“Down Under” Again

After my last post, I still had the bug in my system of wanting more knock-off “copies” of the costumes from the 2008 movie “Australia”.  I remembered suddenly I did have the fabric in my stash, just waiting to be sewn, to have one of Nicole Kidman’s very practical shirt and skirt outfits she wore out on her northern open land of Faraway Downs.  The combo of stash busting and making a movie inspired outfit is both useful and feels great!  In my mind, I’m not in my mid-western American town wearing this…I’m “down under” during the lush wet season.

The blouse was the only thing I made from scratch for this outfit, as I did do a fair amount of work recently to make the skirt something I like to wear today.  You see, the skirt was bought ready-to-wear quite a while back now as I have had this since my early teen years.  At this point, it’s probably almost vintage.  I ought to just be happy I still actually fit in something I’ve had for two decades, I suppose!  Anyway, since about 2005 I have had the skirt stashed away as something I was no longer interested in and saw it as a possible source for a refashion.  When I realized it was almost line for line a copy of Nicole Kidman’s skirt in “Australia” (gosh, it’s even the exact same plaid with the slight lavender striping!) I picked this back out of storage to give it TLC it needed.  The updates primarily included shortening its former long length with a wide hem and using some of that excess fabric from inside the hem to make four belt loops to stitch on the waistband.

Many accessories are true vintage and they are all some of my nicest items.  The belt is all leather and a very dramatic and awesome 1940s style from the 1970s.  My neck scarf is all-silk with a hand-rolled hem, found at a vintage shop, Anne Klein brand.  My ‘almost vintage’ dated skirt is “Norton McNaughton” brand, and I love the quality finishing inside…the plaid matching is impeccable and there is bias binding over the edges inside (worth saving).  My boots are one of my favorite brands – White Mountain.  Trekking through the tall grass needs tall boots!  Finally, my perfectly matching coral red lipstick is “Happy” from the Besame “Snow White 1937 Anniversary Collection: Seven Dwarfs” set.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a wonderfully thick yet soft 100% cotton print from the (now defunct) Hancock Fabrics

PATTERN:  Simplicity #4528, year 1943

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed on hand – thread, interfacing, bias tape, and true vintage, real carved shell  buttons out of the inherited stash of Hubby’s Grandmother. 

TIME TO COMPLETE:  one evening’s worth of about 5 hours – it was finished on September 7, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  all bias covered in a fun and cheerful bright red tape!

TOTAL COST:  As I bought this about 3 or 4 years back, and it is only 2 yards, I don’t remember how much this was but probably not much because I always used to get great deals at Hancock Fabrics

Now, the best part about this blouse was the assurance that it would be my size directly out of the envelope and that it would turn out great.  I have made the trousers twice before now using this same pattern (see here and here), and they needed not an ounce of alterations to fit like they were designed with my body in mind.  I took it for granted that the blouse would be the same perfect fit and I was correct here.  I do need to make another copy of this so I can have a permanent copy for myself because this pattern is worth its weight in gold to me!

This pattern is technically listed on the envelope back as a “pajama set”.  This to me is more like a home lounging set which looks so close to regular clothes that if the pattern is made out of apparel fabrics (cotton, rayon, shirtings, or twill) both pieces can pass as street wear, I believe.  Made of flannel, knit, or a quilted fabric would no doubt bring it closer to pajamas.  Either way, this is a practical and cute set with just the right amount of details.  Nighttime and at home clothes were much more publically presentable in the 1940s the more I look at that era’s patterns.

I LOVE the lapels to this blouse!  They’re so defined and equally pointed for both lapels with just the right amount of 40’s obnoxiousness that most collars from that era have.  What I found strikingly unusual about this is that the buttons only end mid-chest.  Most other vintage convertible collar blouses still direct you to make buttonholes and sew buttons down all the way up to the top (multi-use) even if you don’t really plan on closing it that high (I don’t always listen that well to such directions).  The lapels are tailored well apparently because they are meant for showing off!

It is hard to find a 1940s blouse that is lacking the shoulder gathers and bodice gathers, so this one is a real gem.  As much as I like blouse details, a smooth vintage blouse, or at least one with only darts to shape it, is harder to spot which original era it comes from and is best for thicker fabrics.  I have only one other true vintage 40’s era blouse design like this on hand – a year 1941 Simplicity jumper outfit pattern that I have used 3 times now (see the first version here and the second here).

The date of this pattern – 1943 – is great for matching up with the supposed year of the movie scene my sewing was inspired by.  This outfit comes from the last few minutes of the movie before the credits roll, and it was supposed to be about a year after the bombing of Darwin, which happened on February 19, 1942.  It was the first time that country had been attacked on their own land by a foreign power, and some reports say that 90% of the buildings were destroyed.  As Japanese Aid Raids continued on the country until the end of 1943 and she was staying back and not returning to Britain, so the safest place to go was into the wild country, the Faraway Downs.  But her ideal of a peaceful family life was not meant to stay forever as is seen in the ending scene.

Since all of Kidman’s outfits in “Australia” are so awesome, I do hope to make my own versions of more, but this will be all for now.  There are so many other projects in my queue, and with the season of Fall fast approaching, I know when to stop and be practical, but this outfit was too easy to whip up, and is too comfy to wear to have passed up for another time.  I hope to be prepared ahead of season with some transitional grey, black, and deep wine colored dresses and squeeze in the last of the warm weather garments while the sun is balmy with what projects I am sewing (and posting) this month and the next.

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Aprons Big and Small

Size doesn’t matter when it comes to aprons.  I love them all, whether they would fit a Barbie doll or be in grown-up proportions!  This post is a combo of all of that – a few small sized, vintage inspired ones to decorate the tiny mannequins which stand on my sewing room’s wall shelf and one big 1940’s one which I made as gift for a friend of mine.

Firstly, I’ll start with the adult gift apron.  One thing I have learned from doing many projects for others is that your ideas and preferences can show but must take a backseat to the personality of the person you are sewing for.  This was a wonderful project to work on as a gift because I used a vintage pattern for both my own taste and also because this friend also sews past era fashions using old patterns just like me!  The print is a wonderful assortment of old style sewing machines which both she and I actually use to do some of our stitching.

As I have said before for my other tiny aprons (see here, here, here, and here), these are a charming and fun way to use of scraps of treasured, nice fabric and notions too small to seem useful otherwise.  If you don’t have small dress forms like I do, or don’t want these for actual Barbies either (like me), you can pin them up on a twine “clothes line” and decorate a wall or any other space that needs a little something!  This is what I have done for our kitchen under our spice rack.  Tiny aprons take up much less wall space than having lots of actual adult aprons and yet are every bit just as addicting.  It’s literally hard to stick to just one.  Now my mini apron count to date is brought up to 6 in total.  Yet, I have a few more I want to do still!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The vintage sewing machine print is a 100% cotton, bought from the now-defunct Hancock Fabrics Store.  The fabrics for the mini aprons are true vintage material, found in scraps too small to do anything more with otherwise, but still amazing and killer cute!  I am supposing from the feel of the cottons, the white and green mini apron fabric is about 50’s or 60’s, and the yellow one about 1940’s or 30’s era.

PATTERNS:  Simplicity #1221, view A, a reprint of Simplicity #4939 from 1944, for the full-sized apron; and for the small aprons I used both Simplicity #2748, view F, and Simplicity #1957, view C

NOTIONS:  As the mini aprons are of vintage fabric, I used almost all vintage notion scraps (most from my Grandmother) on them for the details.  The full-size apron is all new materials, yet still stuff that came from what I had on hand.  These were stash busting projects!!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The gift apron was made in April 2015 and finished in 2 hours.  The mini aprons were made in January 2015 and each one took a few hours.

Aprons are relatively easy-to-make, so there is not much to say.  The adult apron was whipped up quickly so I spent extra time to make nice details, especially as this was to be a gift.  I was quite happy with the sizing too and made it as-is (according to the pattern) no changes, except for substituting ribbon ties for self-fabric ones as directed.  However, the small scale of the Barbie sized ones provided a big challenge in and of themselves.  I had to do more hand stitching on them so that they ended up taking longer to make than doing an apron for a real person…how weird.

As the vintage “gardening woman watering her flowers” print fabric was rather thin, I did the extra step of lining the apron with cotton broadcloth remnants.  I also had to add a center front seam to the mini apron’s skirt because I had such limited fabric…but at least I was still able to match up the print!  This by far my nicest mini apron made yet…not all of my own aprons get lined.

The yellow-red-black mini apron is a thick, feedsack style cotton so it was not lined, but it did get a lot of details.  I even added a tiny mini “handkerchief” folded up in the pocket for a touch of quaint realism.  I quickly realized that my idea of going with a fun contrast thread color for machine top-stitching the pocket edges was not the best idea, especially as I was trying to attach baby rick-rack, too.  I really should have chosen a matching yellow, and worked the stitching by hand.  But once it was done, my work wasn’t terrible enough for my own hardened self-criticism to have the heart to unpick.  This was a mini apron after all, was my thought, and one that was taking quite long to make in my opinion.  Oh well – I really want to try this design again, anyway and then I’ll do better for the next time! Not too many people see my nice sewing area, and even then no one will notice some tiny wayward stitching on a mini apron up on a wall shelf.

I’ll admit I did feel sort of bad actually using up my vintage scraps this way.  Perhaps I should have used these scraps for pocket linings in my garments?  Even then they would not really be seen the same way, and on a regular basis (as I am pretty much sewing every day).  Why shouldn’t my house’s decorations receive the same detailing, thought, vintage flair, and handiwork as what I wear?  What would I really do with a 12 inch scrap of lovely rayon seam binding otherwise?  Yup – sometimes I have to find legitimate reasons for my creative desires, because as the saying goes, “Of course, I talk to myself while sewing… I need expert advice!”

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.

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

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

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

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

THE FACTS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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