“Cross My Heart” Agent Carter Dress Re-fashion

The Marvel Comics heroine Peggy Carter deserved to have more luck in love than heartbreaks, but either way the people she cared for were a major driving force behind her life.  Perhaps no other dress so blatantly shows Peggy’s ups and downs in love with such a fashionable, classy, yet visible way as Season Two’s “Better Angels” (episode 3) frock that I recreated for myself.  I know this is sort of weird to feature such subjects of grief intertwined with affection now that the holiday of love and friendship is here.  However, matters of the heart are powerful things and I can’t think of a stronger (if imaginary) woman than Peggy Carter.  My dress does have a rich, bright red and is elegantly perfect for a night out.  So, happy heart day to all of you and those who are part of your life!

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A quite plain and slightly ill-fitting knit dress had been in my wardrobe hanging unworn for the last few years.  Slackers gathering dust and taking up space are not to be tolerated – we do not have the room for useless items!  It was high time for it to give me a reason for it to stay, and I figured it was basic enough for a re-fashion as it was still in good condition.  I realized it was in a lovely rich navy, one of the colors Peggy wears the most frequently, especially paired with red for a patriotic nod to her dearest Captain America.  The original dress also happened to remind me of a silhouette which would be something I could picture on Agent Carter – body hugging with a lovely bias flared skirt.  Thus, it occurred to me to attempt to make one her bolder garments I’ve long admired, as I had a short cut to easily make something I wasn’t willing to take the time to make from scratch!  Besides…I found a better fit and lovely re-use for something that I wasn’t wearing and enjoying otherwise!  I feel like this one of my best, easiest, and most fun of all my re-fashions so far.

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THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton knit “Land’s End” dress bought about 10 years back with the added bright end panels and contrast being a 100% polyester interlock bought at JoAnn’s Fabric Store

PATTERN:  None!  All personal drafting  

NOTIONS:  All I needed was thread, and I had that…

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was so quick to make it felt almost too good to believe!  It was made in two evenings for a total time of 8 hours.  I was finished on November 17, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  The original dress had overlocked seams, which I kept, but the rest of the new seams did not unravel so I left them raw.dsc_0611a-compw

TOTAL COST:  maybe $10 at the most

On a night out together, a girl friend of mine helped me pick the contrast fabric for my re-fashion.  She couldn’t have chosen better!  My navy dress is a matte finish cotton, so together we figured I needed a knit (of course) which had a lovely satin shine for a smartly contrasting perk.  Both of us decided the bright red (which I would never ever wear alone) was the right tone over the deeper shades.  I bought way more than I ended up needing in the end, so I plan on convincing hubby he would wear a shirt I might make for him out of this interlock.  We’ll see what I end up really doing with the leftover red knit.

First of all, the original dress’ fitting problems were the odd placements of both the waistline and the sleeve hems.  The waist was too low to be an empire, yet too high for a natural middle placement, while the sleeves were like a slightly short bracelet length with a bulky, fake button placket keeping them unnaturally below my elbow.  The sleeve fix was easy – I shortened them above the button placket to hem them so they fall above my elbow.  My re-fashion plans also fixed the waistline problem perfectly and immediately by adding in the belt-like panel.  It brought the skirt to fall at the natural waistline and connected perfectly with the weird empire seam of the bodice.  The new red arched front belt-like panel is double fabric layered for stability and top-stitched onto the blue dress.  There is one center back seam to the belt as I designed it.

1940s-dress-w-green-panel-side-pin-fm-augusta-auctions-junior-house-cotton-40s-skirtThe skirt portion was the best part.  Drawing the curve of the red swirl panels was so fun!  I might have gotten just a bit carried away and added more of an arch to the panels than Peggy’s original dress.  My dress panels go from the front right side’s off-center over to the left side seam, while Peggy’s dress has panels that go a straighter down with a slight curve to one side.  I believe my dress panels’ sharp angles are the main reason for the slightly weird wrinkling going on with the red parts, combined with the fact I cut the insert sections on the bias and sewed them in as a double layers of fabric.  However the “faults”, I so love the red swirls on the skirt portion!  They make my dress have such movement when I walk I feel so elegant – static pictures do not do this dress justice.  I have been able to find only a few extant original vintage garments which have a similar bias, color contrast, swirled panels.  The ones I have found have been from the 1940’s but, to me (going with my gut), this dress appears to have a strong late 30’s influence, especially with my 30’s re-make Aerosoles strap heels.  Needless to say I’m a big fan of this fashion detail.dsc_0086a-compw

The toughest parts to this re-fashion was adding on the red interest strips that give the continuous crossed-heart all the way around the bodice.  The fabric is so silky it was hard to pin into a defined, consistent band.  Bias strips of the interlock resisted being ironed into a single fold shape, and I couldn’t use a hot iron, either.  I just had to pin like crazy and do a butt-load of eye-balling in between measuring to check the placement.  The dress was hung up at this step and I would look and look at the bands ‘til I was cross-eyed and I knew I just had to stitch them down soon or I’d never wear it.  I’m still not sure the bands are as precise as I’d like but – hey, if only I would notice any ‘imperfections’ that’s totally good enough!

The bodice bands are continuous around but pieced to apply. I started at the center back above the red waistband and went all the way to the opposite shoulder for each side.  Then, the back neckline band is another continuous piece from shoulder to shoulder.  I probably could have done better had I done hand stitching to the bands, but this re-fashion was not meant to take too long in time so I merely did machine stitching (which was another frustration in itself).

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By time the bands were sewn on, the dress became a bit of a challenge to wiggle into for dressing.  With all the top stitching visible and the looser cotton knit, my dress needed to look dressy as well as keep its shape so I used small straight stitching.  The ease of dressing was something I was willing to give in on for the nice stitching and assurance of stability for many wearings (and washings) to come.  Adding in a zipper was not an option here.  After all, most vintage garments are a circus trick to get into anyway…I’m used to it by now, just so long as I don’t pop any seams.

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I know my dress is not a carbon copy and I want it that way.  The original dress as designed by Gigi Melton is (I believe) wool crepe, with petal sleeves, low V-neckline as well as a bottom hem red band to differentiate itself from my own version.  I greatly respect the ingenuity of Gigi Melton to find so many lovely 30’s and 40’s inspired ways for Peggy to wear her classic colors of red and navy!

There are other bloggers who have done a symbolical low-down of my specific Agent Carter inspiration dress, so I’ll defer to “Hard Boiled Meggs” if you want more of that, and please do visit if you’ve seen Season Two.  Here’s a link to Megg’s specific post about Episode 3 (the one in which my inspiration dress can be seen), but her post on Episode 2 and Episode 9 further explain the crossing over her heart.  Here’s an official photo gallery to see more from the source of some of the screen shots I shared.

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My photo backdrop is meant to mirror the sumptuous, curious, and spacious setting of the Stark mansion where Season Two saw much of Agent Carter’s time.  We went on a visit to the Samuel Cupples Mansion on the grounds of Saint Louis University.  This historic home is the epitome of luxuriousness which its remarkable amount of fireplaces – 22 spread out over a total of 42 rooms and three floors!  This place now serves as a gallery for SLU’s collection of fine and decorative art dating from before 1919.  The ample space inside made it challenging to have the right light so the colors look a bit different in each of our photos.

This dress reminds me of so much.  Firstly, it reminds me of how one can be vintage without going hard-core by taking a mere feeling, an inspiration, or even a silhouette and blending it with what’s out there today for a mainstream form of the past that is beautifully unique.  On a more personal level, by jogging to mind Peggy Carter, this dress further reminds me to enjoy and appreciate every minute of the time spent with the people in my life.  Taking time for someone is a priceless gift that goes both ways, and Valentine’s Day isn’t the only day for doing sweet things.  Cross my heart – take my word for it.

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Bringing Some Texture to the Party

Allie J's Social Sew badgeRoses are always lovely, and red and green are so stereotypical of Christmas.  Thus, for a yearly fancy holiday festivity (sponsored by hubby’s work), I went and made a dress which made the best of both – a textured rose satin in a blue-green turquoise.  This dress throws in some awesome texture to what was a plain pattern, and puts a nicely different spin on wearing one of my very favorite colors!  This dress is my creation for Allie J’s monthly Social Sew #9, “Holiday Glamour”.  With my sewing skills and some standout fabric, I won’t have to worry about wearing the same dress as someone else at a party!

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The inspiration for this dress is due to the chic fashion of the villainess on the Marvel TV show “Agent Carter”, Whitney Frost (played by Wynn Everett) in the Season Two episode “Better Angels”.  If it hadn’t been for seeing the Hollywood model gown, I wouldn’t have had the gumption or the idea to even try to sew a dress like this…believe me, I’m loving wearing the result!

whitney-frost-her-first-use-of-zero-matterThe “Agent Carter” designer Gigi Melton’s original dress is different than my own but I hope you can see where I was coming from, especially with the golden background colors and the mirror (which was an important symbolical part of the scene).  I believe the original dress has rows of crinkled, shirred, ribbon-like rows of fabric creating the direction and texture on top of a solid dress base.  My dress captures a similar symbolical greenish hue, the same complex surface, and the same wide shouldered classic silhouette as the original.  I am glad I made my own interpretation because there is something a bit unsettling about how “alive” the original dress is – it is as unnerving and deeply layered as herself and her first use of “zero matter” – a dark force from another dimension.

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I see this as a pure fantasy dress, with no real vintage to date it.  After all, I did use a modern pattern, albeit with many changes.  However, at the same time as I say this, I must be honest and admit there are references to this style to the late 40’s or early 50’s, the consistent era of Whitney Frost’s wardrobe.  The longer calf length hem and the wider skirts are very mid-40’s to early 1950s.  Also, the shoulder widening, face framing capelet-style collar piece to the dress can be found on many patterns from the same time stretch (I have saved many of them together on this Pinterest page here – look at McCall #7662 and Butterick #8457 especially).  It is interesting to me how styles were used in the past…studying such often gives me great ideas of how to use them in the present, and I’ll bet others, including Gigi Melton, do the same.

THE FACTS:mccalls-6505-year-2012

FABRIC:  a polyester satin specialty rose fabric bought from the Etsy shop “Fabric Cult”, based in Los Angeles, California.  Sorry, but if you wanted some for yourself, it’s no longer available!

PATTERN:  McCall’s 6505, year 2012

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

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Believe it or not, this was practically a one evening dress.  It was finished on December 1, 2016, after only 5 hours of effort.

dsc_0843a-compwTHE INSIDES:  This fabric’s raw edges were so messy, with the roses fraying and unwinding at every cut edge, so all of them were covered nicely in bias tape.

TOTAL COST:  only 2 yards of this lovely fabric cost me $14!

In my opinion the pattern runs a bit snug in the fit, but I do like the basic design, which gave me room to improvise as well as not calling for much fabric.  By having few seams, the designdsc_0798a-compw of the fabric wouldn’t be marred besides saving me from sewing more than I had to on this thick and complicated material!  The French bust darts are a nice touch I don’t see as often as I’d like in modern patterns.  I just don’t understand the one way mentality for this pattern to be made in lace – I treated it as a regular pattern for woven fabric and it turned out fine.  My changes were mostly only to lengthen the hem by 12 inches, widen the skirt, and eliminate the sleeves in lieu of a lapped on, all-in-one collar piece.  For both the front and the back, I matched up the sleeve pattern to its corresponding bodice and used leftover tissue to redraft based on tracing from the finished garment shape.

The capelet collar was added on as my smart and sneaky way to finish the neckline.  It was sewn on like a visible facing saving me even more time and trouble, besides ending up with a clean finished neckline!  If you look, perhaps on the front you’ll notice I didn’t top stitch the collar hem to the dress all the way to the sleeve for a real “cape” appearance, softly covering my arms.  With the collar being one solid piece around the neck, I had the back zipper start from its hem end, several inches down from the neck.

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Breaking up all the monotony and busyness of the dress is my belt.  It was self-drafted from the solid, flat fabric selvedge edge, stabilized with interfacing, and it ties around me with a grosgrain ribbon top-stitched down through the middle.  The original inspiration “Agent Carter” dress has a similar non-texture middle where it lacks some rows of crinkled gathers, and a simple ribbon becomes her belt.  I do love how my Chelsea Crew brand vintage style “Mandalay” sling back, peep-toe, tie-up shoes compliment the belt…wearing these shoes with my dress was my hubby’s idea – thank you!  My vintage brooch is also another bow tie…

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Have you ever tried an unusual novelty fabric?  What did you make with it?  What would you make with such a thing?  It’s different and took me some confidence and a number of compliments to realize my experiment with unusual material was a success.  But it’s definitely a relatively easy way to achieve a very luxurious and complicated frock.  I now know that with a lovely specialty fabric, much of the effort of making your handmade garment look good is done for you!  Besides all this, I have never yet gone wrong imitating an outfit from Marvel’s “Agent Carter” (just an F.Y.I)!

Happy New Year everyone!  Enjoy whatever you’re doing, wherever you are over the transition of the new and old year!  Here’s to 2017!

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