“Poster Girl” – Hat, Dior Flower, and 1951 Dress

If it’s on the front cover of a magazine, or in a publicity shot, your outfit had better be good, right?  Well, the villainess for Marvel’s “Agent Carter” television show wears some pretty killer post-War 1940s and early 50’s fashions, and no less so for the outfit she wears for both the preview publicity pictures of her character and for the cover of a vintage “Fashion News” magazine (seen in “Better Angels”, Season Two, episode 3).

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In order to recreate her “Poster Girl” outfit, I made a bunch of different pieces – the dress, the hat, and the clip-on flower.  I’m not complaining – this was closer to being a labor of love to sew, not a bother.  It required a good flow of my creative juices, some good pattern sourcing, and taking my time to enjoy myself for things to turn out “just so” for an equally killer outfit which I would like to think could hold its own against the class of Whitney Frost.  Her sense of fashion is probably one of the reasons she was held as the face for Hollywood, as well as her seemingly ‘perfect’ life with her husband.  However, 'All eyes on her, but no one sees her'-combobeing a “Poster Girl” (definition here) was a hard standard to hold up to for her.  For Whitney, it only meant keeping up the façade of happiness and glamour, always smiling and keeping the truth hidden…and boy, did she have some dark secrets to hide.  George C. Scott once said, “Technique is making what is absolutely false appear to be totally true in a manner that is not recognizable.”  Here, I intend to only stick to Whitney’s fashion without her superficiality.  This is my closest copy yet of a Ms. Frost outfit, and I absolutely love it!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  THE DRESS and FLOWER: a 100% cotton sateen, a “Gertie” print; THE HAT: Simplicity 8390, cover front-comp,wa buff satin polyester solid in fuchsia color

PATTERN:  THE DRESS: Simplicity #8390, year 1951, “Misses One-Piece Dress and Stole”; THE HAT: Vogue #7657, view F, year 2002; THE FLOWER: the instructions and guide to how to make a ‘Dior’ rose came from a small “Easy-to-Sew Flowers” booklet, compiled by Threads magazine, copyright 2012.  The tutorial is listed as adapted from Threads article “Dior Roses” by the late Roberta Carr, in issue no. 34. 

Vogue 7657, yr 2002, pics onlyNOTIONS:  Believe it or not, this outfit was made with only what was already on hand.  I had all the thread, interfacing, closure notions, bias tapes, and other odd and ends needed for the hat, dress, and flower here in my “magic” stash.  The only thing I needed was to order a buckram hat blank base (more info where it came from and what it is exactly down later).  Ah – and the cotton velvet ribbon,  “Waverly” brand, was bought (of all places) at Wal-Mart.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The Dress was made in about 20 hours and finished on September 15, 2016, and the hat came maybe 10 hours later.  The flower was made in just under an hour the day or two afterwards.

THE INSIDES:  There is a combo of both French and bias bound seams inside this dress for a clean finish.

TOTAL COST:  The dress cost a reasonable but decent amount, about $7 a yard for about 4 yards.  The hat fabric combined with the buckram base and ribbon cost me just under $15.

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I had some problems dating my dress’ pattern.  My first problem was the presence of new pattern numbers stamped in grey on the back info of the envelope.  The instruction sheet has the date of the year 1951, but the newer stamped numbers of ‘4291’ would make this about year 1953.  However, as everything else to this pattern points to the year 1951 (the style of dress, the original numbers, the instruction sheet, as well as the double bars on the top left side of the front envelope), I am sticking to that early year in the decade.  I have not yet found any evidence of this design being re-released later under a new number, so I’m not sure why the stamped combination was added on (it does look quite official like it was a die cast impression).  One of the many wonders and curiosities that vintage patterns offer…

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The dress design is lovely, and smartly designed.  It also fits very well on me – perhaps the best fitting 50’s pattern to date.  I usually find that the back waists are too long, shoulders proportionally too wide, and busts too generous on other 50s patterns, but not here!  The pattern was close enough to the inspiration dress that some small adaptations were needed to get to where I wanted it to be for my copy.  The fabric is, as you might have seen above in “The Facts”, another lovely Gertie print.  My other Whitney Frost dress that I made was in a different Gertie print, so this is the second time her fabric has been what I feel is the right parallel for channeling the Agent Carter villainess.  Sure my dress fabric has more grey with an addition of magenta and deep purple, but these last two mentioned are her signature colors, and the print is still a water colored in theme like the original, so I feel it is a good match.  From what I can tell, I suspect that the original dress on Whitney Frost is silk, and maybe a taffeta form of that, but Gertie’s sateen prints are quite luxurious without being impractical for a not-overly-dressy garment.  This means my dress will see more wearing…and as comfy and classy as I feel in this, frequent donning of it is good!

DSC_0419a-comp,wThe collar is of course the highlight of the dress and although the original design is neat, with a little mind crunching to figure out the curious construction method I was able to tweak it to have it more like Whitney Frost’s inspiration dress.  I re-drafted the over the shoulder portion to eliminate the notches, then curved and widened it a tad more.  I also had the facing be the same as the dress fabric, not a contrast as the cover envelope shows.  The underside of the collar has this interesting L-shaped method of piecing together the collar while the outside facing is all one, long, giant wrap around-to-the-back cut – I love vintage pattern details!

Maybe the collar is vying for the top favorite position among this dress’ feature because I also love the squared off armholes and the squared back of the collar.  This shows how subtle complimenting of details can go a long way and make all the difference for an awesome garment.  The square back of the collar end is something I haven’t seen in a pattern before and it is a nice way to add interest to the view from behind.  The squared armholes allow for extra room that my larger upper arms appreciate, as well as something extra different and lovely.

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The skirt had been a small, sort of adapted half-circle, bias-cut four-panel style.  What I did for my dress was to take the side seam side (over the hips) and add about 5 more inches out so I could gather the skirt over the hips.  This created and extra 10 inches over each hip which was then tightly gathered between side front to side back.  The gathers give my dress an extra 50’s style widening emphasis on the hips, slimming my waist (so I feel) and also (I think) balancing out the giant collar better than the original plain skirt as the pattern shows.  (This vintage year 1949 dress has the same skirt with gathered hips.)  Besides, I wanted to copy the same detail on the inspiration dress of Whitney Frost.

DSC_0416a-comp,wHowever, adding the gathers over the hips of the skirt portion to my dress did mean that I could not place a zipper in the side.  Where would I put the zipper?  Bing – on goes the light bulb over my head.  Down the front like a pants fly!  This idea actually came from seeing this kind of closure method on and existing vintage 1950’s dress I have – this is how I knew to re-create it plus the benefit of knowing this was done in the decade (keeping things authentic).  The front bodice of the dress is a wrap-over, double-breasted closure so I merely continued the closure down the front center seam of the skirt to include a small 7 inch zipper.  It took some forethought, but I love this part of the dress!  It’s so easy to get in and out of with all the closures in plain sight…not on the side or down the back like many other vintage garments.  I think the front zipper is pretty undetectable.  Knowing that I made something work out, besides its being different and new (for me), leaves me tickled.

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Now – onto the hat.   I must say that the hat itself is ingeniously designed and the pattern was excellent, very clearly explained and turning out a finished product better than even what the picture shows (so I think).  It is incredibly simple in its construction and design, but it is also terribly tedious and detailed work to make so that it turns out well.  The last part is where the ‘trouble’ comes in, especially for me because I cannot tolerate hand sewing (because my wrist and shoulders do not take it well).  However, every ache and minute spent on this hat was so worth it to me ending up with something like this!  I feel like this hat is my first fully ‘proper’ millinery piece, and it was good practice with good teaching steps towards diving into more detailed and professional headwear.

I was able to use everything that was on hand already, but the buckram hat base was something special needed here – no ways around it.  The good news is that I found the buckram hat blank quite affordable and very easy to work with…I was even able to stitch around the edge on my machine!  For this hat I used a 7 ½ inch by 5 ½ inch teardrop shaped blank from “Dance Costume Supply” on Etsy.  It did have a covered edge with a wire in it (not called for in the pattern’s instructions), but I think it gives the hat better, firmer shaping than otherwise.

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My first step was to cover the buckram blank.  The instructions say to steam the fabric or soak in water in order to shape over the hat blank (blocking method), but my chosen fabric is a poly blend and would not react to either method so I cut the piece on the bias and lightly stretched (then stitched) the cover pieces over both underside and top side.  Next, the head straps were made and stitched onto the side edges.  Then I made a bias binding and stitched it over the edge just the same as one would for the neckline or armhole edges of a garment – easy!

I am so glad I went with my gut and made the head straps to match my hair color rather than the hat.  I love how this helps the hat stand out all the better and the way it stays on all the more subdued.  I especially love the fact that I used good old-fashioned cotton velvet ribbon, too.  Not only does it add a bit more authenticity (being in cotton), but from a practical standpoint the velvet literally acts like Velcro to my hair keeping the hat band in place like glue where I put it without needing pins.  Cotton velvet ribbon hair bands for hats are literally the best thing ever!  I need stock in this ribbon for my next hats…

DSC_0383a-comp,wThe final step to the finished hat was the hardest – the stand-up crown.  This is really nothing more than an interfaced rectangular strip of fabric whose edge gets sewn right onto the very edge of the front 2/3 of the hat.  This was very slow, tricky work that did damage to my hands and required precision to make the stitches invisible.  Beforehand, however, I scavenged through the house to find something more poker-stiff than the DSC_0422a-comp,winterfacing sewn in the crown and – bingo – I came across a perfect sized strip of thick plastic laminate to slide in the rectangular piece.  Every so often my habit of saving “things-that-might-be-useful” comes in handy, as long as I can find what I want when I want it.  Anyway, this plastic worked perfectly – it’s still 100% bendable but keeps a shape nonetheless.  I cut the strip a few inches shorter than the fabric’s length on each end so I could fold the crown down and tack onto the hat base, behind which the bow sits.  In order to give the bow some pouf without stiffness, the final extra adjustment was to have a strip of sheer organza in the fabric bands.  In order to cover up the not-so-perfect bow center, I have a small bias band to finish things off nicely.

Last but not least is the fabric flower clip.  This flower was so fun and easy to make (one hour!) I am tempted to spend one day to make a dozen of these out of my fabric scrapDSC_0417-comp,w stash.  They do not need that much fabric – just three pointy almond-shaped ovals in consecutively smaller sizes cut on the bias.  My flower turned out very good without much difficulty and too much hand stitching (I was about done with hand stitching after the hat).  Some scraps of green felt finished off the bottom of my flower and gave me a lovely ‘leaf’ look as well as a base to sew on my hair clip.  I’d bought this how-to booklet at our local JoAnn’s fabric store a few years back, but finally just came to using it – I should have done so sooner!  If you’d like to try these Dior roses out for yourself and don’t know where to find the Threads booklet, visit the blog “Oliver + s” for an excellent tutorial along with a mini history lesson (link here).

Witney Frost cameo shot in collared 50's dressThis flower just so ultimately finishes off my outfit, in my opinion.  It’s that understated extra touch, not to mention the fact that it is a fabric rose in the style of the famous Dior.  This is so like Whitney Frost to wear an accent used by the “famous Parisian couturier whose designs were worn by the world’s most glamorous women” (to quote the Threads article).  It all adds to the sham of the “Poster girl’s” face.  For me, it makes my handmade efforts seem all the more worthwhile to be able to use my talents to re-create something from the likes of Dior, Hollywood, and the decades that had more style and class than what I see in most  fashion of today.

Speaking of style and class, a small part of this outfit is (I would like to think) also in the mode of the most sophisticated woman I’ve known – my own dear, and now departed Grandmother.  She was a young, newly married 21 year old in 1951 (the year of my outfit) and she frequently dressed up, and on these occasions would never go out lacking a hat, pearls, and a flower (she loved nature).  Grandma was also a “Poster Girl”, too – in her younger years she was a local vaudeville celebrity.  Oddly enough, I recently found a picture of her in a dress similar to the one in this post, with a large collar and double breasted front closing, from the year 1951.  I know her dress is in a solid with a notched collar, different from my own, but we do share the same smile and taste in clothes, so I would like to think she would be proud to see me wear something after her own heart.  This is why I’m including this dress in Tanya’s “Dress Like Your Grandma” sewing challenge.  Have you heard about this!  Maybe you could join in on the challenge along with me?!

DSC_0561-comp,w,combo, me & Grandma

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“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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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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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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‘Gene Tierney’-esqe 1940’s Lumberjack Shirt and Trousers

It’s way too fun to let myself give in to my strong tendency to do pretty dresses.  With the weather turning chilly, I could use something different that isn’t quite so dressed up to keep me cozy.  So, now that I’ve been recently realizing the beauty of 1940s casual wear, through the inspiration of actresses Gene Tierney,  Ava Gardner, and Hayley Atwell (a.k.a. Agent Peggy Carter), I took two mid-40’s vintage original patterns from my stash to make my own downtime wear from the past.  There is something a bit timeless, tasteful, and special about a set of “down-time” clothes made in vintage style that modern ready-to-wear cannot have.  The 1940s can make wearing a man’s style look so ladylike!

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1946 is the magic year for my blouse.  Not only is it the year for the pattern of my blouse, but it is also the year of my inspiration.  Gene Tierney wears a lovely flannel shirt in her Noir movie “Leave Her to Heaven”.  Once I’d seen this movie, it has tendency to gene-tierney-leave-her-to-heaven-year-1946-see-classiq-me-style-in-filmcropuncomfortably stay in back of my mind and the fashions are equally memorable in a better way.  Luckily this movie was specially made in color (a rather special practice for the times) and I was so happy to find a plaid in a shockingly close color scheme.  Ava Gardner also wore a nice flannel blouse in her gritty part in another 1946 movie “The Killers”, as also did Paulette Goddard in the 1948 movie “Hazard”, though as both films are in black and white I don’t know the true colors.  You can visit my Pinterest page for “Ladies Lumberjack Blouses in the 1940’s” to see pictures of all movie inspiration mentioned for this blouse, as well as others, too.

peggy-and-sousa-promotional-imagecompBoth actresses Tierney and Atwell wore perfectly fitting bifurcated bottoms in colors, as did Marvel’s television heroine Peggy Carter.  They all put the “class” into “classic”.  Peggy wears such wonderful trousers during the exercising of her duties on the job, and although the inspiration garment came from her Season Two (year 1947), she is often stuck in the past.  Thus I feel using a pattern from an earlier date (1943) suits appropriately.  My spin on feminine menswear from the 40’s is completed with nail polish (Cover Girl XL nail gel in “rotund raspberry”), red lipstick (Cover Girl Continuous Color in “vintage wine”), my sole Bakelite bracelet, and a simple ponytail!

THE FACTS:mccall-6709-year-1946-ladies-lumberjack-shirt-compw

FABRIC:  BLOUSE – 100% cotton flannel, with cotton batiste scraps for lining the shoulder placket; PANTS – a mid-weight denim, 60% cotton, 36% polyester, and 4% stretch.

NOTIONS:  I relied on what was on hand and actually had everything I needed – the thread, interfacing, bias simplicity-4528-ca-year-1943-compwtape, zipper, waistband hooks, shoulder pads, and buttons (which came from hubby’s grandmother’s stash).   

PATTERNS:  McCall #6709, year 1946, for the shirt (view B belt looks like the modern Vogue #9222) and Simplicity #4528, year 1943 for the pants

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The pants took me about 5 hours in all from start (cutting) to finish, which was on March 4, 2016.  I spend maybe 30 or more hours to make the flannel shirt, and it was done on April 27, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  The denim of the pants was too thick to add more bulk with edge finishing, so they are left raw.  The shirt is nicely finished in either French seams or bias bindings.

TOTAL COST:  The denim was on clearance when the now defunct Hancock Fabrics was closing, so it cost maybe $6 for only 2 yards.  The flannel came from Wal-Mart and cost $7.50 for 2 ½ yards.  So my outfit cost less than $15 – good deal, huh?!

The shirt was a bit of a time consuming trouble to do all the details while the pants were so easy and quick.  Both the patterns fit me right out of the envelope no changes and no real fitting needed…it’s so nice when that happens!  A decent number of the 40’s patterns run small for me so I went up in size for the trousers to have a good comfy fit, especially as I was planning on tucking my thick flannel shirt in the waist.  Lumberjack shirts are often roomy, so I actually went smaller by finding a pattern in my exact sizing and making wider seam allowances.  Both steps were good ideas though the pants are a tad baggy when worn with lighter weight blouses.

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My flannel blouse served as an experimental piece on which to attempt two techniques for the first time before doing them on some upcoming projects.  As the back has a separate shoulder placket, and I did not have enough fabric to do something special (like mitering the plaid into V), I made my very own corded piping using self-fabric to make sure that dsc_0236a-compwseam has a special touch.  Making my own piping was not hard – it was fun actually!  All it took was a little extra time but is so worth it in the finished appearance.  I even cut the strip of fabric for the piping on the bias for more contrast.  See – the plaid is cross-grain.  Also, I found out how to do sleeve openings with a pointed over-and-underlapped placket.  They turned out great, but now I know what to do better next time.  Making these plackets became challenging with the flannel becoming so thick with multiple layers in one small spot, and they were barely all my machine could handle to sew.  I really do love the look of this kind of placket – so professional and finished looking, and special, too, as it was also cut on the cross-grain!  I can’t wait to try out these two techniques again.

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Most of the other skills that were needed to make my flannel blouse had already been done for my hubby’s 1943 flannel shirt as well as my “Saddle and Lace” Western-style tunic. This shirt has the collar stand all-in-one with the collar (like the tunic), a favorite feature of mine.  This makes for a smooth and unfussy neckline besides making it a bit less extra seaming to make.  My hem is arched into the side seams, shirt-tail style, though it is lacking a small patch at the inner arch, like what hubby’s shirt has.  On my shirt, the patch pocket (yes, just one) with the flap closure was every bit as stressfully detailed to match as last time I made them on my hubby’s shirt.  Just because I’ve done some techniques before doesn’t mean I like doing all of them any better for sewing them again 😉

dsc_0423-compcombowThe buttons on my shirt are vintage, as I said they come from the stash given to us of hubby’s Grandmother, but what era I’m not sure.  These buttons came in the number I needed, but they are also tiny and feminine, which is exactly what I wanted for the shirt, although they do kind of make it hard to button through the thick flannel.  The buttons had been coated with an imitation pearl stuff, but as most of it was coming off anyway, I used a pocket knife to take all of the coating off to have the buttons be a creamy white as you see them.  They are all kind bumpy on top with three small hills on each.  Does anyone have any idea what era these are from?

The shoulders are a bit droopy and I think they are meant to be like that but I did try todsc_0430a-compw prevent an extreme case.  I sewed the top shoulder seam in a ¾ inch seam allowance but as the sleeve was still over-long for my arm, I also made the cuffs in half the width they were meant to be.  Thin cuffs do look a bit different but I think this is a good save versus having the sleeves end up looking way too big for me.  I also added thick ½ inch shoulder pads inside the shirt to further structure the blouse’s silhouette, because the droopy sleeves fit better with them and also…this is the 1940’s after all!  Out of everything else on the shirt, it’s the shoulder pads that make me feel like this shirt is more like some sort of loose, unlined jacket.  I find it so funny how ginormous thick shoulder pads fit in so well with 1940’s fashion, they actually look good, and fit in to the garment’s style so well.  You’d never have guessed huge shoulder pads were in there, would you?

My trousers are so freaking awesome, I can’t praise true 1940’s high-waisted pants enough.  My last attempts were done using reprints of old patterns from Simplicity, and although they turned out decently enough, they seem modern and pale in comparison to the real vintage thing.  The reprints (especially Simplicity 3688) don’t have a proper vintage high waist, good crouch depth, and proper hip room that this old trousers pattern has to it.  The envelope back calls the set “pajamas” but I technically think that this set of tunic blouse and trousers is actually like a house outfit, probably worn as an option to the house dress.  Regular ‘blouse and slacks’ vintage original patterns for women seem to sell for more than I can reasonably spend, so this pattern is my affordable substitute.  The design is probably a bit more simplistic than an-outside-the-house pair of slacks, but they fit me better than I could have ever hoped for so that’s reason enough for them to deserve to be worn to be seen!

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The only small thing I did change was to transform a full dart out of the pattern’s prescribed knife pleat.  Just to be on the safe side, I added about 2 inches to the hem of the pants, but as they turned out, I didn’t need that extra length, so they have a very wide hem – no so 1943 at all when excess fabric like this would have been a waste not allowed by the war rations.  Next pair (yes, I am definitely making another) will not have the added length and wide hem – the pattern is just fine for me the way it is.  I have found a body match in this 1943 pants pattern.dsc_0306-compw

My trousers have seen so much use since I finished them, but here’s a different perspective yet.  I think they looked best the way I styled them to wear to our town annual WWII re-enactment weekend several months back.  I wore my white scalloped front blouse with the trousers, a leather belt which matched my studded wedge leather sandals, pearls, clip-on earrings, and a netted snood I my hair.  A re-enactor told me he thought I looked like I was dressed up like I was a French civilian.  My hubby can be seen in his recent lucky find of a never worn, Eisenhower-style, military suit set (just need to hem his pants…).  These service suits were being worn on limited personnel in 1943, but became standard issue after November 1944, so he and I are not too far off in time frame.  If I am re-enacting a French civilian, maybe I can play the part of the bride that he met while serving the European front of the war.

Do you, too, have some “inspiration icons”?  Do you sew your own casual wear, weather vintage or modern?  Have you, like me, happened to find a magic pattern that seems as if it was meant for your body?

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!  Here’s to best wishes for good eats, good times, and good memories!

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