As the perfect example of the modern opportunity to mash things up as one desires, I used a recent holiday – St. Patrick’s day on March 17 – as an excuse to wear a military-green 1941 vintage suit blouse I recently made to complete a set. There was a famous WWII B-17 G bomber called “Bit O’ Lace”…well, here I’m wearing a little bit o’ green, and a whole lot of cheer.
This is another post part of my “Agent Carter” sew along.
A good part of the decade of the 1940’s was consumed by the effects, and after-effects, of World War II. It comes as a simple matter of fact that a good part of the fashions of the 40’s also took on a bit of a war-time influenced appearance. I’m supposing adopting a military-influenced style was part patriotic, part necessity for the 40’s, but what’s to explain the prevailing popularity of combat style fashion even ’til today?! Whatever the reason, those who have served, or are serving, to protect the country they call home should be flattered by the way that a military fashion style is persistently trendy. Imitation is the best form of flattery, so the saying goes.
My military 1941 blouse is an ironic mix of the bitter and the sweet, from a sewing point of view and from a historical tribute point of view. From a sewer’s viewpoint, all quality materials went into this suit blouse, wool and rayon, with vintage notions and silk as the lining, making it like butter on the skin – all the very sweet part. I also thought that this blouse’s high quality would come easier than if making a full out jacket…but, no, it didn’t. This is the first half of the bitter part to my blouse. I finally assumed that the styling would be incredibly slimming and easy to wear. Not that it doesn’t fit me very well, because it does, indeed! The blouse is just hard for me to feel like it, well, “suits” me (pun intended) and compliments my figure as much as I expected. However, making one’s own clothes does have the advantage of trying new styles, and I have indeed worn other styles much stranger (such as this one or even this one). So, my final happy resolution is that as long as I fits and feels good to wear, what do I really have to crab about? I’ll just wear it and be happy, and let the Irish “cheery and positive” part of me shine!
Taking the historical tribute point of view, my military 1941 blouse is a quiet tribute to the bravery of “Our Soldier Dead”, as is said above the building in my background. On a beautifully warm morning, my family and I visited our town’s Soldiers’ Memorial building, an Art Deco masterpiece built in 1938, and soaked up knowledge in the inner museum. It is amazing to see all the bravery of our country’s soldiers remembered in one spot from 1860’s on to today. Furthermore, my dad and my hubby are both entirely sucked in with interest to a shared gift of the book on tape of the story “Unbroken”. The great “Liberator” B-24 bomber planes were key to the story of Louis Zamperini, hero of “Unbroken”, and so I wore an enameled pin of a B-24, a gift from my dad years ago, on my blouse as a quiet military/WWII remembrance. It is sweet but sad at the same time to recount and remember such history.
FABRIC: My suit blouse fabric that you see is a fine half wool, half viscose rayon blend, in a deeply dark forest green color. It is a wonderfully smooth (meaning non-itchy), textured twill with a medium weight, a fluid drape, and a slight stretch. As the lining, I chose a bright apple green 100% silk, “China silk” habotai.
NOTIONS: All my notions (except for thread, zippers, and shoulder pads) are authentically vintage. 100% rayon hem and bias tapes were given to me by my friends at a retro shop. Thank you for that kindness! The buttons are also vintage but from my inherited stash of notions from hubby’s Grandmother.
PATTERN: Simplicity 3961, year 1941
TIME TO COMPLETE: I’ve lost track of how much time was spent on this suit blouse…it seemed like the project that would never end. I do believe it took more than 20 hours, but could have even took more than 30 hours for all I know. My blouse was worked on every day over the course of a week and a half, which seems like a very long time to me, as I’m used to a project or two in a week. It was finally finished on March 13, 2015. (Much shorter completion time compared to my first suit set!)
THE INSIDES: Very nice indeed! The side seams and the sleeve seams are done in French finishing, while the sleeve and blouse hems and center front are covered in vintage dark green hem tape. The inner neckline and armhole seams are covered up by vintage bright green bias tape.
TOTAL COST: The wool/rayon twill was bought at Hancock Fabrics as an end of season clearance at only $2.25 a yard. I bought two yards but actually used less than that (only 1 1/3 yd.), so the wool/rayon was less than $4.50. The silk was ordered from Fashion Fabrics Club at about $22 for two yards. I bought the thread and zippers from Hancock, to add on about $4.00. So, my total cost is probably more or less $30.
All my preaching and facts aside the construction of my 1941 suit blouse was really easy, just time consuming. The skirt of the suit has already been made and posted about (it can be seen here). That bottom half was easy to make and fit well, so I felt assured of the fit to the top half and cut it out as is with no changes. The sizes of this pattern are a size bigger than I technically need for my measurements, but I think this pattern runs a tad small. There were only three adaptations I did make. The first was to cut the sleeves out on the bias, for a non-confining fit which moves with my moves, rather than on the straight grain as instructed. The second small adjustment was to snip off only 1/4 inch, starting from the underarm down to nothing at the waist, from the sides of the bodice front, to decrease the bust size to fit me better. Thirdly, I eliminated the center fifth button/buttonhole in the middle of the front band.
My blouse seemed like some tiny thread monster with a giant appetite. For such a little project, I went through so much thread! My total spool count was just about three, and I still wonder where it all went, or if it weighs the blouse down. Using up a lot of thread makes sense, as I had to baste the silk to all the pieces individually, make old-fashioned “windowpane” button holes, sew around seam allowances, and top-stitch the front piece in two double stitched rows.
Let me briefly highlight some of the blouse’s interesting features. There are the traditional early to mid-1940’s style sleeve top darts, to create a very squared off, wide shoulder look, which I filled in with shoulder pads. My long sleeves are very tapered and skinny at the wrist, having a trio of elbow darts, with a snap wrist closure, very similar to the sleeves of my red 1946 dress. The bust darts are long French darts, which go across the bias of the fabric and start at the waistline from the side seams. I have not yet seen French darts on a 40’s garment before (I see most of this feature on clothes between the 50’s to 70’s), but, nevertheless, it does always create amazing shaping in a very comfy manner. A back neck zipper aids in slipping the suit blouse over one’s head, since there is a rather high V-neckline to the front.
My blouse has a side zipper, too, which incredibly amazes me. What’s so amazing about a side zipper, you might wonder? Well, the side seams have an incredible curve, with the height of the dip at the waistline, where the French darts come in. If you’ve never sewn a closure into a curve…believe me you don’t want to unless you would like a big anvil to fall on you. If you have done one, you’ll understand with me that installing a zipper into a curved seam is fully possible, just one big frustration. I have done zippers like this before, but never with a curve so steep, and – for the first time in my sewing – I actually got quite foul, angry, and worked up into an exasperated sweat. In disbelief, I read the pattern’s instructions and stared at the instructions, but yes…they said to insert a “slide fastener”, meaning a zipper, or snap tape. As things turned out, I had to try four whole times both sewing down and unpicking to finally come out with a decently perfect zipper installation. I was bull-headed enough to stick to getting it right, and boy did I learn from this experience!
The back neck zipper was no problem at all in comparison. The instructions said to draft your own strip of facing, 3 1/2 inches by 7 inches, and sew this on, snip the slit, and turn inside like any other faced opening, then add in the zipper.
The front panel band is THE piece that truly makes the suit jacket, I think. After all, making that piece took up about one-third of the total time spent on my suit blouse as a whole. The big irony of the front is all that time and effort goes into something purely decorative – even the windowpane buttonholes, darn it! I like a challenge and test my skills, as well as constantly do things a bit differently, so I feel the extra effort was entirely worth it, in the end, especially since the panel band is on display in the front. I do enjoy making this style of buttonhole, and, as this is the second time using them on a project, I am even happier with how they turned out than the first time (which can be seen here).
An interesting unexpected trick is involved in lapping on the front panel band onto the front of the suit blouse. I was directed by the instructions to first completely finish the blouse (hem and all), and next work on the band making the button holes then turning under the seam allowance (1/2 inch), keeping a straight un-notched bottom. The band gets sewn to the inside of the top, wrong side to right side, just stitching a small V around the center bottom (see picture). You snip out the fabric from under/in between the triangle stitched at the bottom, so you can turn the front band to the right side. This was a hard step because that spot is about the bulkiest spot on the blouse, as the center front seam ends there as well as the hem being turned up, too. I was afraid the pressure I had to put into snipping through all those layers would get carried away, and snip too far to ruin my blouse just as it was almost done. It worked out fine, as you can see, and with a little “Fray-Check” liquid on the inside points, the front panel band was lapped onto the front and top-stitched down in double rows (one on the very edge and one 1/4 away from edge).
The lack of neck facing was a sort of relief. It’s nice to have things done differently…it keeps one interest piqued. Besides, I really didn’t feel like doing the hand sewing that would have been necessary to keep the facing down. I used my vintage rayon bias tape, which matched perfectly with the silk lining, as a simple, skinny, bias facing.
We had the hardest time ever picturing the colors true to reality. The sun was bright and overwhelmed the exposure. Cloudy days are almost always the best time to get the real colors to show up in our pictures with our camera. The best explanation I can give for the color of my wool blend twill is that it is the same color as my late 1930’s Kenmore Rotary sewing machine (see this picture). It is not grey! As for the true color of my silk lining just think of the color of some “green apple” flavored hard candy, and you should see the shade close to correctly.
Agent Carter took on a good amount of military clothes, with similar beautiful complex details, for “The Iron Ceiling” episode, fighting in Russia, as well as in the “Time and Tide” episode, where she explores the underground. Check out my links and see how Peggy Carter uses items in her wardrobe already, to mix and match for a complete change up of appearance as needed. (See my blog on the skirt of my suit for a different way to change up the look of one piece.)
Do you possess any military themed vintage notions, jewelry, or fabric? Have you seen any of those “buttons looking like planes or studs that look like bullets” which I have read about in Chapter 4, “Independence and Limitations” of the book “Forties Fashion” by Jonathan Walford . Make your own tough-and-feminine mix and share it here with me!