Oktoberfest “Black Forest” Dirndl

As a girl of strong German heritage, and a lover of vintage fashion, an old-fashioned ethnic outfit to celebrate Oktoberfest has long been on my to-make list, and is now – finally – a reality!  Here’s my year 1942 dirndl! Each piece is separate for ultimate mix-and-matchability, so can wear each on its own in the future or change up my dirndl in the future. This is something I am so happy with…it tuned out every bit as wonderful as I imagined.  Prost!

I was inspired by the traditional late 30’s/40’s “Black Forest Maiden” when making this.  The “Black Forest” is a very ancient, forested, mountainous region in southwest Germany.  It was already being named in Roman times.  The cultural dress and traditions of this region is likewise very old, and the rich dirndl customs associated with it have been around for the last several centuries.  Thus, I find it so sad that an established manner of local dressing, an organic means of freely expressing cultural identity, temporarily became twisted by Hitler, used to suppress and subjugate women nationally in the late 30s and early 40s.  As a girl with very German roots I recognize that interpreting this can painful, but this is an outfit made to honor a woman I don’t know with a story I will never forget.

At a WWII reenactment two years ago, I met a wonderful, friendly, and knowledgeable man with a thick German accent. As we chatted, I seemed to bring to mind something for him by wearing my vintage garb, and he proceeded to tell me about his mother. She was 11 or 12 when Hitler started his invasions, and the local Nazi Youth Movement chose her as the town’s “Black Forest Maiden” since she had the “perfect” body, hair and eye color. Terrified and crying, she was forced to lead the town’s parades, forced to wear what they chose, and be the “mascot” with her official photo. When I was shown that woman’s picture from back then, in her beautiful dirndl vest, with her stereotypical ‘Gretchen’ braids, she was so sad through that ‘perfect’ smile – that image is burned in my memory. And you think image crafting and body shaming is hardcore today…!  All the advancements that women of central Europe had been fighting for during the 20 years of the Inter-War period (and they were many) were threatened by the Nazi Idea of the model German woman.

I had no idea before hearing his emotional maternal story that a “Black Forest Maiden” was so forced on women and young girls who happened to fit the “faultless” Aryan mold, much like living out a punishment.  As if the way we are made is by choice!  Instead we have been incessantly fed a need to change one’s own inherent individual beauty for ages.  I have read that blond hair dye was extremely popular and encouraged back then for the brunettes, and posters and publications pressured a certain living ideal, too.  There is nothing like a first-hand account from those who lived through those times to get the real stories of the past.  Luckily, I can choose to wear what I want, and be happy celebrating heritage the way I choose in the fall, but making this dirndl reminds that was not always the case.  This is why I did not strictly adhere to the “Black Forest” ideal with my outfit – this is (to me) a freedom-of-expression version for a non-pale skinned, brown hair and dark eyed girl like me of today.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  all fabrics are authentic to a vintage dirndl of the times – cotton for the skirt and a ribbed cotton velveteen for the vest, lined in basic broadcloth

PATTERN:  Simplicity #4230, year 1942

NOTIONS:  I only wanted to use supplies that were on hand already, and all I absolutely needed to buy was the front zipper!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  It took me about 20 hours to complete and was finished on October 13, 2018.

TOTAL COST:  As everything I used had been on hand in my stash for at least a few years (yay for whittling down my hoard of fabric), and (knowing me) I probably got it all on a good discounted price anyway, I’m counting this outfit as free!

I had the best surprise as I opened up the dirndl jumper pattern, the kind which don’t come that often (and I believe I have seen and opened up a lot of vintage patterns in my life).  This one copy of mine is in top tier condition.  It was still factory folded inside, no discoloring, smell, or brittleness and the trailing floral embroidery transfers were miraculously as pristine as the day they were made – never used and still shiny and waxy beaded up on the tissue paper strips.  I always see transfer papers either missing, used already, or the ink dry and crumbly.  Needless to say I really have no intention of actually using them, but it is neat and rather tempting knowing they are there and fully usable!  Perhaps once my commitment to full scale embroidery is more guaranteed in the future, I might make a copy of these transfers and try the design, but I would have to start such a project two seasons ahead at my rate and I have enough going on in my life.

The bodice vest’s novelty velveteen – already thick, sturdy, and lovely to touch – was fully lined and fully interfaced with sew-in muslin so it would end up almost like a corset, or at least a very substantial jacket weight.  Lining is always such a nice and easy way for both a professional finish and a clean way to finish all your edges and hide all your seams!  It was chilly the day of our town’s Oktoberfest, so my vest kept my entire middle so warm I needed no coat.

As I am a married woman, I have no red trimming (meant for single ladies) and my vest is primarily black.  There is a matching color separating front zipper wedged in the middle to close the front of my dirndl vest.  Happily it is not very noticeable at all.  I really considered a laced up front, but as zippers were the latest and greatest fashion edge in the late 30’s, I wanted this traditional-influenced dirndl to follow suit.  Besides, a simple closing accommodated the fancy trim I planned on using.

The braided trim is complex and dramatic, perfect for a dirndl where your haberdashery cannot be too fancy or your details too scrumptious.  It is a Simplicity brand roll that I had bought on deep discount years ago.  It is something so novelty that I had no clear idea of what to use it on at the time, but as something like this is hard to come by – and normally expensive – I had to have it.  I’m glad I did, because it was meant for this dirndl…the 4 feet on the roll was exactly the length needed to go completely around the front and neckline edge.  Even an inch less would have not worked.  It is a cotton rayon blend of a white satin soutache-style rope braided with multiple strands of twisted black rope which reminds me of what is on decorator’s tassels.  As much as I wanted a quick and easy way to attach the trim down, I put up with hand-stitching it down for a precise placement with threads unseen.  I am in amazement at how this special trim made my dirndl vest go above par. 

My skirt is self-drafted of a 40’s reproduction print.  The color is not as green as I would have liked, but neither is it solidly turquoise.  Whatever the tone, happily my skirt is very much a copy of the skirt and apron colors worn in the West German movie “The Black Forest Girl”, made in 1950.  The story for this movie is based on the operetta “Schwarzwaldmädel” by Leon Jessel, who died in the same year as my dirndl pattern – 1942.

It’s merely your basic gathered skirt, and for a good amount of pouf I brought in just over twice my waist length into a very nice, 1 ½ inch wide, lightly interfaced waistband.  In order to use the whole of my fabric with minimal cutting, I hand-stitched down a 12 inch hem to shape some fullness into the skirt, weigh it down, and keep it opaque.  There is a true vintage metal zipper in the side for an old-fashioned touch.  It should definitely be a great basic wardrobe staple during the spring and summer worn on its own with a tee or blouse apart from this dirndl.  I hope to make another skirt like this one, using a completely different print and material, to see how that changes the overall feel of my Germanic outfit.

An apron is a must with a dirndl!  I am using a handcrafted fine cotton apron that my mom had ordered from a vintage reproduction company, so it is not of my own making, but the details are just what I would want to pair with my outfit.  There is crocheted lace and both pintucks and ½ pleats for more texture and interest to the outfit.  The apron I had on for the day is a very wearable new version that reminds me of the apron I would have preferred to wear (but wouldn’t dare out of respect) – my Great-Great Grandmother’s apron handmade apron from circa 1890 (pictured at left).  This family history treasure was made on her way over to the United States, and the fine details are mind-blowing.  Just studying it is improving my sewing skills by practicing to imitate such tiny, regular feather-stitching on other items.

I do intend on sewing up the dirndl vest’s matching underblouse in a sheer white organdy just like the cover shows, but I ran out of time for this weekend.  It will be made soon, anyway, and be ready for next year.  Until then, I wore a fine linen blouse already in my wardrobe, one that has lovely floral-and-vine shadow work along the neckline, visible above the sweetheart neckline of my dirndl vest if you look closely.  The earrings are vintage from my Grandmother (on my father’s side).

There is heavy German influence on all sides of my family, and around the last turn of the century they had immigrated over (before the First World War, when eight million German-Americans comprised this country’s largest non-English speaking group).  This was at a time when being a “Hyphenated American” was paramount to asking for the finger of suspicion to come to you.  Yet, during the First World War, when Ellis Island immigration was high, about 20 of all Americans who answered the call to arms were foreign born.  Quick assimilation was important to “Hyphenated Americans” for both their safety and because of their likelihood for a successful new start.

Even still, our families have not forgotten our past heritage over the last 100 years.  My dad has memories of going to Oktoberfest celebrations as a child in his little Lederhosen, and his Grandfather – who operated his own bakery for many years – always had stollen and coffee on hand to enjoy with him every Sunday after church.  My husband’s paternal side had originally settled in a city actually called Germantown, with German still on the tombstones and street signs.  Conversely, our relatives did their part for America fighting against the Reich in both wars.  The German influence that still surrounds me in the Mid-Western United States where I live is all good stuff – stately, impressive churches, strong homes made to last, delicious and hearty food, creative micro-breweries, beautiful winery vineyards, and happy, down-to-earth, hard-working people.  So why did I not make a dirndl earlier than now?!

Mermaid Out of Water

Following up on the heels of my last post, a 1954 qipao, here’s another Mandarin dress inspired by the 1930s era from the modern designer Andrew Gn.  “From the Paris catwalk directly to my wardrobe” thanks to Burda Style, this is home sewing at par with the designer world.

This is much more elegant than my first qipao, definitely meant for evening wear with its train.  The fabrics are much nicer and higher quality, too, than the printed cotton of the last qipao.  It’s also much more sensual and body-conscious, just like the original mine was inspired by – Nicole Kidman’s “Charity Ball” gown from the 2008 movie “Australia”.  It was the year 1939, and Lady Sarah Ashley was auctioning off herself (to dance with, I must clarify) to benefit the Missions for children, the “Forgotten Australians” as they are known, so she definitely dressed the part for that evening to win a large bid.  This is my third (and probably my last for this year) submission to the Unfinished Seamstress’ “Sewing the Scene” Challenge.

This evening dress is my very first mermaid shaped garment, and I am head over heels for what this does to my curves.  Why have I not worn something like this before?  Where has a mermaid gown been all my life?  Whatever – I have one now that I am very happy with…in fact I hate having to take it off once it’s on, especially as the first layer against my skin is lovely silk!

For more about the culture, history, and meaning to a qipao dress, please visit my previous post.  This one is admittedly designer, so it is linked more to the fashion scene than a pure culture garment.  In fact, the designer Tony Ward now appears to be knocking off Andrew Gn’s Burda release with some of the neckline on the gowns in his Spring/Summer 2018 collection (see Look #33 of his Couture garments, and see this look from his ready-to-wear)!  However, the Singapore-born Andrew Gn does have the privilege right to make a fashion qipao more than Tony Ward, and besides Gn did it first with his Fall 2017 Ready-To-Wear collection.  The designer Andrew Gn, as described in the Burda magazine, is a cosmopolitan designer who is heavily influenced by art and antiques.  He respects the worth of a good vintage item and finds creative expression universal.  Personally, he is ¼ Japanese and ¾ Chinese, but studied at London, New York, and Milan before opening under his own label in 1996 after being an assistant in Emanuel Ungaro’s atelier in Paris for just a year.  Ungaro is one of my modern designer icons, so it comes as no surprise to me that I like the work of his pupil Gn!  Traditional meets modern, and East merges with the West under Andrew Gn.

The pattern for this dress is only to be found in the monthly magazine issue and unfortunately not online to buy and download at all.   This edition of the magazine (February 2018) is totally worth buying, though – this is the best Burda month I have seen in a long time, there are so many patterns that are unique, lovely, and attractive.  Besides, nowadays how often do we get a copy to make for ourselves of what is seen is the catwalk?  This outfit counts as my August make to the “Burda Challenge 2018” for which I pledged a garment a month.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a combo of both polyester crinkle chiffon and rayon challis for the dress and true vintage all silk crepe for the under slip

PATTERN:  Burda Style #123 Gown, from the February 2018 magazine for the dress (see it on the runway here) and a vintage year 1942 pattern, Simplicity #4352, used once before, for the slip

NOTIONS:  All I really needed to make this set was really thread – lots of it – and some little scraps of interfacing for the Mandarin collar.  The neckline buttons are modern and were also on hand along with the scrap 6 inches of thread elastic.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress itself took about 15 hours while the slip took maybe 6 hours.  Both were completed on August 20, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  Clean due to the serged (overlocked) seams on both pieces – there were too many very long princess seams between the slip and the dress to do the insides as a French finish!

TOTAL COST:  The vintage silk was part of a trade at a local shop, and the dress’ fabrics came from my local JoAnn’s fabric store, maybe about $60 for 6 yards. 

Coming directly from a designer, I sort of find it oddly ironic that I became my own designer for this dress and slightly adapted the armscye to mirror my inspiration dress from the “Australia” movie.  Of course, looking at the original dress and its line drawing, you can see I left out the sleeves.  I do love them, and would love to make a winter velvet version of this dress just so I can see this design with those sleeves, but they did not fit in with my ideal of a visually obvious “Australia” movie copy, or even just a Mandarin dress for the summer.  It was a very easy adaptation.  I redrew the pattern tissue so that the center front and the center back panels’ curving seam kept going up to graze the outer end of the shoulder line.  The effect is like a pared down cap sleeve all-in-one with the dress. I also dipped the bottom of the armscye under the arm to be lower and more open, ending in a V-shape for both beauty and full movement.  Besides, the sleeve change, I shortened the front third of the hem to the dress so that the hem would graze the top of my feet with heels on.  I left the back and side hem original length.

Now, as for any Burda Style pattern, printing and/or tracing is necessary to have a usable pattern to lay on your desired fabric.  My pattern was traced from the inserts in the magazine issue, and most Burda Style Designer patterns are only in the magazines, but most other patterns are available online as a downloaded PDF that needs to be printed out and assembled together.  What works best for me is to use a roll of thin, see-through medical paper to trace my pieces out.  It’s at this preliminary step that you pick out your proper size.  Some people add in your choice of seam allowance width directly to the pattern while some as they are cutting out the fabric pieces.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a finished pattern prepped.  Sorry to repeat something you might already know, but this is just an “FYI” for those that don’t.

I did find the sizing for this dress to be spot on, very exact.  I made my ‘normal’ size that I choose with Burda patterns, based off of their measurement chart and this finished out perfect for my body.  Granted there is a good amount of shifty give in the dress between the fine crinkled chiffon and random bias.  This is part of the reason I get by with leaving out any closures (except for the neckline, of course).  Yes – there are no zippers, hooks, or anything to the waist of both the dress and slip.  This is a pop-over the head outfit.  I didn’t want a zipper to awkwardly pucker or bubble the fabric out, and with lowering the cut of the neckline by a few extra inches, the dress goes on me just fine with all seams sewn up.  An all silk slip is smooth and slippery, like a weightless second skin, and it has similar seaming so it slides on easily as well with no closure either.

As wonderful as this turned out, it was almost the project that was never made due to the unexpected amount of material needed. Be prepared to have lots and lots of yardage on hand in order to make this dress because I soon realized this is a total fabric hog of a project.  I rather disregarded the instructions in disbelief when they called for 6 whopping yards of fabric, in 60” selvedge width. Really?!  The pattern pieces were very skinny (and very curvy, I must add, for a proper mermaid fit).  The bottom flared out very wide though.  The pattern segments were also unmanageably long as they are all one-piece princess seams from neckline to hem.  I felt that ‘surely if the pieces are staggered, and laid out oppositely I can make the dress work’ out of the 4 yards of chiffon I had on hand.  Four yards is really the most of any fabric I have on hand or generally buy.  There is only one other fabric in my stash that is a cut of 6 yards, and it is a winter brocade saved for a fabric hog 1950s dress pattern.

I really wanted to use this butterfly print as there was something about it that I felt needed to be an Asian influenced, 1930s inspired garment for evening elegance.  I don’t know how that approbation works in my head but some fabrics just naturally get designated to certain patterns without much of a though, like the two are meant to be together.  This time, there was no seeming way to make things work.  Four yards of fabric is only enough for three pattern pieces.  The dress has four pattern pieces in total, so I needed more for one last piece.

My husband is the one that saved this project by finding the exact same print, at the exact same JoAnn’s store where the first fabric was bought, only this time it was in an all rayon challis.  As long as it was the same print I had something to work with…thank goodness for JoAnn’s repeating a print design!  As the rayon would be heavier and also opaque compared to the chiffon. The most obvious pattern piece to designate this for was the two center back panels.

This way the train is weighted down nicely and the sheer effect is tamed by having the front the primary focus while the back is only simple lines without the slip being seen there to distract.  Also the back panels are the longest piece out of the four with the train – the biggest fabric hog.  The hemline is a full almost 10 inches longer than floor length on my 5’ 3” frame.  Two yards was just enough of a cut from the rayon for the center back panel, that’s how long it is!  As it turned out, I am glad to have used two fabrics for this dress.  How often does something like this happen, though – the same print in two different materials?  I love the feeling of how the train floats and flows behind me as I walk if I let it down (see a short video here on my Instagram).  If I hold it up it looks like I have wings, like a butterfly myself, or like a mermaid tail.  However, I wouldn’t have a mermaid tail out of water now would I?!

A little bit of the rayon form of my dress’ butterfly print also went to the Mandarin collar.  I was planning on laying cotton between the sheer to make the collar opaque and not see-through before I realized I had to use the rayon.  This made my work easier.  I doubled up on the interfacing and ironed it to the wrong side of both the outer and inner collars.  This way at least something holds the dress together because the rest of it certainly isn’t going the help.

I realize that most the dresses with this wide open, almond shaped neckline which dips down to Timbuktu do not have anything but skin (and cleavage) showing.  I do not care for how blatantly this sensualizes such a style of dress too much for my taste.  This is an opportunity to make a superior quality slip in a contrast color to fill in that void in the front.  The sweetheart neckline is one of the most universally popular and flattering, and a visible slip is a more discreet yet still tantalizing detail, so I prefer such a gown worn this way, not just because it is like the movie original.  It is really much more wearable this way anyway.

My basic everyday vintage slip pattern got the deluxe makeover here!  The way I made it first using basic rayon challis has it my go-to wardrobe basic.  There was no guesswork sewing this up as I had done it once before and made notes of my grading add-ons, but I took more time on the small details.  First, I added 12 more inches to the hem of last time to end up with an ankle length slip. Then, I hand stitched the self-fabric bias facing down by hand.  Skinny self-fabric bias spaghetti straps are over my shoulders.  I don’t have many long gowns to match but I’m hoping to get good use out of this slip.  After all, I did splurge and use true vintage fabric.  I am not one to use that fact as a reason to completely save this garment – no, I want to totally enjoy it, so maybe this would make a good nightgown too, if I want to wear it but have nowhere to go.

My accessories were carefully curated to make sure this was an outfit all about me – my take on a runway trend, my personal skills to make what else I needed, and some old favorites from on hand to compliment.  Following the trend of Andrew Gn’s Fall 2017 collection where the models mostly wore tassel earrings, I found mine at a local shop, handmade in three layers of gradient colors from out of my butterfly print.  My hair decoration is made by me, with three plastic flower heads attached to a hair comb with floral wire and floral tape.  My florist’s training came in handy here and I am so happy and proud at how this turned out.  My shoes are “Lola” peep toe strap heels from Chelsea Crew, the same as what I wore her for my Grace Kelly dress copy.  My bracelet is actually a hair scrunchie from when I was little, but it always used to pull my hair out so it’s always served me better as a bracelet.

This was a bit of a hard project to handle, as dreamy as it is to wear.  Between the struggle to find enough fabric for the dress, the “sacrifice” of multiple yards of vintage fabric, and all the large scraps which were leftover from the making of this outfit, it was almost painful.  I am very thrifty (as much as can be expected) with my sewing, making use of every scrap, getting only fabric that I have an idea for, and squeezing patterns on cuts too small for an easy layout.  Not too often am I liberal with my sewing, but extravagance is just that – an indulgence, a surrendering of practicality for the ideal of beauty, the effort towards a creative reality.  This is closer to how couture works, or at least designer productions, as well.

The outlook, the artistic vision is priority along the creative process, and then the special someone who gets to wear the finished product, and the resulting feelings upon wearing, are then the pride and crowning glory after the last of the finishing touches have been made.  This is a designer dress, after all, and I’m using my best vintage fabric to complete it as a ‘copy’ of something from Hollywood, inspired by the decadence of the era of elegance itself – the 1930s.  Why was I expecting something sensible here?!  Sometimes making (and wearing) the extravagance of what exactly you want, what you feel great in is intoxicatingly enjoyable.  I am sensible enough to not do this all that often, but with this dress it is so nice deep down.  Can I use the excuse that my birthday is in August?  I may just have to find as many excuses to wear this as I possibly can, too.

Foundational Lingerie: a 1942 Rayon Slip

Basic is beautiful to me for my new under garment sewing creation. Between being extremely useful and complimentary to a woman’s curvy shaping, this undergarment is now a frequently worn winner in my wardrobe of sewn garments. Believe me, once you make an undergarment, you suddenly realize that a complete outfit is really only achieved my working from the inside out.

100_5039a-compThis is sort of part one of two blog posts, both connected to the same outfit based off of Whoa Nelly for Agent Sousathe same episode from the Marvel’s “Agent Carter” television, “The Iron Ceiling”, Season 1, Episode 5, aired on February 3, 2015. I’ll address at the end of the post about Episode 5 and the way my slip creation is connected to part two post. Inspiration aside, I ultimately made my slip because 1.) I needed it, 2.) I can’t find anything to buy like what I wanted, and 3.) I wanted to have an entire outfit, inside and out which I made and that will co-ordinate perfectly with my vintage as well as modern garments. Besides, it’s always fun to try new things and use up leftover remnants laying in one’s stash bin, both applicable to my slip!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  One yard of pure white 100% rayon challis100_4996-comp

NOTIONS:  I had the thread, bias tape, twill tape ribbon, and zipper needed on hand already.

PATTERN:  Simplicity #4352, year 1942

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Not long at all…this creation was effortless. In all, I spent maybe 4 hours in total and it was finished on April 18, 2015.

THE INSIDES:  The inner edges are left raw to do their own thing, merely stitched over. The top edge and bottom hem are covered by sewing down and folding in bias tape.

100_5048-compTOTAL COST:  around $5 (more or less, I don’t remember precisely)

100_4998-compNow just to clarify a few things about the specifics of my pattern, I have not as yet found any record or picture of another version of Simplicity #4352 which is says “Made in Canada” like mine does. This combo must be rarer, but to be more unusual it also mentions in the bottom corner, “Simplicity Patterns are featured in Chatelaine Magazine.” I’m not sure what that magazine was exactly besides a woman’s periodical of the time, but I’m thinking that my find is a bit special. This is my first WWII Canadian pattern.

From what I can tell from the American versions of this slip pattern, and from the styling of the garment together with the envelope lettering, all point to the fact that it is highly probable to be from year 1942. However, this particular design seems to have been reprinted for a few years during WWII (highly common), so if it’s not from ’42 precisely, the pattern would be no later than 1945. Out of a dislike to be vague and a will to be decisive, I’m sticking with assigning to my slip the first year it seemed to surface – 1942.

100_5043a-compThe back guide for the needed fabric amount showed much more than I really needed. As you can see in the facts, I only made this out of one yard. There were a few things that effected this frugality of fabric. The width of the rayon I used was 60 inches wide (helping to fit more of the pattern pieces on the layout), and I did shorten up the slip to be just below my knees, but it was the way I folded the fabric at the layout stage – with the selvedge edges in at the middle to make two fold lengths – which really helped get the most out of a small amount. The pattern pieces were really long and skinny because of the princess seaming, so I also oppositely staggered the pieces…meaning I would place one with the large end towards the left, the next piece towards the right, then back to the left for the bigger end of the next. Extreme, I know, and it’s not that I don’t use my scraps, but a 1940’s thrifty WWII woman would have had the same mindset. Yup, this slip was another exercise in the art of getting the most of every possible free space on a cut of fabric with no compromises on the grain line. This economy at the cutting stage adds to my overall satisfaction/pride with my finished project.

I did have to lightly grade up in size for the slip, and I added it in two increments: at the sid100_5049-compe seams and at the centers in front and back, by moving the pattern away the necessary amount from the fold edge. The long princess seam down the center of the bust was sewn with a seam allowance slightly smaller by ¼ inch to shape the slip better for me. All the long seams were top stitched down for a smooth look under clothes without relying on constant ironing to keep things in place. The side zipper is quite necessary to keep the slip’s close streamlined fit, nipping in the waist, and amazingly not really a problem to me under other skirts, tops, or dresses with side zippers, too.

Using rayon challis for making a slip was the best thing ever! I absolutely love, love, love rayon – its hand, its wear, its ease to work with, and its historical accuracy – so it was a matter of course for me to turn to using it. However, you know that annoying polyester fabric that seems so beautiful and drapey on the bolt until you actually wear it and it turns into a static mess, clinging to your every move unless you spray it to death with static cling or line it with another fabric? Whew. Yeah, it’s a gross and annoying problem for sewers. Well, wearing a non-static, natural fiber rayon slip 100% completely miraculously solves that former curse of polyester. Hallelujah! So simple, I don’t know why I haven’t come across this solution earlier. Cotton would be anti-static, as well, and silk would, too, but it’s expensive and not used during the 1940’s. Rayon flows well, even with similar fabrics like cottons, woolen, and even other rayon, too.

I’m not sure what would be 40’s appropriate for the straps, but I used what was on hand – twill tape ribbon. My mind considered making the strap adjustable, but in the end, they were just stitched down. Hey…I am my own tailor, designer, do-it-all, so if the straps need to be fixed I’ll just unpick and re-fix.100_4999-comp

Check out that small detail line drawing close-up! It has such a tiny spot on the cover, I had to zoom in for you. Now you can see the two different versions to be made. I chose the drop neck version because open necklines will work with it better, and, besides, it’s just so darn pretty with the dip in the back neckline as well! I do love the straight neck version, with all the lace on it, but it’s not so practical for me. The cover is just all over appealing to me, from the loose pigtails to the bow-topped heels.

Now for an inspiration explanation. In the beginning of “Agent Carter” “The Iron Ceiling” Episode, Peggy is wearing a deep teal, white pin-striped masculine-inspired shirt dress. Once she gets the o.k. to fly off on a secret mission, she proceeds to change at the men’s locker –the only spot available – into a Agent Sousa catches Peggy changingcommando, military outfit. Here we see a brief, fleeting glimpse of her under slip in an uncomfortable but hilarious situation for her co-workers. I do own a vintage 1940’s black rayon slip, very much like the one seen briefly on Peggy in “Agent Carter”, and the straps are very skinny and adjustable, with remarkable shaping. However, I wanted to make her outfit from “The Iron Ceiling” Episode, and I intended to sew the whole this myself…both slip and dress. Thus, starting from the inside out like it mentioned earlier, part one (this post) is about my slip, and part two will be my copy of what Agent Carter wore over it – a pinstriped shirt dress.

Save

“Winter Mint” Suede 1942 Shirt Dress

As refreshing as a soothing after dinner treat, this 1940’s outfit is a sweet thrill. Dating to the early 1940’s, my outfit is as much of a joy to wear as it was to sew and make. It is like a breath of an assurance for balmy weather, on account of the creamy pastel color of my dress, while still being prepared for the cold, because of my long sleeves, my hat, and fabric choices – all wrapped up in one plush, cozy, fashionable package.

100_4499a-compNot knowing how to pin down a descriptive title for the color of my dress, I coined it “winter mint” one night while talking about my project. I haven’t yet come up with a name for my hat, except for adjectives like “amazing”, “versatile”, “luxurious”, and “handy”. Even my dress’ belt was made to match the specific color and needs of my dress. This is the one outfit so far for which my own two hands have put together, from scratch, an entire outfit of clothes and accessories to wear with one another, contrast/compliment one another, and match in time and era.

badge.80This is part one of two blog posts. This post will focus on detail about my dress its pattern, and photo shoot location info. Part two will show info on my hat (how it was made and its practicality), how I came up with making a matching belt, and early 40’s hair fashion.  These two posts are part of my “Agent Carter” 1940’s Sew Along.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The dress is made using a 100% polyester micro-suede. One side is a lighter, more pastel tone with the fuzzy nap of the suede, the other side is satin finished with a darker tone. McCall 5040 yr 1942

NOTIONS:  Some thread was on hand already, I needed no interfacing, and the button is vintage from hubby’s Grandmother’s stash. Nothing but a side zipper was needed to buy.

PATTERNS:  McCall #5040, year 1942

TIME TO COMPLETE:  On December 29, 2014, just before the new year and in the heart of winter, I finished my suede dress after about 15 to 20 hours.

THE INSIDES:  The dress’ insides are left raw as the fabric does not fray and is very soft.

TOTAL COST:  For the dress, I used a Hancock Fabrics gift card (yay for great birthday presents!) to pay for my fabric, but the total cost (which I didn’t pay) came to about $18 for 3 yards.

I really can’t peg down this outfit…is it dressy, casual, somewhere in between? Whatever it is, I’ve got nothing like it in my closet before now, and I like having this dress on hand for easy vintage dressing. It seems hard to get those amazing vintage outfits which are practical for cold weather climates at the same time, but I think I found it here. The micro suede is polyester, I know, but what creative person could possible resist playing with the two tones of the right and the wrong sides, as well as LOVE wearing a fabric which feels so good on the skin?!

100_4504-compIt was quite tricky to figure out the right/wrong side configuration during the pattern layout stage so as to make to dress sections contrast one another. My capability of thinking clearly was put to the test, like when I layout out a pattern on striped or plaid fabric – no half-asleep mindless cutting this time, as sometimes happens for some projects that are super easy. The sleeve cuffs, the skirt pockets, the side bodice sections, and the neck collar were all cut out in the deeper-colored satin side of the fabric, with the rest of theMcCal 4998, yr 1942 contrast yoke bodice dress dress (the skirt pieces, sleeves, middle front and back bodice sections) cut to show the fuzzy suede side. With my chosen pattern having such spectacular designing and seaming, I had to show those features off.  Here’s the cover of another year 1942 McCall pattern (#4998 which I do not own) which shows a dress with very similar design lines with contrasting “satin and matte” sections, too.

I did find sizing and fit of this pattern to be not as predictable as all the other 1940’s McCall patterns I have made already. The pattern I had was technically my correct size, with the bust being an inch or so big, but I thought it was close enough. I added a tad more in sizing (1/4 inch) to the side seams of the bottom skirt half of the dress, and the top half of the dress had a small measurement taken out (1/4 inch) to the sides, from the waist up. Even still, the skirt portion still came out snug when it was finished, and I had to take out the ½ inch seams down to 3/8 or ¼ inch instead. Seams that small are pushing the limit of safety, but it’s all I could do to be comfortable with the fit…unless I eat a large meal and fill in any extra space! In contrast, the top half, waist-up portion of the dress turned out roomy and blousy, which is authentic in fit and appearance for the 40’s. Shoulder pads were added into the shoulders to fill in the blousy shirt dress top half, thus keeping it from drooping and defining the silhouette.

100_4519a-compSuch a loose fit for the waist up of my “winter mint” dress would not be minded so much, if only the shoulders didn’t fit me just slightly wonky by drooping lower than normal. Hubby says the droopy shoulders are there, but barely noticeable to anyone else. Isn’t that how it goes? Crafting one’s own garments often makes you your own hardest critic – I know this is the case for me. Sometimes, I mentally build up small points which fall short of my own high standards into a giant discrepancy. Hopefully some of you, my readers who sew, are also perfectionists and can commiserate with me here. In other words, my dress is just fine and perfect in its own right, I just need to quit being hard on myself while wearing it to completely be happy of the fit and way it was made.

The pattern never mentioned anything about interfacing in the construction and layout instructions, so I didn’t add any into the suede dress. I know old patterns, especially 1940’s and earlier, take it for advantage that a seamstress will know precisely what to do without needing to be told. However, I thought better than to add it anyway, liking to keep up with the soft and easy feel of the suede fabric to lend my dress a similar air. I also made my brown collared 1949 dress the same way as my new suede dress, with no interfacing in the collar and such. It seems appropriate for both of those dresses to be made this way, but it is not my normal practice for most of the collars and cuffs I construct.

100_4503-compLike most of the printed 1940’s McCall patterns I have seen, this McCall shirt dress also has its own subtle special features. Bust fullness is provided by four rows of ruched gathers in the side bodice panel. The sleeves end in satin cuffs, made to be closed with cuff links. There are handy set in pockets that are a bit too small to be 100% utility, but still handy. The pockets follow through with the bust side panel section, finishing that front style lines. The skirt front has a center box pleat, while the back skirt has the classic three panel construction of 40’s McCall patterns for great shaping over the posterior. Some of the seams and features to my dress were lost in the plushness of the suede fabric, so I wanted to mention them just in case they couldn’t be seen very well in our pictures.

I really do not understand the button and loop up at the top of the neck opening.  100_4523a I followed the pattern, but as it turns out the button and loop closes at the very closely around my neck, which I’m not 100% comfortable with for long periods of time.  Oh well!  At least I finally had the opportunity to use a single amazing vintage button from my hubby’s Grandmother’s stash.  It is a close match with my dress…actually just dark enough to be noticeable.  The button sort of reminds me of a yin-yang, but each side has an opposite slant and tiny grooves on the surface.

100_4522-compIn order to honor warmer weather with my outfit, I wore a pendant of a hummingbird, made from abalone shell and sterling silver. The day of our photo shoot was one of those late winter days that are suddenly balmy, becoming a teaser. No, I have time to wait for the little nectar loving hummingbirds to come, but they’ll come soon enough.

Our photo shoot location was at the front promenade to the Municipal Opera Theatre building in our city’ downtown park. Looking up information about it shows that it was built and opened in 1917, but we saw some sort of dedication stone on the front that dated 1939. Either way, this time period book-ended in the main height of the Art deco era (my favorite), so we tried to include some of these details in the background. My favorite part about the Municipal Opera are those doors, with their beautiful clean lines. The doors remind me of my dress – straight lines and a few curved lines, and something that makes me smile!

100_4493Have you made a garment that reminds of the very opposite season, like my “Winter Mint” dress? Maybe a summer pattern made to work for winter wear, or a winter garment made into summer appropriate colors, for only two examples of dressing for a different season. It’s nice to know the weather outside does not have control over one who can make one’s own fashion!

Peggy at Griffith interviewThis is also my first total foray into wearing solid, one tone color. I admire how Peggy in Marvel’s “Agent Carter” knows how to wear primarily solid colors so well, a “talent” (if you call it that) I have a hard time achieving.  Look at her amazing brown and pink shirt dress at left.  Floral and patterned fabrics are very attractive and appealing, so hard to resist! Do you like patterns or solids, and how do you like to best pair or accessorize solids?

Stay tuned for part two!