The Pink Polka Dotty Dress

For as much as I love everything about the 1940’s wartime styles, I also love the contrast that the post WWII fashion offers.  It is a lovely in-between the 50’s extremes of femininity (either big, poufy skirts or slim wiggle versions) and the rationed utility clothing.  I mean, this post’s year 1948 dress is 40’s still, yet I can have a full skirt in a midi length, softer shoulders, and extra details which demand excess fabric.  Yes, very early 40’s frocks also had only some of these qualities.  Yet, the post-war period had streamlined, elegant looks while the pre-war time had many folk inspired styles often with exaggerated features.  This dress is the best of what came both before and after it, in my opinion!

Even though this dress is in my least favorite print – polka dots – I am naturally disposed to favor it, probably no matter what pattern it is made from.  The fabric has the prettiest light pink and a very rich, purple-tinted burgundy!  They fall directly in my “favorite colors” range!  The whole ensemble is finished with some true vintage gloves, pink pearl earrings which had been my Grandmother’s, a retro scarf (which had been my mom’s) as my belt, and a little 1940s original hat in the same tones.  I have a recipe for a total mood booster.  To go full matchy-matchy, I even have a vintage post-WWII rayon blazer which further pairs beautifully with my dress, only it covers up the details so I saved it just for cold indoor air conditioning or a cool breeze in the shade.

THE FABRIC:

FABRIC:  The polka dot fashion fabric is a polyester crepe, with a satin finish.  It is partially lined in both a cotton-polyester blend broadcloth as well as an anti-cling polyester.

PATTERN:  McCall #7226, year 1948 ( I never cease to be shocked at the completely sheer black version on the cover!  In 1948, really?  I love it!)

NOTIONS:  Just plenty of thread and one side zipper was all that I needed to whip the dress up!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finished on September 21, 2018 after taking about 20 hours to finish.

THE INSIDES:  The entire raw edges are covered by full lining.

TOTAL COST:  The fabrics for this dress had been with me long enough to no longer remember when they were bought, so let’s just count this as a free stash-busting project, shall we?!

The most obvious, glaring difference than any 40’s pattern which came the previous 6 years was the great number of pattern pieces and the extra fabric they required.  The back of the skirt section is a flared out version of the classic three piece which is the same as most of all 40’s dress patterns.  Yet the front has 7 panels which get wider as they go to the hem for a fantastic sweep which is so perfect for twirling!  The bodice back is like a bloused out version of a 1950s kimono sleeved block, and so is the front underneath the three wonderful layers of horizontal pleats!

This was as easy to sew together as it is a breezy and effortless joy to wear.  As the polka dots are randomly spread all over I made absolutely no attempt at any matching, totally taking the laidback route.  The skirt is more so.  The cut on sleeves with the deep cut armholes are unconfining.  I adapted the pattern so that the zipper would open up all the way under the arm for no need to wiggle into a dress with a limited side closure.  My choice of lining also adds both comfort and simplicity.  I detest the feel of raw polyester on my skin and hate the static cling it builds.  Lining the entire dress made it opaque and eliminates the need for an extra slip, of course, but adding a cotton blend to the bodice is for pure comfort while the anti-cling poly cuts out any problems with static.  I do like a ‘throw-it-on-and-out-the-door’ kind of dress which is classy in an instant yet feels as nice like a nightgown.

There is always something surprising to the construction of a vintage pattern.  They almost always have some little detail that is put together so much smarter than it seems at first glance of the line drawings.  In the case of this pattern, it was the pleats on the front bodice which were the ingenious detail that surprised and amazed me.  The bottom two pleats are drafted into the bodice front.  You have to stitch (wrong sides together) a certain amount away from the two marked foldlines and let the pleats hang down before sewing to the side seams.  Yet, the top “pleat” is really a fake, but realistically a two ties which get sewn into the top horizontal neckline seam.  Half of each tie hangs down free at the center front so they can be drawn into a bow.  As I said, things are not as they seem in vintage patterns…they are better than they first seem!

This is the perfect 3 season transitional piece.  Now, with the chilly spring days, it is just as perfect as crisp fall days with the darker burgundy background color (especially with the matching vintage jacket).  It is lightweight enough on its own for summer, too!  I have found myself reaching for it again and again after I’ve sewn it.  Some of the things I make just immediately transition into a being a piece of my everyday wardrobe and this is one of them (versus projects that wear out of that ‘just made’ status through time).  This is why I forgot to post it until now.  Oh, I am so behind on posting sewing goodies like this one!  So, no matter what is going on in the world, and no matter whether I am staying home looking not at all as magnificent as I would like, I have stuff up my sleeves to post of past fabulous times dressed in fabulous clothes to share.

My Ultimate Snow Day

As ironic as this post’s title is for me – someone who does not care too much for snow and detests bundling up and being out in the cold – I did have my ultimate snow day off in Denver this past February.  As I mentioned a few posts back, I had traveled there to see the “Dior: From Paris to the World” exhibit, while hubby came along because…well…he loves Colorado, skiing, and the cold.  To sum it up, I am now a happy convert that western America is freaking beautiful and I can survive the combo of high elevations and freezing temperatures.  Of course, I took this trip as an opportunity to create my ultimate cold weather vintage style outfit!  So – while hitting the slopes is something people are currently doing over Spring Break and before balmy weather completely set in here at the Northern hemisphere – I want to share a cozy corduroy and quilted winter snow set, made using two 1940s patterns, sewn for our visit to Winter Park, Colorado.

I totally went for something different and new with this set – first up, the jerkin vest.  This is a very old term for a garment that has been around at least since the 1500s.  A jerkin is classified as “a man’s short close-fitting jacket, usually made of light-colored leather or padded material, often without sleeves” worn over a long sleeved under layer.  Traditionally a jerkin was something that was an interesting combo of warmth and protection of the body (especially when fighting) together with a marker of fashion and societal status, all depending on what materials and colors it was composed of.  I absolutely love the progressive female empowerment that this odd 40’s jerkin pattern represents.  It takes a man’s garment from antiquated times that has either separated groups of people or been used in warfare, and tweaks it into something so complimentary, useful, and up-to-date for any woman.  My jerkin kept my body so very warm and cozy without any bulk restricting my arms.  The princess seaming and wide shoulders keep it streamlined.  I am sold on this little experimental piece I tried!

Second up in the ‘novelty item’ list is my corduroy trousers!  I have never had corduroy pants before – I used to have a dress in the fabric, and I have a few shirts and jackets.  They are so awesome!  I wore lightweight silk filament long underwear with the pants and wow – are they super in the cold.  I sense that corduroy is not really any sort of trending fabric, and all I really see available nowadays is small wale cords in very basic colors, so I enjoy the fact that these are different and unique, making them (so I think) quite chic in their own special way…my way!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  A quilted, cotton covered batting is the inside of the vest while the outside is a plaid printed quilting cotton; the pants are 100% cotton large wale corduroy, with cotton (scraps leftover from this dress) lining the waistband

PATTERNS:   An older reprint Simplicity #3688 (a 2007 issue of a Simplicity #3935, year 1941) for the trousers and Simplicity #1089, year 1944, for the top garment (the pattern was kindly traced out for as part of a pattern trade with Emileigh, the blogger of “Flashback Summer”)

NOTIONS:  I used up a lot of thread, two packs of bias tape from my Grandma’s stash, and a zipper from on hand to finish the pants.  The vest top needed a special visit to the fabric store for its separating zipper, but other than that all I needed was thread.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The pants took me only 5 hours to make and they were finished on January 17, 2019.  The jerkin took about 15 to 20 hours (what it normally takes me for a dress), mostly on account of the hand-stitching I did and also due to dealing with the thick fabric.  It was finished on February 5, 2019.

THE INSIDES:  My trousers are cleanly bias bound inside while the vest’s innards are hidden, sandwiched between the two layers.

TOTAL COST:  The vest cost me no more than $20 to $25 dollars (both from Joann Fabrics), while the pants are from my stash, bought several years back from when Hancock Fabrics was closing so I must have bought this for a few dollars per yard.  My total outfit probably is only $30!

Even though this set was made using 1940s patterns, I have this weird sense that it almost appears to be something from the 1970s era.  Perhaps it’s the colors, or the wide leg pants, or even the combo of turtleneck (a RTW piece) and headscarf (true vintage).  Have you ever had a project that ended up exactly as you hoped only to possess a whole different ‘feel’ to it than what you originally intended, but you love the result nonetheless?  Well, that is the case here, and I can’t really say that has happened before to me in my sewing, excepting maybe a time or two where I had to vary a bit mid-construction to salvage my work when it came to fit or aesthetics.

Both pieces fit great straight off, and I didn’t really have to do any major tweaking to make them as you see them…but I had my previous knowledge to help me make my projects a success.  When it came to the jerkin, I have made so many true vintage 1940s Simplicity patterns before I can kind of predict the fit.  They are pretty true to size, however, sometimes the shoulders are roomy and the hips run small.  Thus, I knew how much to size up with my grading.  The pants are something I have tried before, so I had greater confidence about the result this time.  The sizing to my first pair of Simplicity #3688 seemed to not have a lot of wearing ease, and while I still enjoy sporting them, I know that they do not have a true 40’s fit, nor would something snug be ideal for something as bulky (and shrinkable in the wash) as an all-cotton corduroy.  Thus, I chose two whole sizes bigger than what I had made my last pair in from this same pattern.  I also gave myself extra room in the jerkin pattern grading to account for the bulky quilted lining I planned on using.  My hubby was doubtful all of this was good idea – but look!  I have a perfect, comfortable fit (that is still tailored) for both garments.

Sewing with bulky fabrics is definitely tricky, and there are a few tips for success.  As I mentioned in the paragraph above, add extra ease to your garments.  Treat it as if you are an inch or so bigger than you really are, only it’s the garments and not you gaining the pounds.  Choose a lighter weight fabric where you will have more than one layer of fabric.  I chose fashion printed cotton as a covering over the front and back of my jerkin, then a basic matching color cotton went for the inside half to my pants’ waistband.  Do a lot of clipping of the seam allowances, any darts, or pleats.  For the jerkin and the trousers, I mostly only trimmed the chunky fabric (the quilted padding and corduroy) down to ¼ or 1/8 inch away from the seams and left the lightweight fabric there for support.

Hand stitching gives the best finish.  If you stitch puffy material (like on my jerkin) or fabric with a nap (like a velvet, faux fur, or corduroy) with a machine stitch, it will either end up looking like there is an indented gutter where the stitching is, or you fabric’s loftiness will awkwardly look smashed down…maybe both.  I was lucky that the corduroy was such a large wale version because I could ‘hide’ some of my machine stitches in between the rows.  For the neckline and side zipper of the jerkin is was able to loosen the tension of my stitches on my machine, and set the length spacing to almost a gathering stitch situation, so as to not overly, tightly bind the two layers together.  I also ‘hid’ the stitches in between the plaid print.  The hemming to both vest and pants were done by hand after clipping the bulky excess beneath the turned under edge.  Finally, remember to iron on the wrong side of any plush fabric, but don’t neglect pressing either…it helps flatten those seams (as does using a rubber mallet, too).

As much as I absolutely love the 1940s fashion, it is great for making dressing more difficult and frustrating than it needs to be.  The era’s frequent use of side closures in dresses and tops is getting to the point of frustrating me to no end.  The jerkin pattern called for a side buttoning closure placket.  Really?  How is anyone supposed to button something bulky and close-fitting on the side or their body all the way up to the underarm?!  Do they expect women to make dressing a circus trick of agility?!  No – I am not that hardcore with my love of vintage fashion to not modernize where needed and make things easy.  So I added a modern plastic separating jacket zipper down the side.

This was challenging in its own way because there is so little variety when it comes to modern notions – there is a lack of versatility in finding a good color and size combo of zippers, buttons, and buckles to complete the grand ideas of sewists like me (which is why I often have to resort to vintage pieces).  I did not have time before our trip to order anything special as I would have liked so I had to settle for a tan khaki colored zipper in a length which would require a slightly shorter hem than I had planned.  Oh well – as long as I can get the jerkin on an off easily I am happy.  The side zipper also streamlines the fit of the jerkin so much better than a button placket ever could.  The trousers also have a left side zipper, which I am proud to say I stitched by hand.  I believe it is almost as good as an invisible one the way I wedged it in the corduroy!

One of my biggest complaints about winter dressing is the feeling that I cannot move and become a “Michelin Man”, like an otherworldly Yeti.  Being so bundled scarily reminds me I am claustrophobic in certain circumstances.  But on a note of self-health, the worst part is frequently being all bundled up and only still cold to the point of not being able to feel my extremities, which is freaky bad for me because I have a mild case of my mother’s Raynaurd’s Syndrome.  I did have painfully chilly toes and nose at Winter Park, but I’ll admit I did forget to wear (or bring) warm socks and a decent scarf.  However, I do NOT ski, I was only there as an observing tourist and with so many places to jump inside and warm myself, and a toasty main body that still felt free to move, I am pleased with how wonderful my snow day outfit was for the occasion.

Bloody Blitzkrieg Dress

“We have to move on – all of us.”  – Peggy Carter, in Season 1, episode “Valediction”

Starting off a whole new year always can be a basketful of emotion – including forethought and contemplative hindsight…and new, calculating, resolutions which may or may not result from the previous two.  Whether you are upbeat or downbeat, I’m letting some of Peggy (of Marvel’s “Agent Carter” fame) inspire me with a dress she had on while uttering her best, most inspirational quotes.  I’m including one especially in my mottos to remember for the New Year as I wear a sewn “Agent Carter” look-alike 1940s burgundy wool dress with Peggy’s trademark floral pearl earrings (also self-made).

Just busy doing filing work at the S.S.R. office…

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“I know my value…” is perhaps the best line Peggy is known by from Season one.  This is a short, to the point one-liner which needs some potent self-confidence to pronounce properly.  Knowing one’s own self-worth and humbly but proudly believing in it is invaluable.  Hmmm…sewing for oneself also provides a healthy dose of self-assurance (from both the creative “high” and the new dress excitement).  Thus, here’s a newly made, awesome Peggy Carter dress to help me not just “step in her shoes” but step into wearing her clothes!  It’s like understanding a character on the inside by starting on the outside.

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She needed to be authoritative to hold her own in the 40’s when it was primarily a man’s world, so for her undercover mission to “rescue” Steve’s (I mean, Captain America’s) blood in Season 1’s episode “The Blitzkrieg Button” she went with a strong rich sanguine colored dress.  The center of her chest is tightly held together yet pulled open, like her emotions, while the rest of the dress is simple and subdued with the vintage pearl buckle and earrings giving just enough class.  I adhered very closely to the inspiration dress designed by Gigi Melton, even using wool crepe, while still basing it off a mid-1940’s vintage pattern (with significant re-drafting and re-sizing).

THE FACTS:simplicity-1016-yr-1944-wiki-pic

FABRIC:   2 yards of 100% wool crepe with burgundy Kona 100% cotton to line the dress bodice

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1016, year 1944.  My copy is actually a Juniors’ half-size 12 pattern that I bought for cheap because of its size and because it was missing pieces.

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed on hand already from awhile back, all I needed halfway through was an extra spool of thread and a zipper.  The buckle is vintage carved shell.  The flower backs that are put between my ear and the pearl of my earring are simply buttons (LaMode style #46455).

dsc_0998pa-compw-peggyTIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress took me at least 20 hours (I stopped counting after that) over the course of a week and a half (much longer than my ‘normal’ time spent on a dress).  It was finally finished on January 11, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  I started off with good intentions, so all the skirt seams are French.  Then, I realized this project was involved, so I went to bias bound seams for all the main edges (side seams).  The armholes are left raw…just wanted it done enough to wear when the end was in sight!

TOTAL COST:  The wool was bought on clearance for dirt cheap when there was a Hancock Fabrics store closing in 2015.  I believe the fabric was two or three dollars a yard – insane, right!!!  This is why I got about 5 yards…enough for a dress and a vintage coat (to be made yet).  The lining for the bodice was a remnant bought at Jo Ann’s Fabric for only 4 dollars.  So I suppose my dress came to a total of about $10 with everything, notions included.

First off, making this dress was a beastly affair, one that I wrestled with insensibly for being such a basic shape.  This was a hard way for me to start off my new year of sewing.  The pins keeping it together scratched me mercilessly, the seams of the lined portions were too thick, the dress kept falling off my machine into a dusty corner of the basement, and almost every dart had to be adjusted and taken in many times post-completion.  This isn’t counting the unpicking (which I absolutely hate doing) plus the few times each day (between working on it) that the dress needed to be tried on just to see if my adjustments did the trick.  In all, it gave me trouble in every which way…all except for the neckline, which was the trickiest part as well as being the self-drafted part, and it turned out great.  It figures.  You know, I can take a difficult project, or even a challenging one, but one that refuses to co-operate no matter what I do is almost more than I can handle.  No kidding, sometimes fabric can seem to have its own mind.  Weird, huh?

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The wool crepe itself was great to work with, wonderfully smooth, free of itchiness, and flowing.  I know, bad me – a 40’s dress out of such a fine fabric would probably not be seen in the real WWII times unless you had a stash or saved up bunches from rationing in other departments of life.  However, it was the perfect color match to Agent Carter’s original dress, besides being something I both had plenty of on hand and never sewn with before.  All this is aside of the practical fact it is both soft and warm, perfect for the near freezing winter we’ve been having so far.

It was very serendipitous for me to have found several points of reference to go on helping me draft, make, and base my dress on authentic history.  Even finding these attributes were part of the reason I decided to go ahead and make this dress (which had been on the “back burner” of my mind since Season 1 in 2015).  I figured I had enough help and ideas to go on and another Agent Carter dress is always a good thing for me to have – so why not?!  Please visit my Pinterest board of inspiration for this dress to see the patterns and pictures that motivated me.

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Hey, Peggy’s dress and my own even wrinkle the same way…

This dress might not be “up there” as one of my awesome creations, but to me it has all the best that the 1940s has to offer for modern wearing.  It has simplicity of style enough (especially the back view) to be classic and not too obviously vintage, like some 30’s or 20’s fashions.  It also has practicality with the sneaky low-key pockets, ease of movement front pleats, basic short sleeves, and high neck for both warmth and demureness.  Yet, there is a subtle alluring factor keeping the dress so feminine – the low slashed front opening with interesting pleating.  I think the floral of the earrings and the pearl of them and the buckle breaks things up (besides dressing things up) just enough, with the rich deep color and different finish of the fabric lending a richness.  Not meaning to toot my own horn here too much, but, hey – I guess it shows how much I really like this dress!  All that effort was worth it for me to end up with something like this.

dsc_0991a-compwAs the base for my dress, I was looking for a very basic mid-WWII pattern with a high neck that had a tie.  I found it in Simplicity #1016 and my first step was to trace out a copy on sheer medical paper then hack, resize and adapt it.  Being a teen size, I added a swath of horizontal 2 inches above the bust, under the chest, right at the level of the bottom of the armhole to bring the bust, waist, and hips down to the right proportions.  This sort of adjustment has always worked before when I’ve re-sized Juniors’ patterns from the 60’s and 70’s, and it worked this time for the 40’s too!  Then I added in an overall 4 inches to be on the safe side since it was for a tiny size.  As I was working with a copy, I had leeway to add in the inches properly, vertically across in increments and not just on the center or on the side seams.  I believe my problems with fitting came merely from the pattern running large and me not completely accounting for the extra room coming from the front details.  The junior-to-adult change was right on.

dsc_0960a-compwFinally, I re-drafted to add in the pleats.  The inspiration dress had ties pulling the chest opening open, sort of like ties on curtains, but I wanted something sewn in place to give the same immovable illusion so I drafted slanted, sun-ray-style, open pleats underneath.  I had done similar pleats when I made my 1940s dance dress, Simplicity #1587 (posted here), in a different direction but I just studied how it was drafted and turned it around (like figuring out a puzzle piece) to see how it would work in a different angle.  Then I chose how wide I wanted the darts, how far apart, and how long then slashed and taped accordingly.  Looking at the envelope backs of my inspiration patterns also helped justify that I was on the right track.  When it finally came to stitching the front bodice together, it was an awesome moment when I realized that not only did my drafting work but sewing is like working on a flat plane yet seeing through it to create in 3-D.  Sewing is really so insanely awe-inspiring…some times more than others make me perceive so much.

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The neckline ties were still sewn on as the pattern originally planned, except I folded them in, tacked them down, then brought them back out from inside to form the band that seems to ‘pull back’ the pleats along the chest opening.  It was almost more hand sewing than I could handle invisibly stitching the tie strips in place arching upwards along the neckline.  The tie strips wrap around to end lapped over one another at the back neckline.

Agent Carter’s original dress has a full back zipper as the method of closure – seen in adsc_0995a-compw fleeting screen shot when she hangs up her coat in the S.S.R. office (on the episode “Blitzkrieg Button”).  Now, I hate to criticize full back zippers in 40’s dresses because I’ll confess to having sewn them in some of my own garments, besides the fact that the original dress by Gigi Melton is too lovely to find fault with.  However, with all the fine details to my dress (much hand sewing, wool crepe fabric, etc.), I wanted to go all out authentic 40’s and have only the side zipper in conjunction with a working front closure in the neckline details.  Ugh, was it tough to figure but there is a hidden hook-and-eye where the neckline meets.

Now, besides the front neckline, I also changed up the pattern a bit more by eliminating all the small gathers and sewing darts in the same place instead, both above and below at the waist in the skirt and in the bodice.  This smoothes out the silhouette and makes it simple and unfussy, like Agent Carter’s dress.  This was not a problem anywhere else but in the skirt front.  I made darts at first, but after the rest of the dress was done, I went and made two knife pleats in the front instead.  These type of pleats in the front of skirts and dresses were used more in the early 40’s before rationing started being enforced, but these are only two in number and not very deep so these are a plausible effect to a 1944 design – the pleats also compliment the neckline!

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At first, I considered leaving out the pockets, but they are discreetly unnoticeable on this dress and always so handy!  They were sewn as if in a really basic welt pocket method and yet sort of like a facing – right sides together, sewn in a small loop, slashed and turned in to the wrong side.  Then half of the entire pocket was sewn to itself and turned towards the middle.  Easy!  I’ve never seen pockets like this yet.  They’re not hidden by some clever trick or made to look like part of the design, just basic and practical.  I love the 1940s!

What I don’t love about the 40s is the harsh facts of the bloodier side to the decade, like the Blitz that the dress I made is remotely associated with.  England endured the Blitz admirably.  Germany, late in the Blitz, began to start dropping some its very successful heavy high explosive bombs, showing their aptitude for forward thinking inventions.  Both sides came after each other hard with the best of what they had – and sadly many people suffered in between.  Peggy’s dress and my blog title is not trying to be flippant about the blitz or England.  On the contrary – just as what happens in Peggy’s ‘life’ when she wears this dress, much of history is sad, powerful, and full of emotion but good nevertheless to learn of and re-visit at times.  Fashion is intertwined with history…the combo of a dress just as strong as the woman who wears it can do big things.

dsc_0972a-compwEvery woman could do with a little bit o’ Peggy in their life – it’s lovely.  I’m going to miss not having a Season 3 of “Agent Carter” this 2017.  She might not be relevant for this year but her message and persona is always appropriate.  We need non-super-power, down to earth, heroes like Peggy, onescreen-shot-close-up-in-bedroom-comp who can help you with her own attitude and outlook not just someone up on a pedestal, unattainable.

“I know my value…anyone else’s opinion really doesn’t matter.”  It was an attitude like this that got Britain through the awful Blitzkrieg.  It is always important and supremely empowering to believe with Peggy you do not need the world’s support to see yourself as awesome and capable.  Thank you, Agent Carter, for the reminder.

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