“Alley Espionage” – a 1945 Glen Plaid Suit Set

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

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

THE FACTS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“South of the Border, Down Mexico Way…”

The great thing about America (allow me to brag about my homeland), is that we are a country of diverse peoples, with equally diverse nationalities, who can celebrate that individuality freely.  A past head of state, President Reagan, once said “…our strength comes from our own immigrant heritage and our capacity to welcome those from other lands.”

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This weekend (May 5th, actually) marks the celebration of Cinco de Mayo, and I have made a 1945 wrap-on blouse to wear for the occasion.  The 1940’s had a fascination for Mexico (due in part to the Good Neighbor policy), often using stereotypical prints on blouses, aprons, and skirts.  Here, my blouse only quietly nods to Mexican culture through colors and decorative rick-rack.  Every year, I see tasteless Cinco de Mayo pictures, store sales, and meals that have no intention of being respectful and it angers me.  I like to have the opportunity to learn more about different cultures, their history, their traditions, their clothing, and celebrate with them the right way.  If I can do all of that by sewing a vintage pattern, then I have succeed in my aim.

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In case you were wondering, my blouse becomes an outfit thanks to a 1980s-does-1940s skirt, my Grandma’s vintage earrings, and modern 40’s style Worishofer wedge sandals.

THE FACTS:Simplicity 1412,front cover-comp,w  

FABRIC:  basic 100% cotton

PATTERN:  Simplicity 1412, year 1945

NOTIONS:  I had on hand all the thread, bias tape, and ¼ inch elastic scraps that I needed to make this blouse.  The neckline’s baby rick rack half vintage – the green is a recent Jo Ann’s Fabric store find while the red is a slightly smaller width and is true vintage.  My back closure ball button is also vintage from my Grandma.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was completed on May 5, 2017, after spending maybe 5 hours in total.

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This blouse was a fun, simple, and different little project that came together quite well.  It is seriously so awesome, easy, comfy and cute that I think every one of you vintage and non-vintage gals would love this.  I’m even considering somehow coming up with a PDF of my pattern to share on my blog at some point, because I know I now feel an 1945 LIFE magazine aricle on wrapped clothing to make yourselfunrealistic ‘need’ for about half a dozen of these wrap-and-go blouses in my wardrobe.  I do not think this blouse looks like an obvious wrap-on top.  I also think it fits remarkably well for as basic and squared off that the garment looks on a hangar.  This basic design was apparently in a year 1945 LIFE magazine article on easy wrapped clothing to sew, and obviously (and smartly) Simplicity pattern company jumped on board.  At first you might question whether a pattern for something so simple is necessary, I know I did!  However, Simplicity #1412, not only has killer accessories to boot, but the top does has lovely bust darts, a curve in the back half of the wrap, and shaped shoulder seams.  It might look like a square, but I believe those subtle added shaping details add so much more to the success of such a top than a basic drafted square ever could.

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My pattern is a medium, which turns out is the perfect size for me.  This fitting designation is unique.  Usually vintage patterns tend to go by numbers for their sizing and not “small-medium-large”.  According to this size rage chart for the medium I should have technically been fitting into a small.  No – I think going up a size gave me enough extra wrap-around room without being too much.  Having a wrap-on top makes fitting not as cut-and-dry as a ‘normal’ blouse!

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There were a number of changes that I made to the blouse which greatly add to its finished success.  Firstly, I doubled up on the layers to eliminate any see-through issues and the need for fiddly facings around the neck.  In other words, I cut and sewed two tops – stitched only at the shoulder seams – then sewed them (right sides together) at the neckline, snipped, trimmed, and turned right sides out so as to top-stitch the neckline down.  Then I reached underneath and sewed the outer sleeve edges from inside out so there would be no visible seams.  Secondly, I cut the back tie on fold eliminating a vertical center seam.  Thirdly, the back waist tie (which closes in the front) was supposed to be a single layer but I folded it in half and sewed it just like a casing to cover all the rest of the seams and make the waistband smaller for my shorter frame. In other words, it’s half the width the pattern planned it to be.  Fourth, I lowered the high, almost choking-high neckline by 1 ½ inches.  Fifth comes the most important adaptation of all – the ties which attach to the front panel.  Not to blatantly pat myself on the back, but the way I made them makes this blouse truly work, so I will explain in detail.

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The pattern calls for ties on either end of the turned under hem to the front bodice panel.  With just these ties, the blouse cannot be worn by itself – the arm openings gape too much…I would’ve needed an extra tank or camisole top underneath.  Besides, a regular tie would just be uncomfortable to get snug.  So – my answer is two-fold.  Six inches up from the bottom hem is another set of ties keeping the arm openings closing higher to cover my lingerie.  Also, my blouse’s ties are skinny bias strings attached to a 3 inch remnant of ¼ inch elastic.  The elastic end is sewn to the blouses’ side edge so when I tie the strings behind my back they have a very comfy ‘give’ that is not confining.  This elastic especially comes in handy with the upper ties!  I can stretch, and my blouse stays closed, but stretches with me.  A plain old bias ties would not be this forgiving.

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This is pretty much the first time I have blatantly used rick-rack for obvious decoration, and I do like it.  Using baby rick-rack makes it delicate and understated to me, not something that is screaming homemade.  Adding interest to a high and/or otherwise basic blouse seems to have been a common practice for the 40’s.  There is a Witness2Fashion post on ”Simple, Glitzy Tops from the 1940s” and a third of the way down she shows McCall #1283, from 1946, a strikingly similar wrap-on blouse with a Grandma pics,wfeatured sequin neckline detail.  Even my Grandma’s high school pictures (1944 to 1948) show her with several high necked, simple sleeved blouses similar to both this post’s blouse and Simplicity #1692 and they all have decoration at the neck such as fagoting and trim shown in the Witness2Fashion article.  See?  Apparently I have a little of my Grandma’s taste in me…

I know I am lacking one color of rick-rack for my neckline trim to be the colors of the Mexican flag, but I was going for tasteful, ascetically pleasing, and symbolical all at the same time.  Some informational sites say that the red color was originally intended to represent unity with Europe.  I’ve also read that the red represents the Spaniards that joined in the quest for Independence as well as the blood of the national heroes shed for Mexico’s liberty.  The green stands for hope, independence, and nationalism.  My cheery yellow top underneath pays homage to Mexico’s traditional culture of the sun – from the sun comes positive energy and life, and “Tonathiuh” is often given the highest honors in festivals and traditions.  Yellow is also the color of corn or “maize”, not just a crop but a deep cultural symbol intrinsic to daily life and in ancient times revered as “what the gods had chosen to create to feed mankind”.  Of course, on a practical sewing level, I was also inspired by this vintage Simplicity #4440, a circa 1942 apron pattern with its two-color rick-rack on yellow.  However, researching the color meanings to my Mexicali top helps me better realize just some of what they are celebrating this weekend.

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My title is named after one of my favorite classic “ranchero” western songs.  “South of the Border, Down Mexico Way” from 1939 is a lovely song that I remember my dad singing “…manyana…” along to the refrain as he would listen to his recordings of WWII and pre-war tunes.  No wonder it makes me happy and peaceful even though it is an intrinsically sad song.  I had to have it as my title…it makes me think of all the best of what I picture Mexico to be, even though I haven’t been there.

I think I reached my goal of understanding Cinco de Mayo better this year than before thanks to making my blouse and typing this post.  I will not bore you with all the related history I would love to share, and for now just hope I gave you enough inspiration and eye candy, with a little sharing of my research, to make your day.

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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!

A Hybrid 40’s Blouse and Denim Skirt

Interested?  Basically, using two mid 1940’s patterns, I drafted a mixed-breed WWII era blouse only to add some beautiful features to it and make it not 1940’s at all just so I can imitate Marvel’s Agent Carter.  My skirt is completely modern with timeless features which co-ordinate perfectly with current or 1940’s dressing styles.  I’m absolutely loving the versatility and comfort of my blouse and skirt!

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From a historical standpoint, you might say I had misdirected principles here…although I’m not too far off in accuracy.  However, being creative and having fun is to me one of the most important factors to sewing for myself or anyone else…enjoying yourself!  I also am one of Agent Peggy Carter’s biggest fans, and I am more than happy to rock what she wears, too.  So – here’s to enjoying my own style “a la Carter”!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC: The blouse: a thick and luxuriously soft 100% cotton.  It is a line of U.S.A. made “Country Classics” cottons available at JoAnn’s Fabrics.  The Skirt: a 100% cotton lightweight indigo wash denim…so nice it doesn’t really look like denim.DSC_0272-comp

NOTIONS:  None but thread and a little interfacing was needed for both projects and these notions were on hand, as well as a zipper, hook-and-eye, and vintage buttons from hubby’s Grandmother’s collection.

PATTERNS:  The blouse: a combo of Hollywood #1318, year 1944, and a McCall #5946, year 1945; The skirt: a year 2001 Butterick #3134

Butterick 3134 year 2001 coverMcCall 5946, year 1945, and Hollywood 1318, year 1944-compTIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse was done quicker than the blink of an eye in one afternoon and evening of 5 hours on March 14, 2016.  The skirt was made in about 5 hours and finished on April 13, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  Nice!  All seams on both the skirt and blouse (except for the armhole/sleeve seam) are finished in French seams.

TOTAL COST:  On sale with an extra coupon, my blouse’s American fabric (being the only cost) was about $5.00 for one and a half yard.  My skirt’s denim cost about $10.

Happily, our new cable provider has given us the option of being able to record HD channels on TV, and we’ve taken advantage of this to have the whole “Agent Carter” season 2 recorded so we could watch it (and I could study the fashions) all we wanted.  After much pausing, playing, and rewinding, I figured out the details of my chosen-to-imitate blouse and skirt from Episode 2, “A View in the Dark”.

Peggy's outfit - model trial photos and blouse close up

First off, Peggy’s blouse is most definitely a much finer material than my own – it’s probably silk or at least a very fine rayon by having such a soft shine and lovely drape.  Secondly, her blouse has several rows of ruching or shirring across the upper shoulders, with a V-neck and three squared buttons which looked like shell.  The back of her blouse has an upper shoulder yoke with a lower bodice section with has about three or four pleats coming out from under the yoke.  The sleeves are puffed with a small box pleat at the center bottom hem.  The color my blouse and Peggy’s is pretty much exact – a soft aqua tinted baby blue.  Now her skirt looks like it has six-gores, with bias flared bottom and hip shaping.  The waist is high and arched in the front over the belly.  The material is nicely flowing…just lovely details in all, enough said.

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Now, as much as enjoy being in Peggy Carter’s shoes I still need to stay “me”.  Thus, I downgraded in materials from rayon or silks, which probably were the fabrics of the originals, to cottons and denim so my look-alike outfit is completely practical for my life.  Vintage styles are so good for offering luxury that is classy and put-together with the comfort of modern lazy-day clothes.

The blouse is a combo of two patterns which I previously made with great success (posts here and here) and they are one year apart (’44 and ’45) so I felt confident that this could not go wrong with this mash-up.  To start, I overlaid one pattern over/on top of the other so as to make my ownDSC_0088a-comp design from there.  I wanted the main body to me more or less like the Hollywood pattern in overall length and hip width, while the bodice of the McCall dress pattern was my guide for the V-neck and the shoulder gathers (shirring or ruching as it’s called).  The most challenging part was to try and define a set-in shoulder seam on the McCall pattern as the sleeves are a continuous part of the dress in the original design.  The sleeves for my “Agent Carter” blouse came from the Hollywood pattern as I knew they were loose and comfy.  Halfway down the shoulder seam of the back bodice, I drew a line for a shoulder yoke above the line and a detailed lower half.  For the lower back bodice, rather than cutting on the fold I made a center seam and added about 3 inches in a parallel block extending down the center back so I could do a box pleat.

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I’d say my blouse is a success.  There are lovely details in both the front and back, so any way you look at it, the blouse is pleasingly detailed.  The back box pleat gives me comfortable reach room and adds a masculine touch while the front has a complimentary V-neck and delicate shirring (8 rows of it) for a ladylike touch – a mix of both worlds…much like the life of Peggy Carter.  There is a similar blouse pattern from Burda Style, sans shirring and with a collar, for a lovely “as-is” option to making your own Peggy Carter blouse.

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Now, I am a bit confused though because her blouse that I imitated here is from a TV series Vogue S4223, early 40's -B1192 year 1941-compwhich supposedly takes place in 1947, but everything about this blouse is late 1930’s or early 40’s.  I have found images of patterns with box pleats in the back bodice but they were from the late 1930’s or very early 1940’s, and the same goes for opulent shirring except it started early on in the 30’s.  So my blouse is actually accurate, just a more or less mystery year as Peggy wore this in 1947 and I used ’44 and ’45 patterns to make a blouse for a period much earlier.  Oh well, it fits, it’s comfy, so versatile, and completely makes me happy!

DSC_0205-compMy skirt was super easy to make and is equally awesome as the blouse, I must say!  With the skirt being so simple, I spent the extra time to make fine finishing inside and to re-draft for some lovely generous pockets…a handy must!  Yes, the pockets were not a part of the original design, but were easy to add into the side front panels.  I simply drew in the pockets were I wanted them to go, added in the seam allowances, and cut the side front panels into three portions instead of one (an upper pocket panel, the pocket itself, and the lower skirt panel).  The pocket upper edges go at an upward angle toward the middle panel and are re-enforced with seam tape while in the stitching process to prevent any stretching.  I also added 2 inches the length of the pattern to get a skirt which has better total knee coverage (and make it more mid to late 40’s).Joan Bennet 1940's in pants with sweater and sunglasses

Originally wanted a closer fitting skirt with a flared bottom (like Peggy’s and like “Physics Girl’s” Simplicity 2451 skirt).  I was really considering using a Simplicity #4086 (out-of-print, year 2006) from my stash, but I wanted my skirt to actually sit at the waist and not the hip like the other patterns I was considering.  The pattern I used is also more classic and easy to move in with an A-line silhouette that changes to a fitted flare appearance as I move or as the wind blows.  Here is a link to my favorite version and best review for the skirt pattern, this is what really sold me on this out-of-print gem.  My inspiration for adding in the pockets, besides utility and practicality, came from a combo of the pattern “Physics girl” used and this picture of actress Joan Bennet.

DSC_0273a-compI went all out with my Agent Carter fandom and was wearing her “Red Velvet” lipstick from Beseme Cosmetics and “Cinnamon Sweet” nail color from OPI.  I can’t say enough good things about both products so I’ll just say they are wonderful.  OPI nail polish is deep color, with a great brush and long wearing.  Sometimes with a nice top coat I get a week out of my OPI colors and they self-heal with a touch-up over small chips.  The Beseme lipstick is thick and rich and also long lasting – the best ever!

Some factories from the old industrial district of our town, the Carondelet neighborhood, became the backdrop.  I was trying to re-create the feel of Peggy visiting the Isodyne Factory in the episode where she wears my inspiration outfit.  The blue factory is an authentic Post WWII building and the lovely sky was trying to match me in tone, too.  Even buildings meant for basic or industrial uses can have their own special rugged beauty in my eyes.  We had fun with this photo shoot so look for more of these Carter inspired pictures on my Flickr page soon.

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I hope this post inspires you to try that adventurous mash-up of patterns so you can wear that lovely inspiration outfit that strikes your fancy.  Every “franken-pattern” I do has some sort of frustration, disappointment, and confusion – but see what you can get when you don’t give up!  Put your own personal touch to it, enjoy the experience, and give it a go!  This is the best examples of one of the reasons for sewing – making a one-of-a-kind garment which is exactly what you wanted to wear.

My “Agent Carter” Pinstriped Shirtdress

This project is my 1940’s “power dress” – a vintage classic that manifests the taking on of men’s roles which women assumed during World War II. This dress is also directly inspired from an outfit worn by Peggy during the Marvel television series “Agent Carter”, “The Iron Ceiling”, Season 1, Episode 5, aired on February 3, 2015. It is also part two to my previous post, part one, about the matching rayon under slip, also worn with the same inspiration dress in the same airing episode.Peggys pinstripe shirtdress-combo pic

However business-like this 1940’s “power dress” is, it’s also extremely comfortable in pure cotton shirting and plenty ease of movement, yet classy with fine tailored details. I love such tastefully beautiful garments which really have it all going for them! Do you have a favorite garment which you enjoyed sewing and absolutely love wearing, like me with this dress?

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THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  My dress is made from a 100% cotton shirting fabric. The fabric is not the over-wrinkly…it has a nice soft crispness that takes to an ironing really well and yet feel wonderful on the skin and gets softer after each wash. It is in a pastel baby blue color with thin double pinstripes in white.

NOTIONS:  I had the thread and interfacing I needed on hand already, but I bought the zipper for the side. The three front buttons came from hubby’s Grandmother’s stash of vintage buttons. I’m not sure how vintage the buttons are, but they seem quite old. The buttons are in a different, very lightweight material, in kind of a marbled dusty blue and grey color, with a raised square in the middle.

PATTERN:  Simplicity 1526, an unprinted pattern from the year 1945

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TIME TO COMPLETE:  My dress was finished on April 21, 2015, after maybe 15 to 20 hours of sewing pleasure.100_5046-comp

THE INSIDES:  Just how I like them! I took the extra time to make fine finishes and this dress is worth it. All seams, except the hems of course, are bias bound with a few French seams. The rest of the seams all around the collar and back shoulder panel are covered by an extra panel I added to stabilize and enclose those seams.

TOTAL COST:  Well, I got lucky here. The regular price of the fabric was (I believe) about $10 a yard, but I bought it on sale for only $2.25 a yard. I bought about 2 ½ yards of 45 inch width fabric so, with the added zipper, I suppose I spent a total of just under $7.00. Nice!

My outer envelope to my pattern has some significant water damage, musty smells, and silverfish bug chews, but this time around there was more than just pattern pieces…there was a treasure inside this unassuming package. The previous user or perhaps the previous owner (maybe both were in one) left her personal measurements on the back of a very old blank check. The front of the check has a finely detailed line drawing of the Commercial National Bank of Charlotte, North Carolina in the background (the exact building is now torn down). The measurements are so much larger than the size of the pattern, if the woman who had those proportions made this copy (and I can tell it was used at some point), it would have taken some impressive grading to make a garment to fit her.

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There is and address at the bottom list of the measurements, “1234 Pinecrest Avenue, Charlotte”. According to what I see on Google Maps this is a real address, and Zillow says the home there was built in year 1939. Public records show the home was sold in 2002, and in 2012, and this is significant because I bought this pattern in 2012/2013 from an online shop when I was just getting into vintage sewing. I’m supposing 2012 was when the woman that owned this pattern is the same one who wrote the note inside; then in 2012 had her sewing collection sold, sending this pattern my way so I can rediscover it again. Somehow this makes me feel a wonderful connection to seamstresses through the past decades, in different parts of the world. The internet helps us connect across the world nowadays 🙂

I was dealing with some serious fabric shortage in yardage available – I bought the end of the bolt and was lucky to get what I did. However, I took several hours, spread out over two days, to layout the pattern pieces on the fabric, think about how to squeeze everything in while matching stripes, then notice a discrepancy only to re-arrange everything again and think some more. “Think twice, cut once” was my motto here, except I know thought much more than twice.

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In order to save on space layout and be more creative with the pattern, the back shoulder yoke was cut into two bias pieces so the stripes would chevron into the middle. In lieu of laying the piece on the fold like it should have been, I cut it out on the bias (as I said) in between everything else adding in a center seam allowance. Not mentioned in the instructions but needed in my opinion, I cut out an extra lining shoulder yoke to cover all the inside collar/shoulder yoke seams inside. The lining shoulder yoke is cut on the fold/straight grain so on a practical level it supports the fashion fabric, cut on the bias, from stretching out of shape. It’s a subtle touch that’s not obvious, but just noticeable enough so that it speaks of my extra time and thought. I don’t want my clothes to flag people down, just make (or inspire) them to want to put their own effort and interest in their own wardrobe by sewing too.

100_5032-compI learned how to do the slashed and gathered chest detail when I made my 1940 suit set (post here) but was determined to do better with a my cotton dress, a much lighter weight fabric. This is sure a neat but challenging technique to do…I like it! I sewed a small piece of cotton broadcloth down on top the right side and stitched down then slashed. The facing is turned inside and a loose gathering stitch is put “in the ditch” of the two fabrics only on the bottom half. The bottom is gathered evenly with the top, pulled in and lap stitched down.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Bound, or “window pane” buttonholes are in the trio of front closures. “Window pane” button holes are fun to make and much more striking when it comes to look but stable when it comes to support. It is a hard call, but every time I look at the buttons on this dress I want to say they are my favorite part. I love the way they are the perfect tint of blue without dominating the outfit, the way they have such details of design not found anymore, and especially the fact they come from the familial stash of notions.  Besides the family connections, there is the classic late WWII restriction amount of “no more than three buttons” as designated by the ration regulations, making this even more of a classic classy 40’s dress.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGoing with the menswear theme with this dress, I further altered the pattern by pleating the sleeve fullness into the cuffs rather than simply gathering it. I wasn’t really too precise with my pleating – they start roughly one inch away from the edge, and there are three dramatic ½ inch pleats on the cuff side facing up (where they can be seen better) and two small ¼ pleats on cuff’s underneath side. The smooth way the pleating at the cuffs extend up the rest of the sleeve in controlled gathers makes me determined to do this to more shirts and shirt dresses. Menswear is going so have the only market on pleated sleeve cuff goodness.

Actually this pattern had a few non-dire pieces missing easily replaceable, but the previous owner already took care of some of that for me. The belt was replaced with a different printed piece, the short sleeve was gone, and cuff piece was missing. I “made-do” by using another cuff piece from this blouse and added in the pointed end like the pattern shows. My cuffs are made for cuff links, as is the norm for my garments, but here I made a slight boo-boo which adds some humorous personality. There are two buttonholes on one side of one cuff! I simply miss-measured, putting the button hole too close to the edge, so I made a new one instead of unpicking a tightly made buttonhole. Un-picking stitching is one of my least favorite things to do, and when unpicking tight stitches like on a buttonhole you run the risk of leaving holes behind in your fabric. Yup…no matter how nicely my dress is made, you can tell a home seamstress made it when you look at the one cuff. I smile at it…and like it there.

Stitching down the box pleats fold edges helps immensely towards a crisp looking skirt that doesn’t need constant attention from the iron to be in place like it should. The front has two box pleats, but the back is plainer, in the classic 1940’s triple paneled style.

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I did end up adding in some thin shoulder pads to define the shoulders and fill in the bodice. They are modern newly bought shoulder pads and not as authentically accurate, but I really don’t want to look like a football player even though this dress is supposed to be a “power suit”.

My favorite way to wear my dress is with a belt which closely resembles how Peggy in Agent Carter wore the inspiration outfit. The wide, chunky utility style of my and Peggy’s belt is not as popular of an authentic 1940’s ‘look’, but the decade did love interesting, curiously designed waist cinchers. (See this pattern from my stash for belt designs to make yourself from 1945, as an example.) A tougher themed belt goes with Agent Carter’s personal situation and the mood I wanted with my dress. A woman in a man’s world in the 1940’s had to be strong, confident, self-assured of one’s own worth in order to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the men who had the assumed supremacy of the culture.

scetches of Peggy's power pinstripe shirtdress-my pinstripe dress

Blue has currently the designation of being a man’s color, but it was not always so…in fact, it used to be the exact opposite. There is a Mental Floss article which expounds the historical facts as to when pink started becoming a “girl” color. I love how a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color (derived from red), is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl”, taken directly from the Smithsonian.com. It wasn’t until World War II times that the gender specific colors of blue and pink changed applications, as also did the previous practical practice of gender neutral dressing for children under 7 (see this NPR article). Thus, I love the fact that my dress incorporates a little of all of the color/gender history of azure and rosy hues by it being a masculine styled, shapely woman’s suit dress in a cool, powerful, and assertive blue colored 1940’s garment.