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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Basic is Beautiful

Don’t you just hate it when a longtime favorite and much loved wardrobe staple of yours gives up its ghost?  Yeah, always a bummer!  My decade and a half staple – a bohemian-style, maxi length, lightweight denim skirt – ripped apart from too much love.  Well, for someone who sews all chances of having a replacement is not entirely lost.

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It took me two years to find the right pattern and fabric to finally have a lovely replacement that I love almost just as much as my original – this is saying a lot!  Sure, I had plans to make a pattern from my old favorite but I realized it might not be a bad thing to move on with my style and try something similar yet different at the same time.  Also, because one basic staple deserves another, I have my new denim skirt paired with a slightly seductive, vintage, knit white tee for another wardrobe filler.  I’m hoping my set has a slight nod to the 1970s era yet still stays modern.  To have a garment be an indispensable staple piece, yet also vintage and modern, is the best combo ever for those days when I want to blend in yet still wear styles which pay tribute to the past.

Every time I make something really needed and purposeful (not just what tickles my fancy), I realize how beautiful sewing the basics can be.  This is why my outfit (specifically my skirt) is part of the Petite Passions’ Wardrobe Builder Project for the month of May. As you can see, it is helping me get the motivation to build on my everyday casual wardrobe!

THE FACTS:McCall's 6623, year 1979-comp,w

FABRIC:  Skirt – 2 yards of a lightweight, light wash, denim chambray with scrap Kona cotton for the waistband lining; Top – less than one yard of a ribbed cotton knit

PATTERNS:  Skirt – Burda Style “Tiered Denim Maxi Skirt” #102 B, from April 2017;  Top – McCall’s #6623, year 1979

Tiered Denim Maxi Skirt 04-2017 #102BNOTIONS:  Besides the invisible zipper, which I bought because I don’t necessarily keep ‘specialty’ zips on hand, everything else needed was basic (thread, interfacing, bias tape) and came from on hand.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The top was sewn a while back now, finished on August 24, 2015 after only 3 hours’ time.  The skirt took me about 5 hours to make and was finished on May 16, 2017.

DSC_0416a-comp,wTHE INSIDES:  My skirt is all clean inside with both French seams and bias tape while my knit top is raw edged inside (as it doesn’t fray).

TOTAL COST:  The top’s ribbed fabric was a miserable little scrap remnant – technically it was about one yard but was badly hacked into with all the corners squarely cut off.  See below the “tight squeeze” to fit the pattern pieces on it.  The knit was bought for about $2 when Hancock Fabrics was closing.  The denim was bought the year before from Jo Ann’s Fabric store for about $9 (more or less I don’t remember).  I suppose my outfit is about $12 but priceless in utility to me!    

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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 you pick out your proper size and add in your choice of seam allowance width.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a finished pattern prepped.  Sorry to repeat something you might already know, but this is just an “FYI” for those that don’t know.

There were only subtle changes that I made to the skirt for my version.  The main change, to lessen the gathers of the lower panel, was part taste.  I planned on doing that anyway, but the amount of the gathers was dictated by the fact I was working with only 2 yards of material while using a pattern calling for at least 3 yards.  I am a smaller woman, and on the edge of being petite height, so I figured such a full maxi skirt as the original design might be a bad idea.  I really do like the skirt fullness as it is now even if I did not get to choose exactly how I wanted it.  Sometimes “making do” works better than trying to start from scratch to be ‘perfect’.

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Other than changing the amount of gathers, I sewed the gathers onto the upper skirt piece like a normal seam rather than top-stitching on like the pattern called for.  This top-stitched panel would’ve created a frilly ruffle where the two panels came together.  I was decreasing the gathers for a slimmer skirt and a frill through the middle of a half-gathered panel would have messed with the silhouette.  This regular seaming also saved me the trouble of finishing the one edge of the gathered panel so I could equalize my time spent to invisibly hand-stitch down the hem.

I already took out 3 inches from the overall length but my hem even still became a wide 3 ½ inches.  This baby runs very long as if it is a “Tall” sized pattern.  It does sit on the hips, with the top of the skirt riding just below my true waist.  As one who wears a lot of vintage, which almost always has a high-to–true waist, I still like this feature which is more modern, it’s just a change for me (not a bad thing, as I said above).

DSC_0404a-comp,wAs I went through the extra effort to make no stitching visible, under stitching the facing at the waist and having a hand-done hem, I figured an invisible zipper here was the only way to go.  After having my last invisible zipper failing on me and trapping me in my dress back in 2012 (post on that here), I have taken a long hiatus from this specific notion but coming back to it has been a refreshing and rewarding success.  I love how you don’t see anything but the zipper pull…but, yes, I realize that’s why they are called invisible!

My top is the third time I have used McCall’s #6623 pattern – this is unprecedented for me!  (Here are my first and my second versions of this pattern.)  I still yet want to have the gumption to make and wear that strappy cold-shoulder version.  The tank is so lovely and basic I need to make a few of those in some basic colors.  For some reason I really love this one pattern, and it loves me by the way it fits me so darn well.

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I find this pattern interestingly unique, not just from the fact that each view top has its own pieces (none shared), but because of the small “From a Norton Simon Inc. Company” logo next to the McCall’s logo.  This pattern’s year, 1969, was a decade after Norton Simon himself retired from active involvement in his business.  What’s up with that?!

McCall's 6623, year 1979-comp,zoomNot too many people know that Norton Simon, the smart art collector and businessman behind Max Factor cosmetics, Avis Car Rental, and Canada Dry Corporation (to name a few), also controlled the McCall Corporation and all its publishing (magazines and such) between 1959 and 1969.  How I have not heard of this man, who seemed to have an influence in so much of the companies and products that are a part of our modern lives, before recently?  He was on the cover page of TIME magazine on June 4, 1965, in People magazine (1976), and even ran for the United States Senate (in 1970).  His conglomerate is now ranked 112th on FORTUNE’S list of the 500 largest American corporations    I wonder why this is the only McCall pattern I have seen with his naming rights on it.  See – patterns are so interesting in so many ways!

Sewing this top was super simple and easy.  This is the first time I have used this pattern un-altered.  I did have to add in snap on lingerie straps made from ribbon to anchor the shoulder to my underwear.  Otherwise the shoulders on this open-back hottie piece slide a bit all over the place.  Basic bias tape adds a bit of soft shaping and contrast finishing for the neck edges, and a little left chest pockets adds some small utilitarian interest.

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My biggest setback was working with the rib knit – a very first for me to work with.  I thought I had this pattern understood but not this time.  I had to sew the side seams several inches smaller than normal to accommodate the give of the ribbing.  It acts like a slinky toy!  It was a tough call to figure out the sweet spot between too loose of a fit and too snug.  I didn’t want the rib knit to lose its design when fitting over me yet I wanted it to be body complimentary without being a second skin.  After several stitchings, un-pickings, and re-stitching spells I like the balance I found.  This top does look so hilariously small on the hangar – the ribbing springs back so it seems like something for a 10 year old girl.  It also is best dried flat after washing.  The weirdness of the rib knit also meant all my hems are unfinished – not by choice but at least I think the raw edges look good on this occasion.  This quirky material has a definite personality!  Working with it was a definite learning curve.

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Between all the challenging and involved projects that I want to make (from my too numerous ideas), sewing basic necessities always is a pain to get around to.  Who completely wants to sew something merely because you need it, when nowadays ‘stuff’ is so easy and available to buy?  And yet, such sewing also always ends up so satisfying for me and it always amazes me.  The staple clothing necessities that you reach for everyday can be an uncommon source of creative pride and possess better individual style if you don’t exclude them from receiving the personal touch of hand sewing.  I’m practicing what I preach lately by giving away a good amount of the ready-to-wear that I do not like or use so that my ‘me-makes’ and my vintage pieces can take over my wardrobe.

Do you make your tees, and jeans, and anything else basic?  If yes, do you like them better than the ready-to-wear option?  Have you ever worked on sewing up a replacement for an old favorite garment?  Is sewing what you need something that you have a love or a hate attitude towards? Maybe, like me, you feel a bit of both?  What is your experience (if you have one) with rib knits?  One last query – has anyone else seen a McCall’s pattern with a “Norton Simon” logo?  If you have any feedback for these questions, please do share – I like to ‘hear’ what you have to say!  As always, thanks for reading.

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