“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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“Past Project” Highlight: Two Winter Wool Skirts

Winter’s worst is past where I live but I know this is not the case everywhere across the globe, so here’s a post that feature two skirts for brisk weather.  These skirts were made by me about 10 years back but they still are enjoyed and worn.  They recently even got an upgrade done to the waists to make them even better.  This waistband re-fashion might come in handy for others to try so I figured these skirts deserved a feature here on my blog.Butterick 4803 border print & front overlay skirts

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Grey border-design skirt – 100% wool;  Blue toned boucle skirt – wool and acrylic blend; lining for both skirts – polyester cling-free lining

NOTIONS:  elastic and thread with maybe some hem tape or bias tape

PATTERNS:  Simplicity #4593, year 2005, for the blue/navy/black skirt; Butterick #4803, year 2006, for the bordered grey wool skirt 

Simplicity 4593 skirts-envelope front and line drawingTIME TO COMPLETE:  a few hours to make each skirt with just a little more time to re-work the waist

THE INSIDES:  all seams are finished off by a serger/overlocker…these were made while I could use my mom’s Bernina.

These skirts are so cozy and a way to look nice while still busting chilly winds.  The long length looks elegant with the bias of the blue/black boucle skirt while the grey border print one is great for making me feel taller.  Both skirts can be even toastier when worn with long underwear or pants underneath and boots, too.  I know many people reach for pants in wintertime and the fall, but I go for skirts – they rock!  You can still wear your pants or even layer, but with a skirt over them is like having a warm blanket fashionably wrapped around you to keep you warm…and no one knows the better!

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Anyway, both skirts were pretty much made as-is, but I added in full lining as well as my own darts to further tailor the waists of both of them.  The blue/black boucle is a very loose material, but lofty and matches well with many tops, sweaters and suit coats.  The loose boucle goes perfectly with the asymmetric bias panel in the front.  This skirt received one skinny dart on the other side of the waist that doesn’t have a seam.  The grey wool skirt is from a fabric that is thick more alike to felt, while its  border print is embroidered on – not printed.  I remember it was so expensive, but so unusual I had to have it and my mom pitched in, but I only bought one yard (in 60 inch width) with a coupon to help.  This cozy skirt has two long darts that are more like pleats to control the fullness and add interest.  I just can’t seem to leave a garment mint from pattern design without adding my own touch to personalize it.  That’s o.k., this is why I sew my own fashion.

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The waists of both of the skirts had been nicely made but they were just basic casing-style with an all-around elastic gathering.  This was alright for me as I was growing up, but now I want a slightly more refined style and one that I can wear with a top tucked in, perhaps with a belt, too.  So I cut off the old casing and turned under the edge nicely.  Then I put the skirt on and pinched in the sides to figure out how much fabric needed to be brought in on each of the two sides.  Next, I took some wide 3 inch non-roll elastic and cut two pieces into the amount I figured needed to be brought in on each side of the skirt.  Since when you sew elastic down as you stretch it out it ends up longer, I decided to cut off an extra inch to the two elastic portions.  For the first skirt I did this to, I didn’t finish off the cut ends of the elastic before sewing it down, but for the second time I covered those edges in hem tape or bias tape (this is much nicer).  Now, I pin the elastic edges to the skirt, and stretch the elastic out ‘til it’s even with the skirt fabric and pin!  This process was helped by my hubby, otherwise I don’t know how I would have done this without having someone to hold it for me.  Then I stitched the elastic down to the fabric in four rows running parallel to the length of the waistband.  I was able to re-work one skirt waist in just under one hour.

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Now the waist is smoother front and back, with the gathers over the hips (where they end up making nice shaping anyway).  The large elastic stitched right to the fabric makes for very small and unnoticeable gathers which are tightly and evenly spaced.  This waistband also keeps my skirt sitting at my true waist because the elastic seems to sit on top of my hips.  A casing waistband always seems to twist around and droop down on my middle unless it’s quite snug, and this new waist solves these problems.  I’m systematically working on weeding out the old all-around casing waistbands from my past made skirts (such as this paneled micro-suede one) and doing this new style.

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There’s only one small tip to my new waistband method.  Don’t cut the elastic pieces even, cut them like an ‘isosceles trapezoid’ to be exact.  If the upper edge of the elastic that goes along the waistband top is the one with the smaller length, the finished look turns out much better. Cutting the elastic in this shape tapers in the waist for an even smoother finish.  Such a small point does make all the difference.  I didn’t cut ‘isosceles trapezoid’ shaped elastic for the grey skirt, just block rectangular pieces, and see how the top edge stretched out from stitching more than the blue skirt, which does have the special shape cut.

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I see a number of these dated out-of-print patterns for sale in the internet stores (Etsy, Ebay, and other private site sellers).  Just because a pattern is dated doesn’t mean it can’t still have value and be made in an interesting manner…it just needs more creativity 😉

Every so often on my blog in the future I will feature a past project which is still a winner in my book, being worn through the years.  I figure why should just my newer creations get the spotlight?!  Besides, every review or picture of a pattern sewn up by someone has the possibility to help someone else who might want to sew with or be interested in that pattern.  I know so many other bloggers’ have helped and inspired me!