Inverted Floral Wrap Dress

Just as a mirror has two faces or a coin has two sides, so is there symmetrical inversion in botany.  I have channeled this natural state of balance into a vintage wrap dress for the ultimate challenge in forethought and clear-headed pattern planning.  I do normally gravitate towards asymmetrical designs. 

However, I was directly inspired by the dual personality of the Marvel villain Madame Masque, as seen in my favorite television series Agent Carter (Season two of 2016) as the stylish Hollywood starlet Whitney Frost, set back in the time of the 1950s era.  The last scene for Whitney sets her up for the future villain she becomes.  Watch it for yourself here on YouTube. She is shown as unhinged, delusional, and desperate to live her old life even as she is disfigured from the power she found searching for a new way of existence.  However, we are viewing her situation through the lens of a mirror image which distorts her reality. 

Whitney Frost, Season Two, episode 10 of the Agent Carter show

Her dress was appropriately two-faced, with a pleasing feminine floral on one side for her Hollywood alter-ego and a deep purple on the other side to reference the Dark Matter which resided in her.  This beautiful ruse is the scene that I sought to imitate.  As short as it is (only 1 minute) the clip is very telling – Whitney Frost’s sadistic and selfish ways left her with the opposite of everything good that her gifted intelligence could have achieved.    

THE FACTS: 

FABRIC:  The solid portions are a cotton and poly blend broadcloth, while the other half is an all-cotton handmade block print direct from India, fully lined in a thin bleached muslin cotton for opacity

PATTERN:  Anne Adams #4803, from the year 1952, labeled as a “Wrapron” jumper-dress-apron, vintage original pattern from my personal stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread and some bias tape for finishing the edges…that is it!  No zippers or interfacing, or buttons – pretty simple!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was made in about 30 hours and finished on June 13, 2021

TOTAL COST:  Two yards of the floral block print was ordered from DesiFabrics on Etsy for $26.  The rest of the fabrics came from my local JoAnn Fabric shop – 2 yards for the purple and 3 yards for the muslin.  My total is about $45.

There has been a semi-intentional year 1952 spell lately on my blog.  This is the third post in a row to feature something I have made dating to that year in fashion history!  1952 saw the full transition of women’s’ fashions away from the last vestiges of late 1940s influence and took on the styles which would be the classic silhouettes and design lines for the rest of the era.  This third consecutive post of a 1952 dress combines a sample of the predominant fashion trends for that year (mentioned previously) into one project.  I will explain!

My last post – a Cinderella inspired dress – had a simpler version of the same inverted floral look as this post’s frock.  The latter was my test project for gearing up for a full interpretation as the one in this post and diving all in to the challenge of trying out some tricky mirror image paneling.  What I learned along the way is that there is no secret technique to help make the process easier.  Everything is in terms of opposites and cut single layer.  This kind of inverted paneling of two fabrics is just plain craziness to sew and plan.  My best advice is to work on such a project when you have a clear head and limited distractions.  Write out ahead of time which pattern piece will go to which fabric so as to have a visual guide.  Also, have some extra fabric as a little ‘wiggle room’ in case you mess up figuring which pattern piece to cut from which fabric.  Trying to create a two-fabric dress was easier for my Cinderella dress as the McCall’s pattern I used was clearly printed.  Unless you’re looking to make things harder for yourself, do not try such a style when working with an unprinted tissue pieces, which was the case for the mail order pattern I used for this Whitney Frost dress.

In the princess-themed post mentioned above, I spoke of how 1952 had some definitive fashion trends that are easy to spot, but I’ll now add wrapped dresses to the list.  Before Diane Von Fustenburg got credit for popularizing wrap dresses in the 1970s, they had been a creative “craze” in the 1950s.  Notice how this post and the former of my last three (my Charles James look-alike) both are 1952 dresses that wrap closed in some such way! 

1952 was definitely a benchmark date to the prevailing wrap trend, as evidenced by an overwhelming amount of that particular style for that year.  Butterick even had a specific tag line for their popular wrap pattern #6015 of 1952, calling it the “Walk-Away Dress” (reprinted as Butterick 4790), but all the other pattern companies of the time came up with their own version over the following few years afterwards.  It seems rather clever to me that Anne Adams took the “it can be a full body apron or a dress” creative approach to tagline and market their wrap dress and keep if different from Butterick’s offerings.  Advance also came out with another apron-dress wrap in #7811 (see it here).  McCall’s had rather fashionable wrap dresses for the time, but they did offer their “Instant” wrap-around apron dress in pattern #2104.  Simplicity Company even came out with their wrap dress in #2466 which was tag lined as the “Answer” dress so you can look presentable enough to answer the door in a matter of seconds.  Simplicity’s “Answer” dress is surprisingly similar to my Whitney Frost dress in the way it has both a print and a solid at contrasting sides.

The first reason I chose the Anne Adams “wrapron” dress pattern for Whitney Frost’s inverted floral dress was for its basic design lines.  It was the only early 1950s dress pattern in my stash that had center seams both front and back and a similar overall style.  Sure, I realize I could have just thrown in extra seams but I wanted my base pattern to be just what I wanted from the start.  With so much figuring to account for already, I didn’t need to add one more alteration for me to think about.  I have also been aching to try one of the many early 1950s wrap dresses, and this one seemed to me to have the best chance for success.  It seems as if every vintage sewist has tried Butterick’s classic “Walk-Away Dress” and been deeply underwhelmed – I was not going to walk into that trap.  Even still, every wrap dress – including the most successful – is a frustrating beast to sew.  They are shifty things that do not have one set way of fitting and tend to have a mind of their own.  Their adjustability is to their benefit at the same time.  Bodies are not static and fluctuate quickly – even from the morning to the evening my body has different measurements.  A wrap dress accommodates all of those changes! 

I was hoping for a rousing victory out of this project, of course, and inspiration from the Agent Carter show has not once let me down, always spurring me to create my wardrobe’s best pieces.  I have found that this specific wrap dress turned out to be perhaps my best fitting wrap and amongst my all-time favorite dresses.  It was quite an experience to sew (as expected) but most of that was simply the combination of mirror imaging the two fabrics and the fact that vintage mail order patterns run roomy.  If you want the same look as my dress without dealing with an unprinted, fickle sized, true vintage original like what I used, I have noticed that the modern reprint Simplicity #8085 is a strikingly similar pattern.  However, I have not tried this reprint for myself.  Using that pattern, nevertheless, you would need to draft in a front V neckline and a center front seam.  Then, you could add in some sleeves, just as I did. 

For some reason it seems as if most of the 50’s wrap dresses do not have sleeves.  They are easy to add on where sleeves are wanted but missing and help keep the garment anchored nicely on the body.  Depending on the design, make sure to add in at least an extra inch to the inner armhole edges to a sleeveless frock if you are going to sew in sleeves.  I drafted my very own sleeve pattern here because I wanted exactly what was on the original Whitney Frost dress which was my inspiration.  They have pleated top caps which almost give the illusion of a puff sleeve from a decade or two previous to 1952.  The hem is also pleated in but with half the number as on the cap.  I love how cute and comfy these sleeves turned out to be, and how they enhance the overall dress and level up its elegance.  The dress looked very casual and was clearly an apron-derived style before sleeves.  With them, it is 100% Whitney Frost’s class and suddenly a refined dress that is low-key hiding the fact it is a wrap.  I love the little epiphany moments that every step of making a garment reveals.

The scene of Whitney Frost hallucinating at a vanity dresser’s mirror only lets us see her dress from the chest up, so it left me a lot of creative license to imagine the full frock for my imitation.  I ended up primarily basing my dress off of similar extant dresses, content with only a strong reference my inspiration garment.  However, I found an interview of the actress Wynn Everett off screen (click here to watch it for yourself) which gives a waist up view of the inverted floral dress she wears in that last scene for her character.  In the interview, the shine off her dress and semi-transparency of the fabric tells me it is a lightweight satin, perhaps silk in content.  Finding a remotely matching satin print was exhausting and fruitless after several years of intermittent searching, so I went for something that would guarantee to bring me joy – an Indian cotton “buti” block print

These fabrics always have the most beautiful floral stamps and are the most luxurious cotton to be had.  Through this route, I easily found more than one option that would easily mimic the print on Whitney’s two-faced dress.  Looking at the extant 1950s dresses that encouraged my inspiration, they were all cotton, and using such a material would keep this dress practical and wearable for many occasions, after all.  Summertime is much more pleasant when one is wearing Indian cotton…and India’s Independence Day is coming up August 15th!   

In the understanding that Whitney Frost and Agent Carter are very much alike in many ways despite being each other’s nemesis, I have merged a hair accessory that matches with a Peggy dress into this outfit.  Season Two occasionally has Agent Carter vested in purple, Whitney’s trademark color, depending on where she stands in the plot or how her actions have affected others.  There is scene in episode 2, called “A View in the Dark”, where Peggy is glamorous and acting according to her own designs (both of which is tied to Whitney’s character).  This is also when Peggy is garbed in all purple.  I made my own copy of her jeweled, floral purple hair comb to complete my copy of that dress from the episode.  To get a good view of Peggy’s hair comb, please go watch this short clip for yourself here.  More details about this yet to come, though!  That hair comb really seemed to fit in all too well to the character development I see tied into both leading ladies.  It fancies up the dress, too, since I had to go with a string of pearls as my necklace – pearls are Whitney’s most common jewelry choice.

Peggy always wore her Nana’s 1940s watch, just as I do, but she gravitated more towards a gold tone whereas Whitney wore silver metals.  I again blended in both characters by wearing one of my Grandmother’s special watches, her only one in a silver tone.  I have done what research I can and estimate it to be from circa 1952 – how perfect, right?!  It is in a 14 carat gold with tiny diamonds set into the sides of the face, so I wonder if this was a wedding gift piece, as she was married about that time.  As you can see, this was indeed a special outfit for me to bring out such special accessories.

For starting off with a basic looking wrap-apron design and some cotton fabrics, I think I really pulled off this idea better than I ever expected and turned into a very fun and appealing dress.  Wherever I go in this dress, I always get a number of compliments and positive comments, so apparently it is something which others would like to have as well, if ready-to-wear offered such a thing.  Please go view my Pinterest board on “Wrap-on Dresses and Tops” for a plethora of inspiration.      

I hope I have given you some encouragement to give wrap dresses a try or maybe try them anew if you have been disappointed in them before.  This mirrored paneling of two different prints is a great way to use up two smaller cuts of fabric and makes it seems creatively intentional.  I find it unexpected that wrap dresses seem to have been a popular medium for such a dual fabric style in the 1950s.  I hope you agree that the character of Whitney Frost was a good choice for me to channel for this project idea because I feel wonderful wearing my finished dress…every bit as pretty as a summer flower! 

Come Into My Web…

With the amount of vintage fashions that I make and wear, you’d think I’d have enjoyed Halloween in some wearable holiday-themed outfit from one of the popular decades of the 20th century – but no!  I always seem to do a fictional costume, or something historical, or just plain fun.  I haven’t ever done anything quite spooky ever, either.  In all, nothing is ever really a garment that I can include as part of my everyday vintage wardrobe.  All that has changed this year with a circa 1949 sultry femme-fatale outfit!  Using Gertie’s newest print, reproduced from a true vintage fabric, and scroll-work felt combined with raw buckram to make a curiously detailed hat, my ensemble is perfect for a jaunt out in the dark, rainy, and mysterious evenings of fall!

This is one of my very favorite, luxurious, and completely unique garment projects.  It was so fun to make a novelty outfit which is not just for an event but also for a season of the year.  The hat was super-easy make, and should work well for other outfits of any season, but truly compliments this set in a way far better than I had imagined.  However, if it wasn’t for the roses in the dress’ print, however, there is probably no way I would be even so much as trying anything with a spider theme.  The buggers creep me out!

The irony is that I added to what the webs were missing with my jeweled brooch – a vintage-style “Webster” pin ordered through “Nicoletta Carlone.com”.  He is not hair-raising, but rather cute (weird for me to say) and definitely glam.  After all – a web without a spider is a home without a tenant, right?!  All other accessories are true vintage items.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Dress – 100% cotton sateen, “Kiss of the Spider Woman” 2018 print from Gertie with a sheer black chiffon for the neckline and a sweet pink broadcloth for the bodice lining; Hat – a felt placemat, buckram hat base crown, and black tulle netting

PATTERN:  Anne Adams #4696, circa early 1950s for the dress…self-drafted hat

NOTIONS:  I had all the black thread and bias tapes I needed, and the modern tiny ball buttons (not vintage) were already in my stash.  I only had to buy a zipper for the side seam waist closure!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress took about 15 hours to make and the hat was made in an hour and a half.  Both were finished on October 26, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  a combo of French and bias bound seams

TOTAL COST:  About $35 was spent on the Gertie fabric alone, $5 on the chiffon, $2 on the zipper, and $8 for all the hat supplies (placemat from the arts and crafts store Michaels, and the buckram base from the Etsy shop “DanceCostumeSupply“).  $50 is my total.

This is my second time working with an Anne Adams vintage sewing pattern and what I found out from the first time rang true again.  Their designs seem to run quite small.  Just like before, my Anne Adams pattern was a size too large for me according to their chart, but it tuned out fitting me perfectly with 5/8 seams rather than the instructed ½ inch.  As unpredictable as vintage patterns are regarded by many to be, there are benchmarks to be found the more you sew with differing companies and various decades.  I’m not for certain that all Anne Adams will have their sizing off, but two times around is a pretty good confidence booster to know what I’m working with!  Size up with this brand, just in case.

Now, I did start with an early 50’s pattern, but I slightly adapted the design lines to make it more like a 1949 silhouette.  Post WWII fashion is remarkably similar between 1948 and 1952, minus slight differences.  All it basically took to change the date to this dress was eliminating the three paneled skirt front as designed and cutting out a slimmer, swinging, bias cut one instead.  The longer and leaner lines with a longer hem are trademarks of1949, whereas after 1950 there was more emphasis on a tiny waist and full hips (below the bust).  I was mostly copying off of an Aldens Department Store advertisement from 1949 (dated using the 60th anniversary emblem) by doing my adaptation, but nevertheless – the defined spider web print needed as few seams as possible anyway.  This pattern could certainly give what the fabric needed in my mind, which was minimal seam lines with no compromise on lovely shaping for a sultry air to the whimsical vintage print.  This dress sure delivered!

I can’t believe the neckline on this is original vintage.  The cheeky and bold taste that was around back then is much more alluring and lovely in my opinion than the modern baring-it-all fashion that leaves nothing to mystery.  The pieces for the bodice were so very basic, early on I was so doubtful that they would work out at all.  At the waist of the bodice, there are two sets of three stitched-down pleats in the front, and two small open pleats in the back but somehow they do their job turning odd shaped rectangles into something special.  There are small gathers at the shoulders too, though it’s not very noticeable in the sheer material…it just sort of helps to wrinkle up the front neckline a bit.

French seams are the strongest seam possible in such a lightweight and unsupportive fabric as chiffon, so that is what is holding the shoulders – and the body of the dress – together.  Fully lining the bodice not only gives body to the soft fashion fabric but also is a great way to cleanly finish the wide arching neckline where the sheer and the printed cotton meet – with no seam there, it lays nice and smooth.  A little sneak peek of pink that can sometimes be seen of the inside makes it so worth it, too.

The upper bodice from behind is, to me, a very slight call back to Victorian times, when the necklines were high, severe, and replete with a multitude of tiny buttons.  During Halloween, Victorian times seem to be what is stereotypically associated with haunted mansions and creepy, cackling women in frilly black dresses.  There are only 5 buttons here, but still – the difficulty it presents to dress yourself is a goth reference to decadence and stuffy society.  I hand sewed thread loops along the edge to catch the buttons.

I suppose now is a good a time as any to talk about what’s on my head, now that you can see the full details from the back of my hat!  Yes, as I mentioned above, I started with a placement to decorate a dining table, but in my defense it was thick, dense felt after all, too similar to hat material to ignore doing some Halloween shopping one night.  It was on clearance too!  I have always admired the wide hats of the mid to late 1940s which have decorative ‘windows’ or fancy cut outs in their big brims.  Such vintage hats I have seen are either too costly for my wallet or disappear too quickly to act on buying them.  So, as I do with most else in my wardrobe, I make my own version!

The place mat was slightly oval but so is the buckram crown (luckily on hand…I do keep a stock of hat bases “just in case”).  Luckily the crown was just enough to replace the skeleton head cut out of the center!  Before hand-stitching the place mat’s inner edges to the wired crown edges, I did add a double layer of tulle to the top (upper) side to stiffen it up.  The tulle adds a mesh look that compliments to raw buckram plus it makes to hat brim flat and not wavy along the edges like a 70’s slouch hat.  I merely hand tacked the tulle halfway through the felt all around the outer edges, kind of like a very tiny pad-stitching.  Most of the time, the tulle and the buckram base used for my hat are only foundation materials which are not meant to be seen, only hidden under other, better, fashion fabrics to achieve a final end.  By leaving the raw supplies I used exposed, the effect reminds me both of the fragility of a spider web and the physical decay we frequently revel in around Halloween.

Spider web prints seem to have exploded in the vintage fashion scene.  They are incredibly popular and collectable today, so it’s no wonder that several retailers are reprinting such fabric.  It’s a good thing for those of us who sew because we can provide ourselves with what we cannot get our hands on – vintage spider web dresses!  These prints can be found starting in the 1940s, or very late 30’s at the earliest.  Spider web prints seem to have had their high point between the mid-1940s and mid 1950s, but still quietly persisting through the 1960s and 70’s through the work of some bigger named designers.  For some reason, though, the form of stylized web-and-roses print that I have used from Gertie is the one that is most frequently seen.

Although I and the world of today tend to automatically associate spider web anything with the holiday of Halloween, if you look closely at the old original vintage advertisements for such spider web print dresses they specifically are for spring, yet also mention that it is an “all year design”.  I have a whole Pinterest board dedicated to “Spider Web Clothes Vintage and Modern” so please visit there and look closely to read for yourself.  It is so interesting to look at the primary sources for this new vintage trend, because when you do, you realize we are looking at it quite differently than they did.  Spider webs for spring?  As lovely as my own dress and hat turned out (if I do say so myself) and as wonderful as it feels to wear this swingy and sexy little number, I think I’ll take any and every excuse to wear this as much as possible!