“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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“Hollywood Ending” – Peggy’s Cut-Out Neckline Dress

The last scene of the last season of Marvel’s television show “Agent Carter” could not have went out with more of a bang when she wears a stunning mid-40’s dress of contrasting colors and pie-sliced neckline cut-outs.  Here is my version!  Where else but in the decade of the 1940’s will you find such unusual features, in a dress which is a mix of both fancy and casual, like this!

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Cut outs seem to be all the rage everywhere I look this year so far, and I’d like to think this is due to the last dress we see Captain America’s girl wearing in her own series.  So why not (as I thought) just go along with things courtesy of that awesome, indomitable Peggy Carter – a woman ahead of her time in many ways.  Now I can not only be fashionable in modern day but also back in 1946!

a-hollywood-ending-wiki-gallery-1cropThis is the one of the more difficult vintage patterns I have come across, and also I think one of the most dramatic and highly detailed of the ones that I own.  Leave it to me to only make this more difficult in an effort to be more like Peggy Carter.  I made all the contrast bias tape for the belt, sleeves, neckline and cut-outs, with way too much unpicking to get the top-stitching right.  Whatever!  This dress deserved all the attention it received at my sewing table to even get close to a “Hollywood Ending”.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Two different colors of the all American-made 100% cotton sold at JoAnn’s Fabric.  The one is a deep navy which has a hint of turquoise (so I think) and the other is a baby blue color leftover from making my other Agent Carter project, a hybrid 1940’s style blouse.

PATTERN:  McCall #6728, year 1946mccall-6728-year-1946-envelope-front-comp-w

NOTIONS:  Well, I did need to go out and buy a special ¼ inch bias tape Dritz notion to make my own tiny single fold custom binding from the blue fabric.  Other than that I had all the thread, seam tape, bias tape, shoulder pads, and the zipper I needed. 

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My dress was done on August 8, 2016, after maybe 25 plus hours spent on it.

THE INSIDES:  All cleanly finished off in either French seams or bias tape.

TOTAL COST:  Not much for what I think it looks…less than $15.

Gigi Melton, the designer of the original “Agent Carter” wardrobe as seen on the show, now commands my great respect after making my own attempt to both replicate Peggy’s dress and stay historically authentic by using an old pattern.  She also deserves the credit for my inspiration.  Sewing this baby up was hard!  I have not come across many sewing project which so completely challenge me, even drain me, like this dress did.  Therefore, I am so very proud of this project, and I feel like a million in it!  Gigi Melton did indeed make a seriously complex, yet lovely version of a post-war dress for Peggy (actress Hayley Atwell) – it very much deserves to be part of the current FIDM exhibit of “The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design”!

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I know my version is slightly different when you get down to nitty gritty details, such as the sleeves and skirt front.  I could have made an exact copy, and considered it, too, but Gigi Melton deserves to keep the privilege of having her original stay one-of-a-kind…and besides I personally adore the details of the old original pattern I used.  Originally, I fully intended on making my version in a different color scheme, with blue contrast but brown overall.  When I found the exact blue-slightly turquoise deep navy cotton in my face at the fabric store, I couldn’t resist going with the same color scheme.

What I find interesting is that season two of Agent Carter is supposed to have taken place in 1947, but my dress is dated to 1946, as are many other similar neckline cut-out dresses from the 40’s that I’ve seen.  See my Pinterest board here for other related vintage cut-out neckline ladies’ garment patterns that I have come across.  Burda Style has recently released a few patterns which have features which are so reminiscent of this 1946 Agent Carter dress, such as the “Cutout dress, No. 112, 06/2016”, or “Open-Back Jumpsuit, No. 112 A, 04/2016”, the “Fancy Pocket Dress, No. 104 B, 10/2016”, and even “Long Sleeve Jumpsuit, No. 107, 10/2016“.

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Cut-outs are such a demure but appealing touch which instantly glams up a garment and turns it into something eye-catching and unique.  It’s also like getting to wear a high neckline without really having one…cut-outs keep skin in eye sight.  Outlining the cut-outs is a very bold touch that I would never on my own have thought could have worked so well, at least visually.  I can almost picture how the original dress has its contrast applied, but then I can’t imagine my attempt turning out that professionally.  My method was to have the neckline cut-out facing to be in the light baby blue with the tiny bias tape top-stitched along the very, very edge.  Many times I either gave myself a crick in the neck for leaning into the stitching (intense sewing sucks me in) or I would fall off the furthest edge (like walking a balance beam) while top-stitching the tiny bias tape.  Am I nuts or what?  I’ll do what I takes to be happy with something I sew, and that is frequently a hard order!

dsc_0155a-compwNow the pattern was technically not hard, just finely detailed work, in my opinion.  I also think its instructions are both well laid out and the method it is made ingeniously designed.  The top edges of the neckline cutouts get matched up with corresponding notches in the tiny bias strip which becomes the contrast neckline.  This way I knew how wide the tops of the opening needed to be.  However, the skirt front with its shirring and wing pockets is mostly the part of the design that I enjoy the way it gets made.  The skirt details were what mystified me about the pattern from the first I saw of it – how do the gather stay so nice and the pockets drape out?  The secret is an inner panel that fills in over the belly between the pockets.  By bringing together the pockets from inside, all the details of the skirt front are kept unstretched, the shirring gets a layer to anchor to, and the oversized pocket edges (stiffened with seam tape) then flare out.

This dress is the first time I’ve come across several different features, most of which I’ve already mentioned except for the sleeves.  I know they are out there, but this is the first kimono style with a full sleeve that I’ve seen in the decade of the 40’s.  I usually have a hard time keeping the inner curve of my kimono sleeves from wrinkling and bunching, even with precautions like snipping and such, but these sleeves turned out great.  Tacked inside are giant ½ inch thick shoulder pads to help define the shoulders, sculpt the silhouette, and give the impression of a defined sleeve seam.  I find it so curious that such bulky shoulder pads work so well and look so good with 40’s styles – maybe it’s just that I have the body type that (I think) can handle over-exaggeration of the shoulders which the 40’s does best.

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Now my belt was entirely self-drafted, and it merely two strips of fabric with a layer of “Stitch Witchery” bonding web ironed in between for a stable, one-piece of material.  Then the bias binding was sewn over the edge and the closure added.  Now, Peggy’s original dress as designed by Gigi Melton had as its closure a black buckle in what looks like leather.  I was inclined to use Vogue #9222, view B, since it looks like a carbon copy of Gigi Melton’s design (lacking the lacing over the edges, of course).  However, again, I went with my taste but still stayed a bit true to the original by having no buckle.  My belt has a ½ inch bias strip sewn to the inner center of one rounded edge, then about ¾ inch space away the other rounded end of the belt latches onto a sliding, waistband-style hook-and-eye.

I usually love making my own bias tape (no irony, really I do), but tiny ¼ inch single fold bias tape was living hell.  My hands received some very painful injuries from the steam of the iron and every seam line only made the folding even harder.  It wasn’t the tool – the Dritz tool worked great.  It’s just that the smaller the scale the more difficulty.  So my lesson was learned never do this scale bias tape again…until my next “very good reason” to suck up and make it again!  The finished look of some custom made bias tape is so worth whatever extra bother goes along.dsc_0118a-compw

Check out my shoes – they are so “mathy-matchy” I am a little embarrassed at myself and proud at the same time.  They are “Kimmy” ankle strap pumps by “Chase and Chloe” in light blue to match the contrast color in my dress.  These shoes are not leather and not that comfy for long periods of wear, but they were on sale for so cheap, have a vintage flair, and they have the same triangular cut-outs as my dress!  They are not what Peggy wore with her outfit, but hey, this outfit is for me to wear.  How could I resist the call of the perfect pair of shoes?  I rarely can…

Our background settings for these pictures are two of the historical theatres in our town.  season-two-hollywood-endingThis was meant to match with the “Hollywood Ending” in Agent Carter’s television show.  Jarvis drops Peggy off in front of the SSR’s “cover” shop front of a theatrical agency, catty-corner to an old movie theatre.  If you notice, our one picture of me has the dual masks of comedy and tragedy over behind me – a subtle hint to Peggy Carter’s nemesis Whitney Frost, a.k.a. “Madame Mask”.  The theatre with the masks on the front entrance box office box is the “Tivoli” theatre, built in 1924.  Here we were not able to take pictures anywhere other than outside.

However, the theatre in most of our pictures is from 1922, the “Hi-Pointe” theatre, the oldest and the only one built for showing movie films – not vaudeville acts like the Tivoli’s use – and done so continuously since its opening.   The Hi-Pointe theatre technically has won awards as having the best urinals in town (not that I would know), but – no really – I love the simplistic Art Deco Look of the front ticket office box with its streamlined metal sheeting.  The head employee so kind and helpful to let us explore inside and even pull the curtains and turn on the spotlights so I could have the picture perfect “Hollywood Ending” shot!  That’s all, folks!  Cue the happy finale…

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“Atomic Jacks” 1955 Set of Redingote Jacket and Dress

I’ve sewn it again…here is another look-alike to the fashion of the corrupt character of Whitney Frost on Marvel’s TV show “Agent Carter”, Season Two.  This time I have an outfit to show you of a dress and redingote jacket, inspired from episode 8 “The Edge of Mystery” to be precise.  I am so proud at how this outfit turned out better than I’d imagined it for myself, and it’s so wonderful to wear!  I even found an eerily similar silk scarf and leather-like driving gloves, all vintage, to properly complete my Whitney outfit.

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Both garments are absolutely great, however the dress was a bit overwhelming to make as it had a huge amount of ease on top of generously large fabric-hogging pieces.  The jacket is so amazing I want to convince everyone they need to brace themselves for the challenge of making this pattern – the most lovely design of outwear I could possibly want.

DSC_0860-p-compBe prepared for some dramatic poses, and a disturbing crack down my face opening up a force to be reckoned with…just like the villainess who wears my inspired outfit.  Yeah, it sounds weird to put myself in the shoes (through an outfit) of a megalomaniac with powers from another dimension, but Whitney Frost, like many women, was on a quest for purpose and respect…she just went down the worst path imaginable.

THE FACTS:

FABRICS:  The Dress: a Gertie brand 100% cotton sateen, The Jacket: a 100% Kona cotton for the exterior, a basic poly lining for the inside, a buff poly satin for the pocket flaps and belt, and a 100% cotton for the bias binding. 

PATTERNS:  The dress comes from an original 1955 Advance #7095 pattern and the jacket comes from a Vintage Vogue #8875, a re-print of a year 1955 and 1957 pattern (originally V#4771).  The pocket flaps were added on from an original year 1948 pattern, McCall #7354. McCall 7354, yr1948 & Advance 7095, yr 1955-comp

NOTIONS:  I had the interfacing that I needed, as well as the dress’ thread, zipper, and packaged bias tape, but the jacket needed thread to be bought and I made my own bias tape.  The buckle is from my stash and it is vintage carved shell.

THE INSIDES:  All nicely finished.  The dress has all bias bound seams and the jacket is fully lined.

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TIME TO COMPLETE:  Both the dress and the jacket were a bit time intensive.  My dress was made in about 10 hours (not counting maybe three hours for cutting and laying out) and done on June 8, 2016.  The jacket was made in about 30 hours (with about 4 hours for cutting and laying out) and finished on July 1, 2016.

TOTAL COST:  The dress took so much fabric (5 something yards) I’m not sure of the total anymore, but I think it is about $25 to $30.  The jacket was less because half of my supplies (the lining, satin, organza, and some thread) were on hand so my total for 4 yards of Kona cotton on sale with one yard of a remnant for bias tape comes to a total of about $23.

Whitney at atomic siteFirst off, I need to vent…this is not a costume, in the particular definition of being something for cosplay, stage, theater, or an out-of-place garment.  It is clothing I want to wear in my modern living (the jacket is something I needed, actually) and was merely inspired by something on television to go the extra mile for a great outfit.  That’s good, right?!  I kept my outfit similar in shape, color tone, and style, but it is according to my own taste and personality because I intend to wear these pieces in my daily life, such as out to dinner, vintage shopping with friends, or to church.  However, I will admit this would be perfect for the next in town cosplay event and it is fun to understand a character by stepping in her shoes, besides feeling like I could be a part of my favorite television show (see the television still at left with Wynn Everett playing Whitney Frost).

To top off the irony of my rant, the Advance pattern envelope actually calls it a “costume dress”…don’t understand why.  This is an original pattern to make what looks like a very normal mid-50’s dress, albeit quite poufy.  I’m assuming the use of ‘costume’ here is meant in the term of “fashion of dress appropriate to a particular occasion or season or a set of garments to put together an outfit.” Honestly, this all confusing grammar particulars.

Of all the weird things I’ve found in pattern envelopes, the Advance pattern had double pieces, as if someone bought two.  Why just double of the bodice, the skirt side panels, and collar pieces?  To further complicate the mystery here, the skirt double pattern pieces were cut in half, like the previous maker intended on cutting those on the fold, and sliced accordingly.  All the pattern pieces are the same size as each other, so why buy another just to cut two pieces in half?!  After all the unnecessary pieces, the pocket top band is missing, and there is one of everything else.  Was somebody making a lining?  Oh the stories these patterns could tell…

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I expected the dress pattern’s fit to be normal or at least semi-generous, but this Advance dress had the most unexplained extra ease of any pattern I’ve made.  It was like a gi-normous fabric monster.  The skirt pattern pieces were so huge, I had to taper off several inches on each side of all of them and they are still incredibly full.  Several inches had been taken out at the bottom hem because it seemed evening length long, and also to help fit everything in.  I had bought 4 yards already and still realized I did not enough for all of the pattern pieces.  To top things off, I miss-cut on one piece and had to frantically search amid town to find the last remnant so I could finish my dress.  As it turned out, I hacked off 6 more inches from the hem to get my dress the length you see and even sewed up the duo of giant pockets (which I didn’t add), so I guess I sort of wasted a bit too much fabric here.  The pattern I had was technically in my size but I did add in 3/8 inch so I could have a little “just-in-case room”, but I ended up taking out a few inches all over any way, distributing it between the panels.  The empire waist down is still kind of generous on me but I can only take so much in before I give up on reaching that “perfect fit”.  What was the deal?! DSC_0857-comp

For all my saying how huge the skirt pieces were, this dress is such a feminine, swishy, perfect-for-twirling outfit made even better with my full ruffled petticoat underneath.  My petticoat does not remotely fill the skirt out though.  The wide, oval, shoulder-to-shoulder neckline does balance out the vertical seamed skirt, compliments the waist, and creates a lovely 50’s silhouette which I think works for me.

The ‘anchor’ of the dress is of course the dramatically subtle collar-like neckline.  It was quite fiddly, time-consuming, and difficult compared to the rest of the dress.  The combination of a curved, interfaced, skinny strap, faced with another piece and attaching to the full dress with four gathered sections, too, was stressful, requiring lots of pins and slow stitching.  The front tabs end at the same place at the neckline, which was also tricky, then flipped under one another

Whitney and Thompson making a deal-croppedWhitney’s dress had a remotely similar neckline collar, except hers was folded over (free hanging) and tied in the center front.  Her dress has quarter sleeves and center bust gathers while mine has is neither, but our dresses do share the same skirt shaping.  Also, her dress was a solid purple in some sort of jacquard (in maybe rayon or silk) while mine is not, but I prefer the printed cotton sateen to stay true to my taste.  Besides, the children’s’ toy jacks that are on my dress are a nod to the Agent that aims to get on Whitney’s “good” side to reach what he wants – Jack Thompson.  Furthermore, my outfit is titled atomic because a faulty A-bomb is the catalyst for the events in “The Edge of Mystery” episode and the reason both Whitney and myself are in an empty, forgotten dirt patch.  Hence, the “Atomic Jacks” title is now explained.

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Advance 8296, cleaned upThis style of dress seemed to be a common design around 1955 especially with the Advance line but also seen through other companies.  For some examples, see Advance 8296 (pic at right) or view Advance 6915, Advance 8047, Butterick 6988, McCall’s 9647, all 1953 to 1956.  I find it funny that so many dresses look alike in a handful of years almost to the point of being boring.  One could buy only one of this style dress and tweak it to copy all the other releases.

Compared to the neckline, the dress from the empire waist down was just single layer DSC_0933a-compfabric and incredibly lightweight, so I unhappily found out it liked to creep up on me and wrinkle in terrible horizontal folds around the natural waistline.  I had to get creative to combat this bad behavior of my dress.  What I ended up doing was sewing down about 8 inches of skinny ¼ inch ribbon to the dress starting at just below the waist to below the waistline, with a long tail of ribbon hanging down tied at the end to a weight of a ¾ inch washer.  I did this in three places down the two front skirt seams and down the center back skirt.  The weights don’t really get in the way of my legs because I keep them over my frilly ruffled petticoat and they are totally removable because they are tied to the ribbon ends.  The weighted ribbons help the waist stay smoother instead of wrinkling up and nicely keeps the dress in place on my shoulders.  This is probably the most unusual fashion fix I’ve come up with but it totally works.

Now, the jacket is an awesome pattern which makes for a silent showstopper.  A redingote jacket is guaranteed to be awesomely special.  The 50’s were the hurrah for the redingote, although you do still see a few in the 60s, too.  Wearing a redingote is the most fashionable way to have a coat on yet still show off your clothes underneath, besides being so complimentary to the waistline.  (More history on the redingote can be found on this ‘Witness 2 Fashion’ post.)

For this pattern, everything matched together beautifully, the fit is engineered brilliantly,DSC_0771a-comp the sizing seems right on, and it is nicely unique.  Yet, it is tiresome to make and quite challenging…there are eight tricky corners in total to make.  (See the pic at right which shows three views of the angled corners, inside and out)  Once I started on the lining I wanted to give up on the jacket and swear I couldn’t sew another one of those funny angle/tight point corners.  I’m not even talking about the wraparound collar, either.  Yet, as I was making this, I could tell I was going to love it, and the promise of a rocking outfit (as well as a very rainy coming weekend) gave me the guts to suck up my distaste and finish the jacket.  I’m so glad I did.

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There are just a few things I did to the pattern to make it slightly easier to sew.  I did not change any of the design (besides shortening the jacket hem by 4 inches).  My ‘tricks’ here merely have to do with construction changes to achieve the same result as compared to what the instructions show.  First of all, I disagree with the need to do so much cutting down of all the curved seam allowances.  I did not see any noticeable restriction to the sleeve curves as they were and I think paring them down might make a high tension spot a bit less stable.  A little snipping maybe but that’s all.  It is still very important, as boring and repetitive as it might be, to stitch and re-enforce all the points and corners you’re supposed to and, yes, you do stitch the stabilization squares over the corners on the right side.  I didn’t disregard these points but I did use sheer organza instead of self-fabric for the re-enforcement squares (much lighter but just as strong).

Furthermore, I did not use any interfacing anywhere, and also left out the extra add-on contrast collar.  The facing for the jacket’s front edge was sewn to the lining’s outer edge to make a one-piece inner coat.  This was then sewn, as one ‘inner’ jacket to the ‘good’ outer jacket, along the front edge, from one hemline, up and around the collar and back down to the hemline.  Now where the jacket facing joins the lining the meeting is much more stable, strong, and smooth…besides saving me a butt-load of hand stitching!  I know this is sort of ‘cheating’ (so I’ve heard), not very time-committed, nor couture, nor vintage correct.  Hey, when sewing is a chore it doesn’t give personal enjoyment, so anything that saves one’s creative sanity is good in my book.  Besides, ready-to-wear has got nothing on this coat!

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Perhaps the best part (besides the awesome pocket flaps) was taking the extra step for self-made bias tape.  I know, I might sound nuts, but making bias tape is incredibly fun – a total mood-lifter for me, especially with my Dritz tool won from my entry to the “Butterick to the Big Screen”.  Once you have made and used your own bias tape, it is quite hard to use bought pre-made bias tape…no kidding, you’re ruined, spoiled.  Self-made bias tape is 110% better especially when it is made to match out of fabric better than the stiff poly-blend available in the stores nowadays.

To make my jacket truly stand well in rainy weather, I sprayed it down with some “Protect-All” fabric and shoe coating.  This doesn’t stiffen the fabric at all, nor does it make the water bead or roll off, it only retards liquid from soaking into the fiber.  A whole can was used to spray my jacket with one generous coat of “Protect-All”.

Dr Wilkes flying into the rift, my look-alike combo

Did you ever have a film star for which you just had to have her wardrobe?  Well, I guess Whitney Frost is that person for me.  However, I believe I am not just making for myself her fashion.  I also try to put my own touch into it to make sure I feel like “me” in it.  Besides, since I do love purple in all its shades, and this is the color Whitney wears most often, I find it hard to resist.  No, but really – I do promise to make garments in other colors for your sake, and more Whitney Frost outfits for my sake!

If you’re interested in learning more about the vintage methods of make-up that were used to “make” Whitney Frost, see this article on ‘World News’ – and don’t forget to click on the full page option through the L.A. Times!  There is also a photo galley for this particular episode of “Agent Carter” (which you can find here) if you’d like to compare our outfits or just take a look!