“South of the Border, Down Mexico Way…”

The great thing about America (allow me to brag about my homeland), is that we are a country of diverse peoples, with equally diverse nationalities, who can celebrate that individuality freely.  A past head of state, President Reagan, once said “…our strength comes from our own immigrant heritage and our capacity to welcome those from other lands.”

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This weekend (May 5th, actually) marks the celebration of Cinco de Mayo, and I have made a 1945 wrap-on blouse to wear for the occasion.  The 1940’s had a fascination for Mexico (due in part to the Good Neighbor policy), often using stereotypical prints on blouses, aprons, and skirts.  Here, my blouse only quietly nods to Mexican culture through colors and decorative rick-rack.  Every year, I see tasteless Cinco de Mayo pictures, store sales, and meals that have no intention of being respectful and it angers me.  I like to have the opportunity to learn more about different cultures, their history, their traditions, their clothing, and celebrate with them the right way.  If I can do all of that by sewing a vintage pattern, then I have succeed in my aim.

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In case you were wondering, my blouse becomes an outfit thanks to a 1980s-does-1940s skirt, my Grandma’s vintage earrings, and modern 40’s style Worishofer wedge sandals.

THE FACTS:Simplicity 1412,front cover-comp,w  

FABRIC:  basic 100% cotton

PATTERN:  Simplicity 1412, year 1945

NOTIONS:  I had on hand all the thread, bias tape, and ¼ inch elastic scraps that I needed to make this blouse.  The neckline’s baby rick rack half vintage – the green is a recent Jo Ann’s Fabric store find while the red is a slightly smaller width and is true vintage.  My back closure ball button is also vintage from my Grandma.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was completed on May 5, 2017, after spending maybe 5 hours in total.

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This blouse was a fun, simple, and different little project that came together quite well.  It is seriously so awesome, easy, comfy and cute that I think every one of you vintage and non-vintage gals would love this.  I’m even considering somehow coming up with a PDF of my pattern to share on my blog at some point, because I know I now feel an 1945 LIFE magazine aricle on wrapped clothing to make yourselfunrealistic ‘need’ for about half a dozen of these wrap-and-go blouses in my wardrobe.  I do not think this blouse looks like an obvious wrap-on top.  I also think it fits remarkably well for as basic and squared off that the garment looks on a hangar.  This basic design was apparently in a year 1945 LIFE magazine article on easy wrapped clothing to sew, and obviously (and smartly) Simplicity pattern company jumped on board.  At first you might question whether a pattern for something so simple is necessary, I know I did!  However, Simplicity #1412, not only has killer accessories to boot, but the top does has lovely bust darts, a curve in the back half of the wrap, and shaped shoulder seams.  It might look like a square, but I believe those subtle added shaping details add so much more to the success of such a top than a basic drafted square ever could.

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My pattern is a medium, which turns out is the perfect size for me.  This fitting designation is unique.  Usually vintage patterns tend to go by numbers for their sizing and not “small-medium-large”.  According to this size rage chart for the medium I should have technically been fitting into a small.  No – I think going up a size gave me enough extra wrap-around room without being too much.  Having a wrap-on top makes fitting not as cut-and-dry as a ‘normal’ blouse!

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There were a number of changes that I made to the blouse which greatly add to its finished success.  Firstly, I doubled up on the layers to eliminate any see-through issues and the need for fiddly facings around the neck.  In other words, I cut and sewed two tops – stitched only at the shoulder seams – then sewed them (right sides together) at the neckline, snipped, trimmed, and turned right sides out so as to top-stitch the neckline down.  Then I reached underneath and sewed the outer sleeve edges from inside out so there would be no visible seams.  Secondly, I cut the back tie on fold eliminating a vertical center seam.  Thirdly, the back waist tie (which closes in the front) was supposed to be a single layer but I folded it in half and sewed it just like a casing to cover all the rest of the seams and make the waistband smaller for my shorter frame. In other words, it’s half the width the pattern planned it to be.  Fourth, I lowered the high, almost choking-high neckline by 1 ½ inches.  Fifth comes the most important adaptation of all – the ties which attach to the front panel.  Not to blatantly pat myself on the back, but the way I made them makes this blouse truly work, so I will explain in detail.

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The pattern calls for ties on either end of the turned under hem to the front bodice panel.  With just these ties, the blouse cannot be worn by itself – the arm openings gape too much…I would’ve needed an extra tank or camisole top underneath.  Besides, a regular tie would just be uncomfortable to get snug.  So – my answer is two-fold.  Six inches up from the bottom hem is another set of ties keeping the arm openings closing higher to cover my lingerie.  Also, my blouse’s ties are skinny bias strings attached to a 3 inch remnant of ¼ inch elastic.  The elastic end is sewn to the blouses’ side edge so when I tie the strings behind my back they have a very comfy ‘give’ that is not confining.  This elastic especially comes in handy with the upper ties!  I can stretch, and my blouse stays closed, but stretches with me.  A plain old bias ties would not be this forgiving.

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This is pretty much the first time I have blatantly used rick-rack for obvious decoration, and I do like it.  Using baby rick-rack makes it delicate and understated to me, not something that is screaming homemade.  Adding interest to a high and/or otherwise basic blouse seems to have been a common practice for the 40’s.  There is a Witness2Fashion post on ”Simple, Glitzy Tops from the 1940s” and a third of the way down she shows McCall #1283, from 1946, a strikingly similar wrap-on blouse with a Grandma pics,wfeatured sequin neckline detail.  Even my Grandma’s high school pictures (1944 to 1948) show her with several high necked, simple sleeved blouses similar to both this post’s blouse and Simplicity #1692 and they all have decoration at the neck such as fagoting and trim shown in the Witness2Fashion article.  See?  Apparently I have a little of my Grandma’s taste in me…

I know I am lacking one color of rick-rack for my neckline trim to be the colors of the Mexican flag, but I was going for tasteful, ascetically pleasing, and symbolical all at the same time.  Some informational sites say that the red color was originally intended to represent unity with Europe.  I’ve also read that the red represents the Spaniards that joined in the quest for Independence as well as the blood of the national heroes shed for Mexico’s liberty.  The green stands for hope, independence, and nationalism.  My cheery yellow top underneath pays homage to Mexico’s traditional culture of the sun – from the sun comes positive energy and life, and “Tonathiuh” is often given the highest honors in festivals and traditions.  Yellow is also the color of corn or “maize”, not just a crop but a deep cultural symbol intrinsic to daily life and in ancient times revered as “what the gods had chosen to create to feed mankind”.  Of course, on a practical sewing level, I was also inspired by this vintage Simplicity #4440, a circa 1942 apron pattern with its two-color rick-rack on yellow.  However, researching the color meanings to my Mexicali top helps me better realize just some of what they are celebrating this weekend.

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My title is named after one of my favorite classic “ranchero” western songs.  “South of the Border, Down Mexico Way” from 1939 is a lovely song that I remember my dad singing “…manyana…” along to the refrain as he would listen to his recordings of WWII and pre-war tunes.  No wonder it makes me happy and peaceful even though it is an intrinsically sad song.  I had to have it as my title…it makes me think of all the best of what I picture Mexico to be, even though I haven’t been there.

I think I reached my goal of understanding Cinco de Mayo better this year than before thanks to making my blouse and typing this post.  I will not bore you with all the related history I would love to share, and for now just hope I gave you enough inspiration and eye candy, with a little sharing of my research, to make your day.

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“Retro Forward” Burda Style – “Fill in the Blanks” Gather and Tuck Dress with Purse

If garments could be reasonably conscious, this dress would definitely be very confused.  My original plan was to make a knock off a Dolce & Gabbana outfit from fall of 2016, but the pattern which I used for the dress is from 2013.  The knit tulip fabric I used is vintage from the 1970.  My husband says the finished dress reminds him of the 1980’s, and here I thought it reminded me of the 1930’s!  Finally my purse was self-drafted off of an existing 1940’s leather purse from my wardrobe but has more of a 1950’s air now that it’s completed. Gosh – almost every decade from the past 80 years has some sort of influence (in our eyes) to this outfit.  Confused much?!  Is your brain alright?  I know my head is swimming.

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Linda of “Nice dress! Thanks, I made it!!” hosted the “Designing December” months back now and personal illness combined with a busy holiday season made for my being unable to even get around to making this dress and purse until recently.  Besides, everything that had to come together for me to even work on this project was slow and time consuming, but don’t get me wrong totally worth every minute.  Thus, my outfit is being blogged late but perfect for those chilly spring season days that hang around right about now.  It might be spring, but it feels like winter some days in our climate…and this subtle but cheery, long sleeve black dress with a season-less hound’s-tooth fashion purse suits those times perfectly.  I know because it was quite brisk and windy the day we took these photos, and I am sensitive to the chill.  Sigh…a warm enough spring is so long in coming sometimes.  That’s why I need to wear some bright tulips!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  for the dress: The tulip fabric is a polyester interlock knit vintage from the 1970s ordered through an Etsy shop, the skirt flounce is a modern, newly bought solid black poly interlock while the lining fabric is the same except in white.  The neckline facing is a cotton broadcloth remnant.  For the purse:  novelty hound’s-tooth felt and polyester imitation snakeskin (leftover from this dress) for the outside, light blue lining on the inside with a big pocket made from a scrap of cotton leftover from this apron.#112 Gather and Tuck dress, line drawing

PATTERN:  Burda Style’s Gather and Tuck Dress, #112, from September 2013; no pattern for the purse, it was self-drafted

NOTIONS:  This dress and purse used up a lot of what was sitting around on hand – such as charms, buttons from my Grandma, elastic, interfacing, and thread.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  I have no idea how much time I spent to prep the tulip fabric, but the making of the dress took about 8 to 10 hours.  The purse was started and finished in 4 hours.  Both were done and ready to be worn on March 13, 2017.

TOTAL COST:  The vintage tulip knit was about $10, the modern interlock knit (in both black and white) for the bottom flounce and the lining were just under $20, and the cost for all the fabric pen packages was $15.  Everything for the purse was already on hand (bought years back) so I’m counting that and all the notions used from out of my stash as free.  I suppose this outfit is a total of $45.  This is more than I typically spend for many other outfits I like much better than this one, but I had a creative itch I needed to scratch!

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 off of 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 you pick out your proper size and add in your choice of seam allowance width.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a finished pattern prepped.  Sorry to repeat something you might already know, but this is just an “FYI” for those that don’t know.

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First off, I will say that my first impression of the dress at the pattern stage was one of strong dislike.  The comments on the bottom of the pattern’s page online express “terrible look” and “reminds me of Downton Abbey”, and yes, I agree. However, the line drawing is what kept pulling me in…the style lines are lovely and indeed vintage inspired.  This is why my dress is included in my ongoing “Retro Forward Burda Style” blog series.  As to the vintage inspiration, I listed most of it at the top of this post.  My favorite vintage pattern that I think looks quite similar is a Pictorial Review Pattern from the 1930’s, no 6459 (picture on Pinterest).  It is labelled as a “Duchess de Crussol (d’Uzes)” personal pattern design, and as that is one of the oldest premier dukedom in France, this design must have been a big and rare deal for Pictorial Review to offer.  After all, Dolce & Gabbana’s summary of their collection references “the ’30/’40s shoulder line of the Cinderella-referenced puffed sleeves.”  Modernly, though, I feel like the “Gather and Tuck” dress is a slightly poufier version of another one of their patterns – Burda #7127.  Perhaps I should have chosen this dress design instead…oh well, too late for this thinking.

I had the feeling the “Gather and Tuck” dress design needed something bold and not in the least cutesy or else I could not pull off wearing/liking it.  Enter one of my favorite fashion houses – Dolce & Gabbana to the rescue courtesy of their Fall 2016 ready-to-wear Dolce & Gabbana Fall 2016 Ready-to-Wear -comp,comborunway releases.  I love all the details of that whole entire line (especially this one), an occurrence unique to me, but the tulip dress especially struck me…it was just something I had to have for my own and it would be something unique for my wardrobe.  Luckily, it strongly reminded me of Burda’s “Gather and Tuck” dress.  Now I had a tip as to what fabric print might work for such a quaintly designed pattern!  Then came along Linda’s “Designing December” sewing challenge and I knew what I had to make for it.  Finally, because I love to go all out for an awesome outfit, I even imitated the purse.  The model’s handbag reminded me of a project I had been wanting to make for the last 3 years, with the hound’s-tooth fabric and everything I needed to make a purse luckily (and conveniently) waiting downstairs to be whipped together.  Granted I know my outfit is not an exact copy, but to make a carbon copy would have resulted in something I might not have liked as much as this version which still stays true to my own taste.  I do not know if I fully succeeded in achieving what I’d hoped and envisioned originally in my head for this outfit, but I feel like it’s a successful attempt.  If I can’t buy designer, I’ll have my own designed style!

What is the most special and time-consuming part to making this project is the fabric.  It is hand colored!  That’s right – why just leave the current coloring craze to be restricted to paper pages in books?! This was a complicated yet invested choice – a desire to have something incredibly personal, creative, and out-of-the-box, as well as out of necessity. I could not remotely find any tulip print I liked to also have a lovely drape except for a 2 DSC_0882a-comp,wyard remnant piece of old 1970’s era knit in a black and white tone.  So I used fabric pens to color in the yellow tulips and draw in two-tone green leaves to end up with the closest possible match to the original Dolce & Gabbana fabric.  I worked in spurts, setting aside about an hour or two at a time to fill in a portion of the fabric until it was done.  Yet, I didn’t just color – a tried to add texture when drawing the leaves and a hint of yellow to the flowers, not an overpowering brightness, with a random tough of black for the stamens.  Too bad the true-to-life colors do not translate well enough through the pictures as they are in real sight.

Using fabric pens was fun, but also sort of a nightmare.  I actually had to end up buying 5 packages (two different brands) just to finish.  The fabric pens were brush tipped and between the material soaking up the ink and also fuzzing up the tip of the pens, there was a disappointingly short life to them.  The tough part was the specific green colors I was using.  The dark forest green and the lime green were hard to find in the heat-set type of fabric pens I preferred to use.  I found some online but the seller on Ebay that I ordered from was dishonest and sent me something I did not order.  Desperate, I ended up finding what I needed to finish from Wal-Mart, which had these cheap $3 packs which worked well enough.  From this experience, I can say that three things – I think Crayola fabric pens are the best working brand of fabric pens, I definitely prefer heat-set fabric pens, and make sure to have several back-ups of your colors before doing a project.  This is advice from a lesson well learned.

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Now, to get to some info on the actual sewing of the dress!  I found the sleeves to be rather skinny, the top half of the skirt to run small, and the rest of the dress a tad on the generous side.  It sewed up pretty well, but some of the directions were just plain bad and ended up a little silly and bulky.  The “slash-and-gather” darts at the waist and the mid-shoulder line are by far my favorite feature but kind of turned out a little weird looking where they end to meld into the dress.  Two of my 1940’s projects (see here and here) have very similar “slash-and-gather” dart details at the shoulder line, although this Burda pattern has them on the back as well…very nice!  The pattern originally called for only one button at the top of the closure, but I felt the pull from the gathers made me feel that the neckline needed another.  The bottom third button is decoration only.  I did leave out the wrist button closing on the sleeves, as my fabric is a stretchable knit.  Other than the button closures, I made no real changes to the design.  When you see the V-neckline in some of my pictures that is not a permanent thing.  See – it’s merely me folding half of the high neckline inside for an easy and quick change to the look of the dress.

Perhaps you didn’t notice, but there are no closures needed to be dressed in this frock.  The waistband gathers are mostly from an elastic casing made out of the waist seam allowance, and besides the neckline buttons, that is everything it takes to put this dress on.  I’m so used to zippers in a dress that it kind of felt as if I was forgetting something.  This one feature offering both easy dressing and lack of zipper setting was a nice change for me to come across.

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So…after everything I’ve said, I am not all that crazy about my dress.  Pooh pooh!  It is comfy, easy to move in, feminine, and flowing.  Wearing a sweater with it makes the dress better in my opinion, but then you can’t see all the details…meh.  I just am not 100% decided that I love it or even look good in it.  “Is it only weird or obviously dated?” I wonder.  That lack of full confidence is what’s holding me back, but the amount of time and work invested in this project makes me think, “I’d better darn well wear this and be proud of what I made…”  I have to throw some of my indecision to the wind (literally as it was breezy the day of these pictures) and just be content.

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To be definite about one thing, I am absolutely tickled about the purse.  I really could not be happier with it and it should see much use being so roomy, practical, and stylish all at the same time.  I am resigned to not having an awesome buckle (like the original Dolce & Gabbana one) because my purse has a perfectly matched novelty hound’s-tooth printed zipper instead!  This was combined with the opportunity to use some snazzy “Hilary Duff” brand charms from out of my jewelry stash to ‘bling’ up the closing flap.  I do love Fleur-dis-lis anything!

DSC_0302a-comp,wThat hound’s-tooth print of the purse is felt, but is was first strengthened with iron on interfacing then re-enforced, as was the rest of the purse, with stiff sewing interfacing.  This way it keeps its shape well.  The edges were covered and stitched with self-fabric binding but every other seam is self-enclosed by the combo of lining/flap facing.  There are buckles coming out of the side panel pleats, so I can totally change out purse straps into something else if I so please.  The zipper was hand-sewn in last, not to necessarily make things hard for myself, but because there was no seam to connect to on one side and I wanted invisible stitching.  All in all, my one regret is that I did not make a pattern out of what I was doing so I can re-create it or even share it, too.  I just wanted to enjoy making it and get it done so I could use it!  What a one track mind I have at times…

Simplicity 1727, year 2012For the record, I did go the extra mile to make a removable collar out of the black imitation snakeskin that went on my purse.  The original Dolce & Gabbana dress has a black swede collar on it and I intended to imitate that but hated it on me on the dress.  I’m so glad I didn’t sew the collar into the dress!  I used a Simplicity #1727, a pattern of nothing but various removable collars.  My make from it turned out great and I will show it to you, just not with this post.  I seriously don’t know how the model pulls off the whole outfit so well with the collar, though!  I will try to match my collar with something yet and show you then.

Investing so much effort in this outfit might not have given me the best results, but I learned from it, did new things, and followed an idea.  Taking the safe and sure route for a sewing project doesn’t always do all of those things, right?!  It’s all part of what sewing and creating is about, anyways.  “Fashion makes people dream—this is the service fashion gives,” Stefano Gabbana has said.  I agree.

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Simple Luxury: a Vintage Hair Curling Tutorial

Yay!  I’ve reached 200 posts here on my blog!

To celebrate I will offer you something that is definitely different.  Here’s my very first hair tutorial to show you one of my very favorite way of achieving a curly hair style.  This method of pinning or setting my hair for curls was shown to me through my good friend, 'Pickwick Papers' curl-paper illustration-compwho is a hair stylist, by her salon’s owner, Cecil.  Apparently, it is the real-deal old-fashioned way that they used to do it before we women had metal, foam, plastic, wire, and electric devices to resort to for a hairstyle we wanted…ladies resorted to paper and fabric!  I have no idea when “rag rolls” and “curl-papers” originated in history, but my first introduction to this type of pinning up one’s hair was in high school when I read Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist”.  There are several references to “curl-papers” in both Nancy’s and other ladies’ hair throughout the book, with the most prominent citations in Chapter 13 (find it yourself here).  Just think – this book was from circa 1840!

It might be the best looking way to set curls (hubby thinks I look rather funny in it), but it is natural, easy on the hair and head, and requires only very simple and readily available supplies.  Little or no money is needed to try it out…only a little time.

This is the final part, number 3, to my post series on easy and simple ways to stay comfy, cozy, and effortless but authentically vintage when it’s time to unwind.  Post number 1 is a 3 hour, bias-cut nightgown and post number two is a fleece, very coat-like housecoat.  The pictures below show my finished style after using my hair curling method. Enjoy the following tutorial!

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This might sound weird to start off with, but I will demonstrate how to make your own “curlers” using something menial but soft and readily available – toilet tissue paper.  This is how Cecil first showed me.  In “Oliver Twist” and Jane Austen times, women used paper – and you still can try this with strips cut from a lunch bag or such if you’d like.  In addition to toilet paper, you can even use paper towels.  I also have “curlers” made from real rag portions or scrap fabrics, the reason this kind of set is often known as “rag rolls”.  However, learning to use toilet tissue paper means wherever you go, you’ll never lack the necessary tools for lovely curls…just sayin’!  Later on you’ll see my curlers made from velvet leftover from this blouse, but just basic cotton is actually the best material, in my opinion, for rag rolls.  You don’t want to use any material silky or slippery in feel.  You want a fabric that will somewhat “stick” to itself.  Here’s your fabric scrap pile’s big opportunity to become useful!

Best perk ever – this set is the most comfortable to sleep through the night in that I have found yet!  This is due to the fact my method of rag rolls is not just wrapping hair around a strip of fabric and tying a knot.  Who wants to sleep on that?!  My rag roll method is all about making the perfect “curler” that eliminates any knotting, tying, or any little bird’s-nest of hair to sleep on overnight.

First off, you need to start with a rectangle that is about 4 inches by 12 inches (or 3 squares of toilet tissue paper to be exact).  You can make your rag rolls longer (maybe 15 inches) if you want them to be a bit easier to work with and you can also make them wider (maybe 5 or 6 inches) if you want thicker “curlers”, but I would not recommend going smaller with the proportions.

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You are going to take this rectangle and fold it first in half towards you, long wise (step #1 & #2), and then in half again (step #3).  In other words, the rectangle is being folded into fourths along the length.

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This done, you hold both ends and twist only 3 times.  A semi-twisted rectangle piece, not a tightly wound ‘rope’, is the ideal.  A few twists of the wrist while holding each end is all it takes.  Now, put your finger into the middle and fold the whole piece in half, keeping it twisted.  Voila!  You have your curler!  You can do this as you go to see how many you’ll need or you can do about a dozen and work with that.

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Now, I usually only do my rag rolls when my hair is completely dry or partially dry.  Starting off with wet hair would only soak the rag scrap and prevent your hair from ever drying (unless you sit under a hood hair dryer for a long, long time).  Wet hair with toilet paper “curlers” seems like the formula for a gunky mess, so make sure your hair is dry for this option.  My hair is naturally curly so maybe starting off with hair completely dry will not work for everyone without adding on some sort of setting lotion or the like…I don’t know, I’m not you!  You’ll just have to try and experiment to see what works best for you.

The same thing goes for the portions of hair you want to use – you’ll have to experiment.  I usually grab a portion about 2 inches square from the scalp and always curl under (unless I want a 60’s ‘flipped end’ style).  Now’s the time for some rapid fire quick tips.  Smaller portions make tighter curls, larger portions make looser curls. You can also twist your portions of hair like you did for the rag “curlers” – this helps the hair stay in place but also makes for a loose, wavy sort of curl.  Rolling in with the hair at a 90 angle or more from the scalp creates volume, versus rolling in at a 45 degree angle which creates a curly style that lays closer to the head.  Rolling in all the way to the scalp creates more, tighter curls while rolling only half way up to you scalp leaves a flat crown with curly ends.  There are so many possibilities for changing it up for a different look!DSC_0348-comp,w

I like to make the front side portion as tighter, smaller portion curls rolled in a vertical angle.  The same goes for the bottom back hair along the nape of my neck.  These two spots come un-curled easily over the course of a day and I like tighter curls falling down one side of my face. My hair is cut in long layers, with the front angled down so curling this way pairs up well with my haircut.

Once you have a hair portion, hold the end of your hair because you’ll start curling there.  Find the middle of the rag “curler” (still keeping it twisted and looped in half) and put your other finger over it.  Roll the end tips of your hair twice over both the “curler” and your finger. Then pull your finger out and keep rolling in from there.  Having your finger over the rag roll at the beginning of the curl keeps the tips of your hair from being kinked or rolled way too tight.  Otherwise you’ll end up with a finished curl that has an end which is very frizzy and terribly ugly (called “cow licked”).  Believe me, I tried a set without my finger there at the end just to see what it would do and won’t do it again!

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Once you’ve rolled up as far as you want to go, take your two “pinchy fingers”, thumb and index finger, and peek them out through the loop at one end of the rag “curler”.  Grab the two “tails” at the other end of the rag “curler” and either stuff or pull them through the loop.

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It takes practice to get the loops just right because if they are too big they won’t hold the curl or tails.  If the loop is too small, well…it won’t work at all either, especially if you’re using toilet paper (it breaks and you have to start over).  Again, this step takes a bit of practice.100_6439-comp,w

With all curls looped closed and hair pinned up, I’m ready for bed!

After a night of sleeping sometimes a few curls do come undone.  However, they almost always survive intact well enough to do their job.  All taken out, below at left is what my rag rolls look like un-combed.  After a thorough brushing with a bristle brush, this (below right) is my finished hairstyle.  The curls do relax a bit over the course of the day, more so with extra brushings, but generally last me for two days.  Of course, as my hair is naturally curly, it probably takes to the set better than others might find.

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This hair set works for many decades depending on how you use it.  A loose set is something I can use for the 40’s and especially 50’s, while a tight set I use for both the 30’s and the 80’s.  Look what fabric can do for your hair!

Please do let me know if you try this and how it works for you.  It took me several times of experimental sets before I felt like I had it down and was doing it decently enough.  Please do ask me if you have a question – whether it’s something you need clarified or whatever!

P.S. I will have a “short and sweet” version of this hair curling tutorial on my Instagram, just done with velvet rag “curlers” rather than the toilet paper used in this post.  Also, in case you were wondering, the printed tee I am wearing in some of my pictures is my newest Agent Carter acquisition…to see the whole thing, go on my Instagram post here and figure out the meaning to it!

“Cross My Heart” Agent Carter Dress Re-fashion

The Marvel Comics heroine Peggy Carter deserved to have more luck in love than heartbreaks, but either way the people she cared for were a major driving force behind her life.  Perhaps no other dress so blatantly shows Peggy’s ups and downs in love with such a fashionable, classy, yet visible way as Season Two’s “Better Angels” (episode 3) frock that I recreated for myself.  I know this is sort of weird to feature such subjects of grief intertwined with affection now that the holiday of love and friendship is here.  However, matters of the heart are powerful things and I can’t think of a stronger (if imaginary) woman than Peggy Carter.  My dress does have a rich, bright red and is elegantly perfect for a night out.  So, happy heart day to all of you and those who are part of your life!

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A quite plain and slightly ill-fitting knit dress had been in my wardrobe hanging unworn for the last few years.  Slackers gathering dust and taking up space are not to be tolerated – we do not have the room for useless items!  It was high time for it to give me a reason for it to stay, and I figured it was basic enough for a re-fashion as it was still in good condition.  I realized it was in a lovely rich navy, one of the colors Peggy wears the most frequently, especially paired with red for a patriotic nod to her dearest Captain America.  The original dress also happened to remind me of a silhouette which would be something I could picture on Agent Carter – body hugging with a lovely bias flared skirt.  Thus, it occurred to me to attempt to make one her bolder garments I’ve long admired, as I had a short cut to easily make something I wasn’t willing to take the time to make from scratch!  Besides…I found a better fit and lovely re-use for something that I wasn’t wearing and enjoying otherwise!  I feel like this one of my best, easiest, and most fun of all my re-fashions so far.

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THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton knit “Land’s End” dress bought about 10 years back with the added bright end panels and contrast being a 100% polyester interlock bought at JoAnn’s Fabric Store

PATTERN:  None!  All personal drafting  

NOTIONS:  All I needed was thread, and I had that…

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was so quick to make it felt almost too good to believe!  It was made in two evenings for a total time of 8 hours.  I was finished on November 17, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  The original dress had overlocked seams, which I kept, but the rest of the new seams did not unravel so I left them raw.dsc_0611a-compw

TOTAL COST:  maybe $10 at the most

On a night out together, a girl friend of mine helped me pick the contrast fabric for my re-fashion.  She couldn’t have chosen better!  My navy dress is a matte finish cotton, so together we figured I needed a knit (of course) which had a lovely satin shine for a smartly contrasting perk.  Both of us decided the bright red (which I would never ever wear alone) was the right tone over the deeper shades.  I bought way more than I ended up needing in the end, so I plan on convincing hubby he would wear a shirt I might make for him out of this interlock.  We’ll see what I end up really doing with the leftover red knit.

First of all, the original dress’ fitting problems were the odd placements of both the waistline and the sleeve hems.  The waist was too low to be an empire, yet too high for a natural middle placement, while the sleeves were like a slightly short bracelet length with a bulky, fake button placket keeping them unnaturally below my elbow.  The sleeve fix was easy – I shortened them above the button placket to hem them so they fall above my elbow.  My re-fashion plans also fixed the waistline problem perfectly and immediately by adding in the belt-like panel.  It brought the skirt to fall at the natural waistline and connected perfectly with the weird empire seam of the bodice.  The new red arched front belt-like panel is double fabric layered for stability and top-stitched onto the blue dress.  There is one center back seam to the belt as I designed it.

1940s-dress-w-green-panel-side-pin-fm-augusta-auctions-junior-house-cotton-40s-skirtThe skirt portion was the best part.  Drawing the curve of the red swirl panels was so fun!  I might have gotten just a bit carried away and added more of an arch to the panels than Peggy’s original dress.  My dress panels go from the front right side’s off-center over to the left side seam, while Peggy’s dress has panels that go a straighter down with a slight curve to one side.  I believe my dress panels’ sharp angles are the main reason for the slightly weird wrinkling going on with the red parts, combined with the fact I cut the insert sections on the bias and sewed them in as a double layers of fabric.  However the “faults”, I so love the red swirls on the skirt portion!  They make my dress have such movement when I walk I feel so elegant – static pictures do not do this dress justice.  I have been able to find only a few extant original vintage garments which have a similar bias, color contrast, swirled panels.  The ones I have found have been from the 1940’s but, to me (going with my gut), this dress appears to have a strong late 30’s influence, especially with my 30’s re-make Aerosoles strap heels.  Needless to say I’m a big fan of this fashion detail.dsc_0086a-compw

The toughest parts to this re-fashion was adding on the red interest strips that give the continuous crossed-heart all the way around the bodice.  The fabric is so silky it was hard to pin into a defined, consistent band.  Bias strips of the interlock resisted being ironed into a single fold shape, and I couldn’t use a hot iron, either.  I just had to pin like crazy and do a butt-load of eye-balling in between measuring to check the placement.  The dress was hung up at this step and I would look and look at the bands ‘til I was cross-eyed and I knew I just had to stitch them down soon or I’d never wear it.  I’m still not sure the bands are as precise as I’d like but – hey, if only I would notice any ‘imperfections’ that’s totally good enough!

The bodice bands are continuous around but pieced to apply. I started at the center back above the red waistband and went all the way to the opposite shoulder for each side.  Then, the back neckline band is another continuous piece from shoulder to shoulder.  I probably could have done better had I done hand stitching to the bands, but this re-fashion was not meant to take too long in time so I merely did machine stitching (which was another frustration in itself).

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By time the bands were sewn on, the dress became a bit of a challenge to wiggle into for dressing.  With all the top stitching visible and the looser cotton knit, my dress needed to look dressy as well as keep its shape so I used small straight stitching.  The ease of dressing was something I was willing to give in on for the nice stitching and assurance of stability for many wearings (and washings) to come.  Adding in a zipper was not an option here.  After all, most vintage garments are a circus trick to get into anyway…I’m used to it by now, just so long as I don’t pop any seams.

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I know my dress is not a carbon copy and I want it that way.  The original dress as designed by Gigi Melton is (I believe) wool crepe, with petal sleeves, low V-neckline as well as a bottom hem red band to differentiate itself from my own version.  I greatly respect the ingenuity of Gigi Melton to find so many lovely 30’s and 40’s inspired ways for Peggy to wear her classic colors of red and navy!

There are other bloggers who have done a symbolical low-down of my specific Agent Carter inspiration dress, so I’ll defer to “Hard Boiled Meggs” if you want more of that, and please do visit if you’ve seen Season Two.  Here’s a link to Megg’s specific post about Episode 3 (the one in which my inspiration dress can be seen), but her post on Episode 2 and Episode 9 further explain the crossing over her heart.  Here’s an official photo gallery to see more from the source of some of the screen shots I shared.

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My photo backdrop is meant to mirror the sumptuous, curious, and spacious setting of the Stark mansion where Season Two saw much of Agent Carter’s time.  We went on a visit to the Samuel Cupples Mansion on the grounds of Saint Louis University.  This historic home is the epitome of luxuriousness which its remarkable amount of fireplaces – 22 spread out over a total of 42 rooms and three floors!  This place now serves as a gallery for SLU’s collection of fine and decorative art dating from before 1919.  The ample space inside made it challenging to have the right light so the colors look a bit different in each of our photos.

This dress reminds me of so much.  Firstly, it reminds me of how one can be vintage without going hard-core by taking a mere feeling, an inspiration, or even a silhouette and blending it with what’s out there today for a mainstream form of the past that is beautifully unique.  On a more personal level, by jogging to mind Peggy Carter, this dress further reminds me to enjoy and appreciate every minute of the time spent with the people in my life.  Taking time for someone is a priceless gift that goes both ways, and Valentine’s Day isn’t the only day for doing sweet things.  Cross my heart – take my word for it.

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Year 1933 McCall’s Reprint Set

With all my recent criticism of modern “Big  4” pattern companies’ reprints of old original patterns, my budget is nonetheless limited when it comes to buying all the old sewing patterns I would like.  (Guess you can tell my ideas are bigger than my budget!)  Thus, in the spirit of being open-minded as well as needing a resource for more variety of past years to sew from, I do still use the re-releases with some misgivings.  Recently, in my effort to understand and sew the early 1930’s, I have used two of the first releases from McCall’s “Archive Collection” – a skirt and tie-front blouse for an ensemble from 1933, worn with my vintage 30’s Dr. Scholl’s brand shoes.

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Both pieces, and particularly the blouse, do have the classic 30’s look of easy sophistication with ‘simplicity-yet-smartness’ of its design.  Both are feminine and flowing yet a bit structured in their own way.  The blouse is one of the many designs of the early 30’s which had interest going on over both the chest and neckline (visit my Pinterest page for some visual examples).  Adding such details gave illusionary body lines, as well as ways to play with dramatic, inventive, interesting, or just plain weird ideas of how many ways to avoid a plain fronted blouse or dress. This skirt, as well as my previous 1930’s skirt, is in line with the style of Lucien Lelong, who in 1925 debuted his “kinetique” line of clothing.  Lelong over saw the creation of slim silhouettes with inset pleats that would pop open when the wearer was in motion but fall back into place at rest (quote from page 82 of the 2014 book of the FIT museum exhibit, “Elegance in a Time of Crisis, Fashions of the 1930s”).  This outfit is from the beginning of “sportif” clothing – the first modern means of dressing with both comfort and style for a new-to-the-30’s type of female…an active, independent, and collectively important woman.

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THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The Blouse – a 100% cotton Swiss dot fabric in a deep dusty peacock turquoise color; mccalls-6993-7053-ca-1933-pattern-compThe Skirt – a heathered tan oatmeal-colored 100% linen 

PATTERNS:  McCall’s #7053 for the blouse and McCall’s #6993 for the skirt, both “Archive Collection” patterns circa 1933

NOTIONS:  I used all of what was on hand – a vintage metal zipper for the skirt, vintage bias tape given to me from my Grandmother for the skirt, as well as thread and interfacing that I had already.

dsc_0519a-compwTIME TO COMPLETE:  Pretty darn quick – the blouse came together in 4 or 5 hours and the skirt in about 5 or 6 hours.  The first was done on September 23 and the second on September 26, both in 2016.

THE INSIDES:  The blouse inside is left raw (it doesn’t fray) and the skirt is clean inside with all bias bound edges.

TOTAL COST:  Both fabrics were bought when Hancock Fabrics was going out of business so both fabrics were only a few dollars a yard.  My total is probably about under $20.

I am quite happy with my finished outfit.  My all over outfit is completely authentic to the times with the fabrics I chose (especially the Swiss dot), the colors will span seasons and match well with what else I have in my closet, and the fabric textures add interest.  Early 1930’s patterns from the time of the NRA are expensive (to me), a bit harder to come by, and considered more collectible (at least from what I see) so this outfit is a welcome and oh-so-very wearable addition to my wardrobe of this decade.  I am itching to make the other long sleeve cowl neck view on the blouse pattern – it looks just as practical yet lovely for my growing amount of 30’s clothing!

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However, I do have lingering doubts that these are 100% true carry-overs of 30’s patterns as they are quite fabric hogs.  I know the 1930s patterns demanded more fabric than a 1940s pattern, but this was still Depression times and almost 3 yards for a blouse seems like almost too much.  I am not certain my claim is worthwhile because this was the era of both an aura of elegance and superficial extravagance, even if only to “keep up appearances”.  I have read other bloggers who have mentioned ad-for-1933-achive-collectionthis seeming incongruity of era and fabric demand seen on the envelopes.  These 1933 pattern re-issues also include a vest and a jacket, but each were released as their own individual pattern.  (Why? To make us spend more money?  It’s quite rude to do this for the Archive Collection when the regular patterns have sets in one piece!)  I am guessing this whole 4-piece suit could have been in one complete pattern set originally – this was common practice in the early to mid-1930s.  I have yet to find the original for these patterns, so for all I know I’ll have to believe McCall’s…for now. 

I did have some problems with the fitting of both pieces – they seem to lack good fitting in odd places and run quite large!  I needed to dramatically take in both the blouse and skirt as well as add more darts and shaping.  Generally, I made the same sizes I would have chosen had these been McCall’s traditional modern pattern, and the blouse and skirt are not the same as them nor are they the fit of old 30’s patterns I have sewn up before.

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First of all, the skirt needed more curving added in to both make the hips and waist smaller and more fitted.  Even with an extra two inches taken out, I still could have taken out more and curved in the waist better because it has a weird placement on me.  I sewed my “normal” McCall size – that’s what makes this fit so weird.  Since the waist is not fitted to my body while the hips fit better, this skirt hangs from the hips while the waist kind of floats in place.  Anyway, it is comfy being loose, and what I feel with the fit is (I think) not noticeable on me.  The cover drawing makes it look like the waistband panel should be snug and at a high point across the middle…I wish I would have achieved that with my version.  I tried to do so, I really did.

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Secondly, the blouse’s shoulders were incredibly droopy on me.  As the perfect fix, the back of the blouse has a Y-shaped dart system where the horizontal “arms” of the Y come up and over my shoulders and down into the wrap front.  The blouse is designed with a Y paneled front, why not do it to the back when it is the best option to achieve a well-fitting blouse?  Of course, this blouse is supposed to be loose and kind of baggy, but too much hanging in the wrong places and a garment just appear poorly made.  Once ironed, my Y darts became invisible – yay – and each dart picked up the shoulder by an extra 2 inches to make the lantern sleeves puff out over my elbow right where they should be.

dsc_0485a-compwWhen the front wrap ends are held out they look like some sort of wings.  I think they are pretty and a good kind of different but having a blouse with fabric hanging down the front does take a little getting used to.  When I sit down at a table with food in front of me, I have to remember to place my arm across my front to keep my blouse’s fabric from dipping into the plate and making a mess.  The same thing goes for being over a sink to wash my hands.  I have heard this pattern design referred to as always wearing a napkin under your chin to catch any mess and generally be in the way.  I do not think it is as bad as that – the wrap front with its hanging ties can be tacked down permanently if you would so like because you do not need to undo it to put the blouse on oneself.  This doesn’t need any zipper or closure, for goodness sake!  For as easy to make as it was and as lovely a blouse as it is, this pattern is definitely worthwhile…as long as you’ve got 3 yards of fabric for it.

We kept with the time period with our background and went to take our pictures in the Continental Life Building.  It is a scrumptious Art Deco gem which was built in 1930.  It has had a tumultuous history and more recently saved from demolition by being turned into an apartment complex.  The lobby that you see behind me is such an over-the-top way to give a visitor their first impression – so classic of the wonderful architecture of the 1930s.  I just love the awe and tingling happiness it gives me to be in these types of buildings, especially when I’m in period clothing!

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In the competitiveness and eagerness to move ahead and be “modern” it seems many towns, especially ours, glazes over architectural history as if it was a hindrance rather than a necessary link to connect us with the past.  This can be the same situation when it comes to clothing styles seen in the stores to buy.  Past fashion trends are always being re-used and re-hashed but once recognizing where they came from and why they were first used, the reason to admire or wear a new type of detail becomes a source of learning, knowledge, and sense of the bigger picture.  (Hint – has anyone else seen a whole lot of 1930s era sleeves on the fashion scene since the last several months?!  Check this out for one example.)  Somehow, I feel like I’m doing both the building and my outfit due appreciation when I am able to pair a ‘me-made’ outfit with its time period counterpart place…and learn in the process.  Also, I guess I’m just venting appreciation for every historical gem of a building that gets saved, just the same as for every vintage fashion trend treasure that gets re-made, re-worn, loved and respected anew.