Agent Carter’s “Body Raid” Outfit – Burda Style Trousers and Jersey Satin Blouse

I realize this is a bit late for our recent civil holiday (in America) of Presidents’ Day, but nevertheless I will now share the outfit I made to wear for it…better late than never!  America’s sweetheart and Captain America’s crush, Agent Peggy Carter of Marvel, was of course my go-to girl for inspiration here because when you stand behind the super soldier defending the freedoms of the stars and stripes, your wardrobe naturally ends up being very patriotic!  As February is a short month, I am sneaking this post in between my dual posts on historical lingerie.

This outfit is part of my quest to have all of Peggy Carter’s wardrobe (as seen in both seasons of her TV series), as well as looking for something brightly patriotic, wonderfully 40’s era, and supremely comfy.  You see, I wanted a special set with all of those qualities to wear during our traveling weekend, and a trip gave me a good reason to buck up and finish a Burda Style project for the month of February (meaning the pants)!  I have been supplying myself with a nice and varied collection of trousers and pants, and this one is definitely another kind of ‘different’ to do – all baggy yet still tailored, and definitely vintage-inspired.  The blouse half of my outfit satisfies my current “thing” for making tops, and it is sewn with a knit, which is both easy care and different, too, for my 1940s wardrobe.  Also, it is made using a vintage Advance sewing pattern, a brand that is not seen as much, with leftover material from a past Agent Carter project of mine, for even more special connections.    

This outfit’s original inspiration can be seen on the Agent Carter television series by Marvel, specifically Season Two, Episode 5, “The Atomic Job”, when she breaks into a morgue to steal a body that holds the evidence her and her friends so desperately need, before things end up taking a much more dire turn.  In our pictures, my version of Peggy Carter’s outfit is seen in the historic Union Station of Kansas City, Missouri, for a much less heavy reason – a destination trip to see some exhibits.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The blouse – a polyester interlock knit with a satin finish is the primary fabric (same as what was used to re-fashion this dress), with cotton broadcloth scraps to line the inside of the shoulder panels for stabilization; The pants – a half and half linen rayon blend in a purple toned navy blue (same as what was used to make my turn-of-the-century Walking Skirt) with a fun rayon challis print (leftover from this dress) used for the pockets

PATTERNS:  A vintage original Advance #3182 pattern, circa 1941, was used for the blouse and a Burda Style #102 for the pants – view B is the “Marlene Trousers”, while view A is the “Button Tab Trousers”, both the same and both from September 2013.

NOTIONS:  I had all I needed on hand – thread, interfacing, bias tapes, hook-and-eyes, a metal jean style zipper, and vintage pearl buttons.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The pants took about 20 to 30 hours of time to finish on January 17, 2018.  The blouse came together in about 10 hours and was done on February 14, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  The pants are as professional as I could make them – all tiny but fun bright red bias bound edges.  The blouse’s material doesn’t fray so it is left raw to make my work easy for a change!

TOTAL COST:  maybe $20, at the most $30.  Both fabrics were bought at Jo Ann’s Fabric store

This set was a wonderful mix of sewing things I’m used to, with an added element of difficulty.  I’ve sewn many pants and trousers by now, but this pair was labor intensive and required dedication to finish.  I do feel it brought some of my skills to the next level and perfected others.  This was by far the most challenging Burda pattern I’ve tackled yet, besides this coat, but it’s so worth when it comes to what I end up with having!  The blouse was not far off from any other traditional blouse, but the fine, lightweight material in a knit made it slightly tricky to sew, besides the fact it has very unusual front shoulder panels.  I splurged on this blouse and used some prized vintage notions from my stash, just to be close to the inspiration Agent Carter blouse, with its pearled square buttons, so this was an added special touch a bit out of the ordinary from my “normal” sewing.

Both patterns had their aura of mystery when it came to getting them to fit.  The blouse was a vintage unprinted pattern, marked with a code of dots, but as I have done so many of these by now, it was no problem to cut and it fits beautifully.  Yet, I was dubious about the pattern because every time before this I have sewn with an old Advance pattern, they have run small in size.  Thus, for this pattern, it is happily a size too big for me already, and it fits.  With the knit fabric, I actually could have brought the blouse in a bit, but I’d much prefer a bit generous than too small.  For the trousers, I realized (correctly) that they probably run a bit big due to the generous silhouette and wide legs.  However, I figured it’s easier to take a garment in than work with it when it’s way too small, so I stuck with my “normal” size that I always tend to make in Burda Style.  Yes, the trousers do run big and I probably could have went down a size, after all.  However, because of the way these pants are finished in the back center waistband, sewn up there as the last step (very similarly to menswear, actually), these were easy to take in an extra bit for a size that is better than they could have been, not as good as I would like.  These are so comfy being roomy, and I do love the style, so I can’t really complain with all that much energy!  Perfection in an art (and I include sewing under an art form) is relative to one’s contentment with one’s work and the either unknowing or appreciative eye of the beholder.  Both pieces turned out great and taught me more than I knew before.  There’s something good achieved, beyond the fact I have another Agent Carter set! Squee!

Now, as for any Burda Style pattern, printing and/or tracing is necessary to have a usable pattern to lay on your desired fabric.  My pattern was traced from the downloaded and assembled PDF bought at the online store but if you have a magazine issue, use a roll of medical paper to trace your pieces from the insert sheet.  It’s at this preliminary step that I pick out my chosen size and add in your choice of seam allowance width (I normally add in 5/8 inch allowance), but others do this directly on the fabric as they are cutting out.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide attached helps immensely for adding on the seam allowance easily.  Sorry to repeat something you might already know, but this is just an “FYI” for those that don’t.

Burda patterns do frequently get the bad rap of having terrible instructions (they’re words only), but I did find these to be quite good…except when it came to the front fly and its self-placket.  I was lost, but that was okay.  I looked at my husband’s existing pants, and remembered the last trouser fly I had made, and sewed it how it made sense and was practical.  You know what?  These turned out great.  The side pockets smartly have a panel extension that continues towards the middle to connect (inside at the facing) with the zipper fly.  This is a wonderful detail that helps out taming the front pleats, but made it confusing to sew.  It did turn out a very smooth and flawless inner waist and tummy area this way.  The side pockets stay nicely in place and balance out the bulk of the fly by those extensions pulling it in.  I did a lot of invisible hand-stitching, though, to make sure the front fly looked quite nice.

The welt pockets – to me – are actually the best part to the pants, even though I detest sewing them and find them exhausting to make.  There’s something about cutting into the middle of a perfectly good garment that makes me doubt my capabilities.  One welt pocket took me just over two hours to complete…but I’m so much happier with it than my last attempt!  The instructions for the welt, and its markings were right on and helpful.  I wasn’t sure if I really wanted the pocket flap, but now, most of the time, I keep it tucked into pocket.  If I ever feel like wearing it out of the pocket more, I might feel obliged to stitch on a button and buttonhole to keep it down, like the instructions recommend.

I did add plenty more belt loops than the pattern called for, mostly because my pants (as I said) are still a bit too big on me.  The more belt carriers, the better the trousers stay up, for there is a darn lot of fabric here to wear anyway!  The side tabs on the waistband were left out in lieu of the extra belt loops.  I fear that the wrinkling in the waist and back pants legs are not due only to the properties of the linen material, but also from the fact that the waist buckles a bit from bringing it in under the belt.

The complete indulgence in excess fabric to these pants make them very much like pre-WWII menswear styles for women.  Burda aptly labels them “Marlene Trousers” after the woman that channeled her own taste for the masculine-feminine dressing for the empowerment of others to do the same in the face of society – Marlene Dietrich.  She certainly started something when she appeared on January 12, 1932 at the opening of The Sign of the Cross movie, wearing a masculine tuxedo, wing collar, soft felt hat, mannish topcoat, and a pair of men’s’ patent leather shoes! Dietrich, who had been wearing trousers publicly as early as 1929, and Greta Garbo were the 1930s pioneers for menswear styles for women.  Yet, “I wear them to be comfortable,” Dietrich is quoted as saying, “not sensational!”  1930s ladies’ menswear borrowed heavily from what guys were wearing especially when the materials were woolens and other suiting, but women also found their own interpretation in the super-wide legged, flowing beach pyjamas of summer and resort scenes, skirt-like Singapore trousers, and other unique interpretations of bifurcated bottoms.  These were also, no doubt, part of the luxury that was the mindset of the 1930’s, especially for Depression times.  Fashion counter-reflected what society was really going through, so from the boom of bling with costume jewelry to the luxurious evening gowns, the trousers, too, had every added feature that used as much extra fabric as possible – cuffs, deep pleats, and generous pockets.  Check, check, and check…these Burda pants have all that aplenty!

My own pants are somewhat a mix of the heavy men’s suit style with a little female influence with the lighter weight linen blend, non-suiting material.  This is a kind of trouser style that could have been worn throughout the 1930s and well into the early 1940’s.  This pattern definitely deserves to be included in my ongoing post series, “Retro Forward with Burda Style”.  A good pleated pant of this style is hard to find.  Vintage pants were always ironed, or sometimes even stitched, with center front and back pleats on each leg.  Most pants that I see nowadays which attempt this “look” end up fitting so tightly past the hips there is no point in having a vertical running pleat, it cannot continue down due to the tight fit in the thighs and below.  Now, I know my pants do not show as crisp a pleat as I would have liked, but it is there and they can hold it quite well when I am not traveling in them.  Nevertheless, these pictures show the reality of my pants being used and worn for real living, well-traveled in and time tested…and I think they prove themselves quite well, especially for being linen-rayon!  (See? You can travel in and wear linen!)  I’m really surprised that bloggers and seamstresses in the vintage community haven’t discovered these after all the 5 years this pattern have been out.  These are like rare gold!

To match with the whole pre-WWII style, my blouse is from 1941, before America had been completely committed to the war effort.  Besides, Agent Carter herself was a woman stuck in the past, due in no small part to her fond yet painful memories of both knowing and losing Captain America.  These were two of the reasons for using this particular Advance pattern.  I know it is not exactly alike to the inspiration garment, but it is perfectly her style as she has a penchant for blouses with small yet stunning and beautiful details, whether it’s in the top-stitching or design lines.  This one certainly fits the bill with its special pointed front shoulder panels, square buttons, silky finish, and menswear-style back shoulder panel.  It’s simple at first glance, yet more complicated the further one looks.  This is one of the few blouses I have made that has this much all over gathering…here, there, everywhere!  Most of the times I use menswear inspired, professional-style pleats in the sleeves nowadays, but this flowing feminine fabric deserved a departure from my norm.   

Yet, there is one more detail that deserves to be told.  The front buttons came from one set that was bought (intact on a lovely decorative card), while the other two for the cuffs are a size bigger, from a pair that were in the stash of hubby’s Grandmother.  Not too often have I come across two separate vintage button sets that actually match up with one another.  Button serendipity sometimes does happen.

Both of the bottoms and top are made from various leftovers, as I mentioned above.  Besides the whole “reduce-and-reuse” sensibility of it, and the way it whittles down my ever growing fabric stash, I do like how the connection with the previous outfits these fabrics went towards is perfect for a new Agent Carter set.  The Agent Carter dress re-fashion from exactly one year ago had just enough left over to make this post’s blouse, bringing together two of my Peggy creations. 

The linen of the pants is the same material as my 1905 Walking Skirt, the first power separate, much like 1930s and 40’s trousers, from an earlier era for a self-reliant, independent, and active woman.  After all, Hayley Atwell, the actress who plays Peggy Carter, also plays a similar character led by both her heart and mind in another television ministry taking place around the turn of the century, “Howard’s End”.  The small, almost worthless leftovers from my 60’s wrap dress became novelty pockets in my pants.  It would just be like Peggy, who had a photographic memory for detail and the mind of a true government agent, to remember some little scraps to hide a secret in her clothes.  Now if it really was Peggy wearing these, there would be some coded message or handy tool inside my pockets as well!  Contrast pocket fabric is a fun, personal touch that only I really know about (well, not anymore!) but just knowing it makes me smile inside!

It’s these little personal touches in one’s sewing, especially when it’s not something publicly noticed, that makes one’s work a very individual art. Using up every bit of what you have and having all of your projects go to ‘help’ out other projects, can make you proud and feel like you are doing something bigger than yourself (and you are!) by making your own clothes. 

Be like Marlene Dietrich (or Agent Carter) and wear what you want, without fear of judgment or scrutiny.  There is no better way to do that today than sewing one’s own clothes or even buying second hand, whether vintage or not.  I for one feel my best self in something vintage, and/or handmade, and especially Agent Carter related.  You know, there is almost nothing more lovely and catching than the self-confidence that comes of being assertive in who you are and the clothes you are wearing!  Find that sweet spot and change the world.

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The “… So Many Raindrops” Dress

This might be weird to make a parallel, but rain is kind of like sewing to me – it’s refreshing, relaxing, beautiful, sometimes messy, but always the water for creative growth.  So why just stay inside on a rainy day?!

Perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to go out in a pouring, thundering rainstorm in a white dress (of all things, va voom!) but I didn’t want the wet weather to ruin my plans for wearing my newly finished project that weekend.  The print does remind me of raindrops, after all, trickling down, beading up as they occasionally do, while they take their gravity guided course.  This was my first light colored, early summer worthy garment that I made for this year.  It is a Burda Style dress with subtle, but interesting design features that was as easy to sew as it is easy to put on, all of which I really appreciate.  This might not be my best dress for this year, but it is a comfy, different, pretty dress that is versatile…and it’s out of my favorite material, rayon!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% rayon challis, a Kathy Davis Designer brand print, bought from Jo Ann’s Fabric Store

PATTERN:  Burda Style #102 A, Tie Waist Dress, from March 2016

NOTIONS:  Nothin’ but white thread, a small scrap of bias tape, and a hook n’ eye!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was whipped up one afternoon, May 25, 2017, in about 5 hours!

THE INSIDES:  All French seams…

TOTAL COST:  Maybe $10 to $12

I have been seeing this style of a loose, knee-length dress with a side seam attached waist tie offered here and there through other pattern companies throughout this year (see New Look #6519 for one example), but Burda did it first in 2016 with this pattern.  In my opinion, I like this version the best, out of all the look-alikes I have seen.  And yet, I am not used to a dress that does not have a whole lot of fitting, so even though I wanted to whip up a version of this the minute I saw the pattern on the cover of the March 2016 magazine, I was unsure.  With the dress pattern simmering on the back burner of my project queue, it eventually won out, as I suddenly decided this spring season to cave in when I saw what I (finally!) felt was the right fabric for the design.

All the fullness is in the front.  This includes the fanned out pleats in the neckline and the excess which allows this to be a pop-on, no closure dress which is pulled in by the waist ties.  However, the back is so slim, trim, and fitted with darts, with a shaped waistline and small knife pleats at the neckline for shoulder freedom – it’s like two different dresses front and back!  The wrap-around bottom band unifies it all in my mind.

Rain water flows horizontally for a city dweller like me when it’s rushing through a street gutter, so the bottom panel has the blue “raindrops” running opposite the rest of the vertical direction on the body of the dress.  I also choose the same horizontal layout of the ‘rain print’ for the set-in waist ties, like a little rivulet running through my middle.  (I know I have a weird rhymes and reasons for my sewing choices sometimes! Whatever feels right inside!)  The print is so low-key, this play on thought process and the direction of the print is not as apparent as I would like, and yet I think something dramatic (like bold colored crazy stripes) would have been too much…so, I’m generally happy with it the way it is.

The best part to the dress is what I changed, in my opinion!  I extremely simplified the design by eliminating the center back zipper, opting for a front neckline closing instead.  It is just a strip of wide bias tape, stitched in a loop, snipped through and turned under with a tiny hook-and eye at the top corner hidden under the facing edges.  Besides making this dress quicker to sew and get dressed in, the front slit placket keeps the closing easy where I can see it, as well as freshening up the very high and conservatively designed neckline.  I decided after cutting out from the fabric to do this closure-free adaptation, otherwise I would have cut both the bodice back piece on the fold to eliminate the seam where the zipper was designed to be.  It was still a good thing that I cut this dress pattern out the way I did because I had enough left over to squeeze out a much needed new pillow case for my side of our bed!

I’ve never seen sleeves like these that have a shoulder cap with a shaping dart to get a curve over this angle of the body.  The darts start from the shoulder seam end and taper into the middle of the upper sleeve.  This is very interesting and different, yet not as effective in shaping after all as I would have thought.  However, it’s always nice to have a change and try something different!  In hindsight, I now wish I would’ve checked ahead of time and adjusted the overall fit of the shoulder and sleeves.  The shoulder seam is a bit short compared to the somewhere in between generous and spot-on fit of the rest of the dress.  I also wish I had given myself more reach room under the arms.  If you make this pattern, I suggest you raise up the side seams and make the sleeve seam longer at the armscye (maybe by about ½ to 1 inch) to have full movement for yourself.

To more than make up for any ‘meh’ feelings toward the dress, I paired it with some awesome accessories that are favorites from my wardrobe.  Firstly my necklace is from my beloved Grandmother’s jewelry collection, and it’s just so different – I love it.  My shoes take the cake though.  They are all leather, inside and out, and Clark’s brand so well made and so comfy.  These are something I splurged and bought for myself (much to my mom’s dismay) with my birthday money, about 17 years back.  Sorry mom, sometimes that monetary gift cannot be saved when a one-of-a-kind pair of shoes comes one’s way!  I think this was my first major indulgence in my taste for interesting shoes…and these take the cake. Why? They actually have jewels set into the bottom of the already decorative sole. Yasss!  I must admit I do like to kick up my heels, cross my legs, and overall let the soles be seen when I wear these, judiciously I might add, but I do not save them…they need to be enjoyed!  Hubby says these shoes remind him of the words in a song by Paul Simon, “People say she’s crazy, she’s got diamonds on the soles of her shoes.”  Thanks.  No, but this is not the only way I’ve accessorized it – every time I wear it (which is frequent) I have tried different jewelry, shoes, sweater (or jacket) combos, and even tie the belt differently.  This dress is like the unlimited “I can go with anything” go-to dress that just keeps making me glad now that I made it.

On to other tunes that I do like and cannot help but sing when I wear this dress –they are “Raindrops” of 1961 by Dee Clark, Enya’s “A Day Without Rain” and her “It’s In the Rain”, and finally (my favorite) Engelbert Humperdinck’s version of “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”.  And then there’s the amazing “Isn’t This a Lovely day To Be Caught in the Rain” with Fred Astire and Ginger Rogers. I know there’s plenty of other popular classics which mention rain, but these are my personal picks!

Just like a living thing cannot go on without water, just so I seem to survive in a different way on the creativity and self-expression that the outlet of sewing has to offer.  This is why it makes total sense for me to combine rain and sewing in one project.  I’m surprised I haven’t done this combo earlier!  Perhaps this post can even encourage you to not stay inside on that rainy day, but get out and make the most of it…just don’t necessarily wear white in it like me unless you really intend to!

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