One Shot

When you finally have the chance you’ve been waiting for…when you have the opportunity to be what you aspire to be…when you have one try to get something right…that ‘one shot’, or trial attempt, out into the dark of the unknown can mean failure or success.  If you have to wait for an answer, not knowing which of the two will be the result of your effort is agonizing.  However, being bold enough to follow your heart and do what is right for you is an answer enough…whether or not the truth shines through.  The worth that was already there is in its full glory so own it.  I’ll just sit back and completely own this me-made Agent Carter suit with a maker’s pride, and be a second Peggy for a time!

April 9 is International Peggy Carter day, her “birthday” per se (which in fan fiction is in 1921), and a day to celebrate in our own individual ways a character from Marvel Comics that has brought so much into our lives.  I celebrate by dressing like Peggy, even if it’s just adding some little detail like red lipstick.  Most importantly, though, it is seen as a day of confidence, empowerment, and compassion.  Believe in yourself today, and have confidence that you are beautiful inside and out – worthwhile in every way.  Have empathy for others and treat them like an equal human being, and feel the courage to say or do what needs to be done today or in the future.

Speaking of having guts, this post’s outfit required all the dedication and enthusiasm I could muster because this was my first attempt at full-fledged, proper suit tailoring…and I couldn’t be happier with the result!  My patience was tested and proven by this seriously complex, two-piece project made from a true vintage pattern.  The fabric and design I chose was directly inspired by Peggy’s fashion on the pilot episode of “Agent Carter” called “One Shot”, a short story (fifteen minute) release to American audiences in September 2013 on the Iron Man 3 DVD.  (Please, go watch it for yourself here.)  It was Marvel’s successful test run of an idea on the heels of Captain America: Winter Soldier, showing them there was (and still is) overwhelming interest in Peggy receiving her own screen-aired storyline.  As she was shown competently taking upon herself a solo mission in the face of extreme sexism and underestimation, I cannot think of a more appropriate example for me to channel on International Peggy Carter Day.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a cotton flannel plaid, underlined in a cotton broadcloth, stabilized in loose cotton canvas (light interfacing weight) for the main body of the jacket, lined in poly cling-free lining (on hand); the skirt is an all-cotton heavyweight twill (almost a denim), with the jacket detailing being the same material

PATTERN:  McCall #6638, a Junior’s Two-Piece Suit, year 1946

NOTIONS:  I needed lots and lots of thread (which I had), a zipper and waistband hook for the skirt, iron-on interfacing, and a set of vintage plastic but carved-horn look-alike buttons from my husband’s Grandmother’s collection of notions.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Not counting the patterning, the skirt took only 2 hours to make on was finished on February 4, 2018, while the jacket took me 40 plus hours to sew and was finished on March 14, 2018.

TOTAL COST:  The skirt total cost me about $15, the jacket total about $45 ($30 for plaid flannel from “GSM Designs” on Etsy, $15 for the extra padded layers) so the overall price is $60.  Not at all a bad price for a suit set like this, much less a customized fitting, vintage-style one!

There are several cool coincidences when it comes to this outfit – I revel in things falling into place just so!  This always tells me that I’m on to something good that is meant to be.  First of all, the “One Shot” episode takes place in the year 1946…the same as the date on the pattern I used to make my look-alike suit!  This pattern was something I already had in my stash so it was super convenient, practically the only Agent Carter outfit I have needed to hunt down a design for specifically.  Also, the skirt half for this is so very versatile and an easy choice.  It is made of exactly the same wonderful favorite fabric as my two pairs of 1950s skinny jeans (red one here, pink one here) and it is super reasonably priced so I kind of knew it would be a workhorse of a piece, but I didn’t expect it would become something I now wonder how I lived without.  This basic, brown, slight A-line, skinny, straight skirt completes a true vintage early 1950s blazer that I have, many of my blouses, as well as a post-WWII peplum blouse I have recently sewn (yet to be posted)!

The only reason I dove into this long admired Agent Carter set was because I happened to come across a small lot of the perfect matching plaid online.  Well, yes, this plaid does have an undertone of olive green (which I love) that is actually not on the original Hollywood costume, buy hey…I do need to make my project my very own.  So – I had the perfect opportunity in my hands…with no extra fabric in case I didn’t make this project perfectly.  My “one shot” at this luckily turned out nearly perfect…but I blame it on a great pattern and following in the steps of something amazing in the first place.

It was tough just reaching the point where I had a usable pattern to start with because this suit was for junior’s sizing – it was for young women very petite with tiny proportions.  I had to retrace AND resize every freaking pattern piece…and there were so many!  This was the ‘make or break’ step that might ruin my efforts or make them worthwhile.  It was a bit stressful to realize that.  I did the patterning step a few months before even beginning to make my suit set.  I wanted the pattern fresh in my mind yet needed a break first, too.  I did try a loose pattern tissue fit and after a tweak here and there I had to leave it well enough alone or I would overthink it forever and never actually start sewing.  Post-project, the only fault I see to my grading was making my jacket sleeves ½ too long…but that’s not bad, is it?! 

The skirt came first in my ‘battle plan’.  Ha – this is a reference to my favorite joke!  “How do you make a jacket last?  You sew the bottom half first.”  Yeah, sorry about that.  Anyway, it was an easy make that gave me preliminary confidence that my grading might just be right on.  I left the skirt on the longer side for a 1946 design but I liked this better on myself and I wanted to make it clearer that it is a post-wartime set.  The skirt is pretty simple, but it has great shaping and I love the pointed tab closure!  Making the skirt first also left me free to know that I had enough to use for some details on the jacket.

It was dizzying to even figure out how many times I needed to cut the same pattern pieces out from different fabrics.  That is the whole idea of a proper suit jacket – structure comes from layering, layering works with pad-stitching, which pulls it all together.  One layer of the plaid flannel was laid over the stiff, canvas-like cotton, then the panels sewn together and all seam allowances opened up and ironed down.  Then the same body was sewn out of the tight cotton broadcloth and this was ironed the same way and layered wrong sides facing over the stiffened flannel body.  The whole darn thing was pad stitched together, not sewing through the flannel to the right side, only catching the loftiness of the underside.  All eight of the curvy, princess seamed body panels blend almost seamlessly together (boy were they tough to match up in a one way plaid, by the way!).

Pad-stitching is defined as a running stitch…your basic stitch anyone who hand sews starts with, right?  The stitching stays in and is permanently part of the coat and all of the layers combined between became one, substantial, new fabric, completely dictated by the direction and density of what is applied.  Usually, the best benefits of pad-stitching is a nicely rolled collar or study lapels (which I needed with my suit because the collar was on the bias).  It is an age-old technique, mostly for menswear, one that modern tailors leave out, mostly because of the dedicated hand work it requires, although there are machines which can remotely do such a thing.  Something as loose and soft as flannel needed a major structure change to become a suit, anyway, so I pad stitched a layer of light cotton canvas to all but the sleeves of my jacket.

I would have preferred to work with wool to begin with, but you gotta make do with what you have!  I chose the ‘wrong’ textured side of the flannel to be the “good” right side because it was less fuzzy.  Even still, this particular flannel was twice as thick as any that I have seen, so it had hope…obviously, as you can see!  Over the course of a week, for a few hours a day, I did some pad stitching segments.  My stitching was wide, loose and not as structured as it should have been, but I did see that I became much more regular with all the practice!  I know just how to do even better next time.  I only took one or two in-process photos and was almost sad all that handiwork was covered up by the lining (hand sewn in place, I might add).  The jacket needed the lining, nevertheless, as it did also need those giant ¾ inch shoulder pads I added (oh-so-very 1940s)!  Both helped all that bulk glide over my under blouse and convey it with its last touch of gentle, secret structuring.

When it came to frilly little extras on the jacket, I kept them low-key by being complimentary or just plain leaving some out.  I did help myself out in the only way I could with the jacket by leaving out the pleated panels to the back “peplum” of the original pattern.  That looked way too complex and mind blowing to add with something already that level for me…and Peggy’s suit did not have such a feature.  I adapted the pockets to be more Peggy-like and also snazzier in exchange.  Peggy’s suit had rectangular slot pocket flaps (just like on my pattern) but with a rounded drop down spot for the button.  They were in the same fabric as the skirt, which both matches yet contrasts to add a depth to the plaid.  I felt the rounded shape of the Peggy pockets did not match all the other lines to my suit so I pointed the drop down bottom of the flap.  It matches with the sharp, notched sleeve cuffs, also in the same fabric as the skirt.

Making bound buttonholes are always quite a project in themselves, but I also stitched on regular buttonholes for the inside self-facing half of the front, as well.  I was merely following directions, here – they told me to make two different types of buttonholes and was really doubtful about how it would look and turn out.  I was terrified the two lines of buttonholes would not match together or line up when I folded the front in…but they look fantastic and give a very sturdy closing, I must say.  It’s a good thing my buttons are heavy duty, too.

My efforts have given me a suit that is everything I adore about true vintage suits.  Now I know a bit more about what once was an absolute mystery…but there is so much yet I desire to learn in this field.  During construction, though, I was quite terrified to see if it would finish awesome, mediocre, or disappointing.  I mean, I could tell along the way it should be just how I hoped, and the skirt was by far the faster of the two to make, but there are so many layers hidden inside the jacket that I couldn’t fully tell the result until the end.  This one of the reasons I took my time like no other project, slowed down my expectations, and reveled in every detail.  However, you know how you want a sewing project done, or need visible progress, else you grow tired of it?  I expected that to happen with this, but no – I found a real reason for an extremely slow fashion project without even hunting for it.  Once I enjoyed the realization of the depth of what I was learning along the way and that this is all just the tip of a bigger “iceberg” of couture tailoring techniques…well, time kind of disappeared as I would do my hand stitching or patterning.  I found my work so very peaceful, calming, and worthwhile.

There is an art to tailoring that is its own world of sewing – it is a world of enjoying every moment in a time honored craft of creating something beautifully customized with lasting quality.  It is a world of building sculpted “body makeup” which gives the body an idealized definition that becomes your own.  It is all something I cannot wait to do all over again because it’s downright amazing.  I’ve planned out my next suit jacket already – it is going to be a knock-off of the classic 1947 Dior “Bar Suit”, all in silk shantung, just like the one worn by Peggy’s arch-nemesis Whitney Frost.

Peggy dons this cherry red and dusty brown suit set on two very memorable occasions that are a turn of fortune for her.  In “One Shot” she dons her red suit when she is victorious, proven, and validated, with her chin up…and then in episode 3 of the Season One television show “Time and Tide” (at left) she again wears the same suit when she is at a loss, with the guilt of a fellow Agent’s murder heavy on her, and now a wanted woman entrenched with a friend’s secret.  I always appreciate it when garments are shown on a Hollywood character more than on one scene.  It makes them so relatable to me, like they themselves truly have a wardrobe of favorite pieces and are not just for show at the hands of the costume department.  It is interesting that in the Season on episode the whole outfit does not fit her quite the same in “One Shot”, but with a white blouse underneath she makes it work.  To similarly style my set, I chose a RTW favorite of mine – an Irish linen blouse with decorative stitching.  Did anyone notice my S.S.R. (S.H.I.E.L.D.) lapel pins before this mention of them?  An old late 30’s Art Deco police station was the very suitable and fun photo shoot location.

Any of us can “be Peggy”, and not just on April 9, and not just because of what we happen to have on ourselves.  It is what is inside that counts.  She was an imperfect superhero with no powers beyond a conviction, perseverance, and strength that is human.  She is not afraid of a bit of hard work and she is intelligent to know her value does not rely on other peoples’ estimations.  Fictional character or not, together with her killer vintage style she is my kind of gal.  I don’t think I’ll ever stop channeling her with my wardrobe, off the silver screens or not, so – yes, there’s definitely more Agent Carter fashion still to come here on my blog!

“School Teacher” 1940’s Suit Set

So many times, more than I can tell you, I hear from people who meet me, “…and, you’re a school teacher?”  As if it’s a half statement, that’s still a half question.  I really don’t know why this is – I do like tutoring but maybe it’s the eye glasses, he he!  Nevertheless, I’m embracing the school teacher vibes this time – the vintage 1940’s way!  My teacher’s outfit is authentically completed by a vintage oversized key brooch on my lapel, true 40’s alligator leather heels, and a post-WWII school building as our photo shoot backdrop.

This 40’s suit is achieved from an eclectic mix of vintage and vintage repro, sewing and refashioning.  The jacket is a true vintage piece that had seen better days (sadly), so I refashioned it using the skirt to salvage something wearable.  The skirt is made from a modern re-issued Simplicity pattern and some polyester plaid.  The blouse is made from a true vintage pattern and classic cotton for a basic, versatile wardrobe staple.  All these pieces have differing years in the 1940s as their sources.   Together, I end up with a cohesive 1940’s suit that is warm and classy to wear in the winter, and something I love to wear!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The blouse is cotton broadcloth, the skirt is a poly suiting, and the vintage jacket is a wool-rayon blend twill or gabardine

PATTERNS:  Simplicity #3714, year 1941, for the blouse (the legs on the cover women are intolerably, ridiculously long!); Simplicity #4044, a 2006 reprint of a 40’s pattern, now out of print

NOTIONS:  I had all the thread I needed, I used a modern zipper in the skirt, modern shoulder pads for replacement in the jacket, and new two-tone metal buttons (with an open filigree middle!), with bias tape packs to make all the insides nice and finished.  The only real vintage notion used here was the buttons on my blouse – they were from the stash of hubby’s Grandmother.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The jacket was re-fashioned in about 6 hours and finished on January 8, 2016.  The skirt came together in about 4 hours on October 24, while the brown blouse was made in 8 to 10 hours and finished on November 27, both in 2015.

THE INSIDES:  The blouse and the skirt are all nicely bias bound with lace hem tape.  The jacket’s lining covers up all inner seams.

TOTAL COSTThe vintage suit was bought for $15, the cotton was maybe $10 for 1 ½ yards, and the plaid suiting was on clearance at Jo Ann’s Fabrics at $10 for 2 yards.  A total of $35!

Before my re-fashion, a beat up mess of a suit set was offered to me for a small amount during one visit to a local vintage re-sale shop.  The owner knew I sew.  She gave me one of those “Buy this if you think you can do something with it or else I’ll probably end up throwing it away, but I did spend some good money on this” offer.  The shop owner was thankfully very forthright letting me know the condition history of the suit set.  The suit was originally so dirty when she got it there was ‘no choice’ but to throw it in the wash machine…which ended up shrinking the wool, making the lining’s stitching to fall apart and the metal buttons rust, thus causing brown staining.  She had then spray painted the buttons silver to cover the rust.  Ugh!  That one wash sure got the jacket clean but caused a MESS of problems for me to fix.  The shoulders pads had balled up and fallen apart inside, as well.  The left sleeve to the jacket was chewed up, but not by moths.  It looked like it had been caught in some machinery or run across something sharp that tore it up all the way down the underside from the elbow to the wrist.  Other than the sleeve, though, the body was luckily free of holes or fading.  The matching skinny straight skirt was generally fine, with a few fade spots and random holes.

The suit did fit me and with its lovely design lines and details, and felt I had to save it for all its potential still left.  I guess it’s like going to “just look” at a new puppy – I tried it on, so I was hooked.  The capability to give it the attention I felt it deserved is well in my ballpark, anyway.  The bittersweet fact is that many vintage suits do not have their matching skirt as this one, but that skirt was unfortunately sacrificed for the jacket to save face.  I was hopeful, but slightly doubting my efforts would turn out so well.

As it had been washed once already, I took the old buttons off, added stain remover to take out the rust marks, and washed it once again.  With the lining was loose, I could reach right into the jacket and take out the old shoulder pads and unpick the sleeves.  I unpicked them completely to use the pieces as a guide to trace out a pattern.  The new sleeves have their bias slightly off due to the size restrictions of the skinny skirt, but are overall the exact same.  Then, with the sleeve set in, new shoulder pads, and the lining all stitched up by hand, and the new buttons (pic below) as the icing on the cake, I must say this was an amazing renewal for a formerly desperate vintage item.  Now, with a new separates sewn to match, it really can shine again for years to come in my wardrobe.

The best basic perk is that it is nice to have a new suit jacket without all the effort of starting from scratch.  Besides – they just don’t make them like they used to anyway – in way of styling, fit, and material!  It’s more like the weight of a coat, it’s so lofty!  I am amazed at how sturdy this jacket is to have survived everything it has and still polish up like this.  It’s amazing enough to have something from the 40’s last until today as it is.  I do really think, from the look of the inside seams, the shoulder pads, and the lack of a label, that this could have been private seamstress or tailor-made, but it’s done so well, it’s hard to tell.  As it is now, how unique is a part me-made, yet still vintage garment?!  It’s ‘true-vintage-with-my-personal-touch’, I guess.

There are many reasons why I absolutely LOVE this blouse.  Firstly, it’s in a nice rich earth tone – not ugly or boring and uncomplimentary as some solid browns can be, but it has many undertones that I notice every time I wear it with a different color scheme.  Pictures do not do it justice.  Not your basic dirt shirt here!  Also, it was an easy make, coming together in no time, and it’s perfect for layering with the slimmed down details.  It’s a true 40’s pattern, yet without being as obviously vintage as some others, as this one’s lacking a giant sized collar and gathers in the body.  There still are the gathered sleeve caps, but there is giant darts that shape the chest from the bust up to the shoulder tops.  Looking at the pattern envelope front, this is primarily because it is designed to go under a jumper, but to me it is just as good on its own to change up my vintage style.  The simplified, toned-down details make this versatile to customization.  With a tweak here and a variation here, I can have a different style.  This time, nevertheless, I stuck to the original design and left it unchanged.

However, the best perk is that this pattern fits me like it was designed for my body in mind, and I can use it without needing to adjust anything.  Finding such a pattern in the world of sewing is a real treat.  They’re a true gem to hold onto (and copy!) when you have one, especially when it comes to vintage patterns, as sizing and fit standards have changed throughout the decades, and yet even for today as modern wearing ease can be unpredictable.  For this blouse pattern, I can just lay the tissue pieces out, cut it out, and whip it together, almost like I don’t really have to think much at all to do it.  I suppose the greatest demonstration for how much I treasure this pattern is the fact I have made three different versions of blouses using it, as you will see in the next few posts.  I really have been meaning to make the jumper, too, as I like the rest of the pattern so much!

The skirt was another quickie project, thankfully.  When making your own suit set, even though I didn’t start from scratch for the suit coat, sewing more than one garment to have an outfit can become wearisome by the time you come to the second or third item!  This is partly why I made sure that the skirt was so easy-to-make!  I kind of knew how this skirt would generally run a bit roomy, as I have made the trousers from the same pattern, so I had the assurance of what size to choose to fit as well as really liking the front curving detailing to the waistband!  I also love this skirt – it is a go-to item that matches with lot of other items that I have and has a nice dressed-up look without being too formal.

To make up for my limited fabric amount and to match up the plaid in a more pleasing manner, I went rogue against the grain line recommendations.  Don’t judge me here, please!  I rarely do this and then it’s only when I have thought things through.  The fabric was a tight, rather stiff man-made polyester so it was not going to have much of a grain line from the fabric, so I merely stuck with matching the plaid up well.  In order to fit the two skirt pattern pieces on my yard and s half, I stuck with the same tact as some of my other 40’s plaid skirts.  The A-line shape is emphasized by having the plaid line up horizontally on the side seams, while the plaid miters together at an angle in the middle front and back seams.  For a fabric more drapey, this layout probably would not work as well, but I like making the most of the little of what I had to make an idea work.

The finely detailed and openly-spaced plaid lends an interesting visual texture to the suit set, I think.  At first I wasn’t sure that such strong colors on my top half would overwhelm the muted but busy skirt fabric.  However, the plaid does have the tendency to look weird from a distance in the full shot pictures for some reason!  There is a sneaky bit of turquoise in the plaid actually, if you look up close.

As I mentioned at the beginning of my post, this is the first time I feel I have been able to assemble a cohesive outfit from garments across the entire decade of the 1940s.  The blouse is from the beginning of the era – year 1941 – when many styles were still very 30’s inspired, fully feminine and dramatically distinctive in the decade.  The suit is I suppose from circa 1946, when extra fabric was again allowed, as it has a longer length, flared peplum, and decorative pocket lapels.  The skirt is (again, from my estimation) a little later than the suit, circa 1947 or 1948, especially with the slightly longer length.  It was common for a woman from back then of the 1940s to have worn garments many years old already, but with all the inventiveness, the refashioning, and desire to not publicly show that rationing was putting a cinch in their fashion life, I imagine an outfit that spans 7 years might have been a stretch.

To me, I see set differences every two years at a time in the styles of the 1940s (such as hem lengths, sleeve styles, body emphasis), but I will leave a discussion of this for another time.  I will say that, for some reason, it seems the conventional stereotype for the 1940’s seems to be circa 1945, when skirts were quite slim and under the knee, as if the wartime fashion was the benchmark for the era.  In reality, there was so much variety in the decade that a dress for 1940 compared to one from 1949 would and could totally confuse someone as to how to “do” 40’s fashion.  There was as much going on in history at the time as there was in the garment realm, and so 40’s style can be all over the place!  There is no “one way”, and that’s the beauty of how the 1940’s can appeal to so many people with so many individual style tastes and body shapes.

I always like to respect the style differences I notice in each year of the 40’s because I see it as important to realize the rhyme and reason behind them.  However, my sewing is about personalizing fashion for me – after all I am the one making things – and learning and feeling fulfilled are the greatest perks I enjoy about it along the way.  Thus, I enjoy the fact that I am able to a slightly less predictable style of a blouse from pre-war, and incorporate it with a skirt from post-war, and a suit blazer from the very end of the time of the fighting and rationing.  I certainly did take a very “made do and mend” 1940’s attitude to the pitiful condition of the jacket as I found it!  I hope the original owner of this blue suit would be proud at how I saved it to reinvent a new suit set 70 years later.  1940’s year differences, modern fabrics, vintage tailoring, self-made fashion, and a refashioning mentality have all made peace together with my outfit!

Fuchsia Pleats to Brighten Up the Greys

Winter skies here can be so blasé and I am not at all afraid to use bold color in my choice of sewing plans to counter attack that!  This post will try to be short and sweet about a not so simple 1940s blouse I made to complete a recently acquired vintage suit set of the same era.  This blouse proves that mantra, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!” to be very true and not just words.  I indeed had to struggle to have this blouse turn out successfully and am so glad I persevered for this gem of a garment!

I will confess that I now have a hopeless taste for silk and silk blends recently.  A fine silk cotton is my especial combination of fascination – it can come in so many finishes, levels of opacity and crispness, besides the myriad of colors available.  Add that to its relative affordability, it is a no-brainer to choose for blouses.  Find some for yourself and you’ll thank me later.  Just don’t go and buy it all, now!

If I let myself get technical, I would guiltily admit that I am mislabeling this blouse because if you go by the book “a tuck is stitched down, a pleat is not”.  So this is a tucked front blouse whose detailing is made to look like what we conventionally think of as pleats.  There I said it – I’m admittedly wrong.  Nevertheless, tucks and pleats are frequent and lovely details on vintage blouse designs, and are a fun and relatively easy way to have a blouse that’s a complex, standout piece.  Tucks and pleats are just about cleverly manipulating folds of fabric after all.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 58% silk, 42% cotton blend fabric, opaque and rich in color with a sheen like a satin and a crispness like a shantung

PATTERN:  Hollywood #1165, year 1943, a “Ruth Warrick of RKO-Radio” design

NOTIONS:  All I needed was thread at first, which I happened to have, but then I ran out of thread and I needed a zipper so I had to buy (at the last minute) some of my notions needed for this project.  Otherwise I used up some interfacing scraps for the cuffs, and I used vintage buttons from the stash of hubby’s Grandmother.  The buttons might look like cut glass, but I believe they are Lucite

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This blouse was finished on November 20, 2017 after maybe 20 plus hours invested in it.

THE INSIDES:  So nice I’m tempted to wear the blouse inside out…well, almost!  100% French seams.

TOTAL COST:  I ordered this from a seller on Etsy than imports in from Hong Kong so it’s at a discount.  Two yards cost me only $14 including shipping.

Now, before I get into the details of the blouse, let me gush over the suit details.  From what I have seen in my research, I can date this suit with relative certainty to circa year 1946.  It could be as early as year 1944, but not much later than 1947.  They just do not make suits remotely close to the level of quality and beauty as they did in the past.  This wool, though it is plain grey, has a satin sheen in varying colors that is simply breathtaking.  Pictures just cannot capture that shine, neither can they convey the substantial thickness of the wool and the crepe lining inside.  These kinds of fabrics sadly are not to be found anymore.  This wool is almost like a felt in plushness, and with the lining and complicated, impeccable structuring I can feel is going on inside, this is more like a jacket than just a suit jacket.  If you haven’t ever felt what a 1940’s quality suit is like, you need to experience it.  Put it on your bucket list!  These garments are truly transforming when you put them on.  They make you feel like the best darn good version of yourself you never knew existed.  I feel like I can tackle anything in a killer vintage suit – they’re empowering.  The trick is to take your measurements, know what garment measurements would work well for you, and then wait and check around to find the one that “suits” you!

More often than not, unless you are willing to make a larger monetary investment, a vintage suit will need some upkeep and TLC, with many even missing their matching skirt.  This jacket needed its buttons tacked on and some popped seams closed up, but these are the most common repairs with vintage pieces as cotton thread was frequently used back then and is to the point of disintegrating by now.  Luckily, I had a matching skirt, only it didn’t fit me very well, not like the suit jacket did.  Since someone had obviously tinkered with the skirt before I received it, adding modern-style repairs I wasn’t happy with, I didn’t feel too bad when I refashioned it so I could wear it.  The waistband was unpicked and removed to make a center back panel that gave me about 3 inches more of booty room and better, curved shaping around the waistline.  To finish the waist, I turned under the edge in simple bias tape.  Without the waistband, the skirt does have the tendency to droop now, but at least it is more wearable for me and I was able to fix it using all of the same original material!

With all the effort I put into bringing this vintage suit set up to snuff, I felt that a more detailed and complex blouse was especially worth it here.  Don’t get me wrong – anything anyone makes for oneself is ‘worth it’.  I just mean that a rich looking, detailed blouse that might take more time than my normal project would justly give my suit set the finishing touch I was seeking to have a full outfit that has a bang!  Of course, the right accessories help that, too. My gloves, handbag, and hat are all true vintage, as well as my Grandmother’s jeweled turtle brooch and earrings set.  My two-tone spectator pumps are new reproductions from my favorite vintage-style brand, Chelsea Crew.

Finally, to the blouse!  Not that I don’t have blouses already that work with this suit – of course, white and black tops match here, primarily because of the buttons.  But that is so boring and predictable.  Blouses with collars distracted away from the lovey curved collar (and matching pocket flaps!) on the suit.  My oldie-but-goodie 40’s basic round neck satin blouse works nicely under the suit, so for my new shirt I reached for a rounded neck blouse with interest down the front that would peek out.

I have been wanting to use this Hollywood blouse pattern that I have had for years!  Ever since I saw Emileigh of “Flashback Summer” blog make a Maasai-inspired version for herself using this pattern it has been higher in my sewing project queue.  I had a feeling that a solid color would be the best way to show off the detailing, and I think I was right.  Only, I was wrong when it came to estimating the sizing.  This pattern ran really small!  It was weird.  Emileigh had said that she felt her pattern ran large, and I have made another Hollywood pattern from 1943, the same year, that ran true to size, as well as one which ran very large from the next year.  It’s not that this pleated blouse pattern had weird proportions, for all the pieces were nicely marked and fit together well.  It was just all over small.  Luckily, when I graded the pattern up to my size, I gave myself and extra ½ inch or so just to be on the safe side so I had just enough bonus so that that a small change could fix things.  More on that change in a minute!  The only thing I can think is that this was an anomaly rising from the combo of an unprinted pattern and an off-brand company (meaning something other than the “Big Four”, Simplicity, McCall, Butterick, Vogue).  Many times unprinted patterns are less reliable in accuracy than printed ones due to how they were made in stacks of hundreds of sheets at a time, die-cast stamped with their balance marks and darts.  Also, out of all the vintage patterns I’ve worked with, I do find unpredictable sizing almost always in brand patterns like Du Barry, Hollywood, mail order, and even Advance.

You start with the front, which is in three panels – one side front on the left and right of the center panel that gets pleated.  Except for the center where they spread out towards the shoulders, the pleats are in “blind tuck” style, which has folds that meet each other so no stitching shows.  Then I made all bodice darts, sewed the back panels on, and inserted the sleeves.  Sounds easy, right?  Well, I adapted the sleeve fullness to be pleats rather than gathers as the pattern intended.  It was tricky to get the sleeves looking even and exact together when I was free handing the detailing.  I wanted the pleats on the sleeves to match the trim darts on the sleeve caps and the pleats on the body of the blouse.

That done, then I realized that the neckline add-on piece would make the blouse so high necked I might as well choke myself with it.  No, I was leaving the round neck panel off. So I took what little material I had left and made bias tape facing to cleanly finish off the neckline at the level it was at.  While I was at it, I then also made a bit more bias tape to cleanly hem the bottom of the blouse, too.  I tried it on without the back closing, and realized the bust darts needed to be re-stitched about one inch lower.  With that fixed, the blouse seemed to fit great, so I finished it by stitching in all the buttonholes and buttons in the sleeves and bodice back.  Here came the problem.

The blouse was not all that small of a fit in itself if I just stood with my arms to the side, but add in the back buttons and that was a difficulty.  I found it almost impossible to button the blouse closed on myself, with not enough extra ease room.  Once I did finally do that feat, I saw that when I reached out, the stress on the buttons was making me scared the delicate fabric might possibly rip.  Stitched on and already cut through buttonholes are non-reversible, so I thought, “Why not cover up the buttonholes (my only real option anyway) and add a pleated panel down the back to also cover up a zippered closure?”  This way the back of the blouse compliments the front and now has equally lovely interest, besides that fact that a separating zipper is so much easier to do blind reaching from behind and much stronger than four buttons could be.  Adding the panel with the zipper technically gave me one whole extra inch of space across the back, making my blouse fit me so much better overall.  A crisis was averted that night, and I actually like my method of covering up a sewing “failure” much better than if everything had gone according to plan.  Mistakes are often blessings in disguise, I suppose.

The Hollywood star associated with my blouse’s design, Ruth Warrick, is herself an interesting woman that is not heard about as much as she could, for being in the limelight in as many ways as she was.  First of all, she played the character of the actor Orson Welles’ first wife in the famous 1941 movie “Citizen Kane”.  She worked with Orson Welles on both the screen and the radio on several occasions because he said he was looking for a woman who “was a lady”, not just someone who could “play a lady”.  Mostly she is known for the later career in the television soap dramas.  She was in “As the World Turns” for a number of years after the show debuted in 1956, then she moved to “All My Children”, which she was part of from 1970 to 2005.  She has bonus points in my book for being a gal from my own state of Missouri!  It’s amazing how adding the association of a famous screen star can really add to a pattern’s appeal.  Pattern companies should bring back Hollywood patterns, and I’m not talking about cosplay either.

Speaking of Hollywood, this reminds me of a quote of some fashion advice by Joan Crawford, “Find your happiest colors – the ones that make you feel good.  Care for your clothes, like the good friends they are!”  (Full quote here.)  This is good advice for store bought clothes, even more so for things that you have sewn.  If you have taken the time to think of it, buy the fabric and work with the pattern, you are worth seeing what you have made be a success and not an unwanted failure.  However, Joan Crawford’s quote is especially the case for vintage items.  It would be sad if the general interest in fashion from the past also becomes the cause for it to be more scarce and therefore less attainable.  I don’t mean to get on a soapbox, but really – it’s kind of like what is said about our environment, we should leave vintage the same or better than how we found it, but never worse off.  Those who own a garment piece from the past should make sure to wear it only if it fits (as there will be less chance of it tearing irreparably and more chance they will like wearing it), take care of it, and examine, appreciate, and learn from it.  Without clothes from the past how will we learn and understand our present and future fashion styles?  Anyone who has or does sew vintage and even those who do not should appreciate the value of true authentic pieces in the hands of everyday people.  I hope you agree and enjoy what I have done to add value to this 1940’s suit set.

“Alley Espionage” – a 1945 Glen Plaid Suit Set

There are many, many old movies that I absolutely love, and then there are others that I like just as much in their own way for being interesting, inspiring, or having actors/actresses I enjoy seeing.  The 1945 noir film “Escape in the Fog” is one of the latter.  Actress Nina Foch plays the part of a mentally battered war nurse who had a frightful dream of a future event while on leave for rest.  She disturbs the hotel guests with her screams, bringing her to meet one of them – the actor William Wright, a mysterious but friendly (and handsome) double espionage agent whose future she had foreseen.  Nina Foch becomes an important part to William Wright’s mission, but later she becomes a desired pawn for those w ho would seek to sabotage his efforts.  I hope I didn’t give away too much of the plot here, but I find the details of this movie enthralling (the conversations, the subjects, etc.), as it was made during war time.  Although it is not as good as Marvel’s “Agent Carter”, I enjoy seeing the lovely Nina Foch take on a significant role for a woman trying to actively aid world events, besides enjoying her alongside William Wright, to me one of the most dashing and little known Hollywood men of WWII times (next to John Hodiak).

What this chatter amounts to for this post is the fact that I made a suit set inspired by the fashion on the “Escape in the Fog” movie.  It all started with finding and buying a $5 vintage beret-style wool hat, really.   Soon after the hat was bought, I watched “Escape in the Fog” for the first time and I saw an almost exact style hat worn on Nina Foch.  A few years back I had also made the skirt half to a 1945 suit set, and seeing all the finely tailored suits and trench coats both Wright and Foch wore in the film inspired me to finish up the coat half of my set.  Now I have the perfect year 1945 outfit to relive “Escape in the Fog” by watching the details of life down darkened city alleys and warily wind my way home in the gathering dusk in a complimentary muted grey Glen plaid.  It’s really the perfect suit for anytime, but a girl can dream, right?!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a rayon and acrylic blend brushed Glen Plaid suiting with a grey cling-free polyester lining the coat blazer.

PATTERNS:  a vintage year 1945 Advance #3964 pattern together with a year 2006 Simplicity #4044 reprint of a 1941 Simplicity #3838

NOTIONS:  The buttons for both the skirt and blazer came from the stash of hubby’s Grandmother.  The bias tapes, interfacing, shoulder pads, and thread I used were already bought years back and on hand.

TIME TO COMPLETE:   The suit jacket was made in about 20 hours and finished on October 25, 2016.  The skirt was made pretty much a year before, whipped up in only a few hours.

THE INSIDES:  The skirt is all bias bound finished and the suit jacket is fully lined.

TOTAL COST:  Well, I sure stretched out only a few yards here!  I only used about 2 ¼ yards for this suit – true 1940’s rationing smarts – which leaves me with about ½ yard leftover for another project!  This suit set probably ended up costing me $10 because the suiting was bought on clearance from the now defunct Hancock fabrics, while everything else was from my stash on hand.

Well, this suit might be vintage but it also happens to be right on trend this cold season.  Suit sets are the new “thing” it seems and popular in all styles and variety (see this recent post from Simplicity)!  There is a suit style out there for every body and every taste – vintage or modern!  Yet, I love how 1940’s suit sets are strong but womanly, simple at first glance with details and fitting that is top rate.  This suit was originally intended to be entirely made from one vintage pattern, but as my old Advance #3964 was missing significant body pieces for the suit jacket, I had to improvise and use a modern Simplicity reprint to supplement.  New pattern and old pattern combined, same wonderful details with a result I love!

Some of the older Simplicity reprints have disappointed me before when it comes to fit so I was wary about Simplicity #4044.  I’ve already made the arch-waisted pants (blogged about here) and the skirt (yet to be blogged), and they turned out great.  Thus, I had high hopes for the jacket, and I was not disappointed!  It was as easy as a suit jacket is going to get, and the fit was spot on…no bad surprises.  I do miss the two piece, true suiting sleeves but the front closing and the general silhouette was strikingly similar to my old original Advance pattern’s jacket so I just had to try it out.

My favorite features to the suit jackets are a combo of the pockets and the bias front shoulder panels.  Look how they really make such a simple design have some character that elevates!  I interfaced both of these pieces in heavy interfacing, while the front facing along the edge of the jacket opening is reinforced in a slightly lighter weight interfacing.  I feel this use of two different interfacing weights is a good idea for this jacket pattern.  The bias shoulder pieces need to be stable to keep the strong shape of the jacket, and stiff pockets on lend a crisp, matching flawless air.  The wide curving front closing edge isn’t quite supposed to be limp, nor like a poker, so something in between seems to be the right body.

Yes, I did slightly cheat as to the closure and made a fake button hide the snap closing front.  Sometimes when I am undecided when it comes to what button to choose for a project, I am so reluctant to make something as permanent as a buttonhole.  However, I did make this snap closing very nice and use it as an opportunity to try something new!  With a tiny fabric remnant, I covered the exposed half of the snap before stitching it onto the jacket.  It is fun to have such lovely features as this fabric covered snap on my sewing…it makes me feel so proud of what I can accomplish, and gives me what I feel is a small taste of the amazing attention to detail and fine finishing which is on couture garments.

Now my skirt was the necessary half to my finished suit but definitely the most simple and useful.  Without the matching jacket, this skirt can go with many other items in my wardrobe – navy, ivory, green, and brown blouses, tops, and sweaters as well as a true vintage forest green 40s blazer (see this set put together in this post for Emily’s Fall Color Challenge).  In this post I am wearing the whole set with a creamy pastel yellow blouse (not me-made, from a resale store years back) to brighten up the set and contrast with the black accessories.  With the lofty thickness of the suiting and its brushed, cozy finish, this skirt is incredibly warm – like being wrapped in a blanket – yet with a light and manageable weight.  I really don’t know how I made it through the winters before without this skirt!

I love how the pattern simplified the box pleat by having it all-in-one with the skirt.  There is merely a center front seam and center back seam that nicely lines up the center of the folded sections which make the box pleats.  I do find it sort of unusual that there is a center box pleat in back, too. Usually it’s only on the front.  Sitting on a skirt back box pleat rarely ends up other than a mess, but surprisingly this one keeps its shape really well.  Maybe it’s a combo of the fabric and a thorough steaming job from the iron.  Whatever it is, it works!  The fact that the folds of the box pleats are on a slight bias does give them a slight squiggly appearance, however

Making the skirt was a bit frustrating for as simple as it was because it ran so very small!  Most of the time patterns outside of the “Big Four” (Simplicity, Vogue, McCall, Butterick) tend to run on the larger side with a few random ones being true to size.  Not this Advance pattern!  I even graded up so it should have been slightly roomy on me, but no – it turned out mysteriously too snug.  Luckily, I had extra room to give myself by letting out the side seam allowances as far as possible for the perfect fit.  However, I would have preferred not to have to do that because there’s now no leeway if I need more room yet.  I suppose it was a good thing after all that I did not use the suit jacket half of the same pattern because it could’ve run on the smaller side as well.  I do see a good number of these Advance #3964 patterns for sale all over Etsy, Ebay, and various other pattern market sites, so if you pick one up for yourself, you’ve been warned about the sizing.

Sorry, but if you would like to see the “Escape in the Fog” movie for yourself, it is frustratingly hard to find.  I just happened to get lucky and catch it on our local station which shows old classics.  For being a movie from 1945, it is rather like one of the early pioneers of the Film Nor genre which hit its height post WWII.

However foggy and dreary my suit is in color, it is certainly not bland but useful and exciting to me.  Actually, it is only the beginning of a small spell of suits that I have lined up for the next few months, most of them from the 1940’s.  Will you be joining in on this suit trend, too?  For me, it’s pretty much an excuse to make some of what has been languishing in my want-to-do project queue!