…At The River’s Edge

There is something so relaxing to me about being near where I can hear the movement of water.  Of course, as a city dweller I am never really that close to much water.  Maybe that why I appreciate it so much whether it’s a local rambling creek, a man-made fountain jumping enticingly in the summertime, the beaches of Florida (of which I’m a big fan), or the one man-made ‘river’ we have traveling through the heart of south city.  This ‘river’ was the perfect place to go relax, cool down, enjoy myself, and take a few pictures of my most recent sewing treat – a year 1951 dress with interesting seam lines, sewn using a true vintage rayon border print.

The flowers in the border print remind of some sort of tropical, lush beauties.  I like what the color of pink does for my complexion so I wanted this to be on the bodice, which wraps around me in a U-shaped fashion due to the cross-diagonal seaming.  Yet, the directional lines to the rest of the print first struck me as very animal-referenced, but maybe it is more like leaves on plant stems when I think differently.  The animal/stems lend a very proper post-WWII preferred-silhouette of a slenderizing, long and skinny skirt.

Whatever it is printed there, this slightly tropical dress is my new perfect summer dress, which is very ironic.  Usually rayon challis does not hold up well in our hot and steamy summers here – it sucks up too much moisture both from the air and off of me to become limp, wrinkly, and clingy.  Thus, my splurging on myself to use a true vintage fabric was one of my best, yet very wary, idea for trying something new for summer.  I don’t know what era this is from but it doesn’t wrinkle!  It is also a denser weave, and quite tightly stable yet so cool to the touch.  This is unlike any other modern rayon challis I have ever found.  I prefer past styles over newer ones generally already, but now you mean to tell me that old fabrics are much better too?!  I am glad to have this dress in my wardrobe and finally find out the benefits of old-style rayon.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% rayon challis, with a remnant of a modern poly lining for the bodice facing

PATTERN:  McCall #8376, year 1951

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed to make this on hand already – interfacing scraps, thread, bias tapes, buttons, and a vintage zipper from my Grandma’s stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Making this took me about 15 hours and it was finished on May 11, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  This dress has a clean and complimentary interior in pink and blue tiny ¼ inch bias tape along all the raw edges.

TOTAL COST:  Two yards cost me only $7…pretty awesome!

I felt extra pressure to be “perfect” with this make because of the vintage fabric I was using.  I found it at a reasonable price, and it is in very good shape so I don’t feel as if I have to be more careful wearing my dress. No – the pressure came from my respect for vintage and my knowledge that I had no back-up fabric to buy more of if I messed up.  Border prints are a specialty not to be found everywhere as it is, so finding a vintage fabric border print gave me even more of an expectation to find the right match of a pattern, too.  I had plenty of inspiration to go on which you can see for yourself as well here at my “Border Prints” Pinterest board.  The bodice of this earlier vintage year 1943 McCall’s pattern was my main inspiration, what I was going for with this year 1951 make.  Here, as my dress turned out, the floral border was too loose, oversized and not directional enough to make the U-shaped bodice all that obvious, as I wanted.  Oh well, it’s still just as pretty either way.  On the back, the border print runs along the bottom of the bottom of the bodice where it joins to the skirt.

The sizing on this pattern was weird.  Vintage McCall’s patterns are normally always so dependable, well instructed, with fine designs, and can be counted on to turn out great for me, but this one was one of the very few which I have found to run quite small.  I even sized up just to have a safety cushion “in case”.  Luckily, there were 5/8 inch seam allowances which I let out.

My dress’ pattern overall length also ran long, which I left as-is.  I think the longer length is most elegant and very befitting to the transitional 1948 to 1952 period when hemlines were a length they had not been since the early to mid-1930s.  A “several inches above the ankles” mid-calf length hemline like this now seems to be labelled as a “midi” dress nowadays.  It can be awkward on some garment designs, and it seems especially weird from a wearer’s perspective looking down, but generally I think this length is very flattering.  The triple pleats flaring out on each side of the center front skirt give a very gentle hip emphasis to keep the longer skirt from seeming like a straight pencil shape.

I’m guessing the major change I made to the dress pattern is pretty obvious already.  I eliminated the full button-up front closing to instead have a bodice only half-button front (with a zipper in the side, as well).  It wasn’t just because I was a tad lazy and didn’t want to do all those buttonholes and buttons.  I really didn’t want extra busyness to the print and besides – I actually didn’t have enough fabric for a button front!  Two yards was cutting it so close for this pattern…most of the tissue pieces were touching one another laid out on the fabric.  As much as I LOVE pockets, I also had to leave them out for the same reasons as for adapting the skirt.  Luckily I didn’t have to compromise anything else major (especially grainline!).

Eliminating a button placket is pretty easy for being such a visually evident modification to a design.  Most patterns have a vertical line that marks out the center front, the ‘middle ground’ where the two sides lap over and under one another.  It’s normally where the buttons would line up with the buttonholes.  The center front line is the line I placed on the fold, so that I would have one, large continuous front piece.  If you would ever like a seam line in place of a button placket instead, the center front would be the stitching line and a seam allowance would have to be added on.  Many pattern adapting techniques are a lot easier than they look once they are done, and this change-up is no exception.

The minor alteration I made to the overall dress was to add some slight “sleeves”.  Well, technically they’re not full sleeves, the shoulder line was merely extended slightly and the armscye adapted into a rectangle so that my arms would feel a bit more covered.  My upper arms are on the larger side and this seemed to be a feminine dress, so since I had the little bit of extra fabric I would need to make the change, I made easy half-cap-sleeves onto the garment.  This way I also used up every spare square inch of my lovely fabric, too, he he.

With the nice fabric I was using, I took my time with this dress to do only invisible hand work when top-stitching was needed.  This was worth it!  Finding the perfect color thread was not working out, and having a harsh, obvious stitching line was I felt not at all proper for this dress.  I had stitched all along the neckline and buttoning fronts to tack down the facing underneath.  This was the true test of how invisible yet regular I could make my needle do its job!  Also, I hand stitched under to the wrong side the skinny bias tape edge finishing along the armholes.  This was really quite challenging because there were sharp corners and right angles to the opening for the arms very much like another year 1951 dress I made before.

After all the attention I spent hand working on the bodice, I felt I would have been terribly remiss not to spend the same care on the rest – the bottom hem and the side zipper.   I am so ‘sold’ on stitching on hand picked zippers (except when it comes to the ‘invisible’ kind).  I discovered this ever since doing all the “labor of love” intensive work put into this 50’s dress. Such zipper installations turn out so much cleaner, and less bumpy than machine finished ones.  They are less noticeable so that they blend in with the garment as much as possible (unless it’s an exposed zipper!).  One can be so precise with getting a hand-picked zipper to turn out looking every bit as good as it’s intended, it’s worth the extra time every time I finish sewing one.  A bonus on the side is that it gives my machine a break, anyways!

This dress is a continuance of a segment of vintage fashion I suddenly feel I don’t have enough of to wear.  The early 1950s and late 40’s are my current fashion fascination in my sewing.  I love the in-between periods when styles where trying to find the right balance of details and not quite looking like the stereotypical silhouette.  One of my favorite ways of understanding history is to sew.  As I do have a plethora of killer patterns from this time, look out for more of circa 1951 here on the blog (although I must say this is one of the best I think I have yet made from this time period!).  How could I go wrong anyway with a wonderful vintage fabric…in a border print, to boot…sewn with my favorite vintage McCall’s patterns?!

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World War Two Weekend 2018

Last weekend was the annual WWII reenactment that we attended and I thought I would share with you some pictures of the event.  This weekend event has been going on in the spring at the historic Jefferson Barracks for over 30 years now, and it was especially perfect weather to make it even more enjoyable this year.  Almost every one out of 6 years is terribly cold, muddy and rainy!  This time it was balmy with a clear sky.  We met some new, wonderful people and there was a good turnout.  My 5 year old had a blast.

I had two different outfits for the two days, each of them half me-made, and both definitely worth sharing.  These outfits are something you don’t see every day!  To have a change of pace from my ‘normal’ posts, this one will be picture heavy with the traditional history nuggets.

For Saturday I was a British Women’s Land Army girl and my hubby was an Army 2nd Lieutenant Engineer.  Both of our jackets are true vintage.  My pants are the ones I blog about here (from 1943), tucked into the reproduction “Rosie” boots from Royal Vintage shoe company.  By me wearing these military style “Double Buckles” boots, I am reenacting a Land Girl which would be doing other chores than farming, such as at a “Lumber Jill” part of the forestry division called the “Timber corps”.  The girls who worked in the fields often had tall black rubber “Wellington” boots (galoshes).

The British Women’s Land Army (WLA) was a British civilian organization created during the First and Second World Wars so women could work in agriculture, replacing men called up to the military. Women who worked for the WLA were commonly known as Land Girls.  Even though the word “army” is in the title designation, it was actually a civilian organization. Before the Second World War, Britain had imported much of its food. When war broke out and U-boats were destroying many merchant ships bringing supplies to Britain from America, it was necessary to grow more food at home and increase the amount of land in cultivation.  Since many active and healthy men were joining the military, women were needed to fill their shoes and more. The WLA continued in existence even after the war had ended, as food rationing continued until 1950 when it was disbanded. During the time of its work, the WLA had provided 90,000 women to work on the land and had kept Britain in food for the duration of the war. Though Britain had rationing, no-one actually starved during this time – a testament to the work done by the WLA.  (Info from here, here, and here.)

DSC_0104-comp,,three part combo

However, the details to this original jacket share their own interesting story.  It is quite the sturdy garment, made of a heavy cotton twill, but it was obviously made in a hurry.  Many of the seams are not flat felled properly, the way the raw edges hang out in random spots.  The top stitching is a bit wonky, and some of the bobbin thread to the machine sewing did not catch properly.  Now, I am not criticizing, just seeing all of this as a sign that probably resources were low, time was short, and these garments were sorely needed!  The hem is surprisingly interlock stitched…yes, just like modern serging.  My jacket is quite shorter than what I see on women in old pictures of WLA work, so I’m supposing that my jacket might have been hemmed at a more modern date – I’m not sure.  I do love how old extant garments have so much to teach and to tell.  There’s a story in every stitch.

One of the most practical details to this jacket that I love is the removable buttons.  They are very basic buttons indeed.  They seem to be formed plastic, in a military olive color, with a pin through the middle which has a loop at the back.  This way a round jump ring can keep the buttons’ pin backs in the tiny button holes down the left front of the jacket.  The cuffs have the same removable buttons, too.  For all the practicality that these show, I am sort of surprised that the belt is not made to be removable.  It is sewn down at the center back.  I must admit, this way I suppose the belt will not get lost or shift around on the garment.  What she is wearing should be the last concern for a Land Girl to get her jobs done!

For the second day of the event – Sunday – I wore a Women’s Army uniform that is admittedly not perfect, as it is still a work-in-progress, but decent enough for the day.  My skirt is a lovely cotton twill straight skirt made by me from a 1946 pattern for a suit set that I have made, just not yet blogged about.  However the jacket has not so authentic roots.  This began as a basic, cheap reproduction that fit me decently well, and was close enough to the real thing in style lines that I figured I could just use the matching skirt to cut up and refashion more jacket details such as pocket flaps, an extra back bodice panel, and shoulder epaulettes.  I even added shoulder pads.  The details of a real women’s Army jacket are all there, as I believe.

My left shoulder badge is for the Army Ground Forces – a unit established with a mission to provide units properly trained for combat operations, especially organizing of task forces for special operations.  Army Ground Force personnel made over 40 major landings on enemy shore and accounted for nearly 80 percent of the Army’s battle casualties, while capturing over 3 million prisoners.  Women were part of the Army Ground Forces (AGF) – frequently assigned to Armor and Cavalry schools as radio mechanics, they took care of requisitions involving radio equipment, repaired and installed radios in tanks or other vehicles, and even trained men in code sending and receiving (info from here).

At some point, if I do more reenacting or if a women’s Army jacket in my size happens to cross my path at a good price, well – I plan on ditching this repro version for the real thing and using this imitation as an Agent Peggy Carter uniform, like what she wore in the “Captain America: The First Avenger” movie.  I can totally see Peggy being a part of the Army Ground Forces, anyway, especially since she was excellent at code breaking.  Until I find a real-deal uniform, I realize I need some more pocket buttons, and some appropriate lapel pins (I left Peggy Carter’s SSR pins on, sorry I’m not sorry!) to be at a WWII event.

Trying to do dedicated, full out authentic reenacting on a budget can be hard and time consuming.  It is worth doing right, though, because this is more than fun…it’s sharing history and retelling what happened to others by putting yourself in a place back in time.  By either participating or attending a re-enactment is a very special way to learn history that makes what is read in books come to life!

A copy of the “Schlüsselmaschine Enigma” (Enigma Machine) the hardware invented by a German and used by Britain’s codebreakers as a way of deciphering German signals traffic during World War Two.

If you want to see pictures from the other years’ WWII weekend, see this post for 2015, and this picture and this post, or even this one, for 2016!

A Pink and Brown Power Peggy Dress

Power dressing is not something invented by 1980s fashion, even though that is the decade with which it’s frequently associated.  No – people have been doing it for as long as clothing has been around.  It’s not just a showing of status or wealth anymore, though.  Somewhere along the line power dressing has become a manifestation of character, confidence, and personal taste.  Power dressing is empowerment that we put on in the form of fabric.  It is a silent but commanding declaration.  The trick is to find a balance between having it being a cutting edge statement yet tasteful enough to last through more than just a passing fad.

I don’t know anything more basic that can empower women than an awesome dress which combines the best of style, design, comfort, and classiness.  If you don’t know what I mean then maybe you haven’t found something like this for yourself yet.  Every decade in fashion history has had its own version of a power dress, but since the turn of the previous century, this is what the 1940’s had down to an art!  There is no other woman I can think of than Marvel’s Agent Peggy Carter to look up to as a vintage inspiration for these kind of dresses.  Peggy Carter of the post-war 1940s had the basic fashion needs of life that we have today (speaking for myself) frequently have – an on-the-go necessity to look put-together in something comfortable that suits more than one occasion.  Some things never change, and a vintage frock that looks as good, and fit as well as this one (if I do say so myself) is every bit just as stylish and practical today!

This dress is my copy of something seen in Agent Carter Season One television show, episode2, “Bridge and Tunnel”.  My shoes are vintage leather originals, but my purse is a 1940s style make of mine, as well (see post on that here) to complete a period ensemble (which I don’t always have).  In my previous post, “Just Call Me Agent”, I had shown my make of the Peggy’s Season One dress from the episode before, “Now Is Not the End”.  Even though it has now been 3 years since Agent Carter first was on television, I have been occupied with remaking the clothes from several of the ladies on Season Two.  Since 2015, I am still busy filling in my now rather extensive Peggy wardrobe with inspired outfits of Season One.  Look for more to come!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Kona 100% cotton for the dark brown part of the dress, and a poly stretch satin for the pink sections

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8050, a 2016 reprint of a year 1941 Simplicity #3948

NOTIONS:  I had all the thread and interfacing needed on hand already, but I ordered the true vintage buttons from an Etsy seller especially to match with the pink tone in the dress.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This took me about 25 to 30 hours to make, slightly longer than the average dress for me (mostly on account of the bodice stripes), and was complete on November 7, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  bias bound, which was tricky at some points!

TOTAL COST:  The fabrics for this were both bought at my local Jo Ann’s store, and although the pink satin was expensive I only needed half a yard, and the dress pattern is from the 1940s so it is economical.  This pattern probably only cost me $20 or less.

I love how the fashion of the decade of the 1940s doesn’t take women for granted.  Rather, from what I see, it empowers them.  There are the strong shouldered, sharply tailored suits to show they are every bit a confident, formidable strength in the world while being as productive as the other sex.  There are the sweet, feminine styles that are generally the most comfortable and easy-to-move in for all their puff sleeves and gathers.  Then there are the separates – tops, blouses, and bottoms – that can create a flawless yet endless versatility for a casual chic.  Don’t forget the crisp power trousers that society could not frown down into oblivion!  Free of confining body shape wear worn in the previous and following decades (30’s and 50’s, I’m looking at you!), women were instead equipped with bras akin to armor and comfy underthings.  In all, between the these points and the attention to detail, the plethora of tailored looks, the thriftiness, and practical economy of the 1940s, I do believe this decade in fashion had it all going for the ladies…war or no war!

Now, as much as I am for the 1940s, I must say I have normally had a mixed love-hate relationship with reproduction patterns, especially from Simplicity…until the last few years.  Since then, Simplicity has supposedly changed its vintage patterns to be closer to being re-issued old originals than modern re-drafts of old styles (as they had been, hence the funky wearing ease and fitting irregularities I found aggravating).  Now this doesn’t take away from normal sizing frustrations or difficulties of achieving the right fit, but I must say that this Simplicity #8050 pattern is the first from them that actually felt like a true 40’s style pattern.  Ever since 2016, I have had dramatically less issues with as many of their vintage patterns than I used to have.  Simplicity has been impressively standing tall among Vogue, Butterick, and McCall’s now, after all, when it comes to offering the best designs, the most variety, and amount of new vintage patterns.

This leads me to say that I am so freaking pleased with this dress pattern, Simplicity #8050, I cannot rave about it enough.  It fit me as-is, after cutting out my size following the size chart (not finished garment measurements), and there was no special tweaking needed to make it comfortable to move in, besides me doing a precautionary “extra reach room” adjustment to the armscye.  I am sort of ready for a fail, when it comes to repro vintage patterns from the “Big Four” companies, so I added in reach room, because that’s what I always used to need with their reprints and it’s easier to take excess fabric out than it is to be stuck without it in later!  Turns out, this finished up great.  I love the details to this dress, especially the cool front bodice points with lovely body seaming, and found the instructions to be very good – speaking from a vintage point of view and not just a modern one.  Either way, someone used to vintage patterns should like this, and someone not used to vintage patterns should have a good, albeit learning, experience, too.  I am impressed, and not just because of the clear reference in the color and styling choices of the model dress on the envelope cover!  Yes, the ubiquitous red Stetson says it all!

The inspiration dress from the “Bridge and Tunnel” episode is very similar to my own (except for the cummerbund difference) but this pattern could not be a better base to make an Agent Carter outfit.  Besides the clear reference in the model dress, as I have mentioned before, Peggy Carter was a woman of the 40s who had the tendency to wear styles from early in the decade, mostly on account of on her struggle to move on after Captain America’s ‘death’ as well as her bother Michael’s passing (from Season Two) early on in the War.  This is a year 1941 style.  It strikes the perfect balance between femininity and functionality, comfort and class, and standout style that does ‘standout’ in any era – so perfectly Agent Carter, but also great for a woman of today!  Granted, from what I have heard about the original inspiration dress, the brown sections were a flowing wool crepe, while mine is a stiffer, more basic cotton.  I was mostly focused on finding the right color brown and making sure my version was practical for more than just winter wear (and it is)!  All it really took was a little extra flourish (speaking of the shoulder striping) and adding cuffs to the original pattern to have my copy of one of Peggy’s most popular Season One dresses.

Before I made my dress, I read several other reviews from bloggers who had already tried this pattern, and they mostly mentioned quirks that needed to be worked out in regards to the front button closing and the neckline.  Having loops on one side of the front in the right seam edge and buttons on the other side of the front opening can naturally end up with the buttons looking off-kilter, or asymmetric down the front.  It’s not that this ruins it in the least – no, one who sews would probably be the only person to notice such a thing.  However, someone who sews is often his or her own worst critic.  If a true center button closing is what you want with this dress, you cannot just whip it up as the instructions tell you.  I did not sew the loops into the seams as instructed, but sewed them to a separate fabric strip, like an anchor piece, and sewed that further in (by hand) under the right edge so the button loops would not hang out so far over the other side of the front opening.  Then, the buttons were sewn quite close the left edge.  Big buttons especially need big loops, and moving the buttons over on the extreme left edge to center the closure, necessitated the loops to be beveled in underneath.  Making the loops wider like the letter “U” also helped not make them as long as a loop which is snug against itself.  This is probably not the best way to fix this ‘quirk’ of the design, but from an engineering standpoint, it was the simplest, most direct way to correct the centering of the front button closing.

After all the work and forethought I invested in the front button closing to this dress, as it ends up, I don’t really use it.  You see the neckline turns out really quite low.  I didn’t like cleavage showing because the top button wasn’t keeping the collar together.  Thus I sewed an extra little strip of the dress’ brown fabric and have that hand tacked vertically in place from underneath to close the bottom point of the neckline collar together for an extra inch above the top button.  I know…this defeats the purpose of the working buttons and loops down the front that took me so much time.  I know I should have probably just re-drafted the collar to close up a little higher to have one more button and loop at the top, and that would have fixed it.  Yeah, I should have done that – but I didn’t, and this works just as well.  Besides, having to get dressed in this was fiddly with the side zipper, too.  I can just slip it on over my head without unbuttoning the front anyway, leaving me with only the side zipper to remember to open and close when dressing – much easier!

The dress itself came together really quickly compared to the time I spent wherever there was pink – the entire front closing, collar, neckline, and sleeve cuffs.  The sleeve cuffs were self-drafted off of the existing sleeve pattern.  I traced out the last 5 inches of the long sleeve, and opened it up to have more of a curve with a wider top edge.  My dress’ cuffs are double thick, self-faced, and were sewn into the side seam of the sleeve so that they stay in place.  The collar facing was a bit of a pain being all in one piece – but I’d like to credit this to the awful slippery and slightly stretchy properties of the contrast pink satin.  The front buttoning took way too much brain power to perfect – but I’m happy with the result and love how it highlights my awesome vintage buttons, even if they’re mostly just for looks at this point.  Then, there was the last step to finish the neckline – the striping.

 I splurged on a ½ inch bias tape making tool to help me finish the dress more easily, but that only went so far.  The tool did make constructing the bias tape fun, and relatively quick. However, adding on the strips to the dress was hard!  I pinned them down to the dress, then would let my garment hang while I walked away from it, only to come back later and look at it again with a fresh view.  I thoroughly measured the heck out of the placement of the strips on the dress to make sure both sides were even and check my eye-balling of the trimming I was adding.  The area that the strips cover has a lot of curves and movement, and mine turned out sort of wavy-looking on the dress at times because the pink satin had a lot of stretch in it and I followed the existing shaping of the dress.  If I had hand stitched it down, I suppose it might have turned out better, but this step was going to be a pain either way, so I finished it by machine.  I did take my time to work out the placement of the stripes – I wanted them to pretty much be parallel to the bottom edge of the collar yet radiating out of the two top buttons.

I LOVE how much the stripes add to this dress.  This is a trim I would never think to add on my own, much less even try if it hadn’t been for Agent Carter looking so killer in it. Color striping, color blocking, and color mixing were all popular ways in the 40s of adding interest, fun, as well as practical use of small scraps of materials into a wardrobe.  This particular Agent Carter dress is one of the best examples of 1940s fun with solid colors in my opinion.  I can tell from the response it gets.

You see, this dress is one of the few in my arsenal of me-made clothes that gets compliments every darn time I wear it, from all sorts of people, in all sorts of places.  It really is a discussion starter, too, because most of the time, a compliment is followed up by the query of where did I get my dress and how they can have one too.  One woman was amazed that this dress was cotton, because as a quilter, she associated cotton with crafting and bed covers.  Ah, Agent Carter truly is an inspiration for the world today, and if her influence can spread through her clothes, then all the better.

In the episode Peggy wears this dress, she was inquiring about finding a place to stay at the Griffith Hotel, a single woman-only boarding house with strict rules on their occupant’s moral and personal life.  To match, I visited a place which boards young people as well, and is a place of well-established rules and expected conventions (at least supposed to be) – the local college known as “Harvard of the Midwest”, Washington University.  Both the Griffith Hotel and the University share stately architecture and long dreary halls!  Washington University has some sections that were built many years before he 40’s, but heavy stone work and corner gargoyles make for a slightly mysterious and dark feeling that I think is appropriate for an SSR Agent wanna-be!

Have I convinced you to try out this pattern?  If you have sewn something with it, what do you think?  What is your opinion of the Simplicity pattern’s vintage reprints in the last two years – do you think they are better than they used to be, too?  Is this a Peggy dress that stood out for you, as well, in Season One?

“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.

Channeling Crawford’s Adrian

I realize the strong shoulders of the 1940s decade is an intimidating turnoff for many, but I embrace them in all their forms.  For whether they are obnoxious or poufy as they can be or just plain sharply tailored, I see the 40’s strong shoulder line as not only a crucial part of the fashion in, before, and after the WWII decade, but also a very interesting garment point often neglected.   Such can be as fun to perfect as they are even more entertaining to see and construct in all its differing varieties.

A strong, exaggerated shoulder line can do wonders for certain body shapes, as I think it does for mine.  Although I am border line petite (just over 5 feet tall), I do not feel that my waist and hips are small enough in proportion to the rest of me, so the appearance of wider shoulders creates an illusion of the ideal body lines (tiny hips and waist).  This is nothing new…I am just copying off of what worked for the famous actress Joan Crawford, when the equally famous Adrian used this same “trick” as what had been done in the 1830s and 1890s to distract the public eye away from conceived body faults about the midsection and create a certain image.  As famous as well-known as both those names are, they had figured out something spot on that we who are in no manner Hollywood sweethearts can still imitate to our advantage.  From a fascination of Crawford’s high, dramatic hairstyles to my amazement for Adrian’s penchant of precise pin striped garments, from the basic need for warm winter wear to the desire for an unusual item to try and sew, I have combined it all to end up with something that is an unexpected way to power through the cold!

This jumper dress was made for a recent trip to visit the historic garment district in Kansas City, Missouri for the exhibit “Suited Up: Tailored Menswear, 1900 to 2017”.  This section of town is claimed to have been (at one time), second only to New York in breadth of territory!  This cozy outfit let me be a wintertime tourist in handmade, menswear-inspired style!  My shoes were very comfy for all day walking – they are Chelsea Crew brand “Gala” heels, reproduction vintage spectators.  My blouse underneath is a resale store item, but my jewelry is true vintage from my Grandmother.  I realize that all put together like I am, this is a more obviously vintage outfit than most other dated fashions that I make and wear, but I’d like to think that it is a statement enough to be attractive in its own way.  I believe the general public that only relies on RTW is so ready for fashion to be something more appealing to them personally other than what is out there.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a heathered brown pure wool with an ivory pin striping

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1238, year 1944, a jumper-dress

NOTIONS:  The main notion used – the numerous buttons down the front – are a prized vintage card authentic to the 1940’s which had been found at our favorite local antique store.  The rest of what I needed – the thread, interfacing, bias and hem tapes, as well as shoulder pads – are modern notions and were already in my stash of supplies.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was made in about 25 to 30 hours…I took my time to get details done just the way I wanted them!  It was finished on February 9, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  As this was pure wool, it was therefore rather a rather itchy fabric which would fray a lot at every raw edge.  Thus every seam was finished off with bias tape, with the hem covered in a lace tape for a fun and feminine finish!

TOTAL COST:  This wool was a gem of a fabric I found in my local Jo Ann’s Fabric store.  I don’t remember what the cost was purely because this kind of fabric is so lovely and hard to come by in brick-and-mortar stores here, so I had to have it regardless of cost.  Nevertheless, I had a discount coupon and 40’s patterns do not need a whole lot of fabric, so – for just over 2 yards I think I spent under $30.

Ah – Adrian and Crawford…one would not be as famous without the other, but I suggest Adrian owed more to Crawford than the other way around.  Crawford had been in movies since the 1920’s, but her broad shoulders served her well in the boyish and hip hugging fashions of the era – she was the right body for the mode of dressing then.  When the 1930’s came along and Crawford was starring in movies where she played as a softer, sexier and wildly talented woman, she needed a signature style to match in Hollywood.  In 1932, Crawford wore a dress designed by Gilbert Adrian know as the famous “Letty Lynton Dress”, a white organdie dress with big puffed sleeves which were covered in ruffles, to make her look feminine and demure.  It is often credited with being the first movie fashion to be widely copied and sold for the public.  Crawford’s wide shouldered dress gave the impression of a tiny waist and slim hips, and the illusion created by Adrian was suddenly in steady demand with popular fashion whether that garment was in a store, from a sewing pattern, created by a tailor, or from other designers.  This would last strongly through the 1940’s, recurring again in the 1980s, when heavily padded and extreme shoulders were common.  Crawford’s movie roles in the 40’s became harder, stronger, and frequently troubled, and so her large shoulder signature style stayed with her but changed to match until after Dior’s “New Look” styles became the craze.

In Adrian’s own story from the book, Creating the Illusion, he said that Crawford insisted on full freedom of movement with her arms, so much so that he had to leave excess fabric which was then padded to not appear sloppy.  I do notice that many 1940’s era vintage patterns leave extra room in the shoulders, and I regard that as room you need for shoulder pads!  But whether the use of padding came from Crawford’s fit preferences or Adrian’s direct styling for her body, between the two of them it is a silhouette and a technique that was influential and unmistakable.  Crawford was Adrian’s perfect outlet to manifest the genius of his talent.  It took the perfect actress in the perfect outfit to make the world notice her clothes to a point that the world how the copy that fashion for themselves.  Unlike today, the designers were something to think about afterwards, as the Academy Awards for Best Costume Design wasn’t started until 1948.  Adrian designed the costumes for Joan Crawford in more than twenty-eight movies.  Granted, he did wonders designing spectacular, mind blowing outfits for other actresses, but it is how Joan Crawford wore what he made that had a outreaching effect that is still being discussed and understood today.

Now, the original design for this jumper-dress on the envelope cover is much more understated than how mine turned out and I wanted it this way!  Since I was wearing this to see an exhibit on menswear, I wanted something strong and broad as the famous London-cut padded suit for guys of the early 40’s with a hint of the outspoken Zoot Suits.  Adrian himself was a perfectionist at suits and loved to show the height of his ability by having stripes show off the seam lines (see this 1948 suit at the New York MET museum for only one example).  Following these trains of thought, I also was tempted to add a welt pocket on the chest like a true suit, but as you can see I thought otherwise in the end.  I do love how my jumper dress ends up having a double collar, as I wear the shirt underneath on top of the jumper lapels to cover the wool and keep it from itching my neck.  This is better than a man’s vintage suit which doesn’t have this double collar benefit!  Sewing it was much easier than making a complete suit but has all the same feel as one in a dress version.

I have seen such a unique kind of clothing as a jumper-dress before in a few other 1940s and 1970s patterns and I really like the whole idea of it – a one-piece garment that can be worn with a blouse underneath like a jumper or still work being worn alone as a dress.  The famous actress Gene Tierney wears a very similarly styled jumper-dress, in a lovely light blue sans blouse underneath, in the 1945 movie “Leave Her to Heaven”.  The banded armscye (as this kind of shoulder extension that looks like a sleeve is called) was stiff and sticking out on its own on Gene Tierney, and I used heavy interfacing to copy that appearance.  However I have found an extant jumper-dress in rayon crepe that has a limp, unstructured banded armscye and it is amazing how one small detail as the weight of interfacing can change the whole “look”.  I have even seen a banded armscye which is highly decorated on this fancy 1940’s blouse, or one used upside down in this 1930’s evening gown.  The more you look at fashion from the past, the more you see the variety our modern RTW fashions are missing. 

The pattern for a banded armscye has the general shape of an almond because it is folded in half to be a double layer self-facing piece.  However, this “mock sleeve’’ needs to have a much lower dip, meaning the side seam is closed at a much lower point than regular garments with a true set-in sleeve.  There is a triangular insert piece that can be added to the bottom point of the armscye where it ends at the side seam, meant for when this is worn alone as a dress.  Of course, for this to be that versatile it would not be made from a wool but out of a gabardine, linen, or rayon of some sort, or something else multi-season with some body because I don’t like the ‘limp’ look of that extant dress I mentioned above.  You have to just go all the way for some styles like this – to carry off powerful fashion is obviously being committed to a style that is every bit as strong as you are…or want to be!  Crawford often said that she never went out anywhere unless she looked like “Joan Crawford the movie star”, so I’m supposing that this powerful fashion of hers was like being vested in more than clothing.  Clothing has been described as armor that makes us feel whole or keeps us safe from what brings us down.

The design was deceptively simple, really.  It wasn’t much harder than a shirt with a skirt attached, but it was the tailoring and details that I spend most of my time on to make this.  The layout required a large amount of brain power to have the stripes match as impeccably as an Adrian inspired garment could become.  I must say I was impressed at how well this pattern fit on me and came together, as some 1940s Simplicity patterns can be not that great, so the design deserves credit for my success – and I am quite pleased with this!  I love how the pin striping miters in at the seams, and even ended up matching so well where the darts meet the skirt at the waist.  I even somehow got the collar to match!  To highlight the design and lay around with the striping, I had the banded armscye be horizontal while the rest of the dress was generally vertical.  Adrian was a fan of a geometric approach to clothing.

Making all those buttonholes down the front and matching the buttons in place is and will always be such an exhausting thing to do for me, but every time I see such a garment finished it becomes so worth it in the end.  This garment is especially the case because I used an intact card of vintage buttons, which I was so excited yet reluctant to use.  It’s not that I want to just stash such treasures, or just hold onto them because they do not serve their intended purpose or get to shine just sitting in my collection!  It’s just somehow harder to incorporate an old notion into my modern vintage when I feel that I have to separate it from its lovely, dramatic, pristine display placement on a perfect condition button card.  Such notions like this remind me of how upscale and respected home sewing used to be, besides the fact that the quality of our modern notions have dramatically gone downhill!  The buttons match so well with the wool in color, but it seems to me that their complex face makes them a subtle but still noticeable detail.

I am quite proud of the statement 40’s hairstyle I pulled off with this outfit!  Joan Crawford seemed to wear her hair high up above her forehead on top her head frequently circa 1944 (see here and here), as did her fellow actresses Rosalind Russell and Paulette Goddard to name a few.  Their hair is similar but seems to be more of a comb over than an under roll like mine, making it closer to a Dorothy Gray style.  Realistically, I am not an actress and I needed a hairstyle to stay in place all day!  With a lot of hairspray and pins, it did stay!  Beseme brand “Red Velvet” lipstick completes the vintage look.

So – do you think you will try the over-emphasized shoulder look for yourself?  Do you love it the way I do?  Say yes to the shoulder pad!  Knit fabrics nowadays have people so used to a close body fit, but extra fabric and shoulder pads to structure the body can and does have its benefits if your body shape is something waist and below you’re self-conscious about.  1950s hip exaggeration works the other way around, making your waist and above seem smaller.  I’ll stop there.  All I’ll say is that’s the not-so-advertised benefit of vintage – you can choose an era or styles that work well to compliment your body!  What do you like yourself most wearing?  Are you on the camp of Bette Davis or on Joan Crawford when it comes to the subject of their long-lasting feud? (I’m neutral on that feud, BTW!)