“Just Call Me Agent…” – The Classic Peggy Dress

Red and blue are Marvel Agent Peggy Carter’s default colors – and very appropriately, too.  As Captain America’s biggest believer and a staunch defender of liberty and equality, she is the fictional heroine that seems more historical for all of the stories on her life and times that have been on screen in the past several years.  Today is “Walk Like Peggy Day” in honor of her “birthday”, April 9, and I’m excited to present you with (finally!) my make of her most memorable outfit.

Her trademark blue suit set with red fedora was too involved for me to make in one week, which was all the time I had before an upcoming “Marvel versus DC” themed event.  Yet, I knew I wanted an easily recognizable and well known option to wear so I went for THE iconic dress that lasted Peggy through two seasons on her TV show.  You can see it in the premier episode “Now Is Not the End” of Season One (2015), and also in the promotional posters for Season Two (2016).  My ‘copy’ turned out to be such an easy-to-make dress that is supremely comfy, complimentary, and striking.  It just might be my best Agent Carter garment yet!  This just like all my other Agent Carter outfits – it feels like a natural part of me, and not a put-on cosplay garment, which is perfect for my everyday vintage wardrobe.  Incorporating the wardrobe and resilient character traits of Peggy is the best part of going 1940s with my vintage sewing and wardrobe goals!

Happily, I was equipped with a lucky find of a vintage year 1941 pattern that is the same as the Agent Carter dress I wanted to copy.  Yes – you read right…the same! I didn’t have to change the design lines of the 1941 original to end up with an Agent Carter series look-alike dress.  The original inspiration dress used in the television series was a faithful vintage design, after all!  From what I have read and heard, it was a true 70 year old piece.  This fact says good things all around.  Not too often does a designer use such authentic costumes in such widely popular film, nor can a cosplayer or one who wishes to copy a garment from a modern Hollywood production frequently be able to dip into a primary source of history and still make a believable version.  This is another Agent Carter piece where the lines between cosplay and vintage dressing are blurred to the point that there is little differentiation – this is historical fashion as seen on screens today.  This is fiction that seems more akin to real history than anything.  My vintage pattern for this dress is a ‘Hollywood’ brand after all…so ironic, isn’t it?!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% rayon challis in two colors – deep true navy blue and bright red; navy 100% cotton scraps to be the facing and support for the inner waistband

PATTERN:  Hollywood #517, a “Linda Hays of RKO-Radio” pattern, year 1941 (For a brief, well-written overview on the life and career of Linda Hays, see this blog post!)

NOTIONS:  All I basically used was thread, which I had on hand as well as the zipper I used and a scrap of sheer organza to puff out the sleeve caps.  Oh, and some waistband hook-and-eyes… 

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was made in about 12 hours and finished on August 26, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  All nicely French seamed or bias bound, with the hem being a tiny ¼ inch one, and the front waistband panel’s seams covered by the inner facing I added. 

TOTAL COST:  $10 – that’s it!  Both fabrics were found on half price discount at (now defunct) Hancock Fabrics and JoAnn’s Fabric Store!

Vintage patterns never cease to amaze me.  This one Hollywood pattern is a prime example.  Firstly, I made this dress on only 1 ¾ yards of fabric!  I’m the one that made this dress, and even still this fact amazes me.  Granted, the 1940’s was good for practical use of material goods but this is from before the American rationing.  I’m floored!

The most significant detail to this pattern is yet to come, though.  The closing detail to this dress obliterates the well founded modern concept I have heard many times that ‘a zipper down the center back is NOT authentic’.  I have seen other bloggers say that a center back zipper “ruins” some of the vintage 1940s reprints and re-issues that some of the “Big 4” pattern companies have come out with in years past.  Well…look at this old year 1941 pattern of mine.  Apparently a center back zipper totally IS authentic, surprisingly, just not common.  Right there in the description is, “…the back closes with a slide fastener.”  Now, this is awesome to see!  I’m assuming this center back zipper is because this is a versatile “Sew-Simple” dress which is labelled as either being a house coat, house dress, or street dress.  Perhaps the simplicity of getting dressed in a center back zip dress has to do with it being designated to house wear, and to be practical the pattern wanted to give the purchaser the most for her money by pointing out that this can also pass as a street garment.  I suppose it all depends on the print and material used.  Nevertheless, I will bet that a long slide fastener was harder to come by or at least quite pricey back then, and they probably were not even an option available for any garments other than military ones after America was involved in WWII.  Yet, I would think that surely women didn’t only have one dress closure option, anyway, to always endure the circus trick it can be with a tiny waist side zipper.  So make things easy for yourself and go ahead and sew those center back zippers if you darn want to!   

Since I was metaphorically “allowed” a back zipper with no “guilt” of being lazy or modern, I ran with this and installed a 22 inch invisible zipper down the back.  I know – I took the other extreme!  As my fabric is delicate and flowing, I didn’t want a bulky zipper showing in an obvious manner.  I wanted my dress to also look as professionally crafted as possible, too.  This project made me realize that the longest invisible zipper to be found is 22 inches, and sewing one that long is a real test of skill!

Fit was right on for this pattern, maybe a tad small actually.  Luckily I had added on some extra allowance on the sides so that I could have “normal” 5/8 inch seams rather than the called for 3/8 inch seams.  I am glad I did this because I ended up having to take the seams out anyway.  This is a change from all the Hollywood, DuBarry, and other now defunct brands which have almost always been consistently generous in fit.  Luckily rayon has a lovely soft ‘stretch’ when it comes to the cross-grain.

The skirt length was a bit wacky, too.  There was a perforated dot marking across at several inches above the cutting line, which I understood as the line for stitching down the hem, but even still, it was rather high up above the knees for me.  This pattern had obviously been used in its past, because someone had freehandedly cut a short length out of the skirt…and not very well either!  They had cut the sides of the skirt longer than the front so I found the skirt bottom to be quite crooked before a proper hemming.  But anyways, I just cut the hem longer and figured out what dress length I wanted as the last step since I couldn’t tell what was originally going on.  I so wish whoever cut this pattern had included what they took off.  The skirt is cut so wide there is a good amount of bias to make this a wonderful dress that flows with me as I walk (which would be perfect for swing dancing or doing Peggy Carter kick fighting), but it makes it very tricky to get a straight hem by the time it hangs over my hips!

This kind of high, almost chocking neckline can be such a turnoff, and as I am claustrophobic myself, I do understand.  If this wasn’t such an awesome Agent Carter dress, the neckline would turn me off, too.  What didn’t help is that the pattern had an impossibly small neckline cut as-is.  It was too small to remotely squeeze around my neck – it actually fit around my arm.  What were they thinking when they drew this pattern?!  Maybe I just have a big neck circumference.  Nevertheless, before adding on the contrast red bias band, I cut the neckline to be more open by just under 2 inches (all around) and it’s still small.  Just so long as I have room to fit my four fingers in between my neck and the neckline, that is as small as I will tolerate around my throat whether it is a necklace or a garment.  I have made other clothes with such a similar neckline (such as this 40’s blouse) and yet every time it is so fun yet tricky to work with taming gathers into such a small bias facing.   I do love how these kind of necklines turn out looking so feminine, delicate, and cleanly finished, especially with a contrast color!

Speaking of a clean finish, I am quite pleased at the finished look of the contrast red striping to the middle front and cummerbund pieces.  The contrast strips to the dress’ panels were stitched face down, wrong sides out, then turned over to line up with the seam allowance edge, before any further assembling together was done so that no stitching would be seen.  I do wish I would have made them just a bit wider, but they are noticeable enough as it is so I didn’t want to make them quite as wide as Peggy’s original dress.

The front paneling is part of the dress, but for the back half it becomes cummerbund belting pieces that overlap to close at the center, independent of the dress itself.  This is the way Peggy’s original dress was, but it is also staying true to my dress pattern as well, with only a minor change necessary.  The pattern calls for long cummerbund pieces on each side that line up with the middle front panel and come out of the side seams to tie at the back center.  I merely cut one long cummerbund piece, and cut it into two short pieces, added the striping to them, then facing the two undersides with navy cotton scraps, and finally adding them in the sides like the pattern instructed.  Two sliding waistband hook and eyes close the back.  There is still a ‘normal’ 1940s back to the dress under the closing cummerbund – a waist seam that has a simple skirt below and a poufy bodice above.  I slightly downwardly curved in the top edge of the back cummerbund pieces so that they would have nice dip and look more tailored than just a straight band.

Yes, I added a bit extra and changed up the back ties, but with some lucky internet research I was able to see that this style of dress and color combo was quite popular in the late 30’s to very early 1940s primarily.  In other words I wasn’t just making a cosplay copy or directly trying to be patriotic here (even though I totally am) – remember the dress was a vintage original anyway!  Also, her two seasons of television shows were supposed to take place in 1946 and 1947 respectively, it was one of Peggy’s personal traits, mostly blamed on her struggle to move on after Captain America’s ‘death’, to be stuck in the past and wear fashions from an earlier period so a 1941 dress like mine was just her style.  There is an image of a year 1938 National Bella Hess catalog advertisement showing a dress (in a different color combo) with a recognizably similar style.  While my Hollywood pattern has the closest design lines to Peggy’s original dress, I have also spotted this style as extant vintage 40’s dresses for sale through some well-respected shops – see this neutral-coral toned beauty from Scarlet Rage Vintage or this studded rust-orange toned version from Archiverie.  However, the closest “proof” of Agent Carter’s dress is existing already in the vintage realm is I think to be found in a Vogue #8247 pattern cover image from 1939 – this one’s almost a carbon copy even color-wise!  When it comes to the use of navy and red, have found a vintage original photo (colorized, no doubt, but I cannot find the source for this) that has a different style dress, but distantly comparable use of colors and color blocking.  Bright red and rich navy were popular colors the 1940s used alone as solids for dresses, tops, and bottoms, sometimes combining the colors to be nautical inspired.  Otherwise these colors were integrated into florals, stripes, accessories, or outfits which are contrast detailed, much like my classic Agent Carter dress.

So – as Peggy’s dress is apparently a vintage piece that the designer bought and not designed for the actress (Hayley Atwell) to wear in the two Seasons of her television series, I would like to think of my Hollywood pattern or some of the close copies I have mentioned above as the source that could have been used to make the original dress.  Especially since the center back zippers, as seen in many of Peggy’s dresses, have made some commenters throw question on the authenticity of her wardrobe.  Hopefully the 1941 pattern that I used to make my Peggy dress copy should rest this case once and for all!  After all, the designer Gigi Melton has shown and said that she was heavily influenced by old classic Hollywood starlets and 1940s designs, besides staying admirably true to the materials and techniques which would have been worn at the time for everything she created for the characters.

Not only were the clothes historically true to the Marvel character of Peggy Carter, but even her position as a secret agent operative was a real job for specially chosen women in Britain during WWII.  The SOE, acronym for “Special Operative Executive”, employed about 3,200 women (one-fourth of their force) in all countries or former countries occupied by Axis forces and was a top-secret organization to conduct espionage, sabotage, aid resistance movements, and do reconnaissance.  The SOE’s existence was not known for many years and even today it is still being explained and understood.  (The various branches of the SOE were often ‘hid’ under fictitious military bureaus that were believable to keep secrecy.)  It was about finding everyday people from all ages, gender, background, and walk of life and unlocking their hidden, inner talents to make them extraordinary beings with a secret military mission.  The newest installment in the SOE’s biographies is the “Secret Agent Selection: WW2” series currently on the BBC television station, which follows 14 modern volunteers undergoing the same training as back then, in the same clothes, in a secluded old country house.  See this “Sun” article for just a sampling of the original recruits who joined in the first year or two after the SOE was formed in July 1940 and read their abridged stories.  Like Peggy Carter, these Agents were real life superheroes, who didn’t need a superpower to do great things.  They just needed to know their value and believe in their worth.

In conclusion – can fiction help us learn about nonfiction?  Can recounting the past be every bit as interesting as something made-up?  Can the right garment to wear help you know your worth and clothe oneself in confidence? Can anyone be an everyday superhero?  Can Marvel just please continue telling Agent Carter’s story?  I think all of these questions in my mind just deserve one resounding YES!  Happy birthday Agent Carter, one of the most influential women I know.

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Three Eras of Ladies’ Changing Underwear Styles – Part Two, 1920s and 1930s

Here is the second part of my post on vintage and historical lingerie that I have made in the last year.  Part one was a princess seamed slip from the 1910s era.  As in my title, this one will focus on 10 years during two decades primarily – the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s.  Between these two posts, I hoping to provide an overview that will give a good picture of how fast things had changed between 30 years to give a backdrop for “modern” underwear as we know it to be now.  Not all that long ago, the first layer for women was quite different, but not a bad different.  After all, I hope to show, too, how this lingerie from the past had a ‘what’ with a ‘why’ that explained its presence, and it is wonderful to wear and easy to sew.  If you haven’t experienced this for yourself, you need to – and if you have made some vintage undies, let me gush with you and say…isn’t it awesome?!

I went for two landmark, quintessential styles – the Kestos bra of the 20’s and the bandeau and tap pants set of the 30’s.  This was for three major reasons.  First, I had patterns of these available and on hand.  This is the practical and basic reason.  Secondly, I wanted to see what the big deal was about these and find out for myself why they were so popular and groundbreaking (besides shocking) for the times.  Thirdly, these filled in a gap for me. I have a vintage original 1950’s corselette bra, a deadstock 1940s bullet bra, a pair of 20’s style bloomers, a whole set of underclothes for the 1910 era, as well as a few individual tap panties (here and here), so a Kestos bra from the Flapper era with a full-out fancy, novelty colored 30’s set was just what I needed for a whole 50 years of undergarment history at my availability.  I did need some new underwear anyway, and I’ve wanting to try my hand at some brassieres, so these pieces were my first step.

Compared to the slip of the last post, the pieces presented in this post see much more wearing.  First of all, they are closer to “modern” skivvies.  They are very comfortable to wear and I actually prefer them over undies of the current style.  They also work great with fashions from the matching, appropriate eras (of course!) and, although they do not sculpt the preferred present-day shape, they complement what I am endowed with for a more natural appearance that does work with clothing of today.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  All cottons for the 20’s lingerie, a poly satin for the 30’s set, with matching cotton scraps for the linings

PATTERNS:  A vintage original McCall #7823, dated November 1934 in the closing flap of the envelope, for the aqua set, and a pattern from the book “Vintage Lingerie” by Jill Salen for the Kestos bra.

NOTIONS:  I actually had everything I needed on hand already.  I had been wanting to make these pieces for a while now and so I had everything, even the lingerie notions such as the buttonhole elastic, foam bra cups, and plastic rings for the straps.  Besides those notions mentioned, nothing really unusual was needed anyway – twill tapes, hook and eyes, and thread.  The buttons I used are authentic 1920s pearled shell notions from the stash of hubby’s Grandmother.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The 20’s bra was made in a flash in only 3 hours and finished on January 4, 2016.  The 30’s set was made in about 15 hours and finished on November 13, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  All nice and cleanly finished by being self-faced or bound.

TOTAL COST:  The 20’s Kestos bra was practically free to me as it was made with scraps on hand.  The supplies for the 30’s set were bought several years back at (the now defunct) Hancock Fabrics, so I don’t really remember.  As I only needed scraps, on yard of lace, and ½ yard of fabric this probably cost me $10 or less.

I’ll start with the older set of the two!

First off the bloomers you see are bought reproductions, yet (as far as I know) true to the time frame of the bra I made.  Thus, I now have a set that works perfectly to wear under my 1920 ensemble, or any other outfit from the late teens up until 1926 or 1927, when hemlines began shortening up (to the knees by 1929!) as well as slimming down before 1930 came.  Technically, I have read this type of undergarment called ‘pettibockers’, as they are full yet drawn in by ribbons at the knees, but also called ‘drawers’ and ‘knickers’.  However, I have an old original Pictorial Review year 1926 pattern (very much like the Butterick #6194 seen in this post) to make such undie bottoms and they call them ‘bloomers’, so I’ll stick with that term here.

I was tempted to use two handkerchiefs to make this bra, so it could be much like the way the first divided ‘cup’ bra was made by Caresse Crosby in 1913, as the story goes.  The early bras were really that simple and barely supportive, but compared to the corseted figure or the unibosum styles, this kind of bust definition was dramatically innovative!  The Kestos form of this bra in particular is a brand of sorts – it was one of the first commercially manufactured with separate cups.  It was a trademark by circa 1925 (or 1927-ish; accounts differ), and was invented by Rosalind Klin, a Polish-born female designer residing in London.  It also has a very creative and unexpected way of closing, the main visual and wearing trademark that ladies cared about!  The straps for the chest wrap around the body to button closed in front again under the bust.  From my experience wearing this style, it is immensely comfy and so easy to close and put on oneself.  The criss-crossed back prevented any riding up of the straps, and made the bra versatile for many garment styles.  The overlapping front cups supported the straps and stayed close to the body.  I really don’t know why bras ever stopped being made like this!  None of this modern trickery of a back closure you can’t see with its many problems of fit!  Kestos bras had a strong popularity through the 30’s, and even the 40’s as well, yet dissipating after circa 1937.

I really made my version a bit thicker and substantial than the pattern calls for, besides definitely downgrading on the original design, as well.  As you see, the original garment for my pattern was very fine indeed, with progressive early tap panties.  My 20’s bra was a trial garment for me, so I made it basic and straightforwardly simple (much like this one from 1941).  I guess I could add some lace or such now, or even dye it a different color, after the fact that it’s done.  I do now feel confident in making an amazingly fancy version, though!

Jill Salen’s book “Vintage Lingerie” offers 30 patterns of all the vintage/historical garments shown in the book but they are almost all practically Barbie doll size.  Either you need a knowledge of how to transfer sizing using graph paper (which is what her patterns are on) or go to a copy place that will figure out the percent and do large size prints.  I opted for the copy place option, and ended up enlarging this bra pattern 200%, but most of the rest of the 1:1 scale patterns, including the matching panties, need to be enlarged 400%.  Then, add your own either 3/8 inch or 1/2 inch seam allowances.  I have had pretty good successes so far with using patterns from this book.  All of the patterns offered are drawn off of the existing garments shown, and fall in the ballpark of somewhere between a 32 to a 36 or 38 inch bust. I fall in that range and so can generally grade up or down as needed.  For the 1920s Kestos bra pattern, according to how well it fit me with no changes needed, I estimate it is for a 33 to 34 inch bust.

I doubled up on the thickness, to have more support, no see-through, and easily finished off edges.  Each cup on this pattern is two pieces, and I had four cups to have assembled, so I ended up with a bunch of little pieces to keep track of!  This was the downside to making this bra super simple.  The straps on old originals generally are elastic covered in self-fabric casing, but as a wanted to go basic and keep the bra all-cotton, I merely used raw twill tape and bias tapes for the straps.  For my bra, I still needed some elastic to have some give, so the ends of the straps that go around the chest had the last 6 inches become attached to modern buttonhole elastic.  I had this elastic on hand and I’ve been dying to find the perfect opportunity to use it, but I still can’t help but wonder if all my 1930s kestos adefforts to be ‘historical’ (even old 20’s shell buttons, too!) went out the window using such a modern notion.  Nevertheless, I have found a year 1936 Symington Kestos bra, from the Leistershire County Council, which does have very similar looking buttonhole elastic.  Whatever – I love it.  Well, yeah!  It was whipped up in 3 hours, of course I do!

The back the bra closure creates is indeed special.  The way the straps criss-cross behind makes them less confining than the one-restricting-band-around-the ribcage from a comfort point of view.  Once you wear a Kestos bra it’s like a breath of fresh air you never knew you could have with a brassiere.  It also makes the Kestos bra the best thing ever for any low backed dress or top.  No wonder it continued to be a hit in the 1930’s when a wide open back was the popular for evening wear, and slitheringly sexy, manner of showing off both skin and body…as if a bias cut gown needed something like that!  Granted the body form doesn’t fit the bra as well as it fits myself, so it is lower than normal for me.  However, I draw the line at myself publicly modelling this post’s pieces.  If I want the back lower, I could fix that the way they used to in the 30’s and 20’s for a Kestos – make a loop that hooks closed at the back center of my bloomers or tap panties, and connect it to the straps to bring them down…down, to the waist…for the ultimate backless bra!  There are so many options with a Kestos closing bra.  It is the ultimate in comfort, ease, and versatility.

Now, the 30’s brassiere and tap panties I made is the next step in chest closing, bust supporting, and body conscious covering, bringing women’s lingerie recognizably close to today’s methods. The tap pants are feminine and freeing compared the previous era’s style, yet still covering one’s bottom discreetly under skirts and dresses.  The brassiere is basic in design yet Depression-era fancy and more about supporting and shaping than the 1920s were.  Luckily, with the advent of talking motion pictures in 1929, and the advancements of film and filming methods thereafter, there are many glimpses to be had of the early 1930s style underwear for women.  Some of my favorite 30’s lingerie sets seen on film come from Carole Lombard in “Twentieth Century” (1934), Joyce Compton in “Anabella’s Affairs” (1931), and Loretta Young in “Born to be Bad” (1934).  The Hays Code of Decency put an end to such displays of intimates after 1934, the year of the pattern I used for my sewing.

However, there are two films in particular that show an interesting side to the two differing styles of women’s underwear that existed between the 20’s and 30’s – “Three Wise Girls” from 1932 and “The Smiling Lieutenant” from 1931.  You know how some people find it hard to accept change or adapt to the newest mode, even if it is “in”?  Well, undies are not seen, so no doubt many women went back to wearing the old style pre-1927 bloomers and such that they were used to wearing, getting away with it, too, when hemlines came back down to calf length in 1930.  It wasn’t cut and dry, black-and-white, when it came to when, who, and how the two styles underclothes I’m presenting in this post where worn.

If you see what “The Smiling Lieutenant” and “Three Wise Girls” show, it seems as it is was other women and not just clothing styles that convinced (or shamed) women to give up the old styles.  In “The Smiling Lieutenant”, the character of Claudette Colbert is “helping” the married Princess, played by Miriam Hopkins, to “save” her marriage by ditching her mid-20’s style bloomers and wearing the newest tap pants and bra, even adding in the habit of smoking too!  It’s a very dramatic scene that the storyline revolves around, and Claudette Colbert has the Princess lift up her long, ruffled dress to reveal her undies, then performs a tune “Jazz Up Your Lingerie” to convince her otherwise (watch it for yourself here).  “Be happy! Choose snappy! There’s music with every ribbon…”  Thereafter, we see the old style bloomers burning in the fireplace, and the princess in a skimpy “teddy” with cut off bobbed hair!  It’s the new feminism winning out over old-fashioned morality. The anachronistic setting suddenly makes sense: the Victorian Age must give way to the Jazz Age.

In “Three Wise Girls”, one of Jean Harlow’s many attempts at finding a job is becoming a model for a dressmaker’s salon, showing off gowns that clients are interested in purchasing.  The lady in charge of the dressing room, Mae Clarke , wearing a one-piece 30’s ”step-in” slip, sees Jean Harlow before she dresses in a slinky 30’s evening gown, and Harlow is criticized on how she looks, with the old bloomers causing wrinkles and bulkiness.  She gives Harlow the newest style of tap pants and bra to wear, telling her (more or less) that if she is going to work for them, this is what underwear she’ll be wearing.  After all, being a model is about the most body conscious job out there!  When Jean Harlow quit working for the dressmaker’s salon, she is seen again wearing her 20’s style bloomers in 1932.  I’m now supposing that it wasn’t just a matter of comfort zone or attachment when it came to not adopting the new styles – perhaps it was also due to a Depression-era thriftiness or just plain lack of money that some women stuck to the old 20’s style skivvies in the 1930’s.

I’d like to think that if I was living back then, in 1934, and had the money and the means, that I would be a woman that would adapt a pair of lingerie just like what I have made!  I made the set out of a wonderful novelty color, as you see, because how could I resist when all the right notions needed just happened to fall in my lap in matching colors!!!  No really, though, ladies of the 30’s did have fun when it came to the underwear made and offered.  There were not only novelty colors and plenty of lace, but also suggestive designs, sheerness galore, and decorative details aplenty.  Check out my Pinterest board on vintage lingerie for more inspiration! 

For being a printed McCall’s this pattern was quite clear in its instructions and generally easy to make.  According to the size, this pattern should have technically been several inches too big for me, so to test it out I made the tap pants first.  They fit me well, and thus I made the bra up unchanged, too, and it just fits me exactly…any smaller and it wouldn’t fit.  Thus this pattern definitely runs small.  This is important to share, as it seems this particular McCall’s is frequently seen for sale on Etsy or Ebay as well as having been re-printedSimplicity Company recently released a year 1937 bra and tap pants set pattern that looks awesome (I have yet to try it) for an easily accessible, slightly later style, and cheaper option if you want to make a set for yourself.

I did do some “updates” to the pattern, mostly when I was sewing the bra.  There is satin outside and cotton inside for my person taste and comfort, when the pattern seemed to expect one layer.  However, the biggest difference is that I added lightweight store-bought bra foam liner in between the inner and outer layers of my bra.  Again, the original design called for cups thin and basic.  I do like how the foam insert makes the bra feel more like a modern piece, with more support and no see-through.  What I don’t like is the center horizontal seam to the foam insert.  Using a pre-made foam cup liner is something I won’t do again, although it fit perfectly with the pattern I was using and made little to no difference as I was sewing.  From now on, I’ll buy my own foam and make my own padding if I want such an add-in again.

I did stick to the original design with the completely non-elastic, no-stretch design.  Everything is non-adjustable and all stitched down in cotton twill tape.  I even made my own back bra closure from scratch to match using the pattern’s pieces (no pre-made notion here)!  Although the straps might need tailoring to be adjusted every so often, it is quite comfy this way.  Nothing is going to move on me or pinch me or fall apart as quickly as elastic does.  Once you ditch the elastic in your bras (as scary as that might sound!), it is really freeing.  You don’t really need it.  It does force you be better at customizing what you make to yourself, though!

The only real change I made to the tap panties original design was to add in an extra dollar in change to weigh it down.  No, I’m not crazy!  The fact that these are a poly satin creates static cling when I wear these in the wintertime.  In order to keep these bias panties hanging down properly and not clinging or bunching up to my waistline, I made lace pockets at the two side seams to hold two quarters each.  It kind of makes these feel like a true Depression era garment…with extra change safely hidden on me!  The waist has no trick – only hook-and-eye closed.  The bias cut to these gives them a body clinging fit that flare out at the hem.

The panties’ faced crouch gusset is sorely understated by these pictures since the mannequin wasn’t fully adjustable to stand on a right or left “leg”.  On me however, the design is ah-mazing!  Much like an underarm sleeve gusset, you clip into the center bottom of the front and back to connect the two with an adapted rhombus diamond shaped piece, then faced that on the inside so the seams are covered.  Wearing History has pattern #4005 from the 1940s that is shocking similar, and her blog provided a tutorial on sewing the faced crouch gusset which was very helpful.  Even still, having something so small with points and curves be faced in such a way that the two sides perfectly line up was…well…exhausting.  But I did it, and it looks just as nice inside as out, only no one sees it.

So – this conclusion of my post brings me to contemplate a few things.  Is it the egg or the chicken?  Does the lingerie influence the fashion or does the fashion influence the lingerie?  Or, does the primary layer for our bodies have its own organic progression?  I do find it interesting that undergarments almost always have not just been about coverage or support, although that is the basic reason for their being worn.  Even today, it’s about molding women into a desired shape, not necessarily customer (or recipient) feedback based.  Is it society based?  What do we women want to wear for our bodies?  What shape do we like for ourselves?  Who really controls our choices in this field?  We generally wear what is out there, much like the rest of fashion nowadays, and if you’re anything like me, searching for the “perfect” lingerie is exhausting, worse than searching for a needle in a haystack.  However, with sewing skills, that is not the only option nowadays!  We have every past era to choose from, and notions, fabrics, and patterns available to order.  Set those sewing talents to good use making something for your body, your comfort and your taste because the first layer of garments is the most intimate, personal, unique!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this duo of posts.  Writing this now makes me want to bust out some more patterns from Jill Salen’s book or that Simplicity re-issue I haven’t tried yet!  As always thank you for reading and please – share your thoughts and ideas!  What do you think about vintage lingerie?

Agent Carter’s “Body Raid” Outfit – Burda Style Trousers and Jersey Satin Blouse

I realize this is a bit late for our recent civil holiday (in America) of Presidents’ Day, but nevertheless I will now share the outfit I made to wear for it…better late than never!  America’s sweetheart and Captain America’s crush, Agent Peggy Carter of Marvel, was of course my go-to girl for inspiration here because when you stand behind the super soldier defending the freedoms of the stars and stripes, your wardrobe naturally ends up being very patriotic!  As February is a short month, I am sneaking this post in between my dual posts on historical lingerie.

This outfit is part of my quest to have all of Peggy Carter’s wardrobe (as seen in both seasons of her TV series), as well as looking for something brightly patriotic, wonderfully 40’s era, and supremely comfy.  You see, I wanted a special set with all of those qualities to wear during our traveling weekend, and a trip gave me a good reason to buck up and finish a Burda Style project for the month of February (meaning the pants)!  I have been supplying myself with a nice and varied collection of trousers and pants, and this one is definitely another kind of ‘different’ to do – all baggy yet still tailored, and definitely vintage-inspired.  The blouse half of my outfit satisfies my current “thing” for making tops, and it is sewn with a knit, which is both easy care and different, too, for my 1940s wardrobe.  Also, it is made using a vintage Advance sewing pattern, a brand that is not seen as much, with leftover material from a past Agent Carter project of mine, for even more special connections.    

This outfit’s original inspiration can be seen on the Agent Carter television series by Marvel, specifically Season Two, Episode 5, “The Atomic Job”, when she breaks into a morgue to steal a body that holds the evidence her and her friends so desperately need, before things end up taking a much more dire turn.  In our pictures, my version of Peggy Carter’s outfit is seen in the historic Union Station of Kansas City, Missouri, for a much less heavy reason – a destination trip to see some exhibits.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The blouse – a polyester interlock knit with a satin finish is the primary fabric (same as what was used to re-fashion this dress), with cotton broadcloth scraps to line the inside of the shoulder panels for stabilization; The pants – a half and half linen rayon blend in a purple toned navy blue (same as what was used to make my turn-of-the-century Walking Skirt) with a fun rayon challis print (leftover from this dress) used for the pockets

PATTERNS:  A vintage original Advance #3182 pattern, circa 1941, was used for the blouse and a Burda Style #102 for the pants – view B is the “Marlene Trousers”, while view A is the “Button Tab Trousers”, both the same and both from September 2013.

NOTIONS:  I had all I needed on hand – thread, interfacing, bias tapes, hook-and-eyes, a metal jean style zipper, and vintage pearl buttons.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The pants took about 20 to 30 hours of time to finish on January 17, 2018.  The blouse came together in about 10 hours and was done on February 14, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  The pants are as professional as I could make them – all tiny but fun bright red bias bound edges.  The blouse’s material doesn’t fray so it is left raw to make my work easy for a change!

TOTAL COST:  maybe $20, at the most $30.  Both fabrics were bought at Jo Ann’s Fabric store

This set was a wonderful mix of sewing things I’m used to, with an added element of difficulty.  I’ve sewn many pants and trousers by now, but this pair was labor intensive and required dedication to finish.  I do feel it brought some of my skills to the next level and perfected others.  This was by far the most challenging Burda pattern I’ve tackled yet, besides this coat, but it’s so worth when it comes to what I end up with having!  The blouse was not far off from any other traditional blouse, but the fine, lightweight material in a knit made it slightly tricky to sew, besides the fact it has very unusual front shoulder panels.  I splurged on this blouse and used some prized vintage notions from my stash, just to be close to the inspiration Agent Carter blouse, with its pearled square buttons, so this was an added special touch a bit out of the ordinary from my “normal” sewing.

Both patterns had their aura of mystery when it came to getting them to fit.  The blouse was a vintage unprinted pattern, marked with a code of dots, but as I have done so many of these by now, it was no problem to cut and it fits beautifully.  Yet, I was dubious about the pattern because every time before this I have sewn with an old Advance pattern, they have run small in size.  Thus, for this pattern, it is happily a size too big for me already, and it fits.  With the knit fabric, I actually could have brought the blouse in a bit, but I’d much prefer a bit generous than too small.  For the trousers, I realized (correctly) that they probably run a bit big due to the generous silhouette and wide legs.  However, I figured it’s easier to take a garment in than work with it when it’s way too small, so I stuck with my “normal” size that I always tend to make in Burda Style.  Yes, the trousers do run big and I probably could have went down a size, after all.  However, because of the way these pants are finished in the back center waistband, sewn up there as the last step (very similarly to menswear, actually), these were easy to take in an extra bit for a size that is better than they could have been, not as good as I would like.  These are so comfy being roomy, and I do love the style, so I can’t really complain with all that much energy!  Perfection in an art (and I include sewing under an art form) is relative to one’s contentment with one’s work and the either unknowing or appreciative eye of the beholder.  Both pieces turned out great and taught me more than I knew before.  There’s something good achieved, beyond the fact I have another Agent Carter set! Squee!

Now, as for any Burda Style pattern, printing and/or tracing is necessary to have a usable pattern to lay on your desired fabric.  My pattern was traced from the downloaded and assembled PDF bought at the online store but if you have a magazine issue, use a roll of medical paper to trace your pieces from the insert sheet.  It’s at this preliminary step that I pick out my chosen size and add in your choice of seam allowance width (I normally add in 5/8 inch allowance), but others do this directly on the fabric as they are cutting out.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide attached helps immensely for adding on the seam allowance easily.  Sorry to repeat something you might already know, but this is just an “FYI” for those that don’t.

Burda patterns do frequently get the bad rap of having terrible instructions (they’re words only), but I did find these to be quite good…except when it came to the front fly and its self-placket.  I was lost, but that was okay.  I looked at my husband’s existing pants, and remembered the last trouser fly I had made, and sewed it how it made sense and was practical.  You know what?  These turned out great.  The side pockets smartly have a panel extension that continues towards the middle to connect (inside at the facing) with the zipper fly.  This is a wonderful detail that helps out taming the front pleats, but made it confusing to sew.  It did turn out a very smooth and flawless inner waist and tummy area this way.  The side pockets stay nicely in place and balance out the bulk of the fly by those extensions pulling it in.  I did a lot of invisible hand-stitching, though, to make sure the front fly looked quite nice.

The welt pockets – to me – are actually the best part to the pants, even though I detest sewing them and find them exhausting to make.  There’s something about cutting into the middle of a perfectly good garment that makes me doubt my capabilities.  One welt pocket took me just over two hours to complete…but I’m so much happier with it than my last attempt!  The instructions for the welt, and its markings were right on and helpful.  I wasn’t sure if I really wanted the pocket flap, but now, most of the time, I keep it tucked into pocket.  If I ever feel like wearing it out of the pocket more, I might feel obliged to stitch on a button and buttonhole to keep it down, like the instructions recommend.

I did add plenty more belt loops than the pattern called for, mostly because my pants (as I said) are still a bit too big on me.  The more belt carriers, the better the trousers stay up, for there is a darn lot of fabric here to wear anyway!  The side tabs on the waistband were left out in lieu of the extra belt loops.  I fear that the wrinkling in the waist and back pants legs are not due only to the properties of the linen material, but also from the fact that the waist buckles a bit from bringing it in under the belt.

The complete indulgence in excess fabric to these pants make them very much like pre-WWII menswear styles for women.  Burda aptly labels them “Marlene Trousers” after the woman that channeled her own taste for the masculine-feminine dressing for the empowerment of others to do the same in the face of society – Marlene Dietrich.  She certainly started something when she appeared on January 12, 1932 at the opening of The Sign of the Cross movie, wearing a masculine tuxedo, wing collar, soft felt hat, mannish topcoat, and a pair of men’s’ patent leather shoes! Dietrich, who had been wearing trousers publicly as early as 1929, and Greta Garbo were the 1930s pioneers for menswear styles for women.  Yet, “I wear them to be comfortable,” Dietrich is quoted as saying, “not sensational!”  1930s ladies’ menswear borrowed heavily from what guys were wearing especially when the materials were woolens and other suiting, but women also found their own interpretation in the super-wide legged, flowing beach pyjamas of summer and resort scenes, skirt-like Singapore trousers, and other unique interpretations of bifurcated bottoms.  These were also, no doubt, part of the luxury that was the mindset of the 1930’s, especially for Depression times.  Fashion counter-reflected what society was really going through, so from the boom of bling with costume jewelry to the luxurious evening gowns, the trousers, too, had every added feature that used as much extra fabric as possible – cuffs, deep pleats, and generous pockets.  Check, check, and check…these Burda pants have all that aplenty!

My own pants are somewhat a mix of the heavy men’s suit style with a little female influence with the lighter weight linen blend, non-suiting material.  This is a kind of trouser style that could have been worn throughout the 1930s and well into the early 1940’s.  This pattern definitely deserves to be included in my ongoing post series, “Retro Forward with Burda Style”.  A good pleated pant of this style is hard to find.  Vintage pants were always ironed, or sometimes even stitched, with center front and back pleats on each leg.  Most pants that I see nowadays which attempt this “look” end up fitting so tightly past the hips there is no point in having a vertical running pleat, it cannot continue down due to the tight fit in the thighs and below.  Now, I know my pants do not show as crisp a pleat as I would have liked, but it is there and they can hold it quite well when I am not traveling in them.  Nevertheless, these pictures show the reality of my pants being used and worn for real living, well-traveled in and time tested…and I think they prove themselves quite well, especially for being linen-rayon!  (See? You can travel in and wear linen!)  I’m really surprised that bloggers and seamstresses in the vintage community haven’t discovered these after all the 5 years this pattern have been out.  These are like rare gold!

To match with the whole pre-WWII style, my blouse is from 1941, before America had been completely committed to the war effort.  Besides, Agent Carter herself was a woman stuck in the past, due in no small part to her fond yet painful memories of both knowing and losing Captain America.  These were two of the reasons for using this particular Advance pattern.  I know it is not exactly alike to the inspiration garment, but it is perfectly her style as she has a penchant for blouses with small yet stunning and beautiful details, whether it’s in the top-stitching or design lines.  This one certainly fits the bill with its special pointed front shoulder panels, square buttons, silky finish, and menswear-style back shoulder panel.  It’s simple at first glance, yet more complicated the further one looks.  This is one of the few blouses I have made that has this much all over gathering…here, there, everywhere!  Most of the times I use menswear inspired, professional-style pleats in the sleeves nowadays, but this flowing feminine fabric deserved a departure from my norm.   

Yet, there is one more detail that deserves to be told.  The front buttons came from one set that was bought (intact on a lovely decorative card), while the other two for the cuffs are a size bigger, from a pair that were in the stash of hubby’s Grandmother.  Not too often have I come across two separate vintage button sets that actually match up with one another.  Button serendipity sometimes does happen.

Both of the bottoms and top are made from various leftovers, as I mentioned above.  Besides the whole “reduce-and-reuse” sensibility of it, and the way it whittles down my ever growing fabric stash, I do like how the connection with the previous outfits these fabrics went towards is perfect for a new Agent Carter set.  The Agent Carter dress re-fashion from exactly one year ago had just enough left over to make this post’s blouse, bringing together two of my Peggy creations. 

The linen of the pants is the same material as my 1905 Walking Skirt, the first power separate, much like 1930s and 40’s trousers, from an earlier era for a self-reliant, independent, and active woman.  After all, Hayley Atwell, the actress who plays Peggy Carter, also plays a similar character led by both her heart and mind in another television ministry taking place around the turn of the century, “Howard’s End”.  The small, almost worthless leftovers from my 60’s wrap dress became novelty pockets in my pants.  It would just be like Peggy, who had a photographic memory for detail and the mind of a true government agent, to remember some little scraps to hide a secret in her clothes.  Now if it really was Peggy wearing these, there would be some coded message or handy tool inside my pockets as well!  Contrast pocket fabric is a fun, personal touch that only I really know about (well, not anymore!) but just knowing it makes me smile inside!

It’s these little personal touches in one’s sewing, especially when it’s not something publicly noticed, that makes one’s work a very individual art. Using up every bit of what you have and having all of your projects go to ‘help’ out other projects, can make you proud and feel like you are doing something bigger than yourself (and you are!) by making your own clothes. 

Be like Marlene Dietrich (or Agent Carter) and wear what you want, without fear of judgment or scrutiny.  There is no better way to do that today than sewing one’s own clothes or even buying second hand, whether vintage or not.  I for one feel my best self in something vintage, and/or handmade, and especially Agent Carter related.  You know, there is almost nothing more lovely and catching than the self-confidence that comes of being assertive in who you are and the clothes you are wearing!  Find that sweet spot and change the world.

“Not My Own Crochet” Year 1936 Ensemble

I do not yet know how to crochet.  At some point in my life I fully intend to figure that amazing skill out.  Until then, I find sneaky yet creative ways to get around not knowing, which means that I wear crochet that is not really my own.  Saying this means I try to sew with tricky, delicate fabric that is the closest thing to crochet that can be found – like an open-work sweater knit.  To me, as someone who sews on an almost daily basis, this offers yet another “new and different” thing to try out.  Speaking of something unconventional, these aren’t just your normal open-seam sleeves…they are part of the entire bodice design in a way that blew my mind when I made it.

Of course, I go all out with my dress – a vintage sweater knit dress with awesomely elegant features deserves its own fancy, fashion colored under-slip (since it will be somewhat seen anyway) and a custom-made, Grecian-inspired rope-and-tassel belt to keep up the mid-1930s glamour!  Of course, as is our wont, we also found a historically appropriate and color matching Art Deco shop for the photo background so I could feel like I stepped back in time.

This outfit is rather a vintage way to interpret several modern (2018) trends – rope belts, sheer dresses, and statement sleeves.  For myself, I like to be informed as to the source of a modern trend and realize the when, why, and how of it from years back.  Nowadays, there is not a whole lot going on in fashion that is 100% “new”, it’s mostly just a re-inventions and all it takes is a peek into history to have a broader perspective of a fad.

Befitting my idealized mix of both old and new, this outfit is accessorized with modern 1930s D’Orsay style strap sandals by Aerosoles and true vintage pearl dress clips.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The sweater dress is made from a poly blended, almost shell-like stitched open knit in a cranberry color.  The under slip is made from an all poly crepe in a royal blue color.

PATTERN:  Butterick #6706, year 1936, for the dress and the “Slinky Bias Slip” came from Sew Vera Venus blog, on her free pattern page (link here).  (I know the year for the dress pattern Butterick #6706 because it was featured in “Butterick’s Fashion News” magazine for April 1936)

NOTIONS:  To make the dress and slip, I only used what was on hand already – thread, a vintage metal zipper, scraps of bias tape, and two buttons.  The rope belt and its tassels required very specific supplies, so these bought to match after the dress outfit was finished.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This set took me about 15 hours to make the dress and 3 hours to sew the slip.  Making the belt took me maybe 2 hours.  The entire outfit was finished and ready to be worn by October 7, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  The sweater knit doesn’t ravel (the wonders of a man-made poly), so the edges are left raw to let the dress be flowing.  The slip is bias bound inside.

TOTAL COST:  The sweater knit, slip material, and subsequent belting were bought at our local Jo Ann’s fabric store for a rough estimate total (it’s been awhile since the fabric was purchased) of about $30 to $40 dollars.

First off, I need to give full credit to my hubby for finding the sweater knit among all the bolts in the store and knowing my creative brain’s predictability enough to recommend something 1930’s to pair with it!  I guess I’m training him well without even knowing it.  Now, it wasn’t just about following his idea – the project plan rang true for me, too, and both him and old fashion images together helped me decide what contrast color for the underneath slip and what kind of belt would complement well.

The pattern I used to make my dress was also one of the very first 1930’s vintage patterns I bought back in 2011 (when they were so much more reasonably priced)!  It’s so good, I had been “sitting on it” all these years waiting for just the right project plan for it.  I felt like it was high time to take it up – hubby picked out a special fabric for me so I would go use my special pattern.  No really, I feel like the fabric is a solid enough color to show off the design lines well yet curious enough to add depth and interest to an already luxurious design.  The knit makes it practical while the sheerness of it makes it, well, oh-la-la!  Yes, not only do I love what the 1930s has to offer for fashion, I also love how hubby and I can work together on my sewing projects to make something so interesting and creative that I can wear.

It was amazing how a few, large pattern pieces – only 4 to be exact (together with two incredibly tiny pieces) – can come together to make a dress like this.  Vintage generally does smart designing impeccably, whether in fashion or architecture, and this is only another example to prove it to me.  The sleeves of my dress are part of the bodice and only joined together at the front seam that runs from the neckline detail down the length of my arm.  There is no shoulder seam whatsoever.  It’s like an adapted kimono sleeve on steroids.  There are two small darts at the shoulder tops, coming out from the neckline, but that’s it – I do believe the weight of the sleeve volume is enough to shape the fabric, pulling it down over the shoulders.  The bodice front piece includes the sleeve front-bottom and the neckline “flap” detail, as well. From behind, there is the center seam so that a placket can be made for a neck opening (otherwise this dress wouldn’t go over the head), but besides that, the back bodice wraps around to the front bodice at the chest and front of the arms.

This design is not only amazing, it is also crazy easy to whip together with minimal seams (a big yay because with a delicate knit like this, the less seams the better).  It also made for some overwhelmingly large pattern pieces that just barely fit onto my 60” width fabric.  How these bodice pieces fit onto the old side fabric widths is something I don’t really want to figure out.  As it was, with 60” wide fabric, I still used over 3 yards…in 35” width this dress would definitely take way over 4 yards.  There’s Depression-era luxury for you!  Even still, making a dress like this in the 1930s probably would have been much more monetarily affordable than buying something RTW which would be similar.

Now, the style of sleeve I chose to make on my dress is a combo of both views offered in the pattern.  I wanted the slashed open style of the ¾ sleeve option, but something long, wrist length at the same time, so mine are a mix of both.  Not that this is the first incarnation of such sleeves – this slashed open look that was popular in the 1930s is one of the many fashion details the era of 80 years back which were borrowed from Tudor styles of the 15 and 1600s.  (See the artist William Larkin’s famous 1614 painting of Diana Cecil next to another 1936 pattern for comparison, or see this “Fashion-era.com” post on coat sleeve styles of the time of Henry VII for just two examples.)  Such sleeves also made a comeback for a short stint in 2014/2015.  Today, the dramatic sleeves and balloon sleeves of all styles and volume are trending for this coming Spring 2018 season (see Carlos Vogue Patterns and Glamour.com to read more).  Some things never change…what is forgotten, is doomed to be repeated.

All of that sleeve volume on my dress is pleated into skinny wristbands.  The pattern directed for a dizzying amount of pleats that I wasn’t willing to chalk or thread mark because there was no way I was going to get them straight.  So I did my own mathematical, segmented method of pleats, and it worked out just as fine (so I think).  However, whether I did the wrists my way or the way of the instructions I do believe either end would be just as bulky as the other.  All the pleating made the little “cuffs” more like binding or bracelets, but I like it, however they turned out.

For sporting such statement sleeves, I realize the 2017 “Year of the Sleeve” is over with now, but as I don’t see impressive sleeves disappearing from modern fashion anytime soon either, I am hoping that we are now in the ‘era of the sleeve’ because this is the best excuse to bring out and highlight more 1930s designs!  Either way, fantastic sleeves should never be “out-of-style”…they need to be more appreciated and enjoyed because they sure are fabulous.

To balance out the fabric heavy and detail oriented top half, the waist and below is slim and basic.  The skirt is just a really simple, two-piece 30’s bias skirt, plain in front and two waist darts in back.  The waist of the bodice is ever so slightly pleated into the slim skirt.  It is only for the skinny skirt’s sake that there needs to be a closure in the side of this dress, otherwise I would have preferred it to be left out.  The delicate sweater knit wasn’t easily willing to be restrained into a zipper, but using a small 5 inch vintage metal one minimized the difficulty, and, at least when it’s seen, will hopefully make my dress seem like a real piece from the 30’s.

Sheer and see-through dresses are nothing new – they have been around in some form or fashion for about a century since the late Edwardian times had the lace bodices and the early teens came out with the “lingerie dresses” (so called, as they were lace and sheer linens or cottons).  The 20’s and 30’s began to be more experimental with what was used for sheer effect – crochet, netting, devoré (burnout velvet), chiffon, metallic mesh, and other open-work or tissue weight material for both blouses and dresses.  Don’t forget, however, past sheer fashions seem to have always understood that just because the garment is see-through doesn’t mean one should bare-all underneath nor use it as an opportunity to show off one’s lingerie.  Modern trends seem to be taking sheer garments a whole new “nothing there” kind of direction on the runways for all the designer’s collections.  Seeing legs, panties, or a ladies’ “headlights” is only distracting and does not do justice to an amazing, but sheer, dress as the garment is certainly not the first impression.  I’ve sewn a fair share of sheer dresses already from the 20’s (here and here) and the 30’s (here and here), and one from 1961 already so this will be my 6th now.

The slip underneath my 1936 dress needed to be simple yet elegant, slimming and interesting yet with coverage.  Who could ask for anything better than a free pattern?!  Besides the ‘free’ part, this really is a great pattern.  It was easy, came together beautifully, and fits well.  The pattern itself is assembled much like a downloaded Burda Style pattern, where you print out all the pages then tape them together like a fashion puzzle before you can have something to place on your fabric.  I do think the sizing runs a bit small, and although this slip fits, next time I will go up a size bigger.  For using a polyester crepe, my slip has decent drape and bias yet it’s still a bit stiff (as you can see), but with a true rayon or silk crepe this slip would have some drop-dead slinkiness that I need to try.  Other than these points, I couldn’t be happier.  There is plenty of room for adaptations and individuality with this pattern, but the only personal touches I added were two strips of leftover bias tape to decorate my lower décolleté.  My slip’s shoulder straps are stitched down to fit, but if they were made skinny, they could easily be made adjustable with a modern lingerie slide buckle.  The best part is that I was able to make this slip with only one yard of fabric!

With the garments done, I initially thought a normal belt would complete the outfit, but no – every one I tried on looked awful with the dress.  I knew what I saw in my inspiration pictures needed to be followed…go with the whole Grecian idealism of a rope belt.  My dress outfit needed a hanging belt to lengthen the silhouette, I felt, and a rope belt with tassels at the ends would not overwhelm like a traditional, buckle belt, only slightly define my middle yet draw interest away from the waist.  This is a much more feminine and delicate option to a boldly defining buckle belt.  Rope belts are the new ‘thing’ this year, anyway.  It’s listed as one of the top 5 trends of 2018’s Spring/Summer fashionBurda Style has also talked about it and provided a “how-to” make your own roped belt.  I might as well find a vintage way to love a current trend!

I took this as an opportunity to use my beginner’s knowledge of sailor’s knots to finish off the rope belt ends where the tassels are added.  I put the loop that’s atop the tassel through the end of the roping, then made my sailor’s knot, and ended it by stitching the raw end to the rope for a little over an inch’s worth.  Then, the end was finished by taking satin finish Mettler Metrosheen thread to wind tightly around and around until it’s nice and sturdy, and tie off the thread through the winding.  Suddenly, I have a very fancy rope belt end!

You know, I have experience with doing this already because of a church we used to attend.  Churches always have tassels on something, and for some reason all of theirs were coming off.  I have a suspicion that the cause was our deeply ingrained human instinct to pull at a tassel (really, you don’t have to think to do it).  Anyway, once I fixed only one for them, I ended up fixed them all.  Let me tell you, I made sure those tassels did not come apart at all the way I finished them…I also have method to it after fixing more than a dozen.  So, it was kind of nice to do tassel attaching again, sort of like bringing back something I know how to do like the back of my hand.  Yet this time it brought that up a notch because it was so much fancier this time and also for myself!  It was high time for some selfish tassel sewing.

It doesn’t really make sense to me – I can make and sew tassels, yet I do not crochet.  Oh well, I have finally tackled another challenging fabric and a perplexing pattern I’ve been holding out on.  I’m not out for the great instant “boom-and-pow” of doing everything big at once and burning out early.  I’m looking forward to many years ahead of enjoying all the differing ways to make something to wear.  Crochet is a whole new world yet to come for me and I really admire every and any one of you that I see who can do it.  Even my niece has started doing it!  I guess I’d better catch up, but until then I’m happy with this open work 1930’s dress set being in my closet as a substitute.

Metamorphosis

There can be no other garments to the home seamstress that feel unattainable, mysterious, and awe-inspiring than couture garments created by history’s greatest designers.  As beautiful as they are and after sighing over many for so many years, I recently was also thinking – why just gaze on such garments as a museum artifact?  Surely they are not being preserved, archived, and presented just to be admired a hands breath away or be a picture of what you read about in a book on fashion.  Could they be there not just to learn from but also to motivate one’s personal creativity?  Could they also be seen as a challenge to be understood?  How else to recognize or appreciate such stupendous, unrivaled garments unless their mysteries are deconstructed?

With these thoughts, I am now set on admiring such garments in a very tactile way, such as attempting the recreate one-off couture garments according to my own personal taste.  I am by no means claiming I’m in the same position of skill as history’s famous designers, nor do I see this as detracting from the uniqueness of the original garments of such designers when done with the proper respect and credit to the individuality of the existing garment.  An original piece from its maker is and will always be unique and unrivalled in matchless worth.  However, by trying to think like a designer towards both the sewing craft and the personality of fabric offers many opportunities to learn and advance personal ability.  But most importantly, there is the pure fact that by doing so, only increases the value of couture items in the eyes of one who tries to truly “copy” them, helping a sewist to realize the pure genius of designers and couture creators…details that others who know nothing of fabric are completely unaware of.  I have already successfully made a Vionnet design.  That was an amazing eye-opener.  Now, I’ve made my own version of Schiaparelli’s summer of 1937 butterfly dress and mesh duster coat.  Metamorphosis from the oppressive ‘shell’ of conventional home sewing habits like the insects on the garment I attempted to recreate is so redeeming and exhilarating.

I do feel as if I ‘broke free’ with this post’s make.  I did a whole lot of self-drafting and re-designing of existing patterns from the same time period which I loosely used as my base starting point.  I started with looking at a garment, understanding it from Schiaparelli’s perspective, then constructing from there. This method is a departure from the “normal” …”what pattern do I pick for this fabric” or “what fabric would go with this pattern” and following directions.  As I mentioned above, it was a very great learning process, but it also helped me see proportions and details of garments in a revealing way – this is the most important lesson I’m taking away from this, besides ending up with something so very close to my ultimate dream outfit!  Yet, for as wonderful as I feel wearing this, my face might not show because I was trying to imitate the emotionless stoicism of the classical-style 1930s designer photo shoots.  Believe me, I’m elated inside!

As this is my own knock-off interpretation of a designer garment, this is part of Linda’s “Designing December Challenge” at “Nice dress! Thanks, I made it!!” blog.  In this case however, from what I have discovered in my research on this particular set from Schiaparelli, my inspiration piece was not actually “designer” in the garment production sense of the word, not even made for commission.  It was a couture creation, a one-off, no-duplicates outfit made for her own enjoyment, herself to wear, and for fashion statement purposes, expressing the inner artist that she was.  If you would like to more pictures of her original outfit, visit my Pinterest board for that here.

For all that the butterfly print stands for on its own (more on that just below), I personally see this set as symbolizing a lovely elegance half confined, half complimented by the mesh duster coat, like a beautiful creature caught in a net.  The hood adds further restraint with an air of shy mystery, as beauty does not always like to be put on display, merely only respected for what is inherently is.

Fabric is here both full, flowing, and unrestricted yet also structured at the same time.  Fashion can be restricting or freeing, depending on how you wear it, choose to clothe yourself, or follow society’s expectations.  We tell others about ourselves by what we wear without ever needing to make a sound…let that message be a beautiful one that’s exactly what you want to say.  This outfit says a lot about how I feel in my current sewing skills and where I’m going.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  My dress is in a thick yet soft premium 100% cotton, a M’Liss brand print from the now defunct Hancock Fabrics.  The mesh duster coat is made of a Kathy Davis brand knit, bought from Jo Ann’s Fabric store.

PATTERN:  Patterns I loosely based my own re-drafted designs on were – Simplicity #3508, year 1940 (made already – see the blog post); Butterick #8078, circa 1939; Simplicity #8447, a modern reprint of a 1940 pattern; and Hollywood #1391, a Glenda Farrell year 1937 pattern.

NOTIONS:  All I really needed was pretty basic – thread, interfacing, hook-and-eyes, and some ribbon from my stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was made in about 20 hours (not even counting the many hours drafting and tracing out patterns) and finished on August 1, 2017.  The mesh coat was made in another 20 plus hours and finished on August 19, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  The dress’ insides are left raw to keep the bias free flowing, while the coat’s seams are finished by being covered in grosgrain ribbon to keep it clean, interesting, and stabilized with a hint of contrast.

TOTAL COST:  The mesh knit for my duster coat was bought over this past summer for about $30 on sale for the 3 ½ yards I bought…it was expensive but so worth it!!!  The butterfly cotton for my dress was bought at least 5 years back when I first had the idea to somehow make my own version of a Schiaparelli outfit.  After that many years back, I don’t remember cost, but knowing the price of M’Liss cottons I’m supposing about $12 for 3 ½ yards.  The rest of the notions I needed only cost a few extra dollars so I suppose my total is about $45, spread out over the course of several years.  This outfit has been so long in coming!!!

Butterflies were one Schiaparelli’s trademark symbols that she used on many occasions, along with her penchant for postal stamp prints.  Butterfly prints were one of the many custom printed fabrics made exclusively for her to create with and 1937 was a big year for it.  All in butterfly prints, she also made a simple dark crepe evening gown, another dress in a less formal “waltz-length”, a butterfly parasol (which you can see in some pictures we recreated in our own way), scarves (of course, she loved scarves!), and a suit jacket.  Wow!  That’s at least half a dozen butterfly creations in one year, counting my own outfit’s inspiration piece.  The next year, in 1938, she created an insect necklace and in 1940 she created an evening dress with a dramatic butterfly bodice.

Butterfly prints and embellishments have been and are still quietly but perennially popular even today, all thanks to Schiaparelli I would like to say.  See this beach set from Versace’s Spring 2018 RTW, or Moschino’s Silk tie-neck blouse for just two examples of butterfly prints for the year ahead, and this Burda Style magazine page from July of last year (2016) for a look behind.  Alexander McQueen is another well-known modern muse for the butterfly trend.  There can be found random examples of butterfly prints from most of all past decades since her (my favorite is this one from the Harper’s Bazaar in 1942).  Although insects were added on many ladies gowns in the earlier Regency period (roughly 1810 to 1820) as well, up until the last 70 years insects were seen as something oddly repulsive and unusual to have on women’s wear.  So, technically she wasn’t starting anything completely “new”, just finding a whole new way to express it to a receptive audience at the perfect moment in time.  People seem to have moved on from a fabric print or clothing decoration reminding them of creepy crawlies on their body.  I’m assuming that the popularity of butterflies in fashion has been lost in the muddle of frequent use and is not manifested for the same lovely reasons as the ones Schiaparelli for which was entranced by the transforming creatures.

Elsa Schiaparelli felt that she herself and many of her friends and clients did not have the expected societal norms of beauty in face and/or figure.  The manner in which one has to wait and see through the unsightly caterpillar stage to see the final gloriousness of the flying butterfly stage gave a message of internal beauty and hope for redemption.  Also, a butterfly was also seen to mirror the work she could do with her garments – the way a well-designed and expertly constructed piece of clothing can transform any body into something only imagined is indeed magical!  Besides, there was the Surrealist movement’s influential touch, of which she was a major participant in as she was friends of artists such as Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst and Man Ray, often collaborating with them on sewing projects.  The Surrealist movement wanted in itself to challenge accepted notions and ways of thinking, and find new outlooks of seeing everyday objects and situations in a new light.  Using butterflies showed their desire for change, offering the unexpected in a background others can generally relate with in a way that dares our set conceptions.

My own fabric is admittedly not entirely butterflies – it also includes dragonflies.  However, I see this as very appropriate and only adding to the message.  Dragonflies also undergo a sort of metamorphosis – they live a good part of their lives as ugly, mud-colored slightly monstrous looking nymphs or naiads in the water.  Then they come out of the water to break from their shell complete with beautiful, sun reflecting wings to enchant us with their color and agile movements.  Sadly, the stage that we know them by out of the water is the end of their lives, only lasting a few weeks or so of bittersweet beauty.  My fabric is also only a basic cotton, while Schiaparelli’s original sundress was a fine silk satin.  If these facts don’t further embody the whole “transformation of understanding loveliness” ideal, I don’t know what will.

From what I have seen on juniors and teens patterns of the late 1930s, Schiaparelli butterflies were popular in print and style suggestion with young fashion.  I have seen several patterns with giant poufy sleeves which are gathered down the middle to resemble butterfly wings at the top of the arms.  This McCall #9335 pattern from July 1937 is the best example of young ladies’ Schiaparelli inspired style!  In fact Schiaparelli’s style in general was popular with the youth and it makes sense that the younger people (besides her rich socialite clients) would be happy and willing to accept her idealism. Thus, I found it appropriate to use another junior misses’ design, a Butterick #8078 pattern from my stash, as the base to adapt and redraft my pattern for this sundress’ bodice.  Butterick is a year 1939 juniors ensemble which reminds of the style of Schiaparelli (in the late 30’s Butterick came out with a few “designer inspired” patterns).  It is very similar to her fascination for playful yet structural interest around the neck, face, and shoulder line that would reoccur every so often (see this 1948 winter set with even more exaggerated features than my sundress).

It was the neckline that takes the main interest and was the greatest challenge to making this dress.  I had to put myself in the mentality of working with the nature and drape of the fabric to figure out how part of it can be so structured yet supple, with the rest flowing on the bias.  In the end, I interfaced the edge about 5 inches down from the neckline edge, and faced it.  Then a self-fabric, interfaced strip was attached underneath to invisibly hand tack down the neckline rolls.  Interfacing the straight necklines worked out well to keep them crisply linear and support the rest of the long dress.  I have no idea if this method is anything close to how Schiaparelli engineered her neckline, but this was the way that seemed the most simple and made the most sense to me.  She probably made her neckline in some way that would blow the mind.

I realize the original dress had some sort of soft pleats at the front ends of the neckline, where the shoulder straps join.  But as my dress did not seem to like that in the front, I let the fabric do its own thing and keep the pleats in the neckline ends at the back only for a smoother front.  I do love how the wide neckline over-exaggerates the shoulders how have a strong T-silhouette to lengthen the body line in this bias dress.  The original dress had deep armholes and I followed that on my copy to have the free and breezy free arm look of this sundress.  Luckily, though, my placement of the sleeve straps and the armpit dip was adjusted so that I can still wear my regular lingerie!

Schiaparelli’s original dress also had an inverted-V bodice which comes to just above the hip bones at the side seams.  The bodice also has a slight poufy fullness to it at the seam, with a two piece bias skirt below.  I was able to get all of this by redrawing the bodice and skirt of my nightgown Simplicity #3508.  However, to further shape my dress, there are tiny tucks in the skirt where it meets the points of the bodice at the side seams.  This is where I realized proportions are very important to get a specific fit and drape on the body for the desired effect.  I also realized there is no closure needed, amazingly…this is one of the most elegant slip-on dresses I could have imagined!

For the mesh over-jacket, I realize that Schiaparelli’s original was more of an open netting over a tighter, smaller netting.  Mine is similar in styling and ideal, and every bit of luxurious practicality.  I mostly stuck to the original basics of Hollywood #1391 from 1937 (the right year!) to cut it out.  I over-laid the pieces together so that there would be none of the original princess seams and therefore minimal design lines.  The main seams were going to be clearly obvious and showing – that is part of the intended appeal – so I was paring unnecessary ones down.  Where the princess seams had been, I changed the amount of difference to simple darts above and below the waist instead.  As I was working with a knit, and it was only a jacket, this was also a very good fail proof way to sort of muslin this Hollywood pattern since I intend to make another version into a dress at some point!  It was really the easiest part of the whole set to make, just tricky due to the open fabric.

The pointed collar to the jacket needed to be interfaced and have structure like the neckline of the sundress underneath, so I used navy blue mesh tulle netting.  This worked like a charm and indistinguishable!  I also added inner sleeve cap supports of more tulle at inside at the shoulder tops so that I would have uber-poufy sleeves that would obnoxiously stand out on their own just like on the original!

I could not find what the hood on the Schiaparelli original looked like in shape so I allowed myself whatever was available.  The new Simplicity vintage winter and fall 1940 separates was an opportunity to again test out (at least, in part) a pattern I want to make again, and stick to the same time frame of years with the patterns I am using.  I had no trouble making the hood, although I needed to add in an extra pleat to make the neckline smaller.  Only, I liked the way the jacket looked both with and without the hood!  I didn’t exactly want to commit to one or the other, so I made the hood removable!  How?  I added half a dozen snaps along the bottom of the hood to match with other side of the snaps in the inside of the neckline to the jacket.  I will definitely make the next hooded dress, jacket, or whatever I make with it removable in this same way!

The front of the jacket has the option to close with sliding hook-and-eyes.  Most of the time I like it open, or just the one at the waist closed.  When I wear the dress’ matching neck ascot scarf with my jacket on, it really has the summer ideal of winter bundling!  Surrealist contrasts in action!

To complete my outfit, I adapted a long rectangle scrap of my dress’ fabric to have flared ends and interfaced inside with organza for an easy ascot.  My wood and fabric parasol is something I acquired about 12 years back at a re-enactment.  It has a simple floral design hand-painted on a small section of it.  What I did in the blank section to simulate idea of the original matching parasol was to add a handful of my Grandmother’s many butterfly pins and brooches.  Butterflies had been a source of joy and interest in her life, especially as she had a thriving flower garden for many years.  She loved nature and appreciated it in a way I can only wish to emulate.

Butterflies have a way of entrancing us.  Their fragility yet endurance and strength lends a mix that is their privilege.  Their freedom to come and go across our path as they please, to randomly and unexpectedly light up a moment in our life, is no doubt a big part of their charm.  A favorite author of mine, Nathaniel Hawthorne, once said that “Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”  I’ll leave you with that.