1943 “Polka-Stars” Satin Dress and Netted Tilt Hat

This post has been long in coming but is now ironic because McCall Company just re-issued the pattern I used (as McCall #7433), albeit with dramatic changes.  Hopefully this post will show the beauty of this specific dress design and how the re-issue has been altered from the original.  Now, if you buy the reprint, you know how to make it more authentic.

A yearly World War II re-enactment weekend always gives me an excuse to whip up a new 40’s dance dress.  Therefore, I cranked out this pink and black satin year 1943 dress, together with a self-drafted fancy tilt hat!

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I confess, this was one of those stupid/silly sudden-last-minute decisions where a few days ‘til the re-enactment I decided year before’s outfit would not do.  The tiny stars in the fabric made me feel patriotic at the re-enactment dance, without being too much, while the black tempered the sweetness of the pink and the black made me feel dressed up without being too overwhelming (see this article from “Chronically Vintage”).  The tilt hat was directly inspired by the headgear spotted at the wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton in 2011 as well as coming from my newest interest in millinery.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  A thin 100% polyester, buff-finish satin, in a rich but light pink with tiny black stars like polka-dots.  The contrast black satin is semi-thick, but also polyester, and was used for the hat as well.

PATTERN:  McCall #5295, year 1943 (this was a lucky find at only $3); the hat was self-drafted

McCall 5295, year 1943, combo of front n back-MNOTIONS:  I had on hand what I needed – the thread, bias tape, interfacing, and zipper for the dress; tarlatan, elastic, hair combs, and netting for the hat.  The buttons down the front of my dress came from the stash of Hubby’s Grandmother.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  I raced through sewing the dress in about 8 to 10 hours.  It was finished on April 24, 2015.  The hat was made in two hours on September 25, 2015.

THE INSIDES:  I had only a few days to make this dress so unfortunately the insides are all raw and terribly fraying.  I was also afraid adding on some sort of bias tape would stiffen the flowing fabric too much and didn’t have time for what I wanted…French seams. After the dance, I came back to clean up the insides, trimming the seams and covering them in fray check liquid. 

TOTAL COST:  This was bought on clearance at Hancock Fabrics as a store was closing so I bought this fabric at about $3 a yard, and this dress only used just under two yards.  The solid black satin was only a ½ yard cut, and went towards both hat and dress contrast, so this cost very little.  The black hat netting was originally expensive, but was a lucky find on clearance at 50 cents for each yard.  So, I suppose my outfit is about $8 in total. 

100_6256a-compMcCall #5295 was just challenging enough to be satisfying and ingeniously designed.  This is also the first vintage 40’s McCall pattern that seems to run very small.  The pattern size I had was technically a tad too big for me but it ended up fitting a bit snug (nothing some smaller seam allowances couldn’t fix).  After making my 1943 dress I had enough leftovers to make these double layered tops, thanks in part to Wartime rationing and economical pattern pieces.

The whole dress is lovely and interesting, but the bodice definitely takes center stage with the neckline.  The dress bodice is constructed in an unusual two-part creative manner for a dramatic style.  The lower front bodice comes first by facing the entire edge and making three rows of shirring from the shoulder to the end of the neckline notch.  Then the four back bodice waistline tucks are sewn and the shoulder is attached to the upper bodice front so this entire neckline can be faced and finished off as well.  Finally, the bodice’s upper front gets overlapped with the lower portion and both are top stitched together along a line of shirring next to the neckline notch.  I was tempted to not add the contrast insert underneath at this point, but I’ll save this idea for next version of the pattern (which will be a winter dress in long sleeves).  The new re-issued version of this pattern sadly leaves out the shirring next to the front neck notch as well as weirdly turning the back into a shirt-look, with its shoulder yoke and tucks.  I can’t wait to see if the new version also faces and constructs the neckline in the same manner.

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Now the contrast under the neckline is such a simple little piece to make such a difference…more or less an odd shaped rectangle folded over with interfacing inside.  The contrast piece only extends from the end of the back neckline to flush with the edge of the button front.  The new re-issue seems to have the contrast wrap all around the neckline and plummet to nothing before the edge of the button front.  Adding in the contrast does nicely support and shape the neckline as well as making it pop on account of both the extra top-stitching involved and the contrast color.

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You will never guess what interesting little tidbit is lurking about this dress in regards to the top front buttonhole.  In order to be authentic, I used my late 30’s/early 40’s Kenmore sewing machine for some of the construction of the dress, especially the buttonholes.  I followed the instructions on the pattern where it said to put in the trio of buttonholes in the dress before adding on the contrast.  O.k., did that, but the end of the contrast piece also receives its own single buttonhole before getting sewn under.  You know what?  The double 100_6293-compbuttonholes align up perfectly together and work as good as a single buttonhole.  On a basic level, I’m supposing the instructions said to do it this way because 4 layers of fabric with interfacing is too thick and bulky, but think about it.  Having separate buttonholes for both the contrast piece and the dress a very smart move and so very “1940’s versatile”.  Depending on the color and print of the dress you could make more than one contrast piece or even leave it off to change up the appearance of your dress!  I’m telling you, vintage patterns do things right.  I hope the new re-issue sticks to this same ingenuity with the contrast piece but my hopes are not high.

The short sleeves were a bit of a surprise to me – what…no gathered, puffed top caps!?  No, the sleeve caps are instructed to be smoothly eased in without any gathers, darts, and such normally found on forties women’s fashion.  They are still quite easy to move in due in part (no doubt) to the fact I cut them on the bias grain just to be on the safe side.  The contrast piece for the sleeves is not a cuff, but something which gets placed under an already finished hem and top-stitched down, similar to the neckline.  The sleeve hem contrast is only offered to match with the short view in the old pattern, but if I was going to make the three-fourths version I was planning on adapting a piece for the end as well, and the long sleeve plackets could be in contrast, too (though not removable).  The new reissue seems to offer similar short and long sleeves, only without the ¾ darted sleeve option.  The long sleeve cuffs on the original are not buttoned, only turned back and buttoned on the overlap, which I don’t see on the re-print, though they seem to have added basic notched cuffs, instead.

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My dress’s skirt makes this so perfect for swing dancing.  I’m so glad I made it for the event (it has seen other wearings since then, too)!  In the original pattern, there is the “traditional 40’s” three paneled back to the skirt, but the front has two side panels with four skinny center panels which dramatically flare out. (See also McCall #5302 from ’43.)  This way, with just the fullness controlled in the front center of the skirt (from the hips down, mostly), the skirt still keeps that slender A-line silhouette, but has extra beauty, fun, and ease of movement.  I love it!  I believe the re-issue to have ‘miss-read’ the intent of those four flared front panels on the original and added in an all-around pleated skirt instead for some uber-fullness that is not as 40’s a silhouette.  Swing dancing in a skirt like what the re-print has might call for some tap panties.

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Here is the reason of the distaste (more like a love/hate relationship) that I have for many modern reprints, especially Butterick and Simplicity.  If you please, let me vent.  They are re-issuing past patterns just well enough to make them tantalizing but at same action frustratingly altering them.  It is wonderful to make these old, hard-to-find, and not-easily-available patterns available to everyone again, yet they have to instead “taint” (in my mind) rather than preserve the past.  Modern is not the past, and modern will change as quickly as one can keep up with.  Thus, sticking to the past should be a bit of a better “tried-and-true” benchmark, I would think.  They could make sure patterns don’t disappear forever by faithfully re-printing them.  However, by changing them, these old patterns are partially “lost” to me.  Leave these vintage patterns  complete with all the individuality that makes a 40’s pattern from the forties, and so on for each decade, giving people a chance to learn and discover.  But they don’t, and so many will miss out on the awesome things that sewing true vintage will teach to one who makes it.  Shame on McCall’s Company…don’t mess with what’s already great.  A modern tweaking won’t make it better for me and many others, I am sure.  McCall’s, if you want the original of a pattern reach out better to us bloggers and sewists and collectors.  If you want to offer a modern version of vintage, don’t call it an archive pattern.  Vintage is awesome and authentic…leave it that way, that’s why we want it.  Let those of us that sew put our own tweaks, touches, and changes into our clothes if we so please, thank you…that’s what makes sewing beautifully individual.  Please join with me in the discussion – input and conversation is welcomed on this topic so I’m not just “getting on my high horse”.

In the next few days I will go into a short but further detailed post on the hat I made.  Stay tuned!

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Putting a Feather in My Hat

badge.80The title phrase for this blog post is the literal truth – I put another “feather” in my sewing “cap” of projects under my belt recently by successfully making and fitting a vintage wool hat.  Not just any hat, mind you, but a hat designated to a certain style which was popular in a particular time period -the mid 1930’s to early 1940’s Tyrolean style.

This post is counted as part of my 1940’s “Agent Carter” sew along.

100_4093a Here I’m wearing my hat with a garment that hits the midpoint in the era of this Tyrolean hat –my 1940 “Gold Diggers” style suit dress and jacket.  My hat also matches well with my 1937 peacock blouse, for another option of pairing the hat with something from the very beginning of the Tyrolean style.

From all I can tell off of old fashion plates and catalogs, as well as what I have read from books and other bloggers, the Germanic/Bavarian/Tyrolean Cultural style lasted from about 1935 to the end of the war, 1945-ish.  There is a wonderful blog post here at “The Vintage Traveler” were this fashion is expounded upon and explained better than any attempt of my own.  I perfectly agree with the author of “The Vintage Traveler” that the Germanic styles lasted because of a very basic reason – it was popular before the war, then the war-time shortages forced it to stay.  If a lady had a wardrobe of these styles when WWII broke out, she wasn’t going to acquire many new styles and/or fabric for the next several years, so those were the clothes she had to wear.  However, I would also like to share my strong suspicion that this fashion prevailed before and around WWII because of the amount of fashion designers fleeing into America to escape ethnic isolation and persecution going on in their homeland territory.  See this link (or see We Sew Retro’s review) that will show you an exhibit about one such designer. Those designers seemed to strike a cord with the Hollywood industry (becoming popular with actresses like Marlene Dietrich).  The Tyrolean/Bavarian style was also regarded as exciting with its new, fresh styles of easy button front dirndl skirts, fun jumpers, and bright colored fashions bringing back a youthful ideal from overseas in our very own America.

THE FACTS:Vogue 8175, yr 2005

FABRIC:  My Tyrolean hat is made from an 100% wool felt, in a golden heathered yellow tan.

NOTIONS:  None needed to be bought; everything was on hand.  All I used was thread (the same color used for my linen 1920s tunic), a ribbon (which was easy, as I have a generous ribbon stash), and a feather I’ve had on hand for a while to use on a hat.

PATTERN:  Vogue 8175, year 2005, (now out-of-print).  Beautiful cover pictures, Vogue!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  With only three simple pieces in this pattern, it was together in the blink of an eye and took me only 3 hours from start to finish – 45 minutes to sew the crown and brim together, an hour to hand sew the brim’s hem, and just over an hour for the cutting out, sewing on the inner band, and other finishing touches.  It was completed on October 25, 2014.

TOTAL COST:  The full price of the wool felt, bought from JoAnn’s, was $20 a yard, but I had a coupon for half price, and I only bought half of a yard, so my total cost was only $5.00.  Making my hat only used up half of what I bought, so in reality I actually only spent $2.50!  How’s that for dirt cheap pricing for high quality?!

Millinery skills are my new ‘thing’…another world yet unexplored for me, at least as successfully as this time.  You see, I have actually made two hats before.  Several years ago, I had made a basic fleece hat, which did turn out very well, except the plaid print does not go with much in my wardrobe so I haven’t worn it.  That fleece hat did provide some faith in my potential for hat crafting.  Flashback to sixteen years ago when I had bought some very nice winter suiting fabric and planned on making a matching “tulip shaped” skirt and “bucket style” hat set.  The skirt half of the project was finished perfectly, and I still wear it nowadays.  The hat, however, was also made perfectly…only it didn’t fit.  Boo hoo!  It was lined and interfaced, and lots of time and details were put into that hat.   When I was done it was way too huge and too well made to be picked apart and salvaged.  Frustrated and devastated, I ended up giving it away (now I wish I had kept it), and have only now regained my hat making confidence again with my wool felt Tyrolean hat.  Enough said!

100_4070 With a pattern this easy and simple, at first I was doubtful as to how it would work out.  As you can see above, it takes only three simple, unusual shaped pieces to become something amazing in no time at all!  The rectangle sort of piece with the notch in it is the crown, and the crescent is the brim, and the tiny band is the loop for my feather.  The brim piece gets a dart along its length (if you look closely you can see it marked on the felt).  Then you sew together the long ends on each side of the square notch.  Next, that notch turns into the crown’s asymmetric side pleat/indentation by opening it up a different way and sewing it together.  That’s it!  It magically turns into the crown as you see it on me and the pattern envelope cover.  For the brim, the slanted ends get folded under before it is attached to the crown.  This part was tricky, but still much easier than expected with the brim and crown matching up and fitting perfectly.

I was wary of the sizing, and actually terrified I was going to choose the wrong size.  I looked up about how and where on the head to measure your head size for hats and measured my head accordingly.  I ended up with a measurement of about 22 or 22 1/2 inches, which was no big surprise as I have noticed labels on the inside of my vintage hats listing the same sizing.  This Vogue #8175 pattern is divided into small (21 1/2), medium (22 1/2), and large (23 1/2) sizes.  I went for the medium size and – bingo! – perfect fit.

100_4103GoodGirlsGotoParis cafe scene-a After much discussion together with a sewing friend of mine who knows about hat making, I opted for a wireless brim edge and I am quite happy with my decision.  As an example, the actress Joan Blondell wears a Tyrolean flared hat very similar to my own in the 1939 movie “Good Girls Go to Paris” (see her in the middle of the left picture). Joan Blondell’s hat was rained on, smashed, rolled up, and generally beat up, but she would pull on her hat, fold it into shape, and it still looked good.  Now, I’m not saying I want my hat to go through the treatment her hat received, but I get the general idea that these hats are supposed to be easy care, easy wear items that have shape, but do not keep that shape by means of stiff, constrictive support.  Besides, the wool felt fabric I used for my hat is so very luxurious, tight, and finely made that it is supple yet able to keep its shape at the same time.  Hand sewing under 1/4 inch hem on the edge of the brim took me longer than sewing the hat together, but I ended up with a very nice appearance, especially after it was ironed.  This hat’s edge is the perfect lightly stable finish to match with the rest of what the hat has going for it…effortless style!  Vintage truly does things right!

100_4097a I did fudge a bit on the inner ribbon band.  Proper vintage hats should technically have Petersham ribbon, which gives the correct flexibility and fiber content to provide the best support and authenticity.  Apparently you’re supposed to iron the ribbon into the curve of a smile as pre-shaping before sewing it into a hat – this way there are no wrinkles in the close of the curve which you get with ribbon or grosgrain.  However, I was impatient to have my hat finished and be able to wear it, especially when it was coming together so quickly.  I did not want to wait the amount of time necessary to order some Petersham ribbon, and find myself agonizing at the mailbox every day just so I can wear my new hat.  At some point, I do want to order some Petersham ribbon and do an inner crown’s band properly.  For this hat, I chose some wide ivory satin ribbon and hand-stitched it on, easing in the wrinkles.  It still looks nice inside, but like I said, I’ll do better on my next hat.  Hey, listen…I’m talking about making more hats!  Keep watching my blog.

100_4101 My hat’s feather comes from a mystery bird, as far as I know.  I’m guessing it’s a turkey feather.  I bought it from a vendor’s tent at a “Lewis and Clark” 1812 Historical encampment which we visited a few years ago.  I had bought another, second, even more interesting feather, to be added onto a “Jane Austen” era bonnet of mine.  Only thing is, that second fancy feather had been eaten up by an insect, and this smaller one I used for my hat was the one I have left.  I didn’t know bugs liked feathers.  If anyone can recognize the bird my hat’s feather comes from, leave me a comment and enlighten me, please.

Once you feel that you can make hats, it opens up a whole new facet of the vintage world.  Now you can perfectly compliment and complete that vintage garment you sewed up with a hat that suits the individual’s taste, wardrobe needs, and sizing.  No more biting the bullet to fork out a lot of dough on an old original for sale – most vintage hat patterns I have seen take about 1/2 yard or less, so you can generally get some very nice fabric for a decent (if not cheap) price.  Making something yourself is sensible in more ways than one.

From my experience, I think hats seem so much more intimidating than they really are, and once you actually get into making one (as long as the sizing is right) you’ll be happily surprised.  After this Tyrolean hat was finished, I know I found myself saying over and over again, “This was it?  It’s done already?  Look at how great it looks!  I can’t believe I made a hat!”  Everyone deserves to have a sense of this proud amazement over what they make.  I have a suspicion it comes from successfully completing a challenging and unusual sewing project.  By overcoming my fear of not being able to do a certain skill, I have found a way to indeed add another “feather in my cap”…the first of others, hopefully!

There are more views of my wool Tyrolean hat on my Flickr page.