“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!

Advertisements

…To Peplum or Not to Peplum Is the Question

One would think that it is only living things that would be able to make up their minds.  In the case of this year 1945 dress, I feel the pattern’s design could not make up its mind whether or not it wanted a peplum, and what styling it really wanted.  Being a pattern for teens and juniors, it totally makes sense to be a bit mixed up…since those of the “in between years” are being overwhelmed by everything!  Now, with some dramatic re-sizing and re-drafting, some cheaply priced wool suiting, and an old unwanted skirt from my basement to re-fashion, I think I’ve hit the right balance to rock this War-time design as a grown woman, ready to flaunt the cold of winter in panache.  Of course, a pair of killer 40’s style ankle strap shoes also completes my power 40’s outfit – they are velvet fabric reproductions from Rocket Dog.

This dress was actually my Christmas outfit for this past 2016 holiday, but I think the plaid has enough small amounts of other colors in it that, together with the navy it is paired with, keeps things relevant for most all of fall of winter, as well.  If I want it more holiday-ish, I can pair my dress with more red items or even browns or goldens.  Women of the 40’s loved to use plaids (especially teen girls), so I’m focusing on that rather than my mental query that I might be wearing some sort of Scottish plaid (which is why my bottom half is in a solid).  Reds and blues were popular colors for teens wear in the 40’s after all, too, so although this is my “adult” dress I am sticking to colors and fabric types “traditional” for the pattern’s intended audience – juniors, that is, those of the 14 to 18 crowd just as they were officially being known as teenagers (see info source here).

This dress is also my first time making a vintage garment where the print (or at least the contrast fabric) is just in the bodice and nothing else.  I’ve always admired those kinds of two-fabric clothes, always wondering if they would work for me…now I know they do!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The solid navy skirt and sleeves are in a 95% wool/5% polyester blend suiting from Fashion Fabrics Club in town.  It has a textured finish much like a gabardine.  The plaid, re-fashioned from an old skirt no longer worn, is a half and half rayon/poly blend with twill finish.  It’s label inside read as “Robyne’s Dream“, “Made in the USA”, and I believe this is from the 90’s.  I have seen this style of red, forest green, yellow, white, royal and black plaid labeled as a “Prince of Wales” design. The waistline and the peplum are lined in a basic, navy blue, all-cotton broadcloth, merely scraps on hand.

PATTERN:  McCall’s #6297, year 1945

NOTIONS:  I had everything on hand in my stash that I needed here – thread, a zipper, bias tapes, interfacing, shoulder pads.  The three buttons down the front are vintage pieces from hubby’s Grandmother’s stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was a last minute decision and was started the week before Christmas and took about 20 hours’ worth of time.  It was finished just before leaving for Midnight church service, December 24, 2016.  Whew!  I was ‘cutting’ it close, ha ha!

THE INSIDES:  All cleanly bias bound.  Strips of 100% cotton batiste are used as facing for the inner waistband for a lovely smooth feeling against my skin.

TOTAL COST:  I am counting the plaid fabric from the re-fashioned skirt and my cotton lining scarps as being free, as well as the notions from on hand, with the wool only costing $2 a yard.  My total for this dress is about $3 for only a yard and a half of the wool I used…how awesome is that!?

This project is one big hooray for re-using and re-fashioning!  As I’ve discussed past posts, my wardrobe is something I consider long term, and if I do not wear or am not happy with an item, it is re-done and cut into so it can used differently ‘til it is 100% what I will use or wear.  Why can’t unwanted clothes be treated as a commodity (defined as in “useful or valuable item”) for creativity just the same as a newly cut piece of fabric, the way I see it?  Anyways, this skirt had been an occasional favorite when I was between 10 and 15 years of age, but for the last 10 plus years it has been in my fabric stash waiting for a new incarnation.  Something from when I was a teen, becomes a new garment for grown-up me, sewn from a pattern catered for teens.  Oh, the irony…

My original skirt before re-fashioning was a simple long bias skirt with a gathered elastic waist.  Thus, I had a good amount of fabric to work with, but the skinny width was restrictive.  This is part of the reason why the plaid is not as perfectly matched as I would have liked and also the fact it is on the bias…although I do like the look of the plaid cross-grain!  Cutting off the two side seams and folding the length over on itself, I had just enough as you can see.  The front half of the skirt became my bodice fronts, while the back half was enough for the bodice back, peplums, and a neckline tie that ended up making piping for instead. So close!

For some reason, the envelope and instructions to this dress are one of the most fragile in my pattern collection, but the tissue pattern pieces are seemingly fine.  Just in case of a damaging accident, but also since I knew I needed to both add in several inches for size (29 inch bust, yikes! so small…) and bring the dress to some adult proportions, I traced all but the skirt and sleeve pieces onto new, semi-sheer medical paper.  In case you didn’t know, any pattern from about the early mid-1930’s up to about 1946 that are marked “Junior Misses” will be every short in proportions and used “as-is” are only sized for an under 5 foot tall person or an under sized teen.  Most of the time I have to add in a good 2 or 3 inches horizontally to bring ‘sleeves-bust-waist-hips’ all down.  It’s kind of what is done to make a pattern appropriate for someone tall, and opposite of what needs to be done to fit someone petite.  Yet, as I demonstrate, these juniors’ patterns are very usable for those are willing to do the ‘work’ of dramatically grading and re-sizing.  However, doing such an effort (in my mind) can only be a good thing – it brings new styles to suddenly be available to use besides teaching bunches about working with patterns.

The original cover drawing is quite cute – and I do not do outright “cute” if I can help it.  Both neckline options are the nails in the “cute factor” coffin (I generally find it hard to like a Peter Pan collar on myself), so they were the first to go and be re-drafted while I was tracing out a copy of the tissue pieces.  I originally figured on making an open V-neckline, and adding in straps that would twist and criss-cross across the chest opening and come back around to button back down on the same side – very military-like and strong, similar to Simplicity #1539, also from 1945.  Well, I guess you can tell I didn’t end up sticking with that idea – not here at least, but hopefully in the future on another project.  My neckline was the very last thing that I figured out before the dress was fully finished.  In the end, I merely took the lapels I drafted as self-facing and made them into a small, slightly pointed, turned back collar instead.  I like the simple subtlety of it, even though it was not at all what I had planned for at all.  There’s enough going on with the rest of the dress, so I felt it needed something non-distracting but still dramatically plunging for a not-as-conservative, grown-up touch.

What is not so obvious but remarkably lovely to the bodice is the way the bust is shaped by a vertical shoulder pleat.  This so completely exaggerates the shoulders as only the 40’s can do – I love it!  It really does wonders to complement the waist, especially since there is a set-in waistband to define the middle of this dress.  The fold of the shoulder pleat on my dress ends so precisely at the seam of the shoulder/sleeve, it was bit tricky to sew around without catching it…a bit of unpleasant unpicking made things alright.  It’s rather a shame that this detail is only in the front (much like the peplum, I guess).  Nevertheless, I still wanted a very defined line at the end of those shoulder edge pleats so there are ½ inch shoulder pads inside.  I always find it so curious how well gi-normous 1980s shoulder pads seem to be made to go inside many of my 40’s fashions.  Except on the occasional dress, I think the WWII years’ silhouettes are just lacking some sort of potent, calculated, confident fullness without emphasized shoulders.  I have seen similar vertical running shoulder pleats on many 40’s patterns circa 1945 – a McCall’s #6102, McCall’s #6902, and Simplicity #1891, as well as a modern (retro-inspired) pattern Butterick #6363, to name off a handful.  Also, for some hard-copy examples, here’s a photo of a mid-1950s wool dress, an extant 1940’s rayon crepe gown, my own Chanel-inspired 1967 linen suit set, and an 80’s chiffon dress, (notice the varied fabrics and years).  This ingenious method of bodice shaping is too good a detail to keep to only one decade.

With such prominent shoulders, I softened the sleeves by not sewing them as set-in.  The sleeves were sewn to the bodice much like on a man’s shirt, connected together at the shoulder so then the entire side seam – from sleeve hem the bottom hem – is stitched in one long continuous seam.  The sleeves are quite deeply cut, similar to this 1946 blouse that I’ve already made.  My sleeve ends taper to being fitted at the elbows but nonetheless these are very easy to move around for full movement and reach room – much appreciated.  Reach room is something I generally do not find modern patterns have unless I alter them in some manner.  Reach room is under respected…if something is good enough to make and wear, accepting being restricted with basic arm movements is something no one needs tolerate.

I was originally very hesitant about sewing on the skirt’s peplum flaps, but I’m so glad they turned out to be something new to like!  Apparently the odd, front, half-peplum design was a quietly popular yet not mainstream style for the mid-decade.  Besides seeing front half-peplums on Juniors’ dresses in my 40’s Sears catalog, the character of Rose from Season Two of the Marvel TV show “Agent Carter” is wearing a lovely drapey rayon dress in this same style.  Even Simplicity pattern Company released their own half-peplum the same year (1945) as #1357.  For one more tactile example, here’s an awesome vintage original half-peplum dress, in a wonderful novelty print, which had been for sale on Etsy.  I certainly don’t “get” the “why” of the style, but since before this dress I’d never really tried a peplum before, I figured half of one might be an easy way to acclimate myself to them.  Turns out this is not all that bad because being anchored on all but one edge prevents too much “pouf” of the peplum flaps.  Still, I generally do not like corners being cut, “party in the front, business in back”, or “coffin dresses” (as they are distastefully called when everything is in the front and the back is totally neglected).  However, technically the back of my dress is not neglected at all – it does have the plaid bodice, too, and the lovely classic 1940s tri-panel skirt back.  There is still one extra touch I added that makes sure the details from behind are just as nice as the front.

Self-made, matching plaid fabric piping runs along the bottom seam of the set-in waistband.  This was actually my hubby’s idea…I’ll give him the full credit for this great custom notion for which I was doubtful about at first.  I did not have the right thick cotton cording on hand for the piping so instead I used several strands together of thinner cotton cording on hand that we use to hold plants upright in the garden.  A bias strip of fabric was then wrapped around the piping and stitched down using my invisible zipper foot (just like what I demonstrated in this post).  This piping made installing the side zipper a bit challenging, and it’s not the best closure I’ve done…but it works to close the dress just fine and that’s good enough for me.

I guess it’s not all that surprising that this sweet vintage style for young ladies and teens is so strongly adult in its attribution – in 1945, women on the cusp of growing up were receiving more representation, acknowledgement, and opportunities, all with greater diversity, that year than ever before.  Firstly, 1945 was the year of a historic Miss America Pageant Competition.  That year of 1945 was the first year the winner was offered a school scholarship as her prize, rather than gifts of an item to wear or travel packages.  Year 1945 was also the first year that a young lady won who had been a Collage Graduate, but more significant was the fact that the winner, Bess Myerson by name, was a Jewish American.  She used her fame for so much good – raising awareness to biased prejudice, as well as helping out the last of the war effort, and later as a New York Politician.  Teen-age girls must have been a big enough “thing” in American after all to get a long article in Life magazine for December 11, 1945 (read the whole thing here, pages 91 to 99).

Furthermore, the magazine Seventeen had just begun the October of the year before (1944) and in 1945 were really gaining influence and gumption to speak out for their intended audience, “the age when a girl is no longer a child, yet isn’t quite a woman.”  Periodicals focused only on Hollywood stars and starlets were going out of favor and Helen Valentine, who, after starting out at Vogue, had already begun Mademoiselle: The Magazine for Smart Young Women by 1944. Seventeen was started by her as a magazine meant to be a teenagers’ voice, a benchmark for thought, and a place to bounce off ideas, so much so that they were not scrupulous about mentioning heavy world affairs and controversy.  By the 1950’s, Seventeen quickly moved from Valentine’s original focus on service and citizenship toward themes of fashion, sensuality, and body scruples…more like magazines of today.  See this amazing web page for more early history of Seventeen magazine.

Young ladies of 1945 and after were influencing history like never before.  I hope a lovely dress style like the one I made for this post might be just a small example of that fact.  Teenagers’ clothes of today generally strike me as disrespectful to their potential and distasteful to their capabilities.  Sloppy clothes, ones trying to be overly “on trend”, or the large majority of clothes which have writing or characters in the most surprising places all seem to put them in a box of what society expects them to feel and react – and many end up never growing out of those attitudes and habits.  This is in no small part (in my opinion) to the incidental that what one wears can impact how we think of ourselves.  Not every teen or 20 something is an electronic addicted being with an I-don’t-give-a-blank level of respect.  They need a constructive way to build their own entity.  Let me share a Helen Valentine quote from the book Fashioning Teenagers: A Cultural History of Seventeen Magazine.  After seeing the 90% of teens at the 1945 opening of New York’s U.N. building, she said, “People have an idea that the only thing they’re interested in is their next date, but it isn’t so. They (young people) are really thinking about very important things and we ought to be thinking about them in those terms.”

Vintage clothes for the middle years strike me as giving them a taste of their future in their own special way, with some small detail of the features of the clothes styles they grew out of so as to not forget where they are and where they have been in life.  It’s like their fashion and not just their education was attempting to transition them into the confidence of independent and capable decisions while allowing them the fun and freedom that still part of their life.  Their ideas and habits are the future we all have to deal with.  May teens of today wear clothing that is respectful of their place in the world every bit as much as fashion of the past has done.

Autumn Maize

The thing that many downward spiraling leaves and a dizzying corn maze have in common in the season of fall is a golden rich hue.  I’m talking about the color called “saffron” that has been popularly seen everywhere beginning in the early fall of this year…it’s also called mustard, goldenrod, and harvest gold among other things.  However, I love word puns, so I’d like to associate my dress as being more the color of the traditional grain maize, with a title that calls to mind one of the joys of autumn that a field of corn can provide!

This dress is so comfy, the skirt is so swishy, and the details are so unique I can’t help but love it, although I’ll admit it was a bit hard to like at first because it is so quaint and more blatantly dated in style than much of what I make.  This dress does have rick-rack and an obvious vintage metal zipper in the side closing, after all.  Nevertheless, I enjoy trying novel things, and that includes new styles, new colors, new sewing pattern companies, and new techniques.  This dress has all of that in one project…so hooray for a feminine and fun vintage dress in the latest color for those warm “Indian Summer” days of fall!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% rayon challis

PATTERN:  American Weekly No. 3545, circa year 1941

NOTIONS:  I had all the thread I needed, and the oversized rick-rack and vintage metal zipper I used were from my existing stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Even with the tricky paneling and added rick rack, this dress was still relatively easy, made in 8 to 10 hours and finished on September 10, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  All the seams are either enclosed in bias tape or French finished, with just the armholes left raw edged. 

TOTAL COST:  This was bought at Jo Ann’s Fabric store within the last few months, for a total of about $10 to $12.

That American Weekly dress pattern has been stumping me for the last few years since I bought it.  As much as I liked the design and wanted to make a garment of it, I could not figure out how to picture myself in the dress or get past the example drawing to see my own interpretation.  On a completely different strain yet a similar situation, when I bought the golden floral rayon, I loved it and knew what era of vintage it would be perfect for – the late 30’s to early 40’s.  Yet once it was brought home, I realized I was stumped with how or what to make of it.  Both the pattern and the fabric were dually stumping me in their own ways.  Maybe this is why the two of them felt right for one another in some vague way when I was sorting through my pattern stash for ideas!  I am so glad I have found a way to conquer the rut I was in and make something I love wearing!  For me, pairing a pattern with fabric and notions is something deep down inside I can’t always pin down, a sort of creative intuition.  No matter what I want to do, sometimes I need to wait for right moment of inner approval for me to sense that I have made the perfect match.  Many times the process of a project coming together is different, such as pairing fabric off first, or being inspired by the notions or merely a picture, but it all feeds my creative intuition that keeps cranking out ideas which keep me going.

Although I see it mentioned nowhere at all on the pattern, when I was doing my preliminary fitting of the tissue pieces I realized this was a petite Junior miss pattern, not in adult proportions in other words.  I can’t help mentally pat myself on the back for finding this out ahead of time and not just whipping it up.  Never assume too much when it comes to vintage patterns!  Check them out fully and figure them out before you reach for those cutting scissors, especially with old mail order patterns…I’ve made enough to know by now you can’t exactly know what to expect.  I retraced the pieces out onto my roll of sheer medical paper so I could then cut, tape, and otherwise re-size the pattern.  I suppose this time I had an obligation to preserve this pattern by being ‘forced’ to make a copy if I wanted to sew a dress out of it!

The sizing read as a nicely “normal” bust-waist-hips combo for me, and it should have technically been a tad big.  Just to be safe, however, as well as to have bigger seam allowances than the given ½ inch, I did add some ease to the side seams.  Good thing I did this!  Even with the extra width, the pattern still ran small enough to fit perfectly…I would not want it any more snug, especially in the hips.  Apparently not only is their sizing chart off when it comes to the finished dress but there was not a designation for body height sizing either.  McCall’s and Simplicity would use the term “junior’s” on their patterns and generally would be in the small sizes like a 30” bust.  My pattern was a size 16, for a 34”-28”-37” body, so it was not a small size by vintage standards.  Although there have been other mail order patterns I have come across which had some mysterious, slightly shortened proportions, this pattern was so short…it made it look so tiny!  It needed over two inches added to bring the bust, waist, and hips down to where they needed to be.  Just how many American Weekly patterns are actually in a junior’s size and no one would know the better until the tissue pieces get fitted on someone?

Sizing complaints aside, American Weekly patterns were offered through a Sunday supplemental magazine of the same name produced by Hearst for inclusion in their newspapers – kind of like the modern day “Parade” leaflet.  At one point, it was billed as having a circulation of over 50,000,000 readers!  Apparently this magazine only offered patterns from circa 1940 through the 1950s.  As I can find proof of one of the first American Weekly patterns, dated to year 1940 with a number that slightly precedes the numbers on this post’s pattern, I am pretty certain at dating my dress as year 1941, when the patterns just started being offered (besides basing the date on the style).  My instruction sheet says that their patterns only come in 5 sizes for anyone between a 30” to 38” bust, so that is not a whole lot of variety!  The actual construction directions were some small line drawn pictures and several brief paragraphs of text – not much for those you who would need assistance.  American Weekly patterns do have some really lovely styles, nevertheless!  Nothing I’ve seen is really is jaw-dropping, but they strike me as subtly complex and harmoniously designed.

Enough facts…look at the dress’ lovely details!  It has mock tabs on the hem of the gathered-top sleeves, and a mock-jacket look to the body.  The curving to the bodice panels was amazing on the pattern and really make for an interesting, unusual, yet quite complimentary fit.  The dress elongates the bodice and puts emphasis on the hips, yet the full skirt and wide, strong shoulders (thanks to the sleeve tabs) balance it out.  The bodice dips lower in the back than in the front, but as the hips turned out snug, this feature is not as obvious as I’d liked.  The skirt is 6-gored for a very pre-WWII fullness, with each of the skirt seams perfectly lining up with the bodice darts in the back and the two bottom points to the bodice angles in the front…simply marvelous symmetry of design.

This sure gave me an opportunity to use up a pack of giant rick-rack from my stash of never-touched notions in order to make sure the lines of the panels didn’t get lost!  The points, curves, and corners of the dress sections were tricky already, made trickier by the rick-rack, but I just love the interest the exposed notches create.  I probably could have achieved sharper points had I not included the rick-rack but – oh – how it brings this dress to a whole different level I’ve never had before!

Previously, I always had this idea that rick-rack was very home-sewn distinguishable, and for feedback dresses or aprons, even though I do have a generous stash of it.  I tested rick-rack out on this 1945 top, loving the results, and the more I’ve recently looked at really creative uses of the stuff, the more I felt I need to dive in with a major project, and that this was the one.  Similar dress designs from about the same time frame use the “half-rick-rack” method on the edges (see Marion Martin #9547 and my fabric inspiration dress New York #1368 from the late 30’s/early 40’s), so it seemed like the proper thing to do for a style like this anyway!  Adding the rick-rack was really time consuming, especially as I went to the extra trouble to tack the points down to the fabric so they would lay flat nicely.  I realized after the dress was done that the rick-rack actually does much to stabilize the bodice seams of shifty rayon, thinking practically.  Going out on a limb can be so amazing when it’s this successful.

“Three inch hem” according to the instructions, my eye – the dress, unhemmed, came down to my ankles!  I ended up doing a hand-sewn hem that was actually 8 ½ inches deep (see picture above at “The Facts”)!  Initially it was because I didn’t want to cut that much off my dress, but then I realized by making the wide hem it actually helped the dress immensely.  Firstly, the wide hem weighs down the otherwise very full and floaty skirt.  It keeps me from having a “Marilyn Monroe” moment of my skirt coming up on me and gives it a very feminine swish when I walk and especially twirl!  Secondly it makes my skirt opaque, much like a self-lining, so my lingerie slip doesn’t always have to be the perfect length.  Lastly, I didn’t have to commit permanently to a certain length.  I like my clothes to have the versatility to be tailored and changed if need be so that they’ll be something I’ll be happy with and fit into for many years.

One of the good surprises to this dress is actually how versatile it is to accessorize.  In these photos, I went for the brown and snow white tones, but is also works well with black shoes and earrings, as well as dusty greys as well as maroon brown-reds or orange tones.  My two-tone, brown and cream, slingback spectator heels are actually a good example of how the 1970’s era can imitate the 1940s era so closely the difference is almost indistinguishable.  What I like about 70’s-does-40’s shoes are the chance of finding them in a much more wearable state, as well as cheaper prices!  The rest of my accessories are true older-era vintage, however.  My gloves, my earrings, and the little beetle brooch are all from my Grandmother, while the 40’s hat is my very first vintage piece of headwear I acquired from a second-hand shop so many years back now.  It’s so hard to find brimmed hats from the 40’s and earlier in decent condition, and this one is a winner that has some stunning petersham ribbon decoration to boot!  In fall weather my allergy sensitive nose needs attention too, so I couldn’t resist grabbing this lovely seasonal handkerchief from my collection to pair it with my outfit for the day!

Yellow does have the connotation (at least so I’ve heard) that it does not “work” for many people, but I think this stylish golden hue is a bit more promising than other ochre shades!  Granted, I suppose I am a bit biased…I have made a hat in this shade already!  Besides, I know that just because something is pushed as a style ‘trend’ or ‘fad’ doesn’t mean people really like it on their own terms, after all.  My hope is that I have presented an attractive way to style and accessorize this golden maize color, though.  I have taken what is on trend, and interpreted it for myself using the way the past had done it before.  What goes around comes around and fashion is persistently resurfacing in surprising ways.  In the hands of someone who sews, fashion is whatever you make it!  Are you or have you worn a similar golden tone, or have you used your sewing talents to find a way to better like a style or shade of color?

“I, However, Am Not Afraid of You…”

On a day that revolves around fear and frights, I can’t help but default to America’s Sweetheart, Peggy Carter, for the self-assurance to have a heroine’s heart!  She was speaking to her nemesis, a woman who almost wiped out all of New York, when Peggy uttered my title’s quote, a perfect mantra for Halloween night.

In those same first five minutes of the Second Season, you can see Agent Carter in a striking suit of the unusual combination of peach blouse and forest green skirt and jacket (see part of that here).  I have interpreted this set into my own wardrobe, and as it has all the colors associated with Halloween, I’ll think of this outfit as a fashionable pumpkin!

There wasn’t a whole lot of sewing needed for me to have this set.  I sewed the blouse, and it is a luxurious everyday basic piece, in a cheery color, which I needed in my wardrobe anyway.  The skirt is something I’ve had in my closet for the past decade, a RTW piece which had been not seeing much wear as of late, so it was time for a simple re-fashion to perk it up.  My optional suit jacket is a true vintage piece that had been given to me by a friend, and fits like it was made for me.  It was that simple – my easiest Agent Carter outfit yet!  Perhaps the style choices of myself and Peggy are naturally on the same page – maybe that’s why I feel the need to have every one of her outfits in my closet as well, he he.  Many of her wardrobe choices have a sensible practicality combined with a panache for a touch of standout details.  Perhaps there is something in your closet, too, that can translate easily into an Agent Carter outfit of your choice?!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The fabric for my blouse is a 100% silk crepe de chine, from “Printed Silk Fabric” on Etsy, with the front lined in a peach poly chiffon from Jo Ann’s Fabric store.  The skirt’s added portions are of a cotton twill suiting, also from Jo Ann’s.

PATTERN:  The blouse was made using Simplicity #8243, a reprint that originally was #2337, year 1948

NOTIONS:  I had the thread needed on hand already, as well as the abalone shell buttons I used, a snap, and a hook-and-eye.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My silk blouse was cut and finished in 5 hours, on October 29, 2017.  The skirt was refashioned in a few hours the day after Halloween.

THE INSIDES:  A nice blouse deserved nice finishing, the way I figured!  The inside is in French seams.

TOTAL COST:  $20 for the blouse and a few more dollars for the extra fabrics from Jo Ann’s.  How much more reasonable could an outfit like this get?!

The blouse pattern I used is wonderful.  It sews up in a flash and has a decently good fit (with a few tweaks) and lovely details.  This silk version is actually the second time I have used it, so I was confident enough about the fit and details to slightly change it up a bit.  My first blouse version using this Simplicity re-issue was part of another Agent Carter themed outfit, and I will be posting that soon so you can get the full low-down on making the blouse as-is out of the envelope.  For now, my second version will come first on my blog!

My tweaks to the blouse pattern of Simplicity #8243 were small.  First, I took out the downward curve that the collar points have and straightened them out so it could be more like my inspiration Agent Carter blouse.  Her blouse had collar points which are more wing-like, more horizontal, pointing straight out towards her shoulders rather than down to the hips as on the original pattern.  In other words, my current collar is now a true “wing collar”, much like the 1950s “Agent Sousa” shirt I already made for my husband!  Secondly, I made the shoulders about 5/8 inch longer.  The first time I made this pattern, the sleeves ended up more on my shoulder than going over it.  This time I corrected the short shoulder line.  Third, I changed up the sleeves to make them more like an early or mid-1940’s style than post war, as the original pattern is from 1948.  I added pleats in between the trio of darts that shape the sleeve cap, creating more fullness as well as a bit more room for me to move.

The original as-is length of the short sleeves is very long – not so that they can be ¾ length but so that you can have room to cuff the hem, as the original pattern shows.  For this blouse, I cut off the excess length from the sleeve hems to have a facing-like binding strip to easily finish off the hem.  I added small triangular notches at the outer center hems of the sleeves.  I love how this little detail adds just enough subtle class without detracting in complexity from the straightforward simplicity of the styling.  After all, there is a wide shoulder-to-bust dart that smoothly and beautifully shapes the blouse without the “traditional” gathers on so many other 40’s blouses.  On this blouse, there are none of the common 40’s hem-to-waist shaping darts, as well, eliminating the conventional “blousy pouf” and making this blouse just as nice to wear untucked as tucked.

I must say, that my main gripe about the pattern is the weird placement of the buttons if you follow the pattern’s markings.  The bottom button is right at the waistline (does it end up as a lump under my waistband or what?) and the top one makes the neckline restrictively high, almost to the point of chocking.  If you make this pattern, you need to change to your own liking where you put the buttons and button holes.  I lowered my top button placement down 1 ½ inches and raised the lowest one 1 inch, with the middle one naturally in between.  Three inches down from the last third button, I sewed on a snap to keep the lower half of the blouse closed.  Sewing a snap below the waistline is something I see on many 1940s original patterns and it makes total sense.  A snap would not show a bulge through the belly of a skirt or trousers like a button would, and I makes the bottom half of the blouse smooth if I want to wear it untucked.  I wonder why this bit of sensibility which I always see in vintage patterns is somewhat lacking when it comes to the instructed closure of this blouse.

The main body of the blouse seems to run a bit snug for me, so I cut a size bigger for the back than the front, and taper a size up for the hips.  As my silk crepe de chine is a bit sheer, I doubled up on the back bodice, but as I only had two yards of 45 inch wide material, I used the supplementary fabric to line the front.  The all-in-one collar and front facing combo can be a bit fussy and not want to lay down well, but between ironing and some small tacking stitches between the layers, I am able to have my collar behave well!

For my skirt, I really didn’t do anything to change the fit – I just added a few things to mostly change where it fit!  The main addition was to give my skirt a true waistband.  This was a skirt meant to sit on hips, with a wide waistband which ends just below the waist.  My waistband was sewn ¼ inch onto the edge, so it makes no real impact to the original skirt, ends just above the invisible back zipper, and I can easily take it off if I ever want to in the future.  The back of the skirt had a high kick pleat-style slit for freedom of movement.  I am not used to showing this much thigh, even if the slit doesn’t open up unless I do some true Agent Carter kick-but moves!  Nevertheless, I unpicked both the fashion fabric and the lining around the back opening to stitch it down like a slit.  Then, I filled in the slit with a small rectangle of fabric I had left over from the waistband to make a box-pleated fill-in piece.  This way the slit closes nicely on its own, but when it opens up as I need it, the fill-in piece unfolds to keep my thighs covered without restricting movement.  My slit addition makes the skirt now look closer to a pattern from my stash – a McCall #6338 from 1945.

Somehow, it seems as if there is always some small ‘something’ I would like to have which is lacking when it comes to RTW off the rack clothes.  Whether it’s a detail (such as “…if only the neckline was different”), or the fit (who hasn’t had “…it fits except for here!”), or even availability (why is it so hard to find nice, solid colored blouses or non-knit bottoms?), relying on off-the-rack can be so frustrating.  If you don’t have the time for sewing every dream item (who really does?!), combining sewing skills with RTW can be a match made in heaven for making your clothes truly speak for you!

Although this is a sort of an after-Halloween post, and an outfit from a “fantasy” character, this is not a costume.  To me, this is something I am bringing into my own persona from a screen heroine that I can closely associate myself with.  That is one of the many amazing things about Agent Carter.  What she wears on screen can easily be worn by anyone today, yet is still very 1940’s chic, and not in the least a costume.  I really do think that is one of the major attractions of Agent Carter – she’s so very realistic yet still as capable as any superhero, and she’s oh-so-empowering.  That’s not even taking into account the fact that she started a whole new interest renewal in the fashions of the 1940’s…yay!  I so want to see more of her story on screen…until then I’ll keep making her wardrobe for myself!

Right now, there’s a petition out there to “Save Agent Carter”, and it’s in need of more people to sign and join in the plea for Marvel to continue Peggy Carter’s story in some form or fashion.  I’ve already signed up…will you consider signing, too?  Let’s let Hollywood know the world is better with the inspiration and bravery of Agent Carter. Spread #SaveAgentCarter!

The “Summer of the Pinafore”

Several months ago when Mena Trott (of Sew Weekly fame) and I were brainstorming the Sew-along on Instagram called the “Summer of the Pinafore”, we became mutually interested in this curious garment.  As odd as a pinafore might look, it’s really so versatile and practical.  Just think, a pinafore’s generous pockets serve as mini purses attached to ones clothes.  Its frilly personality makes it fun, fresh, and pretty.  Its multi-purpose “sundress-apron-jumper” design makes it something for mostly any season with the right fabric.  An assortment of trimmings and even a wild or quaintly cute print only makes the pinafore look better.  No really, this garment is meant to be there when you want to get things done and not worry about what to wear, like an old friend helping you out in your need.  And if you sew your own, it provides an opportunity to successfully use up things from your fabric and notions stash.

The “Summer of the Pinafore” is in its last week now (it ends at the first week of October) but I wanted to share some inspiration and knowledge to perhaps help others be motivated to join with me, to sew, or at least wear more pinafores outside of the sew-along.

So firstly – what exactly is a pinafore, after all?

A broad definition is that it is a collarless, sleeveless garment that implies an apron.  A pinafore is often (not always) tied or buttoned in the back, and may be a simple apron or a full sundress-like jumper for wearing over clothes.  This broadness and changing use of purpose for such a garment leads to much of the confusion as to what is a pinafore, after all…if you really want to “pin” down the term.  What doesn’t help clear things up is the added language differences for the same thing as well as nicknames – “pinny” (colloquial term), “training tabard” (for children), “smock” (full bodice), “jumper” (sweater top in British English), or the plain old “apron”.  The term “pinafore” certainly should be on a list of quirky and interesting sewing and garment related terms.

To go with a technical explanation, the very name of this garment reflects how the pinafore was worn. The original pinafores had no buttons and were simply “pinned” onto the front, “afore” the body, which led to the conjunction “pinafore”.  The last few centuries have seen this staple in the history of garment wearing evolve in use, shape, and purpose.  Over the next few posts, I will add to this discussion when I share my two vintage pinafores which I made.

Pinafores are a quaint, sensible yet embellished article of clothing which has stood the test of time, and deserve to make a comeback in some form or fashion.  Yet, just because they are vintage does not mean they cannot still find their appeal today either!  My next “convertible” creation will hopefully demonstrate that – stay tuned!

Save

Save

Save

Save