelope back (hey, there’s only two tissue pieces, as you cut two of the back and two of the back), I was very exact with marking the dots of where to fold the pleats. The front has a center box pleat and a regular pleat on each side while the back has a simple center box pleat. You fold the box pleats in so as to meet at the center seams of the back and front for relatively easy matching. I did not sew down the edges of the folds, like for this basic black 30’s skirt, but I did obsess over making the pleats permanent and even all the way down to the hem when I did my final ironing.
For some strange reason, I have found in my sewing experience to notice that many 1940’s pants and skirts seem to run slightly smaller than the size shown. Thus, I often forget but need to remember to give myself and extra inch above what seems necessary to reach a comfortable fit. The 1941 suit pattern I used for my skirt is actually too big for my sizing but turned out fitting just right for me.
Many vintage patterns also call for deep hems, as well, although the widest hems I’ve seen come from 1920’s patterns (see my 1928 dress – it has a 5 inch hem). This skirt pattern called for a 2 inch hem, but to fall at the proper length on my body, I needed to make a wide 3 1/2 inch hem. I hand-stitched down the hem, after measuring and ironing the hem in place, to have an invisible finish. Wide hems can be quite nice, almost like weighing down the whole garment slightly in a way that keeps it in its place.
Waistband closure ends are often quite thick and bulky, so most of times I do not attempt a button hole. I like to use large, sliding-style, waistband hook-and-eyes most of the time, but for this skirt I chose to add on a loop and button closure method. Maybe I like to add loops merely because I enjoy making those tiny bias loops. Anyway, the waistband button is neat, unique, and highly detailed, also from Grandmother’s stash of notions. I hope you can see the tiny grooves and swirling design, like veins, and the two different brown/tan tones of the material.
Both my blouse and my skirt are an unintended outfit. Both my blouse and my skirt were actually made to go with other pieces. My wool skirt is the bottom half of the full suit. I am in the middle of making the suit blouse from the Simplicity 3961 pattern, using a rich forest green wool crepe. The cranberry blouse is meant to match with a wool tweed, in a grey and white, green and cranberry plaid, to be made into a war-time jumper from a mail-order pattern. However, a 40’s gal would not have made clothing pieces that did not completely integrate into the rest of their wardrobe, so I suppose I did things the right way with my separates.
I still have several yards’ worth of my skirt’s wool twill to make a man’s 1939 coat/large pocket shirt pattern, so my hubby can have more handmade vintage wear, too!
Do you have any earth toned 1940’s creations? Have you done (or are inspired to do) any sewing in my outfit’s similar colors or fabrics, maybe even something in wool-look alike fabric, or in a blend of the feminine and masculine touch, like Peggy? Are you envious like me of Miss Carter’s amazing agility?