One of the most interesting and unexpected observations from a child about my sewing was that I don’t have company labels, care instructions, or check out tags on my handmade clothes. No, I don’t. Yet, this time, I do have a bar code to label me…well, kind of. This top may have a bar code, yet it is not for sale and there will not be another quite like it in the world. I did not go to a store to get what I needed when I came up with the idea for it…I shopped downstairs in my stash. I have no bars holding me back, and no code to dominate what I wear. This top is me silently laughing at fast fashion – I don’t need you, cheap ready-to-wear. I can do better.
This scrap-busting little summer top project blatantly speaks for my lack of conventionality when it comes to what it is that I wear, while my background mural of St. Louis, Missouri speaks for my hometown pride! Together, this outfit is the modern “me”, the side of my life which occasionally does not wear vintage, that is. It is the late 90’s punky-style teen still inside me that still loves to sing loudly to Avril Lavigne while driving around town. Besides, I needed an edgy monotone black-and-white outfit to see the new Disney live-action “Cruella” movie, after all!
TIME TO COMPLETE: This was whipped up in the matter of 2 hours on March 30, 2016.
THE INSIDES: cleanly bias bound on all edges and facings
TOTAL COST: The satin and rings were leftovers on hand, which I’m counting as free, and the quilting square was bought on sale so many years ago I no longer remember. My total here is probably almost nothing!!!
I was literally just making this idea work. That’s okay, though, because I felt like being inventive for that day and just went along with all the setbacks I faced. For example, I didn’t have a piece of satin wide enough to have a conventional center back seam, much less a pleat, so I figured the rear of the top would have to be open…”but make it a stylistic element” I thought. I added metal rings, found off of my husband’s work table downstairs, to connect the two edges. The fat quarter wasn’t big enough for a whole front piece either, so I added little satin shoulder extensions (drafted off of the pattern) to end up with a complete panel. This way the print is primarily front and center to my top and the satin is visible from more than just a back view. I like my top better for all the changes I was forced into because of my fabric choices. If you have an oopsie appear purposeful, it becomes an artistic pattern adaption!
Crop tops are fun for me to wear anyway, but this one is more so the way you can tie the longer back extensions up or leave them down like tuxedo tails. I am surprised the pattern never showed or even suggested this wearing option! Either way, tying the back tails helps keep this crop top down in place on me. As I found out after its first time being worn, the lightweight fabrics I used are too insubstantial for a loose fitting pullover crop top, like this. It has the tendency to not stay down in place. Luckily the heavy metal rings weigh it down somewhat from behind. Otherwise, I could see this top creeping up on me. Lesson learned – do not make a crop top in the lightest fabrics on the market unless you don’t mind if it flies up to arm level. Luckily, the combo of both the rings in the open back and tying up the back tails helps this project to be wearable in the end.
I can actually wear this over a long sleeved black tee in the winter, so this is more than just a one season piece happily. Inside during the summer, when places have their air conditioning on “deep freeze” setting I like to have my faux leather moto jacket as a fun, modern cover-up. To wear this to see the “Cruella” movie, I actually paired it with an oversized 1930s red beaded necklace, nice red flats, and a black skirt, and the top almost looked dressy! In these pictures I am wearing it with another Burda Style pattern, the pants portion to a designer jumpsuit (posted here). This little crop top has become more versatile than I imagined when I was originally sewing it together. What I make for myself always gets worn to some degree, I make sure of that. Anything that usefully whittles down my scrap pile is good in my book, anyway. Yet, I love surprises where something that seemed fun and useful to plan at the moment ends up a wardrobe favorite.
At this point, I almost need a whole section of my blog highlighting my scrap-busting projects…I have so many! This one was one of those projects that has been slipping under the radar of my blog, being worn frequently but seemingly insignificant enough to post. This summer has been so busy, I feel badly for not posting here as much as I would like, and certainly not frequently enough to keep up with what I am sewing in real time, but it gives me the opportunity to easily share simple little creations like this one. I hope, like me, your sewing creativity is still going just as fervent and fulfilling, and this season is also finding you happy and healthy!
P.S. If you want to discuss the new live-action Disney “Cruella” movie, share what you thought of it, or just find out more of my opinion, leave me a comment and let’s get talking!! I found it really good, and well done, but with reservations over some confusing technicalities that do not match up. I’d be happy to chat about it!
Stop the presses! News flash here! I have now made shoes! Well, technically I have sewn my own house slippers, but they are worn on the feet so that is close enough to make me feel like adding the term “cobbler” to my long list of capabilities. I cannot express how elated I am over this creation and just how incredibly comfy they are to wear. I was very doubtful I could pull such an idea off, but my slippers turned out fantastic. Plus, they were so quick and relatively easy to make…and all I used is scraps leftover from past projects! This post is aptly named after a sweet song by the same name by a favorite singer of mine, Lionel Richie.
A big ‘thank you’ is in order to Quinn (who blogs here at “The Quintessential Clothes Pen”) for her encouragement and support over this idea in the first place. Over in this post of mine about the making of this fuzzy winter jacket by the designer Ungaro, I casually threw out the question of ‘what can be done with the scraps of the waist peplum I did not use’. Happily, Quinn voted for the house slippers idea, and it sounded like she started making some for herself in turn. All I needed was a bit of outside inspiration to spur me on, and just look at the wonderful slippers I finished now! I am always so overwhelmed and supported by my blog’s readers and followers. You are all truly the best!
I half-heartedly wonder if it might be old fashioned (according to younger generations) to be wearing house slippers. Thus, just in case a definition is needed here, I will provide a brief one. “A house shoe is a general term for any footwear that is intended to be worn indoors, particularly at home, while a slipper is a type of indoor or outdoor footwear that you can easily slip-on your feet. Remember that house shoes can be slippers, but not all slippers can be house shoes.” (Definition from this site.)
I have a few vintage slippers, of the famous Daniel Green brand, which are closer to shoes, for sure, the way they are so fancy, with molded soles and wedge heels. While they are comfortable and luxurious, at the end of the day all I want is to feel barefoot…but with the benefits of a little extra warmth and cushioning. This is one of the many reasons why I personally prefer soft, ballerina-style, enclosed foot house shoes to both slip-ons (with an open back or exposed toes) and modern molded foam bed support slippers. Yet, a good version of a ballerina house slipper is hard to find, never as comfy as I would like, and also quite pricey. Besides, they never last me very long before they wear out to the point that they need to be thrown away. Cue the quest to craft my own. Sewing can be so enjoyable AND useful.
Unlike the fuzzy house shoes commonly referred to as “slippers”, ballet shoes are made of soft leather, canvas, or satin, for dancers to appear weightless and graceful when performing. “These shoes are lightweight and have thin soles to offer maximum flexibility. What’s more, the shoes feature an elastic band that’s meant to secure the shoe tightly to the foot during the entire performance. A proper ballet slipper should also offer a snug fit, like a glove.” (Info from this site.) Often these shoes are in a skin toned color for an invisible appearance. Modern ballerina house slippers, however, are in all sorts of fashion colors and prints and often cheaper materials.
How about a casual “about me” moment related to that topic? I had the hard-toed ballet pointe shoes when I was growing up. They were merely a cheap but neat second-hand purchase that I played around with and casually practiced in at home…nothing too earnest. They are torture devices though (in my opinion) for all the beauty they offer dancers on stage. Nevertheless, I grew to appreciate and admire both the charm of ballet and the hard work of its performers. (Being taken to a Nutcracker performance when I was about 10 years old helped along those feelings, too!)
What I especially loved about ballet was the soft leather dancing slippers after also acquiring a set secondhand at a resale store. I loved wearing them around the house to the point that my mom went to a ballet store and bought me a few more new pairs. The woman at the store quickly ended that obsession by throwing out very judgmental, inquiring, and intrusive questions to both me and my mom…as if her customers could only be professionals and nothing else. Oh well. No doubt this past history of mine is a contributing factor to my preference for ballet style slippers. Now I can make my own and this is the most exciting and inspiring thing to happen in my sewing sphere in a while!
Speaking of something exciting, my slippers had their first time being enjoyed in conjunction with a very special occasion for us. We went for a short (and Covid safe) weekend getaway to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. I brought a special true vintage 1930s era nightgown and matching robe for my evening lounging, and my new slippers paired perfectly with the ice blue color of the peignoir set. The aesthetic of the room was 18th century which went so well with my fancy loungewear, besides being a dream-come-true kind of glamorous setting, the likes of which I have never seen. It was a great backdrop to take some pictures of my sippers. If you would like to see the whole vintage lounge set, go check out these two Instagram posts of mine (here and here). If you would like to see a short video of me in my slippers in action, see this post!
PATTERN: a Burda Style extra project template in the back pages of the December 2014 magazine (cover page at right)
NOTIONS NEEDED: All I needed was thread and wide cord elastic. The front decorative bows are ribbons that were saved from off of the packaging of a present I received. Re-use and recycle, right?!
TIME TO COMPLETE: Each slipper took me 1 ½ hours, so I spent a total of 3 hours to make these on the afternoon of April 7, 2021.
THE INSIDES: raw edges are enclosed within the lining
TOTAL COST: FREE!
So long as I approached this footwear project with the mindset that it is still sewing, just like anything else I make, it was easy to make these house shoes. The Burda Style pattern I had to go on was even more bare bones than their regular patterns so I am floored these turned out so well. There were challenging to make because of all the curves, small spaces, and tiny 3/8 inch seam allowances. However, as I said above they were not hard to make, though, and a very fun, different thing to attempt. It’s so refreshing, besides good for my brain, to change up what I am working on making!
On the back page of the Burda magazine, you start with just two small pattern pieces for the slippers, both only about 3 inches long, next to a few short paragraphs of construction details. The same page also has a sleep mask pattern and a quilted travel jewelry organizer to make! All of the patterns on page need to be photocopied and custom sized up to be usable. I aimed at the length of the sole being just a quarter inch bigger than the actual size of my foot (9 inches) since I wanted a snug, ballerina shoe style fit. Thus, I had to enlarge the pattern pieces 305% and add on the 3/8 inch seam allowances, as directed, before I cut the pattern out.
There are four different kinds of material I used because I wanted to only use scraps and also to keep the slippers comfortable. The soles are triple layered with a brown faux suede bottom (a tip from Quinn) and a fleece inner foot bed, all sandwiched with a cotton, padded, quilted panel in between. This way the soles are lightly padded with the quilting, soft on my feet with the fleece, and not slippery to walk in with the suede-like exterior. The outside of the slippers’ uppers are more of the blue fleece, lined in a lightweight poly interlock to absorb moisture and keep my feet from overheating in just fleece alone.
I did slightly adapt the pattern to add some improvements. Firstly, it doesn’t necessarily call for an upper foot lining, but it was a not only a choice for comfort but also a convenient way to end up with clean inners to my slippers. Furthermore, the instructions do not call for the padding that I added into the soles, but it elevates these slippers from being merely homemade and makes them so much cushier. Then, I also hid the raw edges by stitching all of the shoe pieces together onto sole before finishing off the upper elastic edge. Stitching 5 bulky layers together along a very curvy seam in a 3/8 inch seam allowance was something I took my time on so the slippers’ construction was right from the very beginning. There are literally 3 seams to stitch on each slipper, yet if ever I needed to get a seam correct and be precise with stitching, this was the time for that.
Stitching the casing was even trickier than sewing the sole. I was somehow able to mostly machine stitch the seam, luckily. I finished the raw edge of both the interlock and the fleece together with a double row of tight zig-zag stitching that imitates a serger (overlocker) finish. Then, the edge was tuned under 3/8 inch and stitched down with a small gap so the elastic cording could be run through the casing along the upper foot bed edge. It is interesting that the elastic has to be so very much shorter of a length than the actual casing around the foot. The slippers should curl in on themselves when they are off of one’s foot or else they will not stay on. Avoid having the knot of tied elastic end in the casing at the back of your heel for a smooth fit.
I slightly obsessed over trying to have the elastic tightness of both slippers to be equal. I think I came so close to perfection, I’m happy. You know, most store bought ballerina slippers all have one shoe which fits tighter than the other and I have always hated that with a passion. I know how hard it is to make RTW to suit everyone’s individual sizing – but that hadn’t fully sunk into my head how much more challenging that is when it comes to our feet. Most people have a body that is not symmetric on both sides. On top of that, many people also have health issues or results of an injury which can render one foot to be different from the other. A bad ankle of mine, leftover from a severe sprain, makes my one foot swell up at times. Cutting two elastic strips the same length made for unequally fitting slippers for me. I can understand the gripes I have had with RTW ballerina slippers much better now. Nevertheless, that problem still is annoying and uncomfortable, I will admit, so I am happy to have avoided it for my own handmade slippers.
For the last step, I took a fabric marker to designate the left from the right…because let’s face it. More often than not my brain doesn’t need one more thing to figure out at the end of a day. I wanted my slippers to be effortlessly enjoyed, besides being something fantastic to present on my blog, as well! Next time I make shoes, I’ll have to try an amazing 1940s pattern for some summer sandals that you make by braiding scraps – much like a rag rug! (See the pattern here.)
The first time trying something new is always the hardest. With my first pair of shoes successfully done, I can feel a bit more confident branching out. Now, I am rather interested in some kits I have seen online, for assembling your own espadrilles or sneakers. Anyone got any suggestions for more shoes to make? This is fun! Just think of the possibilities to end up with shoes that perfectly match your outfit this way…
Fashion historians can talk about classic styles, definitive outfits, and remarkable designers until they’re blue in the face, but a humble Gunne Sax dress seems to outlast them all with its quaintness, audaciousness, and romanticism. A Gunne Sax dress is a dressed down and nonchalant kind of finery. It embodies a longing for a dream world, a sense of nostalgia attached to a sense of ‘what used to be’ that is their great appeal…incidentally also something to be found (in some degree) in every generation. The persevering passion over this style of dressing, which has seen a renewed comeback over the last year, is made all the more poignant with the recent passing of Jessica McClintock (as of February 16, 2021).
She was the brains behind crafting a popular American version of the English Laura Ashley style. She had enough of a thumb on her times (70’s and 80’s) to use ingenuity to propel her both her Gunne and later independent McClintock brand to something anchored in the bedrock of fashion history. This, my tribute to her long lasting legacy, was already crafted last year, yet only now I have a strong spur in my side to post this very special, pet project. Much time, attention to detail, and emotional connection was poured into this venture. Yet, often it’s the exceptional things I sew which are the ones I also am the most reluctant to share…and this project certainly falls in such a category. By interpreting anew a kind of dressing that permeated my childhood and curated my lifelong taste in clothes, I have come full circle…and I just have to share this benchmark moment!
FABRIC: All vintage printed 100% cottons from the early 1980s (I can tell by the selvedge stamps)
PATTERN:Vogue #9076, year 2015
NOTIONS: Except for the thread and interfacing, all other notions are true vintage from the 1930s.
TIME TO COMPLETE: This dress was finished on December 9, 2020 after over 40 hours (lovingly) spent.
THE INSIDES: From the waist and up is lined, and the skirt seams are cleanly covered in bias tape.
TOTAL COST: I acquired the fabrics for this dress through a vintage shop that was going out of business last year on account of the pandemic. A whole big box of fabrics was $25, and these were some of the many cuts in there. This whole dress cost me mere pittance.
I just have to admit it to all of you – I am old enough to just remember the frilly, feminine, prairie dresses when they were the original fad (circa 1969 to 1989). This was before they became cliché, only to eventually transform into the stylish trend of post-pandemic life. Hello, “cottage core” and the “Target Dress Challenge” fads of today…what you’re pushing is really not a completely new thing, as many seem to half-acknowledge when they call it “retro”. The source for this ‘look’ comes from a respectable designer label of less than 50 years ago. It is not gonna be as attractive as can be when it is reworked through the cheap “fast fashion” means and thought of as costumes from “Little House on the Prairie”. Hey, I understand we all need some fun and laughter nowadays, but no rehashing can come close to the beauty of a true Gunne Sax…unless I hope you’re talking about my version here.
I sincerely hope I have given McClintock’s vision true justice here. Sure, I’ll admit I did use a modern pattern to make my dress. Nevertheless, it had all the trademarks classic to a Gunne Sax. I hate to brag but I’ve worn my dress to a vintage shop which primarily sells such an aesthetic and they thought I was wearing a true Gunne. Cue the internalized glee! You have no idea how special this dress project is to me, and how successful I was at bringing a perception to life is the cherry on the top.
Her label’s offerings had an admirable excess of materials and perfection of detail not commonly associated with more modern ready-to-wear. I needed almost 7 yards of material to make my version – 6 ½ yards of the 45” width floral print and ½ yard of the contrast blue! Nevertheless, Gunne Sax original items were also created with easy-care materials at a modest price point for a universal appeal and accessibility. As I mentioned in my “Facts” info above, my dress is all cotton, and being a vintage thrift find, too, it was luckily a bargain for all this yardage (which would otherwise generally be expensive). The print has the classic “cabbage roses” which are quintessential for both Jessica McClintock as well as the decade of the 1980s.
She incorporated qualities of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, with a bit of Renaissance touches, to her designs – high collars, lace, and loads of buttons. This was very anti-establishment and a bold experiment for the times. Just think about how stark of a difference a Gunne Sax is from the proper 50’s styles or the Mod 60’s fashions. Yet, the early 70’s was also riding off of the liberated ideals of the Flower Child and Ossie Clark explosion of the late 60’s. Anything goes as far as style today, when leaving the house is an occasion in itself. I say a Gunne Sax has to be one of the best ways to be ultimately comfy but still pretty in an instant. One of these kind of dresses is like being in a princess dream while awake.
It all started for Jessica McClintock about 1969 when she invested $5,000 from her savings and became partners with Eleanor Bailey, who was the head of design and production for the Gunne Sax Company. According to Bailey’s son, the name was a somewhat ‘sexy’ adaptation of the gunny sack – rough, burlap bags used for potatoes and sack races (info from here). Eleanor soon stepped down, leaving McClintock to head the (then) small local San Francisco dress boutique. McClintock refined the prairie style of the offerings into something “incorporating romance and beauty, and an elegant sensuality, into every product she designed” (from her obituary). Very soon after she began selling profitably internationally, even branching out into offering nightwear and perfume.
The first store under her own label, Jessica McClintock, was opened in San Francisco in 1981, which then fully merged with and took over the Gunne Sax line in 1987. Many women who were teens and twenty-somethings in the 80’s (or even 90’s) know her line of dresses as the coveted, ideal prom pick or a preferred choice for a casual outdoor wedding event – all more formal wear than her previous line. In 1997, “Women’s Wear Daily” ranked her brand under the “Top 100 most recognized”, ranked as the 7th behind Cartier and Tiffany. McClintock once joked that she probably used more lace in her offerings than any other label. In 2013, after 43 years in fashion, Jessica quietly decided to retire at 83, yet she continued to be a part of the brand under the direction of her son Scott.
My mom made most of my nice clothes for me as a child (before my teen years), as I mentioned in my previous post where I said how the color blue frequently appeared in my wardrobe. Well, this project has several different shades of blue! I made a few of my casual clothes myself back then, and I overall liked that most of my wardrobe had a general theme of lots of lace, pretty colors, quaint cotton prints…all features common to a Gunne Sax. I even had ruffled pantaloons to wear under my childhood dresses! Just because I was too young for a trend that was popular for girl 10 or more years older than me (at that time) doesn’t mean my mother and I were not fashion conscious enough to incorporate it into my younger styles! As a teen, my sewing skills were not up to the details incorporated into a Gunne Sax, thus making my own back then was out of the question…but then again I did not have an occasion to need something like that anyway. Now, all these years later, such is no longer the case!
Sadly, I have not yet handled or seen in person a true Gunne Sax dress to have a baseline for my re-interpretation. They are much too popular and pricey right now for me to be able to do that. Buying one for myself back when they were out sadly did not happen either. However, I have studied pictures of many originals offered through Etsy, Instagram, or Pinterest and I have heard that they are often cleanly lined inside. Being a Vogue, the pattern I used calls for full bodice lining and exhaustive details already, making a lie out of the “easy” rating on the envelope back. There isn’t any complex technique called for per se, it’s just a lot of tight corners, precise stitching, and intricate piecing required. This was a pattern worthy of becoming a Gunne Sax! I chose the view C dress with the puffier sleeves and wider cuffs of view A. Then I also added a wide ruffle at the skirt hem to make the skirt longer and more like popular Gunne styles of the late 70’s and 80’s.
I feel that I “improved” the slightly poor instructions in certain places to achieve cleaner finish. Firstly, you are instructed to sew in the bodice lining in such a way that most of the seams, including the waistline, is exposed. With just a little extra step, and some forethought, I have my bodice lining cover the inner body raw edges. A clean inside adds so very much to the wonderful experience of this fantastic dress as a whole. It would be a shame – in my opinion – to go through all the bother of making its exhaustive detailing and leave out one or two little touches which will add nothing visibly impressive yet something so special to see for your own personal pride. Besides, a cleanly finished inside is so much more comfortable to wear. A bulky waist seam is always better for comfortable wearing enjoyment when it can be covered if you’re going to add lining anyways.
Secondly, I know how much of a pain making tiny bias loops are in the first place, and how hard it is to have them become small loop closures which both actually stay in place and look nice. I could see such a closure being bulky along the front and you can’t clip the extra allowance down because (as some blog reviewers sadly experienced) the loops will have a tendency to slip out of the seam. After noting the details on true Gunne Sax dresses, I opted for something similar and used vintage loop tape.
I bought this vintage loop tape understanding it to be from the 1930s on account of the decorative cotton twill tape which is the base for the loops. I do believe the dating to be true after finding the exact same notion on one of my 1930s negligees. Yay! This makes the front closing daintier, lends my make to be especially unique, and is considerably more stable of a closing than bias fabric loops. Practically speaking, nevertheless, there really wasn’t much fabric leftover to turn into button closings. I hand stitched the trim down just along the underside edge of the finished right front closure. It was too pretty of a notion to bury in the seam during construction.
However, a Gunne Sax is never overly straightforward, but always has a tasteful amount of unnecessary flourish. To match with the 30’s era loop tape, I chose a vintage cotton lace trim to add to most of the seams where the contrast panels join the main dress fabric. This was sold to me as a 1910s to 1930s era vintage notion, and the unusual feel of the cotton, the slight fading of the color, the irregularity of the design, and the intricate detail to the trim all lead me to believe this dating. Still, I’m not 100% positive this is correct. Either way, I was ecstatic over the way it was the perfect match in color. I love the way it adds the right amount of detail without also being fussy or distracting. It nicely blends in the transition between the two fabrics. It mirrors the way almost every classic Gunne Sax has decorative trimming along the bodice seams. After seeing the ‘before’ and ‘after’ the trim was added to my dress, I was blown away at how adding the perfect notion can help a project pop. I had 3 ¾ yards of the lace on hand and I had only 3 inches leftover when I was done. It was luckily just enough length to work!
A Gunne Sax has an aesthetic of yesteryear, so I added vintage, Depression-era carved pearl buttons from the stash of my Hubby’s Grandmother. Yes, more 1930s notions! I sewed them down right alongside the seam where the underlap goes on the left side. (The underlap covers up any gape along the button closure.) My sleeve cuffs do feature non-working buttons, however. I used buttons which were somewhat imperfect (that’s all I had left after finding 9 matching ones for the front) and I didn’t want any more fuss to work with just to get dressed. I can roll my hands together to make them smaller and just slide the sleeves on but yet they are still snug enough to fit fine during a wearing. One little bit of a cut corner isn’t going to hurt, right?
After all this, don’t get me wrong, though – I always chose very modern, bold, bright colored things when it came to my fashion modeling for department stores, my choice of a bicycle, or kind of Barbie doll I preferred in my grade school years. Yet, Jessica McClintock often spoke of her belief that “Romance is a beauty that touches the emotional part of our being.” The frilly, dreamy garments from my childhood are the ones which remind me of memorable occasions which were part of what makes the ‘me’ of today.
Based on the year printed along the selvedge of the main fabric, I am dating this dress to 1982, which is before I even existed. Nevertheless, the pandemic has helped me embrace my past and appreciate my loved ones in new ways.
Sewing my own Gunne Sax is one of the many avenues I can tangibly materialize such familial nostalgia…which is why I’m wearing my childhood locket necklace, too. I received this as a gift from my parents when I was 13. Inside, it still has the old pictures of my mom and my dad back from when we had an unforgettably fun family vacation the year after.
For better or for worse, it’s funny how what we wear can be so inexorably tied to the affections and reminiscences of life! I know I will have many new, wonderful memories in the future while wearing this old-style Gunne Sax recreation of mine! As the phrase for the modern McClintock brand says – every day is a celebration of life. There is yet another McClintock dress in the works as I write this…
This post is a week later than I intended it to be, but for a girl like myself with a rich Irish heritage on both sides of my family, seven days after St. Patrick’s day isn’t bad for celebrating either. Any and every day is good for reveling in one’s heritage! I always find it so perfect that the holiday for wearing green comes around for us just as the season of spring does, as well. Verdant hues are the newest cloak being worn by nature, as well. Spring also means school break, however, and as a mom it is always such a challenge to accomplish anything I had previously intended during our son’s time off at home.
Thus, finally, I’m so excited to be sharing another amazing Agent Carter recreation unlike all the rest I have finished. It is secretly a one-piece jumpsuit – surprise! By choosing two different colors and types of material for the top and bottom half I enjoy the appearance of separates. Yet, my top stays perfectly “tucked in” and my high-waisted, wide-legged 40’s style trousers stay up in place…because it is an easy-to-dress-in, all one garment kind of jumpsuit! I still faithfully recreated Agent Peggy Carter’s outfit from Season Two, episode 3 ‘Better Angels’, of the 2016 television series.
I laugh in enjoyment over the sneaky deception of the way I made my version. As I make mention of in my title, I feel this jumpsuit version is so very suited to Peggy’s smart but sensible personality. It is also a bit deceptive in plain sight just like so much of her life as an agent of the S.S.R. (or should I just say S.H.I.E.L.D., right). Also, it is has a bright and cheerful “Leprechaun” green which, between the versatile fabrics I used that are perfect for cooler in-between temperatures, makes this my favorite classy-but-casual vintage inspired outfit for spring (or fall, too, of course). The best part is the fact I used a modern (therefore relatively easily available) sewing pattern as my verbatim source for this outfit. Leave it to Peggy Carter to keep inspiring me to sew myself clothes that become such wardrobe winners which I feel great wearing.
FABRIC: the top blouse half is a Kona brand all-cotton in “Leprechaun” color; the bottom trousers are a heathered grey brushed suiting bought here from Fashion Fabrics Club, in a 63% Rayon 16% Viscose 12% Linen 8% Silk 1% Lycra blend; the lining for the bodice was also used for the side seam pants pockets and that is a basic lightweight polyester in a dark green color.
PATTERN: Butterick #6320, year 2016
NOTIONS NEEDED: I needed lots of thread, interfacing, one long 22” invisible zipper for the center back closing, and I used one vintage dark green Bakelite buckle for the belt.
THE INSIDES: all nicely finished in bias tape for the trouser half, otherwise all other raw edges are invisible due to the bodice lining.
TIME TO COMPLETE: This jumpsuit felt time consuming. After over 30 hours put in, it was finished in March 2020.
TOTAL COST: The trouser fabric alone cost me $35 for two yards, and the bodice was $7 for one yard. The lining was on hand leftover from another project years back so I’m counting that and the buckle from my stash as free. My total cost with the other notions is $50.
Now, one really never gets to see my project’s inspiration outfit on Agent Carter for very long in the “Better Angels” episode, and even then, it is mostly only her green blouse that we see in detail. That’s okay. The trousers are basic 40’s era suiting bottoms and the blouse carries the brunt of the meticulous design lines, after all. Peggy’s green top had these shoulder panels which wrapped from the back to the front where they create a wide, curved sweetheart neckline before they end under the armpit. The rest of the center front to the blouse has a dipped neckline which gathers into the bottom of the shoulder plackets to create bust fullness.
All of these details were already there on Butterick #6320 pattern – yay! The most obvious variance is having a plain, flat front with the lack of a buttoned front opening, such as what Agent Carter’s original blouse had. I like this pattern’s smooth front better, just the same as I chose puffed sleeves over plain sleeves with a hem notch as Peggy’s original had. I recreated those sleeves on this other Season Two blouse (posted here). Also, these trousers are a comfy, pleated front while Peggy’s version had a smooth, fitted front. I have made several smooth front 40’s pants for myself already anyway (see here and here). For as much as I try to ‘copy’ Peggy’s outfits, I always make sure to stay true to my personal wearing preferences so I can have my Agent Carter garments be everyday clothes and not just cosplay costumes. Also, I like to honor the ingenuity of the designer, in this case “Gigi” Ottobre-Melton, by not making an exact copy.
From the soft shine of the original blouse on Agent Carter, I assume it was silk. I cannot tell what material her trousers were but they seem to be a thick rayon suiting to me. My chosen fabrics are more basic and casual, albeit very nice. Kona cotton is synonymous for quality, especially being a Robert Kaufman product. It is thick but soft, durable with minimal shrinkage, and the colors don’t bleed (important as I am making a dual color, two material jumpsuit). I always appreciate the fact Kona cotton certifies that no harmful chemicals were used in its production, processing or finishing.
I felt it was important that my trouser fabric be something a lot more textured than the blouse to imitate the appearance of two separate items. The material I chose is a blend of most of all my favorite materials (rayon, linen, and silk) in a very unusual way – a twill with a flannel finish. Nevertheless, it has a wonderful drape, great medium weight, and a finish which has it perfect for a menswear-inspired suiting look.
The brushed finish makes this a slightly bit itchy (but I wear pants liners underneath to counter that) and the linen in it makes this wrinkle some, too. However, the blend it is in also has the pants portion to this jumpsuit be much more breathable and multi-seasonal than one would expect by the look and feel of it. I am happily surprised by the success of this jumpsuit project. The way I was combining two such opposite fabrics had me worried from the outset, as did the fact I had spent a decent sum of money on the supplies in the first place. The bodice was a beast to sew (more on this in a minute). This had to turn out or I would have been devastated.
I found the ‘bust-waist-hips’ sizing of this pattern to be spot on, yet the fit and proportions were off. The way this is drafted on paper, the pattern is only made for tall ladies. I do not consider myself truly petite at about 5’3” in height, and my torso length (from the back of my neck to high waist) is a common 15” (plus some). As it was, the bodice was far too long, as were the trousers. The pattern called for a 2-something inch hem…I had 10 inches in excess to hem these trousers on the long side for me (I have to wear heels in this jumpsuit). I had to bring in the shoulders by about 2” to pick up the bodice so that the underbust seam rests where it should be landing.
This pattern will NEED some adapting for most anyone who tries out this design, from my experience. It is especially important to learn this from the outset at the pattern stage as the complex and fully lined bodice doesn’t give much room for adapting after it is completed. Take into account that the curved shoulder panels have to be redrawn at the joining seam if you also need to take this design in to fit if you choose to sew this for yourself, too. Please do not let my warning dissuade you from trying this pattern – I highly recommend it. I love the many options it offers with the variety of sleeves and the option of a skirt bottom.
The bodice was extremely fiddly and tricky and takes some slow, meticulous going to sew it right. I have seen some sewists who have made this pattern for themselves skip some details as well as the lining, but I recommend going all the way for this fabulous design. Yes, interfacing the entire bodice seems like overkill, but I did it anyway. Now that my jumpsuit is finished, I think it does help the bodice become a stable ‘anchor’ to the pants below and not be pulled down by that much fabric. Yes, it looks like there are way too many markings needing to be made to the fabric at the cutting out stage. As a stickler for doing things right from the outset, I sucked it up and copied all of the balance marks, squares, triangles, and circles. They all end up being extremely necessary and very helpful towards making construction much less confusing. Even still, the gathering around the curved shoulder placket above the bustline was the trickiest part of all to perfect. Luckily, the smooth inner lining (completely different pattern pieces from the exterior front top) help to bring the bodice together and right the seam allowances.
Before I added the lining, I thought the bodice looked messy and was being pulled too much by the attached trousers. Sure, I ironed the top along the way, clipping where necessary and pushing the seam allowances the right direction. Once the lining was in, I had matched the lines of both the lining bodice and exterior bodice so I could hand tack them together ‘in the ditch’ of the seams. My doing this interior seam matching was over and above what the instructions told me to do, but worth it. After all, it was only then that the bodice was suddenly substantial enough to hold the weight of the 2 something yards of attached pants and therefore not have unreasonable wrinkles. All the ‘good side’ edges have no visible stitching because I had stitched the seam allowance edges for the neckline to the lining as further hand finishing over and above what was called for. I love the chic and professional appearance my extra efforts give, even though it is not clearly noticeable until up close…which nowadays, social distancing prevents that! The lining, though a bother to cut and sew (besides being unseen), completely makes this jumpsuit work out.
My self-fabric belt is the “cherry-on-the-top” to the two-piece deception of this jumpsuit. This was something not originally part of the pattern but something I added. However, it is not your normal belt on account of the center back zipper closing. I slid my vintage belt buckle over the belt strip and centered it between the two ends. Then the center of the belt with the buckle was lightly hand tacked to the center front of the jumpsuit’s waistline. I further attached the belt to the side seams of the jumpsuit. This was done out of convenience for both dressing and bathroom visits. Nobody wants to pick up something off of a public bathroom floor! Also, I had no plans on wearing this outfit without the belt at all. Two oversized snap help the loose belt ends lap closed over one another across the back once the back zipper is closed. I am always justly wary of having anything Bakelite – normally buttons, but here it’s the buckle – going through a washing machine cycle so I now realize I will either have to clip away the threads that tack down the belt or hand wash this jumpsuit. Oh well. The finished project here makes up for any bother needed to take care of it along the way.
This month’s green outfit of mine not only celebrates the equinox and St. Patrick’s Day, but also has a subtle nod to Women’s History Month. This outfit honors the strong ladies who have influenced my life. Agent Carter has inspired my fashion style, my sewing preferences, and my personal confidence. Yet, no vintage outfit of mine is ever complete without something of my grandmother’s – whether it be her earrings, gloves, scarves, or such accessories I have inherited. My Grandma is so sorely missed these past four plus years. She was the strongest, bravest, most resourceful, intelligent, caring, compassionate, and beautiful woman I could ever aspire to be. It is her gold “Lady Elgin” 1940s watch which is the item I am never without for every Agent Carter outfit of mine. Peggy Carter was never without her Nana’s watch in the first half of Season 1’s show…and I guarantee you my watch will not have the same sad fate as her’s did.
I think it is a fantastic tradition for women to honor the previous generation’s women though continuing to wear (albeit gently) their heirlooms. I like the keep some familial treasures stored away, yes indeed. However, there are others which I feel deserve to be enjoyed and thus have a renewed appreciation through the connection they carry. You know, many people have said I look like my Grandmother when she was young…but I also have people I don’t personally know tell me I look like Agent Carter on many occasions. What a happy connection this is as well as the best compliments I could ever hope to receive! I know my Grandmother would want me to be as proud of myself as she was of me. I can only hope and try to be as amazing a woman as she. If I can sneak in a little Agent Carter reference by just doing my own vintage style along the way, too, well…I am blessed. It must be the lucky Irish in me.