Channeling Crawford’s Adrian

I realize the strong shoulders of the 1940s decade is an intimidating turnoff for many, but I embrace them in all their forms.  For whether they are obnoxious or poufy as they can be or just plain sharply tailored, I see the 40’s strong shoulder line as not only a crucial part of the fashion in, before, and after the WWII decade, but also a very interesting garment point often neglected.   Such can be as fun to perfect as they are even more entertaining to see and construct in all its differing varieties.

A strong, exaggerated shoulder line can do wonders for certain body shapes, as I think it does for mine.  Although I am border line petite (just over 5 feet tall), I do not feel that my waist and hips are small enough in proportion to the rest of me, so the appearance of wider shoulders creates an illusion of the ideal body lines (tiny hips and waist).  This is nothing new…I am just copying off of what worked for the famous actress Joan Crawford, when the equally famous Adrian used this same “trick” as what had been done in the 1830s and 1890s to distract the public eye away from conceived body faults about the midsection and create a certain image.  As famous as well-known as both those names are, they had figured out something spot on that we who are in no manner Hollywood sweethearts can still imitate to our advantage.  From a fascination of Crawford’s high, dramatic hairstyles to my amazement for Adrian’s penchant of precise pin striped garments, from the basic need for warm winter wear to the desire for an unusual item to try and sew, I have combined it all to end up with something that is an unexpected way to power through the cold!

This jumper dress was made for a recent trip to visit the historic garment district in Kansas City, Missouri for the exhibit “Suited Up: Tailored Menswear, 1900 to 2017”.  This section of town is claimed to have been (at one time), second only to New York in breadth of territory!  This cozy outfit let me be a wintertime tourist in handmade, menswear-inspired style!  My shoes were very comfy for all day walking – they are Chelsea Crew brand “Gala” heels, reproduction vintage spectators.  My blouse underneath is a resale store item, but my jewelry is true vintage from my Grandmother.  I realize that all put together like I am, this is a more obviously vintage outfit than most other dated fashions that I make and wear, but I’d like to think that it is a statement enough to be attractive in its own way.  I believe the general public that only relies on RTW is so ready for fashion to be something more appealing to them personally other than what is out there.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a heathered brown pure wool with an ivory pin striping

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1238, year 1944, a jumper-dress

NOTIONS:  The main notion used – the numerous buttons down the front – are a prized vintage card authentic to the 1940’s which had been found at our favorite local antique store.  The rest of what I needed – the thread, interfacing, bias and hem tapes, as well as shoulder pads – are modern notions and were already in my stash of supplies.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was made in about 25 to 30 hours…I took my time to get details done just the way I wanted them!  It was finished on February 9, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  As this was pure wool, it was therefore rather a rather itchy fabric which would fray a lot at every raw edge.  Thus every seam was finished off with bias tape, with the hem covered in a lace tape for a fun and feminine finish!

TOTAL COST:  This wool was a gem of a fabric I found in my local Jo Ann’s Fabric store.  I don’t remember what the cost was purely because this kind of fabric is so lovely and hard to come by in brick-and-mortar stores here, so I had to have it regardless of cost.  Nevertheless, I had a discount coupon and 40’s patterns do not need a whole lot of fabric, so – for just over 2 yards I think I spent under $30.

Ah – Adrian and Crawford…one would not be as famous without the other, but I suggest Adrian owed more to Crawford than the other way around.  Crawford had been in movies since the 1920’s, but her broad shoulders served her well in the boyish and hip hugging fashions of the era – she was the right body for the mode of dressing then.  When the 1930’s came along and Crawford was starring in movies where she played as a softer, sexier and wildly talented woman, she needed a signature style to match in Hollywood.  In 1932, Crawford wore a dress designed by Gilbert Adrian know as the famous “Letty Lynton Dress”, a white organdie dress with big puffed sleeves which were covered in ruffles, to make her look feminine and demure.  It is often credited with being the first movie fashion to be widely copied and sold for the public.  Crawford’s wide shouldered dress gave the impression of a tiny waist and slim hips, and the illusion created by Adrian was suddenly in steady demand with popular fashion whether that garment was in a store, from a sewing pattern, created by a tailor, or from other designers.  This would last strongly through the 1940’s, recurring again in the 1980s, when heavily padded and extreme shoulders were common.  Crawford’s movie roles in the 40’s became harder, stronger, and frequently troubled, and so her large shoulder signature style stayed with her but changed to match until after Dior’s “New Look” styles became the craze.

In Adrian’s own story from the book, Creating the Illusion, he said that Crawford insisted on full freedom of movement with her arms, so much so that he had to leave excess fabric which was then padded to not appear sloppy.  I do notice that many 1940’s era vintage patterns leave extra room in the shoulders, and I regard that as room you need for shoulder pads!  But whether the use of padding came from Crawford’s fit preferences or Adrian’s direct styling for her body, between the two of them it is a silhouette and a technique that was influential and unmistakable.  Crawford was Adrian’s perfect outlet to manifest the genius of his talent.  It took the perfect actress in the perfect outfit to make the world notice her clothes to a point that the world how the copy that fashion for themselves.  Unlike today, the designers were something to think about afterwards, as the Academy Awards for Best Costume Design wasn’t started until 1948.  Adrian designed the costumes for Joan Crawford in more than twenty-eight movies.  Granted, he did wonders designing spectacular, mind blowing outfits for other actresses, but it is how Joan Crawford wore what he made that had a outreaching effect that is still being discussed and understood today.

Now, the original design for this jumper-dress on the envelope cover is much more understated than how mine turned out and I wanted it this way!  Since I was wearing this to see an exhibit on menswear, I wanted something strong and broad as the famous London-cut padded suit for guys of the early 40’s with a hint of the outspoken Zoot Suits.  Adrian himself was a perfectionist at suits and loved to show the height of his ability by having stripes show off the seam lines (see this 1948 suit at the New York MET museum for only one example).  Following these trains of thought, I also was tempted to add a welt pocket on the chest like a true suit, but as you can see I thought otherwise in the end.  I do love how my jumper dress ends up having a double collar, as I wear the shirt underneath on top of the jumper lapels to cover the wool and keep it from itching my neck.  This is better than a man’s vintage suit which doesn’t have this double collar benefit!  Sewing it was much easier than making a complete suit but has all the same feel as one in a dress version.

I have seen such a unique kind of clothing as a jumper-dress before in a few other 1940s and 1970s patterns and I really like the whole idea of it – a one-piece garment that can be worn with a blouse underneath like a jumper or still work being worn alone as a dress.  The famous actress Gene Tierney wears a very similarly styled jumper-dress, in a lovely light blue sans blouse underneath, in the 1945 movie “Leave Her to Heaven”.  The banded armscye (as this kind of shoulder extension that looks like a sleeve is called) was stiff and sticking out on its own on Gene Tierney, and I used heavy interfacing to copy that appearance.  However I have found an extant jumper-dress in rayon crepe that has a limp, unstructured banded armscye and it is amazing how one small detail as the weight of interfacing can change the whole “look”.  I have even seen a banded armscye which is highly decorated on this fancy 1940’s blouse, or one used upside down in this 1930’s evening gown.  The more you look at fashion from the past, the more you see the variety our modern RTW fashions are missing. 

The pattern for a banded armscye has the general shape of an almond because it is folded in half to be a double layer self-facing piece.  However, this “mock sleeve’’ needs to have a much lower dip, meaning the side seam is closed at a much lower point than regular garments with a true set-in sleeve.  There is a triangular insert piece that can be added to the bottom point of the armscye where it ends at the side seam, meant for when this is worn alone as a dress.  Of course, for this to be that versatile it would not be made from a wool but out of a gabardine, linen, or rayon of some sort, or something else multi-season with some body because I don’t like the ‘limp’ look of that extant dress I mentioned above.  You have to just go all the way for some styles like this – to carry off powerful fashion is obviously being committed to a style that is every bit as strong as you are…or want to be!  Crawford often said that she never went out anywhere unless she looked like “Joan Crawford the movie star”, so I’m supposing that this powerful fashion of hers was like being vested in more than clothing.  Clothing has been described as armor that makes us feel whole or keeps us safe from what brings us down.

The design was deceptively simple, really.  It wasn’t much harder than a shirt with a skirt attached, but it was the tailoring and details that I spend most of my time on to make this.  The layout required a large amount of brain power to have the stripes match as impeccably as an Adrian inspired garment could become.  I must say I was impressed at how well this pattern fit on me and came together, as some 1940s Simplicity patterns can be not that great, so the design deserves credit for my success – and I am quite pleased with this!  I love how the pin striping miters in at the seams, and even ended up matching so well where the darts meet the skirt at the waist.  I even somehow got the collar to match!  To highlight the design and lay around with the striping, I had the banded armscye be horizontal while the rest of the dress was generally vertical.  Adrian was a fan of a geometric approach to clothing.

Making all those buttonholes down the front and matching the buttons in place is and will always be such an exhausting thing to do for me, but every time I see such a garment finished it becomes so worth it in the end.  This garment is especially the case because I used an intact card of vintage buttons, which I was so excited yet reluctant to use.  It’s not that I want to just stash such treasures, or just hold onto them because they do not serve their intended purpose or get to shine just sitting in my collection!  It’s just somehow harder to incorporate an old notion into my modern vintage when I feel that I have to separate it from its lovely, dramatic, pristine display placement on a perfect condition button card.  Such notions like this remind me of how upscale and respected home sewing used to be, besides the fact that the quality of our modern notions have dramatically gone downhill!  The buttons match so well with the wool in color, but it seems to me that their complex face makes them a subtle but still noticeable detail.

I am quite proud of the statement 40’s hairstyle I pulled off with this outfit!  Joan Crawford seemed to wear her hair high up above her forehead on top her head frequently circa 1944 (see here and here), as did her fellow actresses Rosalind Russell and Paulette Goddard to name a few.  Their hair is similar but seems to be more of a comb over than an under roll like mine, making it closer to a Dorothy Gray style.  Realistically, I am not an actress and I needed a hairstyle to stay in place all day!  With a lot of hairspray and pins, it did stay!  Beseme brand “Red Velvet” lipstick completes the vintage look.

So – do you think you will try the over-emphasized shoulder look for yourself?  Do you love it the way I do?  Say yes to the shoulder pad!  Knit fabrics nowadays have people so used to a close body fit, but extra fabric and shoulder pads to structure the body can and does have its benefits if your body shape is something waist and below you’re self-conscious about.  1950s hip exaggeration works the other way around, making your waist and above seem smaller.  I’ll stop there.  All I’ll say is that’s the not-so-advertised benefit of vintage – you can choose an era or styles that work well to compliment your body!  What do you like yourself most wearing?  Are you on the camp of Bette Davis or on Joan Crawford when it comes to the subject of their long-lasting feud? (I’m neutral on that feud, BTW!)

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A Random Pattern Piece Find…

Sometimes my vintage sewing patterns hide little surprises inside.  In the case of the year 1934 McCall #7823, a tap pants and bra set from the previous post, there was a lonely sleeve pattern from a completely different unmatched envelope.  What has been your weirdest find inside a pattern envelope?  This is I suppose not the strangest or most exciting, but it is random and makes me scratch my head at the history paper patterns hold.

 The random tissue piece is for a “short sleeve” with the number McCall #5918, in a size 16.  Why would a pattern for undergarments have a sleeve pattern randomly shoved in it?  I guess it really doesn’t do any good to ask why, I’ll not figure that out!  However, thanks to the internet, I can see what the rest of the pattern did look like (below) and find what year it came from.  This sleeve piece is from a stunning pattern that is of the year 1944, ten years after the date of the envelope I found it in!

Until this lonely orphan finds the rest of its match, I will keep it on its own and maybe try it out on a sleeveless garment.  However, there must be an existent pattern out there somewhere to have an image to share, and it’s probably missing a sleeve piece, too!  The front bodice of that dress is killer sexy, anyway!  I am laying out this info in the hopes that one of you lovely readers perhaps just might have this pattern.  I offer a pattern trade so my sleeve pattern could be a complete design.  A pattern copy for a pattern copy?

Escape and Evasion: a Post-WWII Map Blouse

A map can help you find your way, it can provide a safety net, be a memento, create a fashion statement, or even be the product of someone’s profession (cartography).  Believe me, a map is much more than markings and directions on material.  Are you ready for a trip?  Let’s have a go with a vintage blouse that incorporates all of those things I first listed, constituting the most out what truly is a map.

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The world is always changing, so a map necessarily documents a moment and place in time.  My blouse, although made in our modern times, pays tribute to 1946, and its post-World War II times and practices.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:   100% cotton is the content for both the map fabric and the inner lining fabric.  The map fabric is a ‘Tim Holtz’ brand print, from his “Eclectic Elements Expedition” line, and it is very silky soft.  The lining is a beige tan batiste, tissue thin but also super soft.1692-Simplicity

NOTIONS:  I bought the buttons to specifically match with the top (I’ll explain my reasoning further down), and other than that I really needed only thread, which was already on hand

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1692, a 1944 pattern re-printed in 2013

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My blouse was completed in maybe 8 hours, and finished on September 8, 2014.

100_3760a-comp,wTHE INSIDES:  Nice and clean – the side seams are flat felled, the bottom hem is bias covered, and the shoulder seams are covered by the lining.

TOTAL COST:  The fabric was ordered from an online store and the “La Petite” buttons came from (now defunct) Hancock Fabrics for a total of about $25.

Now, I know history buffs out there like me will see my “Facts” and notice and say, “Hey, she’s making a Post-WWII 1946 blouse out of a war-time 1944 pattern!”  Well, yes, I know.  Many styles in fashion then did not have any radical changes during and right after the war, due to many factors.  It wasn’t until 1946 that rationing and “making-do” just began co-existing with a postwar boom all things – more patterns, new fashions, buying of material goods, and even a plethora of babies 😉  Besides, I adapted the pattern design to be more appropriately a 1946 style with its kimono-style cap sleeves and button back.  My adaptations to the pattern were based off of this old original 1946 silk chart blouse as seen in Jonathan Walford’s “Forties Fashion” book (below), as well as this vintage Globe novelty print 40s blouse seen here on Etsy.

Map blouse from 'Forties Fashion'

I luckily made all sorts of annotations to the pattern after my first and second versions and knew what to do to make my third time around the best success yet.  My notes of how to fit the pattern to myself helped me concentrate on changing the design and lengthening the set in sleeves to become another mid-1940’s classic style.  Rather than cutting the back bodice on the fold, I cut mine with a seam and extra seam allowance.  A long underlap was drafted, as was the skinny bias tubing, so I could have the back be button closed.  Sure it is somewhat of a contortion trick to close it on myself, but it is also very 40’s (and looks awesome).  Hubby always shakes his head at the things we women go through to make and wear these vintage fashions.

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The print is some sort of conglomeration of fragmented antiquated maps with wind info and some random highlighting of towns.  It has a nice earthy yet pastel-like background composed of the basic colors in traditional camouflage.  I would have preferred more of a topographical chart or a real 1940s WWII chart, but this is not the last time I intend to sew with maps, so perhaps next time I’ll get exactly what I would like.  On my blouse, the continent of North America with the USA is right over the heart on the left of my chest – at least this is just how I’d like it!

100_3762-comp,wAlthough my blouse is made from cotton fabric (albeit quite nice cotton), it is intended to imitate extant original Post-War clothing which had been made from no longer used/needed Escape and Evasion Charts.  The use of more aerial fighting, bombing, and reconnaissance necessitated maps to be the newest ‘not-to-be-without’ equipment for WWII.  These charts, nicknamed EVC’s, are not bombing aids yet they are also more than just maps.  By being printed with specialized information onto fabric they instantly become an all-in-one survival tool to help someone such as a downed pilot, a lost ground troop, or a POW evade danger and survive both the surroundings and possibly unfriendly people.  Navigation aids, terrain info, edible animals and plants, and crude personal care are listed.

Now, just to be clear, I am talking about the true EVC’s made by government cartographers, not the one’s made out of alternative materials by and for POWs attempting to escape incarceration and also not the maps for remaining alive in aquatic regions, although all of these do fall under the “SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape)” training military personnel receive.  That out of the way – originally, WWII EVC’s were small and either handed out or sewn as the lining to airmen’s jackets.  The Map pouchAmerican Charts were normally oiled rayon, while the charts issued elsewhere (mainly Britain and Australia) were pectin-coated silk.  The coating strengthened the material, kept the ink from running, and provided airmen with something rather flexible and non-crinkly (silent to use) yet waterproof so their chart could catch water and keep something dry.  The modern EVC’s are not only more detailed, but also made out of spun olefin, branded as Tyveck (house wrap), and have evolved into something as large as a blanket so they can also be used as a hammock, shelter, and bandage, to list a few out of many uses.

After the war, these charts because the source for much re-purposing, and during the war a hubby or sweetheart that no longer needed his chart could provide the rationed woman some precious extra material.  (See here what an old WWII charts looks like before being made into garment.)  Surplus and de-classified Evasion Charts were often a memorial of what a hubby and/or sweetheart endured, as well as silk or rayon that wasn’t going to be wasted.  Thus, so many of these special charts became clothing for a good number of women in the years following WWII.  I find it funny how most of the charts became underwear and lingerie – rather cheeky!  Visit my Pinterest board for EVC re-use to see more inspiration and info.

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Of all the re-using and re-fashioning that went on during WWII, Escape and Evasion charts are by far the most enthralling, most intriguing part, in my opinion.  What is so neat is that they are still useful today, being used after over 70 years!  It just goes to show the depth of history involved in things we take for granted in our everyday lives – maps, clothing, and just pure surviving.  Of all the novelty blouses that I could make, this one has the most passion behind it.  I hope this post made you think, and let me share with you about one of my favorite subjects!

Bloody Blitzkrieg Dress

“We have to move on – all of us.”  – Peggy Carter, in Season 1, episode “Valediction”

Starting off a whole new year always can be a basketful of emotion – including forethought and contemplative hindsight…and new, calculating, resolutions which may or may not result from the previous two.  Whether you are upbeat or downbeat, I’m letting some of Peggy (of Marvel’s “Agent Carter” fame) inspire me with a dress she had on while uttering her best, most inspirational quotes.  I’m including one especially in my mottos to remember for the New Year as I wear a sewn “Agent Carter” look-alike 1940s burgundy wool dress with Peggy’s trademark floral pearl earrings (also self-made).

Just busy doing filing work at the S.S.R. office…

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“I know my value…” is perhaps the best line Peggy is known by from Season one.  This is a short, to the point one-liner which needs some potent self-confidence to pronounce properly.  Knowing one’s own self-worth and humbly but proudly believing in it is invaluable.  Hmmm…sewing for oneself also provides a healthy dose of self-assurance (from both the creative “high” and the new dress excitement).  Thus, here’s a newly made, awesome Peggy Carter dress to help me not just “step in her shoes” but step into wearing her clothes!  It’s like understanding a character on the inside by starting on the outside.

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She needed to be authoritative to hold her own in the 40’s when it was primarily a man’s world, so for her undercover mission to “rescue” Steve’s (I mean, Captain America’s) blood in Season 1’s episode “The Blitzkrieg Button” she went with a strong rich sanguine colored dress.  The center of her chest is tightly held together yet pulled open, like her emotions, while the rest of the dress is simple and subdued with the vintage pearl buckle and earrings giving just enough class.  I adhered very closely to the inspiration dress designed by Gigi Melton, even using wool crepe, while still basing it off a mid-1940’s vintage pattern (with significant re-drafting and re-sizing).

THE FACTS:simplicity-1016-yr-1944-wiki-pic

FABRIC:   2 yards of 100% wool crepe with burgundy Kona 100% cotton to line the dress bodice

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1016, year 1944.  My copy is actually a Juniors’ half-size 12 pattern that I bought for cheap because of its size and because it was missing pieces.

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed on hand already from awhile back, all I needed halfway through was an extra spool of thread and a zipper.  The buckle is vintage carved shell.  The flower backs that are put between my ear and the pearl of my earring are simply buttons (LaMode style #46455).

dsc_0998pa-compw-peggyTIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress took me at least 20 hours (I stopped counting after that) over the course of a week and a half (much longer than my ‘normal’ time spent on a dress).  It was finally finished on January 11, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  I started off with good intentions, so all the skirt seams are French.  Then, I realized this project was involved, so I went to bias bound seams for all the main edges (side seams).  The armholes are left raw…just wanted it done enough to wear when the end was in sight!

TOTAL COST:  The wool was bought on clearance for dirt cheap when there was a Hancock Fabrics store closing in 2015.  I believe the fabric was two or three dollars a yard – insane, right!!!  This is why I got about 5 yards…enough for a dress and a vintage coat (to be made yet).  The lining for the bodice was a remnant bought at Jo Ann’s Fabric for only 4 dollars.  So I suppose my dress came to a total of about $10 with everything, notions included.

First off, making this dress was a beastly affair, one that I wrestled with insensibly for being such a basic shape.  This was a hard way for me to start off my new year of sewing.  The pins keeping it together scratched me mercilessly, the seams of the lined portions were too thick, the dress kept falling off my machine into a dusty corner of the basement, and almost every dart had to be adjusted and taken in many times post-completion.  This isn’t counting the unpicking (which I absolutely hate doing) plus the few times each day (between working on it) that the dress needed to be tried on just to see if my adjustments did the trick.  In all, it gave me trouble in every which way…all except for the neckline, which was the trickiest part as well as being the self-drafted part, and it turned out great.  It figures.  You know, I can take a difficult project, or even a challenging one, but one that refuses to co-operate no matter what I do is almost more than I can handle.  No kidding, sometimes fabric can seem to have its own mind.  Weird, huh?

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The wool crepe itself was great to work with, wonderfully smooth, free of itchiness, and flowing.  I know, bad me – a 40’s dress out of such a fine fabric would probably not be seen in the real WWII times unless you had a stash or saved up bunches from rationing in other departments of life.  However, it was the perfect color match to Agent Carter’s original dress, besides being something I both had plenty of on hand and never sewn with before.  All this is aside of the practical fact it is both soft and warm, perfect for the near freezing winter we’ve been having so far.

It was very serendipitous for me to have found several points of reference to go on helping me draft, make, and base my dress on authentic history.  Even finding these attributes were part of the reason I decided to go ahead and make this dress (which had been on the “back burner” of my mind since Season 1 in 2015).  I figured I had enough help and ideas to go on and another Agent Carter dress is always a good thing for me to have – so why not?!  Please visit my Pinterest board of inspiration for this dress to see the patterns and pictures that motivated me.

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Hey, Peggy’s dress and my own even wrinkle the same way…

This dress might not be “up there” as one of my awesome creations, but to me it has all the best that the 1940s has to offer for modern wearing.  It has simplicity of style enough (especially the back view) to be classic and not too obviously vintage, like some 30’s or 20’s fashions.  It also has practicality with the sneaky low-key pockets, ease of movement front pleats, basic short sleeves, and high neck for both warmth and demureness.  Yet, there is a subtle alluring factor keeping the dress so feminine – the low slashed front opening with interesting pleating.  I think the floral of the earrings and the pearl of them and the buckle breaks things up (besides dressing things up) just enough, with the rich deep color and different finish of the fabric lending a richness.  Not meaning to toot my own horn here too much, but, hey – I guess it shows how much I really like this dress!  All that effort was worth it for me to end up with something like this.

dsc_0991a-compwAs the base for my dress, I was looking for a very basic mid-WWII pattern with a high neck that had a tie.  I found it in Simplicity #1016 and my first step was to trace out a copy on sheer medical paper then hack, resize and adapt it.  Being a teen size, I added a swath of horizontal 2 inches above the bust, under the chest, right at the level of the bottom of the armhole to bring the bust, waist, and hips down to the right proportions.  This sort of adjustment has always worked before when I’ve re-sized Juniors’ patterns from the 60’s and 70’s, and it worked this time for the 40’s too!  Then I added in an overall 4 inches to be on the safe side since it was for a tiny size.  As I was working with a copy, I had leeway to add in the inches properly, vertically across in increments and not just on the center or on the side seams.  I believe my problems with fitting came merely from the pattern running large and me not completely accounting for the extra room coming from the front details.  The junior-to-adult change was right on.

dsc_0960a-compwFinally, I re-drafted to add in the pleats.  The inspiration dress had ties pulling the chest opening open, sort of like ties on curtains, but I wanted something sewn in place to give the same immovable illusion so I drafted slanted, sun-ray-style, open pleats underneath.  I had done similar pleats when I made my 1940s dance dress, Simplicity #1587 (posted here), in a different direction but I just studied how it was drafted and turned it around (like figuring out a puzzle piece) to see how it would work in a different angle.  Then I chose how wide I wanted the darts, how far apart, and how long then slashed and taped accordingly.  Looking at the envelope backs of my inspiration patterns also helped justify that I was on the right track.  When it finally came to stitching the front bodice together, it was an awesome moment when I realized that not only did my drafting work but sewing is like working on a flat plane yet seeing through it to create in 3-D.  Sewing is really so insanely awe-inspiring…some times more than others make me perceive so much.

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The neckline ties were still sewn on as the pattern originally planned, except I folded them in, tacked them down, then brought them back out from inside to form the band that seems to ‘pull back’ the pleats along the chest opening.  It was almost more hand sewing than I could handle invisibly stitching the tie strips in place arching upwards along the neckline.  The tie strips wrap around to end lapped over one another at the back neckline.

Agent Carter’s original dress has a full back zipper as the method of closure – seen in adsc_0995a-compw fleeting screen shot when she hangs up her coat in the S.S.R. office (on the episode “Blitzkrieg Button”).  Now, I hate to criticize full back zippers in 40’s dresses because I’ll confess to having sewn them in some of my own garments, besides the fact that the original dress by Gigi Melton is too lovely to find fault with.  However, with all the fine details to my dress (much hand sewing, wool crepe fabric, etc.), I wanted to go all out authentic 40’s and have only the side zipper in conjunction with a working front closure in the neckline details.  Ugh, was it tough to figure but there is a hidden hook-and-eye where the neckline meets.

Now, besides the front neckline, I also changed up the pattern a bit more by eliminating all the small gathers and sewing darts in the same place instead, both above and below at the waist in the skirt and in the bodice.  This smoothes out the silhouette and makes it simple and unfussy, like Agent Carter’s dress.  This was not a problem anywhere else but in the skirt front.  I made darts at first, but after the rest of the dress was done, I went and made two knife pleats in the front instead.  These type of pleats in the front of skirts and dresses were used more in the early 40’s before rationing started being enforced, but these are only two in number and not very deep so these are a plausible effect to a 1944 design – the pleats also compliment the neckline!

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At first, I considered leaving out the pockets, but they are discreetly unnoticeable on this dress and always so handy!  They were sewn as if in a really basic welt pocket method and yet sort of like a facing – right sides together, sewn in a small loop, slashed and turned in to the wrong side.  Then half of the entire pocket was sewn to itself and turned towards the middle.  Easy!  I’ve never seen pockets like this yet.  They’re not hidden by some clever trick or made to look like part of the design, just basic and practical.  I love the 1940s!

What I don’t love about the 40s is the harsh facts of the bloodier side to the decade, like the Blitz that the dress I made is remotely associated with.  England endured the Blitz admirably.  Germany, late in the Blitz, began to start dropping some its very successful heavy high explosive bombs, showing their aptitude for forward thinking inventions.  Both sides came after each other hard with the best of what they had – and sadly many people suffered in between.  Peggy’s dress and my blog title is not trying to be flippant about the blitz or England.  On the contrary – just as what happens in Peggy’s ‘life’ when she wears this dress, much of history is sad, powerful, and full of emotion but good nevertheless to learn of and re-visit at times.  Fashion is intertwined with history…the combo of a dress just as strong as the woman who wears it can do big things.

dsc_0972a-compwEvery woman could do with a little bit o’ Peggy in their life – it’s lovely.  I’m going to miss not having a Season 3 of “Agent Carter” this 2017.  She might not be relevant for this year but her message and persona is always appropriate.  We need non-super-power, down to earth, heroes like Peggy, onescreen-shot-close-up-in-bedroom-comp who can help you with her own attitude and outlook not just someone up on a pedestal, unattainable.

“I know my value…anyone else’s opinion really doesn’t matter.”  It was an attitude like this that got Britain through the awful Blitzkrieg.  It is always important and supremely empowering to believe with Peggy you do not need the world’s support to see yourself as awesome and capable.  Thank you, Agent Carter, for the reminder.

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Hubby’s Holiday Ration

Every year when December comes around is the time for me to figure out what I will make as a gift to give my husband for St. Nicholas Day/Christmas.  This has pretty much been our tradition for the last several years – he gets some article of clothing handmade by me for the holidays and then one other garment for his birthday/Father’s Day.  So, his “ration” of articles from my hands is about two a year.  I love to see his tickled and happy reaction every time I make something for him…it makes it so worth it!

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Anyway, this year’s gift for him is more than just his ‘allowance’.  It really is a garment from a time of real, restrictive, and penny-pinching rationing due to then current world history – a “Manufactured in England” year 1945 McCall’s pattern for a men’s dress shirt.  This is his ration on the ration but you’d never guess, would you?!  This is the dressiest shirt I’ve made to date, the first English pattern I’ve used, as well as the first long sleeve nice shirt that I’ve made for my man.  Come to think of it, up until now I’ve always made him short sleeve and/or sports shirts.  To make it even easier for him to wear his new shirt immediately (which he wanted to anyway), this new shirt a Christmas appropriate color!  It turned out so well and he does look quite spiffy in it, if I must say so myself.

THE FACTS:                                                                                                                 

FABRIC:  100% linen mccall-5864-year-1945-cover-compw

PATTERN:  McCall #5864, Printed and manufactured in England, circa year 1944 or 1945.  I’ve seen colorized envelope American versions of this pattern dated 1944 and also 1945, so I’m guessing this design was printed throughout both years.  However, the way my pattern’s insert mentions McCall #6044, from 1945, (more about that below) my version of #5864 is probably also 1945.  By the way, is it just me or does the top left guy’s face look like the actor Robert Young?!

NOTIONS:  I used everything from on hand in true 40’s outlook, but I only needed thread and some interfacing.  The buttons are probably close to authentic 40’s vintage as well, as they are a set from hubby’s Grandmother’s stash with obvious cut marks on the back (meaning she saved them off of an existing worn garment).

TIME TO COMPLETE:  His shirt was finished on December 9, 2016, after just over 20 hours.

dsc_0875a-compwTHE INSIDES:  I feel like because the insides are so nice in French seams, with the shoulder panel lining covering the rest, Hubby thinks I played a trick on him (…not me).  He literally has a hard time telling right from wrong side with this shirt!  Score!

TOTAL COST:  This linen was bought on deep discount when the now defunct Hancock Fabrics was closing earlier this year.  I spent probably only $6 on this shirt for him.  When hubby reads this I’ll sound cheap for his gift, but it’s the thought, fit, and quality that counts!

The pattern sadly manifests the effects of WWII compared to all the other USA sourced McCall patterns I have used before.  First of all, the cover of the envelope drawing is in black and white, the same as Australian patterns of WWII times.  Secondly, the pattern is unprinted, reverting instead to the hole-punched code system on plain paper like other companies.  This is a major step in rationing because being the very first to offer printed patterns continuously was always (and still is) part of the bragging rights of McCall’s, and I have never read that they departed from that.

mccall-5864-year-1945-instructions-compwThere are a few small “reminder” sheets inside with a half size instruction sheet…seeing how to make the shirt was like reading ant-size print, no kidding!  The one other “reminder” sheet states (in all red letters) that now the 5/8 inch seam is the baseline for their patterns, and the other sheet gives a guide of how to read their non-printed hole-punch system.  At the top of the guide for reading the hole-punch method is an interesting apology for it, “As a result of the present conditions…”  Everyone knew what those were, I guess not clearly saying “W-A-R” helped make those circumstances slightly better.  Below the apology is the confusing “notice” that their patterns have a ½ inch seam allowance up until number #6044.  What?  Didn’t McCall go out of their way to print a small added notice of 5/8 inch seam allowance, only to also say it’s ½ inch too?  I see all of this pointing to the company awkwardly, hurriedly adjusting and adapting to the (then) “present conditions”, trying to do their part in the ration effort the longer the war went on while still offering home sewers no less awesome designs.  One last thing – notice the envelope was stamped “TAX FREE”!

The quality of the pattern did not seem all that affected beyond the fact that it is an unprinted pattern.  As I every so often find with the punched hole patterns, there were some slight inconsistencies or mismatching with its making – something only I woulddsc_0832a-compw notice.  The front hem of one side to the front was about ½ longer than the other (which I trimmed), the left shoulder panel was a bit wider than the other (again trimmed), and the two collars were not shaped exactly equal.  Most of the times this doesn’t even happen because most patterns have pieces such as these cut on a fold, so both side are guaranteed equal.  However, this pattern is unusual in that it only had the back bodice of the shirt cut on the fold while all else was a full piece, with both right and left sides, and cut out on a single layer of fabric.  This together with the fact that most all the pieces were skinny and small, made for a very efficient pattern that left with plenty leftover to go for another project.  Yay for fabric thrifty 40’s patterns!

I really love all the finely classy and subtle vintage features.  All the 40’s shirts I see for men have gathers in some form or fashion, so the light, barely-there gathers at the cuffs and back panel are a nice departure from the norm.  Making/sewing the collar stand was quite challenging, small work, but compared to the turnover style (where the collar merely folds on itself) or the all-in-one style (where the stand is the same piece as the collar) this style is the best for dress shirts, in my opinion.  I already had practice with making button sleeve plackets when I did my own 1946 flannel shirt, so I really feel that I did the ones on hubby’s shirt very well this time.  The front left button overlap was fun and so easy to make as well as another classy touch.  Sewing something for my man has given me the opportunity to try new techniques I wouldn’t do otherwise.

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Once again, because he is skinny I choose a pattern that has his collar size (14 ½ inch).  Unlike women, neck size is priority, too, together with the chest when making a pattern for a guy…not so much hips or waist! However, just like the last 40’s shirt pattern in this size the sleeves ran really short, as if for a teenager.  I’m not talking about adding a little – I had to add 1 ¾ to the sleeve length for my man!  Granted, in modern shirts he does look for the longer length sleeves.  I don’t know how many of my readers use vintage men’s patterns but if you do and you also notice super short long sleeves as a trend for the small sizes, let me know if you see what I see!

The linen for this shirt was an absolute dream to work with – so soft and easy to sew!  People who only work with polyester need to try this kind of fabric, and they should be amazed at what they’ve been missing. To keep the linen in the right shape, the interfacing weights were switched up with the mid weight stuff in the collar cuffs while the lightweight was in the collar stand and button overlap.  Hubby’s linen shirt is the same cross-dyed, semi-sheer linen used for my 1933 skirt, just a different color tone.  Cross-dyed colors do make for such a lovely option to plain solids.

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Christmas is a time to sing, hope, and pray for “peace on earth” and “goodwill towards all”, so I find it rather funny in an ironic way how my shirt for hubby brings the Allies of World War II together.  I made this living in my country of America, the pattern I used is from the United Kingdom, the inside seaming to the shirt is French, and the material for it is similar to a fine Irish linen.  (Ireland was officially nonpartisan during WWII, but they had many contraventions helping the Allies and being aided by them in exchange.)  Perhaps a shirt for the peaceful time of Christmas can assuage the facts of the circumstances around this war time pattern, and provide a nice way to “wrap up” memories brought up by the recent celebration of the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.  Green is symbolic of many things, but also of balance…perhaps I should have called my post title “Holiday Harmony”.  We all need a taste of that!

I’m hoping everyone had a restfully happy and beautiful holiday season of Christmastide!  I also hope you were told compliments on all your handmade garments and received some lovely sewing related and creative-inspiring gifts!