Pretty Blue Pinafore…

After my success with my last “Shabby Chic”, fully convertible pinafore, this next one is in the real deal vintage 40’s style as a one piece dress.  This pinafore dress has an amazing attention to detail and the way it was designed includes a new-to-me shoulder seam method.  This is also my first time making an Anne Adams brand pattern…and I love the fit, style lines and proportions.  It might not receive as much out-and-about wear as my last pinafore, but I think this was the most perfect use for a longtime orphan (material not yet matched to a pattern) in my fabric collection, a quaint feedsack printed seersucker I’d been holding onto for years.  Yay – one more bolt of fabric is out from my stash and able to be enjoyed.

If you’re confused about what a pinafore is, please see my preceding introductory blog post on “The Summer of the Pinafore”, the inspiration behind my recent sewing.  This post’s pinafore is not like the multi-use floral one with a modern flair that I blogged about last, so here I will further explore the colors, fabrics, and prints used in the history of pinafores.  It’s weird to see how pinafores seem to reflect deeply subtle societal changes in the times around them.  A garment for the basic needs of women and children has a surprisingly very rich history.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton print with a slight seersucker texture

PATTERN:  Anne Adams #4988, circa 1943

NOTIONS:  I used everything from on hand in myexisting stash – thread, bias tape, interfacing scraps, a card of vintage baby rick-rack, a vintage metal zipper, and three vintage buttons from hubby’s Grandmother.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Making this pinafore took me about 15 to 20 hours and it was finished on July 22, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  All clean, as they are all bias bound.  The waistband is smoothly finished by an extra facing piece I added

TOTAL COST:  This unusual vintage specialty fabric was bought at Wal-Mart…of all places…as a “value print calico”.  I still had the receipt with the fabric.  2 ½ yards was bought back in March 2013 for $6.88.  What a stinkin’ great deal!

This is one of the very few patterns in my stash that had a very deep set personal, self-imposed “duty” to sew myself a version.  Why?  On a practical level, the pattern and its instruction sheet are absolutely crumbling to dust so I felt an urgency to make a dress from this design before the condition of the paper turned dire.  There is a better reason, though.  There is room to believe the original owner/recipient might be a distant relative we never heard of before!  You see, one weekend, on my occasional visit to our city’s antique and vintage shops, I came across a shocking and exciting find of a 1940’s pattern, whose old postal recipient had the exact same last name as ours.  Her address was in our same city, quite nearby, too.  Our last name is on the more unusual side, and it’s in the traditional German spelling, so the family has always said that anyone else with this same name in town was probably some relative, however distant.  Finding this pattern make the family dig into our genealogy again.  To make things even more special, the year of 1943 was written on the instruction sheet…very much appreciated because mail order patterns are seldom able to be so specifically dated.  Everything about this pattern was a touching, exciting, special opportunity…probably something that will not happen again and a neat happenstance to find in the first place.

Whether rightly or wrongly, I somehow was surprised at the amount of detail and well thought out design to this pattern, as if I thought mail order patterns were second rate.  I feel bad now because this was a killer pattern not in a standout or “chic” fashion way, but by having a great fit of both pattern pieces and finished dress, nice instruction sheet, and impressive design lines.  I am probably so used to primarily using patterns from the four major brands in every era (Simplicity, McCall, Butterick, Vogue), as well as the coveted yet well-known defunct brands (DuBarry, Hollywood, and Pictorial Review, to name a few).  I realized from using this Anne Adams pattern that I should give more mail order patterns a better appreciation.

Anne Adams from my knowledge is an all-American pattern company (yay!) which lasted from the 1930s to the 1960s and were the last to use unprinted, pre-cut tissue.  Her company’s patterns were available through the local newspapers along with related Marian Martin brand.  Apparently, Anne Adams designs were from uncredited designers who tailored to real women, offering larger sizes and even customizing designs for local fashions trends (so the city girl and country girl could have their own style)!  Many Anne Adams patterns do have scalloping as part of their designs, with a penchant for trimming, so I suppose this pinafore is a semi-classic design for this company!  My pinafore does strike me as a very country girl look for a city woman to purchase…I can tell the pattern pieces had been used before so I’m really curious if it was the original owner – our mystery distant relative – that made this for herself!

This was unexpectedly challenging and sort of difficult in the way of being quite detailed and having many steps to make.  This step had to be done before this step…oh and don’t forget the trim…was the sum of my sewing progress in repetition.  I really needed those crumbly, falling apart instructions and the fact that there were substantial parts missing made sewing a bit more challenging.  Not meaning to brag, but for many garments I’ve been making recently, I have not needed the instruction sheets so having a project be a surprise challenge was a good change.

There is really a lot going on with this dress!  Most of it is in the front, and although the back is rather basic, it does have first-rate seaming and shaping.  I enjoy how the vintage metal zipper I used in the side really makes my pinafore strike me as close to an authentic vintage piece.  Asymmetric scalloped bodice closing, tapered rectangular neckline, set-in waistband, center front skirt box pleat, and curved, set-in-style pockets are all awesome, but I like the sleeve ruffles the best.

The shoulder seam is defined by the spot where the gathers are brought in and stitched down.  The smart part is that they are set into the main body of the dress!  The horizontal shoulder seams, which run from the neck outward, are divided into two separate seams – the true shoulder and the over-the-shoulder ruffles – by the vertical opening for the gathering to work.  This did make the bodice one big piece tow work with!  I had to iron the finished ruffles and stitch the seam allowance flat (facing towards the neckline) so that the over-the-shoulder ruffles don’t flare upward obnoxiously…what they want to do!  They might be over the top but these ruffles are so fun to wear and were interesting to sew – not to forget mentioning extremely comfy, too.  The openness of the sleeves and the airy breeziness of the ruffles make this so very easy to move around in, stay cool, and have all the freedom to perform all the necessary or menial tasks a pinafore is meant to be worn doing.

I’m not one for rick-rack on my clothes, by I’m actually surprisingly won over to the benefit a card of the vintage baby size notion added along the edges here!  As I said before, the quainter a pinafore is made, the more it is jazzed up with novelty embellishment, it only makes it look all the better.  Without the rick-rack, anyway, I do believe much of the seaming details would be sadly lost.  I just made it – I only had about 4 inches leftover of the rick-rack after I was done adding it along the pockets and neckline edges. Whew!  I couldn’t cut it any closer if I had pre-measured how much I would’ve needed.  I really think this project was meant to be!

The slight puckering to this seersucker makes it simply a dream to wear and work in.  Reproduction aside, this is (to my knowledge) the true vintage way of doing seersucker – not the giant bubbled, ugly print stuff I see offered nowadays.  It is so cooling the way it keeps an airy distance from off of the skin.  It holds a good shape without being too stiff or getting droopy yet stays soft and comfortable due to the brushed all-cotton content.  Fabric like this is a goldmine to come across these days and that’s a shame.  I’m glad I resisted the urge to hoard this because now I understand why its material gold…it’s not just because it’s rare, it also great to wear!

I suppose I went with a rather traditional color tone for pinafores by making mine in a primarily baby blue print.  You must remember, that in the 1940s blue was still considered a woman’s color and shades of red, including pink were a man’s tone.  The modern opposite methodology of thinking was not around as of yet (read a further explanation of the gender significance of pink and blue in this past post of mine).  Even Hollywood used primarily blue pinafores to costume their best actresses in the decade of the 1940’s, the era I see the most pinafores on the Silver Screens.  Perhaps the most famous of the blue pinafores has to be the gingham bib-style one worn by Dorothy in the 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz” (of which I made my own version for a past Halloween).

Also, the popular 1945 musical movie “State Fair” abounds in blue toned peasant looks, aprons, and pinafores.  The movie’s main actress Jeanne Crain wore at least two shoulder ruffled, baby blue pinafores that were really more like jumpers than my own dress version.  For another obnoxious shoulder ruffled Hollywood pinny in a more basic color of white, I’d like to highlight one that Betty Grable and her associates wore in the 1944 movie “Pin up Girl”.  There’s even rick rack along the edges just like my own and Ms. Grable still looks hot!

Traditionally the pinafore was worn for many years in primarily white and it wasn’t until the 20th century that they became something worn by anyone other than children in prints and colors.  Going upon the concepts of Rousseau that children are their own entities with their “duty” being to learn, play, and be healthy, late nineteenth century girls, young women and sometimes small boys were dressed in pinafores made of plain, mostly white fabric, so they could have comfortable option to protect their clothing when they did their “work”.  With this concept, pinafore from that time were a sort of “uniform” for doing what children did best.  Besides, at that time modern methods of washing were not available and a basic white pinafore would’ve been relatively easy to wash, bleach and starch back to normal if dirtied.

In the 20th century, this had changed to the pinny becoming part of the clothes it was originally meant to protect.  In 1946, Life magazine noted this shift in an article on children’s dress, noting that “children used to wear washable pinafores over un-washable dresses. Now a pinafore becomes a washable dress.”  (Quote from the FDIM Museum blog here.)  Beginning somewhere after WWI (circa 1920s) novelty and juvenile prints, fabric with patented movie themes, and feedsack cottons also helped contribute to the pinafore usage switching from a basic, white, covering children’s clothes to a one-piece, fashionable garment for the dirty work needed to be done by all ages.  In 1941, the U.S. had about 31 textile mills manufacturing the fabric for bag goods which, in 1942, it has been estimated that three million American women and children of all income levels (roughly 3% of the population) were wearing at least one printed feedbag garment.  The element of fun was definitely brought in to loosen up the “uniform” of a pinafore with printed, colorful fabrics.

For adults to adopt a garment as childish in historical use, so sweet in its styling as a pinafore, I don’t think it’s because of being in a wishful time-rewind fantasy world.  Yes, it can be out of place to adopt the fashions of an age group different than your own.  I see it as extending the practicality of a garment, and bringing some lighthearted charm to mundane tasks with something as basic as what clothing is worn to perform necessary tasks.  The rise of the “junior” class of teenagers mid-1940s no doubt further propelled the idea of staying youthful (a key theme of pinafores)…what they found popular, adults paid some heed to and women found ways to bring their trends into their own style when desired.  Sure, pinafores evolved somewhat into playsuits, or jumpers to be worn over blouses, and even into dresses with ruffles and trim that mimic a pinny, so there was no rigid way to achieve a pinafore look.  But no matter what the kind of pinafore, they still find a way to way to mix practicality and playfulness in a way that can be perennially appealing.

Clothing of today is rarely such a hybrid mix of so many different aspects of appealing yet useful, comfy yet nice in one garment.  As odd as it might seem, a pinafore definitely has a place that can best be understood if you make and/ or wear one for yourself.  There are so many, unlimited ways to achieve some sort of pinafore style that I’ll take a chance and say that there is one that could work for any woman or child.  There are 1960’s simple A-line pinafores, 1970s prairie looks, and even modern ones out of denim or suiting.  Why just a few weeks ago the famous 19 year old actress Elle Fanning was out and about wearing a fuchsia pink pinafore with a crop tank underneath and designer accessories for an up-to-date option.  Perhaps my “Pretty Pinafores” Pinterest board can further inspire you to find a style that suits you, or at least find an image to like and appreciate.  Let me know when you find it!

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Summer Rose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Retro Forward” with Burda Style – a Roomy Button-Front Dress

As much as I do like getting “dolled up”, there’s been times when I need or have to leave the house and do something without feeling much like getting put together.  Not that I take a lot of work to fix myself up, I just don’t leave the house too much looking like I rolled out of bed and sometimes I’d much rather stay in my cozy relaxed home lounge clothes looking like I really don’t care.  I’ll bet most of you, my readers have those times, too.  Well, I have now found a pattern to make myself a dress that is the perfect compromise – it’s every bit as comfy as a nightgown but a nice style for many occasions…all with a vintage flair.  Perfect!  How spoiled can I be making something exactly what I want so I can go out and still feel like I’m in house lounge-wear?!

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THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton lightweight jersey knitlong-sleeve-dress-no-104-01-2011-line-drawing

PATTERN:  Burda Style “Long Sleeve Dress, # 104”, from January 2011

NOTIONS:  I had all the thread and interfacing I needed, but I did have to go out and find one more pack of matching buttons (I had some of the ones I wanted to use but not enough).

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress took about 15 hours to sew, and was finished on May 20, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  As this knit does not fray, I left all the edges raw.

TOTAL COST:  This cotton was bought at the now defunct Hancock Fabrics.  I believe I spent about $15 to $20 (with a discount), more than I normally spend for a dress but the fabric is such a nice quality.

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Burda Style has had this pattern out for a while now, hasn’t it?  This is a shirt dress that rather reminds me of a cross between the 1980’s and the 1940’s, which is why it’s part of my “Retro Forward with Burda Style” blog series.  I know the 80’s did often mimic the 40’s in many ways such as exaggerated shoulders, generously sized bodices, lovely sleeve cuffs, neckline details, and feminine menswear – part of my dress.  The 80’s and 40’s also made great use of jersey knits, except the skinny skirt and elastic waist sort of does sort of tip the scales in favor of the dress being in the decade closer to our own times, though WWII was all about combining comfort with style for women.  Even my shoes are a 1940’s style, vintage from the 1980’s.  So my verdict is non-committal – I’m happy with my dress whatever flair or style it might have.

dsc_0593a-compwI was originally going to line the knit but I’m glad I didn’t as it would have made the seams much too bulky and the dress too heavy.  Any fabric thicker than medium weight would not work here.  I also thought the dusty blue background and dainty small-print floral printed on the knit had a sort of quaintness which might bring out the vintage flair without being over-cute.  When I bought this fabric, my friend the store employee told me the color and print suits me well and I do very much agree with that.  The print unfortunately hides the special squared off sleeve design (see my layout of the bodice pieces picture, at left).  As my project looks finished, I now see the small floral making my dress seem more like a housecoat than something to be worn out and about, but oh well.

This was a bit of a challenging pattern to sew both on account of the decrepit instructions, the delicate fabric, and also because it is always a task to harness loads and loads of gathers.  For this dress there are tight, full gathers from the neckline, around the shoulder piece, and over to the other side of the neckline in a continuous and dramatic line.  Add in the fact of turning and shaping those uber-gathers into a definite shape and getting in down into a facing as well and there is a hand-stressing, time-intensive detailed area that used up all of my two boxes of straight pins just to keep in place for stitching.

dsc_0673-compwI messed up slightly on the shoulder panel and I do not feel entirely the one to blame (…although I did do the sewing).  The instructions didn’t give me something to help at this point, so here’s another ‘oh well’.  It still turned out o.k., I just would not recommended to top-stitch down the non-interfaced facing on top (from the visible outside) like I did.  I made it work, but doing so made the whole intricate panel with the dress gatherings harder to achieve.  Believe me, it would have been better the other way around.  The neck and shoulder detail on this dress is stunningly lovely in my opinion, and worth the effort…if only I had done it 100% right.  I think this is the part of the dress’ construction which takes just as long as making and cutting the rest of the dress combined.  It also is the base from which the rest of the dress hangs and (in my opinion) the primary focal feature.  (P.S., look how similar this dress bodice for sale on Etsy is to the one of my dress.)  I have an idea that the shoulder panel of this Burda Style dress would look lovely in a contrast with the right combo of colors.

dsc_0671a-compwI also adapted the sleeve cuffs (with another big ironic thank you to the instructions) due in part to another “mistake” of mine as well as tailoring the design to appeal to me better.  After two frustrating spells of unpicking stitches after mismatching the proper cuffs with the correct sleeves I realized I had sewn the arch of the cuffs inward to my body rather than outward, which I should have done.  I had had enough of futzing with things on the dress by this time and left them as they were.  However, I did not like how wide the cuffs were on my shorter frame and compared to the rest of the dress, cuffs which went halfway up my arm did not seem to work here.  Thus, I folded the cuffs back (just like the ones for my “Double Duty” year 1931 dress) and hand sewed a single elastic loop-and-button closure on each cuff to make them easy and adjustable.   These turned back cuffs make the enormous sleeves a bit more manageable for me and add another nice touch to the dress.dsc_0666a-compw

Besides all the little boo boos, I did some slight changes to the design.  First, I raised the center front neckline enough to add another button closure for a less revealing decollete.  Second, I switched up the skirt front pattern pieces so that the designated bottom hem became the new waistline.  As designed, the skirt to this dress is incredibly skinny at the knees and I saw a potential problem with walking, especially as the skirt buttons closed.  This step slightly widens the hem but keeping the back skirt design as-is still keeps the tapered silhouette and makes it easier to walk.  Granted, my dress’ skirt does open up above the knee at the thigh as it is, and I think this hint of hotness is need to save the dress from becoming overly conservative.  “She’s got legs…” and I know how to (subtly) show ‘em.

Finally, I left out the pockets.  Yes, I love pockets and rely on them more and more, making sure I have them in most of the garments I now make, but no – there’s enough poufiness to the gathered elastic waist I’m happier with the overall look with them left out.

The elastic waist does make this dress so incredibly comfy.  So, as much as I was doubtful I would like it on myself, the wearing of it wins me over.  I didn’t really bother with how the instructions said to make the waist because I had a method I wanted to use.  Similar to my “Ever Green” knit dress, I used the existing seam allowance of the waistband to sew a skinny ¼ inch casing for elastic to run through.  This method makes for quite tight gathering which isn’t too out of control as the casing is part of the dress, and anchored to it at both top and bottom.  The skinny elastic makes it easy to cover with a belt.  I sort of have a cheaters button at the waistband – a fake buttonhole with a button sewn to it.  The real working closure is a hook-and-eye.  This pulls the elastic waist together in a stable manner, versus a button closing.  I don’t want anything popping open on me while I’m wearing my dress…boop, surprise!  No, thank you.  That’s why there’s even a tiny safety hook-and-eye at the V of the neckline, just in case.

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All said, I really do like my dress very much, I just don’t feel that the amount of effort and frustration was worth this dress.  However, I find myself reaching for this more often than I’d ever had expected, so the usefulness and comfort which I’ve taken advantage of many times already does now make the effort worthwhile.  I am a very cold-sensitive person, and having my arms covered always feels quite comfy to me.  So, the loose sleeves of this dress is perfect for chilly nights during spring, summer, and early fall where I live, with the open, leg-revealing skirt keeping me from being too warm.  Here’s to a great one-step outfit, not too nice yet with casual ease!  And, here’s to a “new” type of clothing…what I call the “housecoat” dress, ideal for rolling out of bed and keeping the feeling but not the look.  The perfect dress for one’s needs can be so wonderful!

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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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My “Agent Carter” Pinstriped Shirtdress

This project is my 1940’s “power dress” – a vintage classic that manifests the taking on of men’s roles which women assumed during World War II. This dress is also directly inspired from an outfit worn by Peggy during the Marvel television series “Agent Carter”, “The Iron Ceiling”, Season 1, Episode 5, aired on February 3, 2015. It is also part two to my previous post, part one, about the matching rayon under slip, also worn with the same inspiration dress in the same airing episode.Peggys pinstripe shirtdress-combo pic

However business-like this 1940’s “power dress” is, it’s also extremely comfortable in pure cotton shirting and plenty ease of movement, yet classy with fine tailored details. I love such tastefully beautiful garments which really have it all going for them! Do you have a favorite garment which you enjoyed sewing and absolutely love wearing, like me with this dress?

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THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  My dress is made from a 100% cotton shirting fabric. The fabric is not the over-wrinkly…it has a nice soft crispness that takes to an ironing really well and yet feel wonderful on the skin and gets softer after each wash. It is in a pastel baby blue color with thin double pinstripes in white.

NOTIONS:  I had the thread and interfacing I needed on hand already, but I bought the zipper for the side. The three front buttons came from hubby’s Grandmother’s stash of vintage buttons. I’m not sure how vintage the buttons are, but they seem quite old. The buttons are in a different, very lightweight material, in kind of a marbled dusty blue and grey color, with a raised square in the middle.

PATTERN:  Simplicity 1526, an unprinted pattern from the year 1945

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TIME TO COMPLETE:  My dress was finished on April 21, 2015, after maybe 15 to 20 hours of sewing pleasure.100_5046-comp

THE INSIDES:  Just how I like them! I took the extra time to make fine finishes and this dress is worth it. All seams, except the hems of course, are bias bound with a few French seams. The rest of the seams all around the collar and back shoulder panel are covered by an extra panel I added to stabilize and enclose those seams.

TOTAL COST:  Well, I got lucky here. The regular price of the fabric was (I believe) about $10 a yard, but I bought it on sale for only $2.25 a yard. I bought about 2 ½ yards of 45 inch width fabric so, with the added zipper, I suppose I spent a total of just under $7.00. Nice!

My outer envelope to my pattern has some significant water damage, musty smells, and silverfish bug chews, but this time around there was more than just pattern pieces…there was a treasure inside this unassuming package. The previous user or perhaps the previous owner (maybe both were in one) left her personal measurements on the back of a very old blank check. The front of the check has a finely detailed line drawing of the Commercial National Bank of Charlotte, North Carolina in the background (the exact building is now torn down). The measurements are so much larger than the size of the pattern, if the woman who had those proportions made this copy (and I can tell it was used at some point), it would have taken some impressive grading to make a garment to fit her.

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There is and address at the bottom list of the measurements, “1234 Pinecrest Avenue, Charlotte”. According to what I see on Google Maps this is a real address, and Zillow says the home there was built in year 1939. Public records show the home was sold in 2002, and in 2012, and this is significant because I bought this pattern in 2012/2013 from an online shop when I was just getting into vintage sewing. I’m supposing 2012 was when the woman that owned this pattern is the same one who wrote the note inside; then in 2012 had her sewing collection sold, sending this pattern my way so I can rediscover it again. Somehow this makes me feel a wonderful connection to seamstresses through the past decades, in different parts of the world. The internet helps us connect across the world nowadays 🙂

I was dealing with some serious fabric shortage in yardage available – I bought the end of the bolt and was lucky to get what I did. However, I took several hours, spread out over two days, to layout the pattern pieces on the fabric, think about how to squeeze everything in while matching stripes, then notice a discrepancy only to re-arrange everything again and think some more. “Think twice, cut once” was my motto here, except I know thought much more than twice.

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In order to save on space layout and be more creative with the pattern, the back shoulder yoke was cut into two bias pieces so the stripes would chevron into the middle. In lieu of laying the piece on the fold like it should have been, I cut it out on the bias (as I said) in between everything else adding in a center seam allowance. Not mentioned in the instructions but needed in my opinion, I cut out an extra lining shoulder yoke to cover all the inside collar/shoulder yoke seams inside. The lining shoulder yoke is cut on the fold/straight grain so on a practical level it supports the fashion fabric, cut on the bias, from stretching out of shape. It’s a subtle touch that’s not obvious, but just noticeable enough so that it speaks of my extra time and thought. I don’t want my clothes to flag people down, just make (or inspire) them to want to put their own effort and interest in their own wardrobe by sewing too.

100_5032-compI learned how to do the slashed and gathered chest detail when I made my 1940 suit set (post here) but was determined to do better with a my cotton dress, a much lighter weight fabric. This is sure a neat but challenging technique to do…I like it! I sewed a small piece of cotton broadcloth down on top the right side and stitched down then slashed. The facing is turned inside and a loose gathering stitch is put “in the ditch” of the two fabrics only on the bottom half. The bottom is gathered evenly with the top, pulled in and lap stitched down.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Bound, or “window pane” buttonholes are in the trio of front closures. “Window pane” button holes are fun to make and much more striking when it comes to look but stable when it comes to support. It is a hard call, but every time I look at the buttons on this dress I want to say they are my favorite part. I love the way they are the perfect tint of blue without dominating the outfit, the way they have such details of design not found anymore, and especially the fact they come from the familial stash of notions.  Besides the family connections, there is the classic late WWII restriction amount of “no more than three buttons” as designated by the ration regulations, making this even more of a classic classy 40’s dress.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGoing with the menswear theme with this dress, I further altered the pattern by pleating the sleeve fullness into the cuffs rather than simply gathering it. I wasn’t really too precise with my pleating – they start roughly one inch away from the edge, and there are three dramatic ½ inch pleats on the cuff side facing up (where they can be seen better) and two small ¼ pleats on cuff’s underneath side. The smooth way the pleating at the cuffs extend up the rest of the sleeve in controlled gathers makes me determined to do this to more shirts and shirt dresses. Menswear is going so have the only market on pleated sleeve cuff goodness.

Actually this pattern had a few non-dire pieces missing easily replaceable, but the previous owner already took care of some of that for me. The belt was replaced with a different printed piece, the short sleeve was gone, and cuff piece was missing. I “made-do” by using another cuff piece from this blouse and added in the pointed end like the pattern shows. My cuffs are made for cuff links, as is the norm for my garments, but here I made a slight boo-boo which adds some humorous personality. There are two buttonholes on one side of one cuff! I simply miss-measured, putting the button hole too close to the edge, so I made a new one instead of unpicking a tightly made buttonhole. Un-picking stitching is one of my least favorite things to do, and when unpicking tight stitches like on a buttonhole you run the risk of leaving holes behind in your fabric. Yup…no matter how nicely my dress is made, you can tell a home seamstress made it when you look at the one cuff. I smile at it…and like it there.

Stitching down the box pleats fold edges helps immensely towards a crisp looking skirt that doesn’t need constant attention from the iron to be in place like it should. The front has two box pleats, but the back is plainer, in the classic 1940’s triple paneled style.

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I did end up adding in some thin shoulder pads to define the shoulders and fill in the bodice. They are modern newly bought shoulder pads and not as authentically accurate, but I really don’t want to look like a football player even though this dress is supposed to be a “power suit”.

My favorite way to wear my dress is with a belt which closely resembles how Peggy in Agent Carter wore the inspiration outfit. The wide, chunky utility style of my and Peggy’s belt is not as popular of an authentic 1940’s ‘look’, but the decade did love interesting, curiously designed waist cinchers. (See this pattern from my stash for belt designs to make yourself from 1945, as an example.) A tougher themed belt goes with Agent Carter’s personal situation and the mood I wanted with my dress. A woman in a man’s world in the 1940’s had to be strong, confident, self-assured of one’s own worth in order to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the men who had the assumed supremacy of the culture.

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Blue has currently the designation of being a man’s color, but it was not always so…in fact, it used to be the exact opposite. There is a Mental Floss article which expounds the historical facts as to when pink started becoming a “girl” color. I love how a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color (derived from red), is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl”, taken directly from the Smithsonian.com. It wasn’t until World War II times that the gender specific colors of blue and pink changed applications, as also did the previous practical practice of gender neutral dressing for children under 7 (see this NPR article). Thus, I love the fact that my dress incorporates a little of all of the color/gender history of azure and rosy hues by it being a masculine styled, shapely woman’s suit dress in a cool, powerful, and assertive blue colored 1940’s garment.