Summer Rose

As soft as a perfect blue sky, as delicate as a newly opened wild white rose in bloom standing strong during the summer heat, this year 1953 dress strikes me as taking these things into a tangible garment.

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I like the balance to this dress design.  I see it as an unabashedly feminine yet not overly sweet dress, sleevelessly ‘cool’ yet covered up with the capelet, and elegantly tailored yet completely comfy in my chosen Gertie brand cotton sateen.  As if I couldn’t ask for a better vintage 50’s summer dress, this was actually inspired by the villainess Whitney Frost from my favorite show, Marvel’s Agent Carter.

Butterick 6928, year 2000 reprint of a '53 patternTHE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton sateen, in a Gertie brand print, with a plain white cotton broadcloth to back the capelet and become the facings

PATTERN:  an out-of-print Butterick #6928, a year 2000 pattern from year 1953

NOTIONS:  Nothing but thread, a few hook-and-eyes, and few snaps from on hand were used

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finished on July 21, 2016 in about 5 hours.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound

TOTAL COST:  This was bought from JoAnn’s Fabric store (they sell most of Gertie’s prints), and you’d never guess, but this dress is sort of a fabric hog and I ended up having to buy over 3 yards so this cost about $25 (more or less, I don’t remember).

DSC_0042a-comp,wThe wide capelet overlay is balanced out by the slim lines throughout the rest of the design – so unusual, that I was unsure if it would work for my body type at first, but once on me…it’s a winner!  I really do get a ton of compliments on this dress so the design must be doing something right for me.  Just looking at the dress, a first glance cannot help you even realize how smartly designed it is when it comes to construction.  It’s a one piece wrap-on dress!

The asymmetric pleat in the skirt hides the closure, and I really like how it is a closed pleat, meaning there is no open slit, just a fold over of the skirt.  The front skirt is a good example of how this dress’ pattern pieces are really unexpectedly interesting.  It is cut really wide but then gets a deep knife pleat to end up as a skinny wiggle style with full freedom of movement.  The wrap style opening continues into the skirt from the waist with a bias-finished slit down the center of the inside of the knife pleat.  Dressing is as easy as…”step-in, hook closed, ready to go”!  Not too often are vintage dresses this easy to get into – the side zipper ones are the worst – so I am quite excited about this one, especially since it is much nicer than just a house dress (the one’s that mostly have such a simple dressing method).

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In essence this is really a full sleeveless dress covered up by the capelet which nicely finishes the neckline edge.  I like how the capelet keeps my shoulders from being sun burned.  Yet, even though it is double layered (it is fully faced), it is so wide and floaty it stands a bit off of my body so as to not cause the dress to feel oppressive.  I imagine one could even make this dress as a simple sleeveless bodice, and sew the capelet separately, for a garment with more than one option.  However, I think the capelet is almost necessary here – the 1950s designs had such elegant drama, and I think it is a good thing to bring back.  Everyone needs to experience a bit of the 50’s!

I know this is a rather odd length for the hem, but this is something that the early 1930s shares with the early 1950s.  It can be rather slimming with the right silhouette, as well as complimentary to the calves and ankles.  From what I’ve seen in modern fashion, this hem length is coming back.  What do they call it nowadays…midi length?!

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Compared to the frustrating troubles of unpredictable fit and sizing that I find with many “retro” patterns of the last 10 years, this one had spot on fit that did not need any alterations or customizing for me to wear.  I followed the chart on the envelope, and the size that it showed was indeed the size that fit.  Awesome!  The instructions were very good at clarifying any tricky parts, too.

DSC_0017a-comp,wThis pattern might be too obvious of a style for me to make again, but yet I am envisioning a sheer crepe version of this in an ankle evening length, something flowing, dressy, and utterly romantic.  Or I could even make a full skirted version with lace along the capelet for a dressing gown, like this vintage original.  If the right fabric and the perfect event to wear these dream versions of the capelet 50’s dress comes along, then will whip up another version in a heartbeat.

Whitney Frost’s inspiration dress from Agent Carter is a bit different than my own, but this time I put my own personality into my version.  She was always the fashion forward one in Season Two, dressing for the early 50’s already at the cusp of Dior’s emergence in Whitney comes for zero matter,cropthe year 1947, so my pattern is from 1953.  The scene in which this dress appears is when Whitney steps into the plot in an unexpected place, in a totally unexpected revelation of true character.  She is taking the first step out her subtle, innocent and happy façade to become the cunning, headstrong, and determined linchpin to many other’s fate and her choking pearls and strong dress style reflected that perfectly.  Her dress is a turquoise solid in a lovely satin, mine is a baby blue print in a utilitarian cotton sateen.  My version is lacking in some other similar details, and yet I feel I captured the overall similarity to make me happy.

Yet again, Whitney Frost’s character inspired me to try something new in my wardrobe, a style I would never have noticed or probably even tried to make and wear otherwise.  Not that you should ever stop letting your personality be reflected in what you wear, but it does help to find a style icon that works for oneself and use that to inspire what you can try successfully.  Before Agent Carter, I didn’t really have a 1950’s era fashion icon that I felt corresponded to my body type, and as you can tell (this is my 5th Whitney Frost outfit!) I’m loving it.  So – I’m sorry that I’m not sorry…I have more Whitney Frost outfits in queue!

A Duo of Handsome Wing Collar Shirts

…for two handsome guys – my dad and my husband!  It does come in handy for me when their presents are garments that both men are almost exact in body type…and therefore size, too.  Thus when it came time to figure out gifts for them last year, I sewed up two shirts from the same vintage pattern, but choose two different fabrics and prints to accommodate for personal taste.  There isn’t anything like a custom, personalized gift to make someone’s day, and I love doing that for people as special as both my dad and my hubby.

What I used here was a ‘tried-and-true’ pattern that has previously helped me sew this unusual shirt for my hubby, a Butterick #7673 from 1956 (see facts below for a picture).  This time I used the second, completely different view which has something called a “wing collar”.  The collar is a wonderful kind of subtle different, yet I LOVE how its ‘wing’ name coincides all too well with the kind of shirt I made for my dad in particular…

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Out of the wide and varied store of awesome knowledge that my father has in his head, he is amazing when it comes to World War II airplane history.  He had previously raved to me about a co-worker of his that had such an impressive plane print shirt, so he himself gave me the idea.  I set about to comb the internet and after an exhaustive, long drawn out search, I found the one perfect print that screams “Him” to me, and boy – I found it!  His shirt is a cotton print which combines his expertise in camouflage prints with his knowledge of WWII planes.  The aerial view of the ground, in brown tones, looks like a camouflage when you focus on the planes, which are all-American, like us!  My dad (and I, too) love, love the mix of bomber and fighter planes so much so that we are frequently caught looking down at his shirt when he wears this!  Distracted much?  The basic, soft cotton of his shirt makes it very ‘everyday wearable’ for him, and the print can definitely a conversation piece for him – something he can all-around enjoy!

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I am completely tickled by the close matching down the front of the shirt where it buttons.  Whether you believe me or not, the matching was a lucky surprise.  You see, I figured I wouldn’t be able to pull a full match off without blowing my brains, so I didn’t try, but it still happened anyway!  I did meticulously match up the left chest pocket, so that it is nearly invisible.  Finally, I added a cloth “made with love” label inside for a true gift message, too!

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My thought process and motivation behind making hubby’s shirt was different than my dad’s, but similar in the whole “gift” idea.  You see, ever since my first few dresses inspired by the Marvel television series Agent Carter, he started bugging me with hints about something for him inspired by the same show.  He’d remind me that if I’m going to be Peggy Carter, there should be an Agent Sousa (her romantic interest), and who better for role that than him?!  Well, yes, (I’d roll my eyes and sigh), I suppose.  Being set in California post WWII, Agent Sousa often wore Hawaiian print casual shirts, and as that was something my hubby certainly did not possess, the ‘vacation-time to relax’ vibe of a tropical shirt is what I wanted to channel.  I wanted to not just give him a new shirt, in a new style and print, but also lend the shirt itself a relaxed ‘feel’.  I did all of that by choosing a new-to-him fabric to enjoy which would dress up his casual shirt – rayon challis, my own favorite!

Now, as this was to be his shirt, I let him be the one to pick out the print.  I found a bunch available online and both he and I were undecided about two, so we bought both!  He preferred a rich orange background tropical print rayon (bought from this shop), with Agent Sousa in tropical shirtHawaiian and bird of paradise flowers spread out in a large scale.  He also liked (but I preferred) a print closer to a shirt worn by Agent Sousa, one that seems more ‘California’ to me – the one you see in this post.  I love the rough, tree bark effect of the background and two colors of palm tree silhouettes.  He will still get the other Hawaiian print sewn into a shirt soon enough, but for now he is happy with the one that makes him more like Agent Sousa, and one that we both picked out!  Besides, there was enough leftover of this tree bark-palm tree print rayon to actually made myself a sort of matching, summer, 50’s blouse, too.  Granted we haven’t yet wore our tops in the same fabric at the same time…but it still is kind of cute to know I made a ‘his’ and a ‘hers’ version.DSC_0580a-comp,w

What I’d like to point out is that this men’s shirt design is also unusual in the way it has no shoulder placket.  The back is one full piece, with no darts, tucks, or pleats of any kind, and it extends all the way up to the center top shoulder seam.  How easy and simple can you get?  That’s what makes this design of shirt just perfect for novelty prints, in my opinion.  Not that style lines are bad, but in this case they do not get in the way of the fabric prints and make complex matching one of the last things to concern yourself about.  Between the back and the simple, faced, all-in-one “wing” collar, this is a very easy and quick pattern to sew.

DSC_0579a-comp,wBoth shirts were cut out the same, like an assembly line, except for two small tailoring points.  My dad has smaller shoulders and is shorter in height than my husband, so the length I added to hubby’s shirt was taken out as well as the extra 5/8 to extend the shoulder width.  Any other differences had to do with the material and how it needed to be treated.  My dad’s shirt, being cotton, got flat-felled seams and a bias bound, shirt-waist style hem.  Hubby’s shirt, being a slinky rayon, received French seams, and a tiny ¼ hem around the straight edge bottom.  My dad’s shirt buttons match the background of his cotton print – they are basic and two-toned brown.  My husband’s shirt buttons are rather nice, pearlescent basic shirt buttons for a slight, but not flashy, contrast.  As suits a vintage shirt, all the buttons are vintage, or at least retro, from the stash of hubby’s Grandmother.

I like how this post presents a good example of how the choice of fabric dramatically changes a design.  (McCall’s Corporation just presented and example of this on Instagram.)  It is the same for all patterns – the choice of texture, color, and ‘hand’ of a material all makes important variations.  Sometimes these variations can be a surprise or planned depending on whether or not you are working with a fabric that is new to you or one that is akin to a well-known friend.  Either way, sewing offers endless opportunities for creative fun and expression starting at the fabric level!

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Men, at least the one’s I know, are so hard to be models!  My husband is not comfortable being pointed at by a camera, but he did his best for me here for this post and accommodates his seamstress like a good man.  I didn’t even bother to ask my dad because I know him and didn’t even want to try and convince him, too.  Believe me, though – my dad’s shirt stands perky (keeps its own shape) and is awesome against his darker skin tone, suiting him well.  One model is enough, because anyway…these shirts look even better in person.

This men’s vintage pattern NEEDS to be reprinted (hint, hint McCall corporation).  If I knew how to make this happen, I would.  Out of all the patterns I’ve come across, I am never more serious than about this one.  For those who sew, these shirts are fun to make because they are creative, incredibly easy, and a nice change from the traditional collars and plackets.  For the guys who would only be on the receiving end, this is the kind of shirt where you will feel special in it, and if you hang around one person for about 5 to 10 minutes length of time, you will get a curious, interested question about your collar.  Then comes the time to do the seamstress a favor in return as part of your answer!  It’s a win-win all around.100_6215a-comp,w

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Plane shirt – a quilting 100% cotton; Hawaiian shirt – a 100% rayon challis

PATTERN:  Butterick #7673, year 1956

NOTIONS:  Nothing but thread, bias tape, interfacing, and buttons were needed, and I always have this stuff on hand!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Each shirt took me only 4 hours to whip up, and both were finished up about August 23, 2016.

DSC_0340-comp,wTHE INSIDES:  French seams for the inside of the rayon shirt and a combo of flat felled and bias bound seams are inside the cotton one.

TOTAL COST:  The plane print cotton was bought off of Ebay and more than what I normally spend or even would like, but as it was for a present I felt it was worth it to get something so appropriate for someone.  The two yards of rayon for the Hawaiian shirt came from “Simply Fabric of Oakland” (see it here, if you want to buy some, too) and is lovelier than the normal Jo Ann’s store rayon – very silky with a slight sheen.  So pleased with my present purchases, I’m not really counting!  

“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…

DSC_0384a-comp,w,combo, Whitney and Calvin

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?!

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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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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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