“I, However, Am Not Afraid of You…”

On a day that revolves around fear and frights, I can’t help but default to America’s Sweetheart, Peggy Carter, for the self-assurance to have a heroine’s heart!  She was speaking to her nemesis, a woman who almost wiped out all of New York, when Peggy uttered my title’s quote, a perfect mantra for Halloween night.

In those same first five minutes of the Second Season, you can see Agent Carter in a striking suit of the unusual combination of peach blouse and forest green skirt and jacket (see part of that here).  I have interpreted this set into my own wardrobe, and as it has all the colors associated with Halloween, I’ll think of this outfit as a fashionable pumpkin!

There wasn’t a whole lot of sewing needed for me to have this set.  I sewed the blouse, and it is a luxurious everyday basic piece, in a cheery color, which I needed in my wardrobe anyway.  The skirt is something I’ve had in my closet for the past decade, a RTW piece which had been not seeing much wear as of late, so it was time for a simple re-fashion to perk it up.  My optional suit jacket is a true vintage piece that had been given to me by a friend, and fits like it was made for me.  It was that simple – my easiest Agent Carter outfit yet!  Perhaps the style choices of myself and Peggy are naturally on the same page – maybe that’s why I feel the need to have every one of her outfits in my closet as well, he he.  Many of her wardrobe choices have a sensible practicality combined with a panache for a touch of standout details.  Perhaps there is something in your closet, too, that can translate easily into an Agent Carter outfit of your choice?!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The fabric for my blouse is a 100% silk crepe de chine, from “Printed Silk Fabric” on Etsy, with the front lined in a peach poly chiffon from Jo Ann’s Fabric store.  The skirt’s added portions are of a cotton twill suiting, also from Jo Ann’s.

PATTERN:  The blouse was made using Simplicity #8243, a reprint that originally was #2337, year 1948

NOTIONS:  I had the thread needed on hand already, as well as the abalone shell buttons I used, a snap, and a hook-and-eye.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My silk blouse was cut and finished in 5 hours, on October 29, 2017.  The skirt was refashioned in a few hours the day after Halloween.

THE INSIDES:  A nice blouse deserved nice finishing, the way I figured!  The inside is in French seams.

TOTAL COST:  $20 for the blouse and a few more dollars for the extra fabrics from Jo Ann’s.  How much more reasonable could an outfit like this get?!

The blouse pattern I used is wonderful.  It sews up in a flash and has a decently good fit (with a few tweaks) and lovely details.  This silk version is actually the second time I have used it, so I was confident enough about the fit and details to slightly change it up a bit.  My first blouse version using this Simplicity re-issue was part of another Agent Carter themed outfit, and I will be posting that soon so you can get the full low-down on making the blouse as-is out of the envelope.  For now, my second version will come first on my blog!

My tweaks to the blouse pattern of Simplicity #8243 were small.  First, I took out the downward curve that the collar points have and straightened them out so it could be more like my inspiration Agent Carter blouse.  Her blouse had collar points which are more wing-like, more horizontal, pointing straight out towards her shoulders rather than down to the hips as on the original pattern.  In other words, my current collar is now a true “wing collar”, much like the 1950s “Agent Sousa” shirt I already made for my husband!  Secondly, I made the shoulders about 5/8 inch longer.  The first time I made this pattern, the sleeves ended up more on my shoulder than going over it.  This time I corrected the short shoulder line.  Third, I changed up the sleeves to make them more like an early or mid-1940’s style than post war, as the original pattern is from 1948.  I added pleats in between the trio of darts that shape the sleeve cap, creating more fullness as well as a bit more room for me to move.

The original as-is length of the short sleeves is very long – not so that they can be ¾ length but so that you can have room to cuff the hem, as the original pattern shows.  For this blouse, I cut off the excess length from the sleeve hems to have a facing-like binding strip to easily finish off the hem.  I added small triangular notches at the outer center hems of the sleeves.  I love how this little detail adds just enough subtle class without detracting in complexity from the straightforward simplicity of the styling.  After all, there is a wide shoulder-to-bust dart that smoothly and beautifully shapes the blouse without the “traditional” gathers on so many other 40’s blouses.  On this blouse, there are none of the common 40’s hem-to-waist shaping darts, as well, eliminating the conventional “blousy pouf” and making this blouse just as nice to wear untucked as tucked.

I must say, that my main gripe about the pattern is the weird placement of the buttons if you follow the pattern’s markings.  The bottom button is right at the waistline (does it end up as a lump under my waistband or what?) and the top one makes the neckline restrictively high, almost to the point of chocking.  If you make this pattern, you need to change to your own liking where you put the buttons and button holes.  I lowered my top button placement down 1 ½ inches and raised the lowest one 1 inch, with the middle one naturally in between.  Three inches down from the last third button, I sewed on a snap to keep the lower half of the blouse closed.  Sewing a snap below the waistline is something I see on many 1940s original patterns and it makes total sense.  A snap would not show a bulge through the belly of a skirt or trousers like a button would, and I makes the bottom half of the blouse smooth if I want to wear it untucked.  I wonder why this bit of sensibility which I always see in vintage patterns is somewhat lacking when it comes to the instructed closure of this blouse.

The main body of the blouse seems to run a bit snug for me, so I cut a size bigger for the back than the front, and taper a size up for the hips.  As my silk crepe de chine is a bit sheer, I doubled up on the back bodice, but as I only had two yards of 45 inch wide material, I used the supplementary fabric to line the front.  The all-in-one collar and front facing combo can be a bit fussy and not want to lay down well, but between ironing and some small tacking stitches between the layers, I am able to have my collar behave well!

For my skirt, I really didn’t do anything to change the fit – I just added a few things to mostly change where it fit!  The main addition was to give my skirt a true waistband.  This was a skirt meant to sit on hips, with a wide waistband which ends just below the waist.  My waistband was sewn ¼ inch onto the edge, so it makes no real impact to the original skirt, ends just above the invisible back zipper, and I can easily take it off if I ever want to in the future.  The back of the skirt had a high kick pleat-style slit for freedom of movement.  I am not used to showing this much thigh, even if the slit doesn’t open up unless I do some true Agent Carter kick-but moves!  Nevertheless, I unpicked both the fashion fabric and the lining around the back opening to stitch it down like a slit.  Then, I filled in the slit with a small rectangle of fabric I had left over from the waistband to make a box-pleated fill-in piece.  This way the slit closes nicely on its own, but when it opens up as I need it, the fill-in piece unfolds to keep my thighs covered without restricting movement.

Somehow, it seems as if there is always some small ‘something’ I would like to have which is lacking when it comes to RTW off the rack clothes.  Whether it’s a detail (such as “…if only the neckline was different”), or the fit (who hasn’t had “…it fits except for here!”), or even availability (why is it so hard to find nice, solid colored blouses or non-knit bottoms?), relying on off-the-rack can be so frustrating.  If you don’t have the time for sewing every dream item (who really does?!), combining sewing skills with RTW can be a match made in heaven for making your clothes truly speak for you!

Although this is a sort of an after-Halloween post, and an outfit from a “fantasy” character, this is not a costume.  To me, this is something I am bringing into my own persona from a screen heroine that I can closely associate myself with.  That is one of the many amazing things about Agent Carter.  What she wears on screen can easily be worn by anyone today, yet is still very 1940’s chic, and not in the least a costume.  I really do think that is one of the major attractions of Agent Carter – she’s so very realistic yet still as capable as any superhero, and she’s oh-so-empowering.  That’s not even taking into account the fact that she started a whole new interest renewal in the fashions of the 1940’s…yay!  I so want to see more of her story on screen…until then I’ll keep making her wardrobe for myself!

Right now, there’s a petition out there to “Save Agent Carter”, and it’s in need of more people to sign and join in the plea for Marvel to continue Peggy Carter’s story in some form or fashion.  I’ve already signed up…will you consider signing, too?  Let’s let Hollywood know the world is better with the inspiration and bravery of Agent Carter. Spread #SaveAgentCarter!

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“Hiding Hibiscus” Post War Peplum Set

The sun is now setting sooner and the leaves are just beginning to show some vibrant color, but that doesn’t mean a girl like me can’t take advantage of the lingering warm fall weather to dream of being somewhere more perpetually balmy!  I’ll just wear some fall color in the late 40’s Hawaiian style to reconcile myself with the now fading summer!

This outfit of me-made blouse, skirt, and belt was directly inspired by an outfit worn by the character of Ana Jarvis, from Season Two of Marvel’s TV show Agent Carter.  However, it was also a very good opportunity to experiment with more new-to-me fashion trends – peplums and scallop edging.  I have  seen both peplums and scalloping in many sources for this coming fall, especially scallop edging (check out Talbots, Valentino, Zara, and Nordstrom for some higher-end starters).  I also see this feature everywhere in post WWII 40’s fashion until the early 1950’s (see my Pinterest board on this for examples).  This scalloping is an easy and exciting detail that the home seamstress or anyone who sews can incorporate into any and all existing patterns.  I will show you later on in this post.  As for the peplum of the blouse I am wearing, this was a total dive into something I’ve always been dubious about as to whether or not it could be made to “work” for me.  I believe it does, thanks in no small part to my awesome custom made belt, and I am now a peplum convert.  The best part is the fact I have put a completely new spin on a popular Simplicity vintage re-print, #1590.

A post 1946 to pre-1955 peplum is my favorite interpretation of this style – so far!  I love the bias circle flare.  Peplums from this time slot were sort of like a balancing act of offering what was missing from the peplums of the preceding and following eras.  Peplums of the 30’s were long and lean or short and almost non-existent, during the war years of the 40’s, there were short and frilly peplums, and the 50’s had padded, flared, or deceptively unreal inflated hips. I see post WWII to early 50’s peplums as a subtle transition to more accentuation of the hips, a classic trademark of after the mid 50’s, rather than an exaggerating emphasis on the shoulders as fashion had been doing since the mid 1930’s.  Case in point, Simplicity released an almost identical peplum blouse pattern (with a different neckline and sleeves, granted) in the year 1955 as Simplicity #1344.  The Simplicity reprint I used for my blouse was originally Simplicity #2027, from the year 1947.  Peplums nowadays are fun and varied – they experiment with anything and everything in between…long, short, half, bias, paneled.  Have you learned to love peplums yet?

Speaking of what I love, it’s no secret (if you follow my blog) how much I adore the fashions on Agent Carter (both seasons), and I had to branch out and try more of the fashion of the indomitable wife of Mr. Jarvis.  (Here’s my first and second Mrs. Jarvis outfits.)  Ana Jarvis’ personal style was strongly Hawaiian, with some Tyrolean influence of the late 30’s as well, so I figured on going for “the real thing” if I was to channel her and be authentically true to both the 40’s and the island culture.  Kamehameha, the largest commercial manufacturer of Hawaiian garments, began in 1937 using tropical floral cotton prints from a dominion of the United States rather than importing Japanese textiles.  After WWII, when tourists again flocked to the islands, the Hawaiian garment industry flourished (info from Forties Fashion by Jonathan Walford).

I have used tropical and Hawaiian prints before, but they have been rayon printed imports (see here and here).  The Hawaiian garment industry still deserves to flourish and be respected for their individual culture as an important part of America’s history.  That’s why the fabric for my skirt was ordered directly from the island of Hawaii!  Yes, I ordered it direct from “Barkcloth Hawaii” and it is so soft and luxurious, in excellent quality.  Besides, I knew the fabric was meant for a Mrs. Jarvis outfit when I saw the fabric that was the closest match to the movie skirt was named “Ana” and a vintage print!  Some projects are just meant to be.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The skirt is a 100% cotton sateen bought from “Barkcloth Hawaii” online, while the blouse is a basic 100% cotton, American made, bought from Jo Ann’s.  My belt is light grey vinyl also bought as a remnant from Jo Ann’s.

PATTERNS:  My skirt and belt were self-drafted by me, while the blouse top was made using Simplicity #1590, a year 2013 re-issue of a year 1947 pattern, #2027.

NOTIONS:  I used everything that was already on hand to make this set – I had all the thread, bias tape, hook-n-eyes, and everything.  I bought a big pack of metal eyelets a while back for corset and belt making (like this one), so two more were not a problem!  The belt’s ties are actually 3 mm macramé cord…I bought a large spool of 50 yards of this stuff.  (It’s great for making one’s own piping, fyi!)  The skirt’s side zipper is a vintage metal one, but the blouse’s closure is a modern 22’’. 

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The skirt was made in about an hour, and the belt took me about 1 ½ hours.  The blouse was made in about 5 hours.  Everything was made in July 2017.

THE INSIDES:  For the skirt, selvedge edges are along the side seams, and the rest are bias bound.  For the blouse, most all of the seams are bias bound, too, but the side and peplum dart seam are merely edge stitched raw.  The belt is double layered, so it’s self-faced.

TOTAL COST:  The fabric for the Hawaiian fabric cost just under $30, the fabric for the blouse cost about $12 from Jo Ann’s, and the belt was a remnant which was about $8.  Thus this outfit cost me about $50.

Making this set was really pretty easy, no matter what it looks like!  It was just time consuming to make all three pieces and a bit overwhelming to remember all the self-drafting intricacies and adaptations I was doing.  I made the skirt first, and found that if goes with a number of my already existing tops – oh yeah!  Then I made the blouse, and I felt like it was okay, but not striking me immediately as awesome as I’d hoped.  After the third step, making the belt, the whole outfit was instantly brought together in a way that I LOVED!  It made all the extra effort to make a whole outfit so worthwhile.  This happens frequently for me, most recently with this 1914 set.  So often an outfit or even just a garment a missing a certain “something” to turn it from “meh” to “Wow!”  This is why taking that extra effort to make that little detail or bonus piece pays off.  Your outfit can give you the opportunity to respond to others with, “Thank you, I made this!”, best modern fast fashion by your individuality, and make you feel like a million!

Starting in the order they were made, the skirt began with only 2 yards of fabric.  I cut the length into two one yard cuts, and sewed the seams up on the sides along the selvedge.  Then, I folded along the same spot along the other side of the “stripe” just where the floral section begins.  The center front is an inverted box pleat, while the center back is an outward box pleat.  The rest of the skirt is shaped of knife pleats that go in the direction toward the centers.  This free form pleating, while making consistent folds, was brain blowing and took a tad over an hour to achieve…fold, pin, think, then take it apart and fold, pin, and think some more about sums it up.  Completed, the center back and front pleats were top-stitched down for 5 inches down from the waist, while the rest where left free.    From authentic images of some pleated 40’s skirts, and someone I know that has researched the decade well, I was told that folding a vertically directional print like this is quite historically authentic, besides being fun and making it relatively easy to be consistent.  Fashion in to 40’s had some truly inventive “peek-a-boo” fun when pleating with stripes and directional prints…here are hibiscus flowers hiding behind hanging branches of bougainvillea on my skirt!

As it turned out, the two yards folded the way I liked just barely fit me…I couldn’t have cut it any closer.  This left me with no extra fabric for a waistband like I originally intended.  I suppose I could have cut the waist band off the skirt below, because there is a very wide 8 inch hem along the bottom.  The wide hem helps to weigh down the poufy skirt, though, as does ironing the pleats.  I didn’t really want a contrast waistband, either, so a sewing friend recommended none at all!  A wide strip of bias tape was stitched on the top waist and turned under.  This waist makes it hard to tuck in a top and wear a belt, but I can’t win ‘em all!  For this outfit, the waist is not seen anyway.  I also ended adding in small 7 inch zipper along the left side, as well, with a hook-n-eye that attaches the pleats to one another from the inside.

The blouse was a real breeze to whip up, and had excellent fit and construction.  It’s no wonder this pattern has been in print for a while and is used by so many!  This blouse really is a winner.  I absolutely love the flat front peplum with its interesting capitol T made of a combo dart and seam lines!  The peplum is slightly longer in the back than it is in the front.  I made my “usual” size in Simplicity for the front half and the back I went a size up for ‘’reach room”.  Otherwise, believe it or not, I really didn’t change anything else besides cutting the center front on the fold rather than with a button placket, adding a zipper (with a seam) down the back center, and stitching the sleeve and neckline edge differently.

I started making the neckline and sleeve edges by originally cutting them out as a straight edge.  Then I drafted my own wide facings for the neck and sleeves and drew out the scallops with an invisible ink pen.  Ana Jarvis’s original blouse had wide, deep, dramatic scallops, and I even counted out six around the front neckline, one straddling the kimono shoulder seam, and about 6 for the back neckline.  The only item that I had on hand to use as a tracing guide which would equal the amount of scallops on the original was what I use for pattern weights… ¾ inch washer (which you can find in the hardware store).  Using only half of a washer to make each scallop, with ½ inch in between each, made for two inch wide, 1 inch deep half circles.  The scallops are just a tad smaller where the seams are, so my experiment turned out “perfect” (…what I was hoping for…) but still more amazing than I’d hoped.

If I learned anything to change next time for self-drafting this kind of edge, it’s that the scallops might lay better if they had been made shallower than a complete half circle, but large scale looks good on this blouse in the end, I believe.  I also learned the facing for scallops turns inside easily and keeps its original stitched shape if the seam allowance is trimmed to ¼ inch or less.  This sort of adaptation can be done to any plain edge or even seam line, on any pattern, too.  Just make sure to be precise and remember the seam lines if the scallops straddle them dead center.  Then go to it with adding scallops anywhere!

The belt was basically a wider draft off of this belt which I made for my Agent Carter “Hollywood Ending” dress.  It is merely two layers of vinyl with no interfacing.  The toughest part was hands down turning the two layers of vinyl right sides out after it had been mostly stitched up into a long tube…pure torture.  Never do this unless you sew wax paper inside…this would’ve helped the vinyl from sticking like glue to itself when trying really hard to turn right sides out.  After about a 45 minute “fight” turning the vinyl’s good side out and edges rolled out, the whole darn thing was then top stitched down ¼ away from the edge and two metal eyelets in the center edges.  Add the ties, finish the cut ends, and all is done!

As ecstatic as I am with this outfit, the episode from which this outfit comes is admittedly a very tense, tragic, and sad one.  Ana Jarvis wears this blouse, skirt, and belt set for the whole of Season Two’s episode 7, “Monsters”.  This luckily gave me the best chance to study and re-make versus many garments (from several characters) that get seen in short snippets.

I am impressed and happy that (as has happened before) Marvel’s Agent Carter series has help me enjoy a new-to-me, completely different style and silhouette of the 1940s and early 50s and make it work for myself.  No doubt it helps me like it when I know I can wear something as seen on the screens, straight from Hollywood, and be true to the era!  Besides, now I have a little (very little) part of Hawaii to bring into my life, no matter where I live or what the season.

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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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‘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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