“Just Call Me Agent…” – The Classic Peggy Dress

Red and blue are Marvel Agent Peggy Carter’s default colors – and very appropriately, too.  As Captain America’s biggest believer and a staunch defender of liberty and equality, she is the fictional heroine that seems more historical for all of the stories on her life and times that have been on screen in the past several years.  Today is “Walk Like Peggy Day” in honor of her “birthday”, April 9, and I’m excited to present you with (finally!) my make of her most memorable outfit.

Her trademark blue suit set with red fedora was too involved for me to make in one week, which was all the time I had before an upcoming “Marvel versus DC” themed event.  Yet, I knew I wanted an easily recognizable and well known option to wear so I went for THE iconic dress that lasted Peggy through two seasons on her TV show.  You can see it in the premier episode “Now Is Not the End” of Season One (2015), and also in the promotional posters for Season Two (2016).  My ‘copy’ turned out to be such an easy-to-make dress that is supremely comfy, complimentary, and striking.  It just might be my best Agent Carter garment yet!  This just like all my other Agent Carter outfits – it feels like a natural part of me, and not a put-on cosplay garment, which is perfect for my everyday vintage wardrobe.  Incorporating the wardrobe and resilient character traits of Peggy is the best part of going 1940s with my vintage sewing and wardrobe goals!

Happily, I was equipped with a lucky find of a vintage year 1941 pattern that is the same as the Agent Carter dress I wanted to copy.  Yes – you read right…the same! I didn’t have to change the design lines of the 1941 original to end up with an Agent Carter series look-alike dress.  The original inspiration dress used in the television series was a faithful vintage design, after all!  From what I have read and heard, it was a true 70 year old piece.  This fact says good things all around.  Not too often does a designer use such authentic costumes in such widely popular film, nor can a cosplayer or one who wishes to copy a garment from a modern Hollywood production frequently be able to dip into a primary source of history and still make a believable version.  This is another Agent Carter piece where the lines between cosplay and vintage dressing are blurred to the point that there is little differentiation – this is historical fashion as seen on screens today.  This is fiction that seems more akin to real history than anything.  My vintage pattern for this dress is a ‘Hollywood’ brand after all…so ironic, isn’t it?!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% rayon challis in two colors – deep true navy blue and bright red; navy 100% cotton scraps to be the facing and support for the inner waistband

PATTERN:  Hollywood #517, a “Linda Hays of RKO-Radio” pattern, year 1941 (For a brief, well-written overview on the life and career of Linda Hays, see this blog post!)

NOTIONS:  All I basically used was thread, which I had on hand as well as the zipper I used and a scrap of sheer organza to puff out the sleeve caps.  Oh, and some waistband hook-and-eyes… 

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was made in about 12 hours and finished on August 26, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  All nicely French seamed or bias bound, with the hem being a tiny ¼ inch one, and the front waistband panel’s seams covered by the inner facing I added. 

TOTAL COST:  $10 – that’s it!  Both fabrics were found on half price discount at (now defunct) Hancock Fabrics and JoAnn’s Fabric Store!

Vintage patterns never cease to amaze me.  This one Hollywood pattern is a prime example.  Firstly, I made this dress on only 1 ¾ yards of fabric!  I’m the one that made this dress, and even still this fact amazes me.  Granted, the 1940’s was good for practical use of material goods but this is from before the American rationing.  I’m floored!

The most significant detail to this pattern is yet to come, though.  The closing detail to this dress obliterates the well founded modern concept I have heard many times that ‘a zipper down the center back is NOT authentic’.  I have seen other bloggers say that a center back zipper “ruins” some of the vintage 1940s reprints and re-issues that some of the “Big 4” pattern companies have come out with in years past.  Well…look at this old year 1941 pattern of mine.  Apparently a center back zipper totally IS authentic, surprisingly, just not common.  Right there in the description is, “…the back closes with a slide fastener.”  Now, this is awesome to see!  I’m assuming this center back zipper is because this is a versatile “Sew-Simple” dress which is labelled as either being a house coat, house dress, or street dress.  Perhaps the simplicity of getting dressed in a center back zip dress has to do with it being designated to house wear, and to be practical the pattern wanted to give the purchaser the most for her money by pointing out that this can also pass as a street garment.  I suppose it all depends on the print and material used.  Nevertheless, I will bet that a long slide fastener was harder to come by or at least quite pricey back then, and they probably were not even an option available for any garments other than military ones after America was involved in WWII.  Yet, I would think that surely women didn’t only have one dress closure option, anyway, to always endure the circus trick it can be with a tiny waist side zipper.  So make things easy for yourself and go ahead and sew those center back zippers if you darn want to!   

Since I was metaphorically “allowed” a back zipper with no “guilt” of being lazy or modern, I ran with this and installed a 22 inch invisible zipper down the back.  I know – I took the other extreme!  As my fabric is delicate and flowing, I didn’t want a bulky zipper showing in an obvious manner.  I wanted my dress to also look as professionally crafted as possible, too.  This project made me realize that the longest invisible zipper to be found is 22 inches, and sewing one that long is a real test of skill!

Fit was right on for this pattern, maybe a tad small actually.  Luckily I had added on some extra allowance on the sides so that I could have “normal” 5/8 inch seams rather than the called for 3/8 inch seams.  I am glad I did this because I ended up having to take the seams out anyway.  This is a change from all the Hollywood, DuBarry, and other now defunct brands which have almost always been consistently generous in fit.  Luckily rayon has a lovely soft ‘stretch’ when it comes to the cross-grain.

The skirt length was a bit wacky, too.  There was a perforated dot marking across at several inches above the cutting line, which I understood as the line for stitching down the hem, but even still, it was rather high up above the knees for me.  This pattern had obviously been used in its past, because someone had freehandedly cut a short length out of the skirt…and not very well either!  They had cut the sides of the skirt longer than the front so I found the skirt bottom to be quite crooked before a proper hemming.  But anyways, I just cut the hem longer and figured out what dress length I wanted as the last step since I couldn’t tell what was originally going on.  I so wish whoever cut this pattern had included what they took off.  The skirt is cut so wide there is a good amount of bias to make this a wonderful dress that flows with me as I walk (which would be perfect for swing dancing or doing Peggy Carter kick fighting), but it makes it very tricky to get a straight hem by the time it hangs over my hips!

This kind of high, almost chocking neckline can be such a turnoff, and as I am claustrophobic myself, I do understand.  If this wasn’t such an awesome Agent Carter dress, the neckline would turn me off, too.  What didn’t help is that the pattern had an impossibly small neckline cut as-is.  It was too small to remotely squeeze around my neck – it actually fit around my arm.  What were they thinking when they drew this pattern?!  Maybe I just have a big neck circumference.  Nevertheless, before adding on the contrast red bias band, I cut the neckline to be more open by just under 2 inches (all around) and it’s still small.  Just so long as I have room to fit my four fingers in between my neck and the neckline, that is as small as I will tolerate around my throat whether it is a necklace or a garment.  I have made other clothes with such a similar neckline (such as this 40’s blouse) and yet every time it is so fun yet tricky to work with taming gathers into such a small bias facing.   I do love how these kind of necklines turn out looking so feminine, delicate, and cleanly finished, especially with a contrast color!

Speaking of a clean finish, I am quite pleased at the finished look of the contrast red striping to the middle front and cummerbund pieces.  The contrast strips to the dress’ panels were stitched face down, wrong sides out, then turned over to line up with the seam allowance edge, before any further assembling together was done so that no stitching would be seen.  I do wish I would have made them just a bit wider, but they are noticeable enough as it is so I didn’t want to make them quite as wide as Peggy’s original dress.

The front paneling is part of the dress, but for the back half it becomes cummerbund belting pieces that overlap to close at the center, independent of the dress itself.  This is the way Peggy’s original dress was, but it is also staying true to my dress pattern as well, with only a minor change necessary.  The pattern calls for long cummerbund pieces on each side that line up with the middle front panel and come out of the side seams to tie at the back center.  I merely cut one long cummerbund piece, and cut it into two short pieces, added the striping to them, then facing the two undersides with navy cotton scraps, and finally adding them in the sides like the pattern instructed.  Two sliding waistband hook and eyes close the back.  There is still a ‘normal’ 1940s back to the dress under the closing cummerbund – a waist seam that has a simple skirt below and a poufy bodice above.  I slightly downwardly curved in the top edge of the back cummerbund pieces so that they would have nice dip and look more tailored than just a straight band.

Yes, I added a bit extra and changed up the back ties, but with some lucky internet research I was able to see that this style of dress and color combo was quite popular in the late 30’s to very early 1940s primarily.  In other words I wasn’t just making a cosplay copy or directly trying to be patriotic here (even though I totally am) – remember the dress was a vintage original anyway!  Also, her two seasons of television shows were supposed to take place in 1946 and 1947 respectively, it was one of Peggy’s personal traits, mostly blamed on her struggle to move on after Captain America’s ‘death’, to be stuck in the past and wear fashions from an earlier period so a 1941 dress like mine was just her style.  There is an image of a year 1938 National Bella Hess catalog advertisement showing a dress (in a different color combo) with a recognizably similar style.  While my Hollywood pattern has the closest design lines to Peggy’s original dress, I have also spotted this style as extant vintage 40’s dresses for sale through some well-respected shops – see this neutral-coral toned beauty from Scarlet Rage Vintage or this studded rust-orange toned version from Archiverie.  However, the closest “proof” of Agent Carter’s dress is existing already in the vintage realm is I think to be found in a Vogue #8247 pattern cover image from 1939 – this one’s almost a carbon copy even color-wise!  When it comes to the use of navy and red, have found a vintage original photo (colorized, no doubt, but I cannot find the source for this) that has a different style dress, but distantly comparable use of colors and color blocking.  Bright red and rich navy were popular colors the 1940s used alone as solids for dresses, tops, and bottoms, sometimes combining the colors to be nautical inspired.  Otherwise these colors were integrated into florals, stripes, accessories, or outfits which are contrast detailed, much like my classic Agent Carter dress.

So – as Peggy’s dress is apparently a vintage piece that the designer bought and not designed for the actress (Hayley Atwell) to wear in the two Seasons of her television series, I would like to think of my Hollywood pattern or some of the close copies I have mentioned above as the source that could have been used to make the original dress.  Especially since the center back zippers, as seen in many of Peggy’s dresses, have made some commenters throw question on the authenticity of her wardrobe.  Hopefully the 1941 pattern that I used to make my Peggy dress copy should rest this case once and for all!  After all, the designer Gigi Melton has shown and said that she was heavily influenced by old classic Hollywood starlets and 1940s designs, besides staying admirably true to the materials and techniques which would have been worn at the time for everything she created for the characters.

Not only were the clothes historically true to the Marvel character of Peggy Carter, but even her position as a secret agent operative was a real job for specially chosen women in Britain during WWII.  The SOE, acronym for “Special Operative Executive”, employed about 3,200 women (one-fourth of their force) in all countries or former countries occupied by Axis forces and was a top-secret organization to conduct espionage, sabotage, aid resistance movements, and do reconnaissance.  The SOE’s existence was not known for many years and even today it is still being explained and understood.  (The various branches of the SOE were often ‘hid’ under fictitious military bureaus that were believable to keep secrecy.)  It was about finding everyday people from all ages, gender, background, and walk of life and unlocking their hidden, inner talents to make them extraordinary beings with a secret military mission.  The newest installment in the SOE’s biographies is the “Secret Agent Selection: WW2” series currently on the BBC television station, which follows 14 modern volunteers undergoing the same training as back then, in the same clothes, in a secluded old country house.  See this “Sun” article for just a sampling of the original recruits who joined in the first year or two after the SOE was formed in July 1940 and read their abridged stories.  Like Peggy Carter, these Agents were real life superheroes, who didn’t need a superpower to do great things.  They just needed to know their value and believe in their worth.

In conclusion – can fiction help us learn about nonfiction?  Can recounting the past be every bit as interesting as something made-up?  Can the right garment to wear help you know your worth and clothe oneself in confidence? Can anyone be an everyday superhero?  Can Marvel just please continue telling Agent Carter’s story?  I think all of these questions in my mind just deserve one resounding YES!  Happy birthday Agent Carter, one of the most influential women I know.

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“Retro Forward” Burda Style: Scrap-Busting Bustier Dress

Ah, yes – fabric scraps. I don’t know what they mean to you or if you even keep any, but my fabric scrap bins are a seamstress’ version of a gold mine. They silently scream out to me a siren’s call of the allure of an interesting project. Being able to use up every last inch of my fabric as well as re-incarnate something from past projects with a new makeover is a very fun and enticing duo which leaves me with a very happily successful feeling if my ideas turn out alright. This post’s dress is the product of one such idea born from the “call of the scrap bin”.

100_5751a-compOur photo were taken at the local park’s handball court. Handball isn’t something I do. My hands take a beating enough from sewing and typing so much, but, when the courts are not in use, they did make for a clean and sporty backdrop as well as a nicely contained area out of the weather for our 3-year old to run back and forth to burn off extra energy!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The fabric is a trio of fabrics with similar contents. The floral skirt portion is a linen-look polyester cotton blend, the middle is the same fabric just in a plain white color, and the top bra-like part is a 100% cotton denim. The floral skirt was made from one yard leftover from my 1961 Party Dress, the white linen-look is leftover from a 1940’s blouse (not posted yet), and the denim is from my 40’s arch waisted jeans.  My lining fabric is a 100% cotton bleached muslin from on hand.

Burda Style Color Blocked Sheath Dress 6-2015 #114NOTIONS:  I only needed thread and a zipper, and I had these on hand already.

PATTERN:  Burda Style Color Blocked Sheath Dress #114, from June 2015

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Altogether, the dress probably took me a total 8 to 10 hours of time. It was finished on July 23, 2015.

THE INSIDES:  Most all of the inner seams are covered by the lining, except for the skirt seams which are bias bound.

100_5798-compTOTAL COST:  Just about nothing is the monetary total when using scraps like I did here. Buying from scratch wouldn’t cost that much anyway because of the small amounts needed.

Similar to my Burda Double Layered Tops, this dress is another change of fabric types: its pattern called for material with stretch and I made it work for the opposite…a woven. Actually I made the mistake of not noticing the pattern was for knits until my fabrics were cut out and ready to be sewn together. To compensate for this I sewed all the vertical seams in small ¼ inch seams and doing so actually gave me just enough extra room for my dress to fit perfectly. My pattern, as I traced it, originally gave 5/8 inch seam allowances, which I kept on all the other horizontal seams. Besides the change of fabric from a knit to a woven, my only other change was to raise the neckline about an inch higher and spread this up halfway in the straps – it’s so much better for me this way!

Burda Style Bustier Dress 6-2015 #112Now, my dress is part of what Burda Style labels as a “master piece” to the June of 2015 release of patterns. Using the main design of this dress, there are a very close variations, with a few features added or subtracted to the pattern to make several differing styles, such as the “Bustier dress #112” and the “Corset dress #113”. My dress follows the pattern for the “Color Blocked Sheath Dress #114”, but as my project highlights the bust panel more than in the model picture, I still think of it as a “Bustier dress”, like #112.

My pattern had come from the European magazine issue, but a downloadable version is also available on the Burda Style website. Either way, the Burda patterns (for those readers who don’t know) need some assembly and tracing before being ready for layout on your chosen fabric. A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a finished pattern prepped. This is the stage where I pick out my size, tracing out only the size I need to use, including any grading and adding seam allowances.

100_5759-compThe pattern itself was actually pretty easy, just a tad tricky and time consuming. The tricky part comes from two parts: when you have to turn the shoulder ties right sides out and then when you have figure out which bodice middle pieces go which direction and where. The ties are small work and the middle sections require a close visual inspection, so neither part is impossible to accomplish. I myself had to unpick a few times to get the middle sections seamed up correctly together. The dress’ darts and many seams make for the time-consuming part, as well as the fact there is a full bodice lining going inside to face all the raw edges. I don’t recommend leaving out the inner lining because it does provide a more stable garment, a better shape and hang, no see through when your middle panels are light colored like mine, and also very nice finish. Believe me here – after all I did try on the dress (just to see what the difference would be) with just the top lining and didn’t like that at all until fully lined. As tricky as the middle lower bodice panels made the construction, I admire shaping of this section – it has a curving which I normally see on many patterns from the 1950’s. Real shaping means a piece of clothing made for the curves of a real woman, unlike many patterns from “The Big Four” which are more straight lines than anything else.

100_5753a-compNotice the darts which tailor the back of the dress skirt section just above the booty. They slant at an angle between horizontal and vertical coming out from the center back where the zipper is installed. I love this part of the dress! My lower back just above my booty is a spot with a lotta’ curve which I always have to watch out for in making my own clothes. Oftentimes I get wrinkles at that spot in my clothes from the wrong fit before I tailor them and this Burda dress with its special darts is the answer to my ‘problem’. I’ll have to remember this new kind of dart and add/adapt it into other patterns, too.

The skirt’s shape is slightly tapered in much like a pencil skirt, but the back vent helps keep it from being confining. Happily the back vent is a fold-over kick-pleat style so it is generously cut yet still decent.

100_5755-compThe shoulder ties are the unique feature that really makes an already cool dress go up a notch in style. Truth be told, I did have a hard time tying the two knots in such a way so that they were not uncomfortable. I had to tie knots that were relatively flat like a box and find the right length for the straps at the same time. Some trial attempts and frustration was involved here…

Shoulder ties are nothing new as a style feature but still special, popping up in fashion though the past decades. In light of my “Retro Forward with Burda Style” series, see my collage with patterns from the 1930’s and up. I love the way the 30’s did tie shoulders such as New York #238 and McCall #7746, from 1939. The 1940’s don’t seem to have as many tie shoulders, but look at Simplicity #3833, year 1941, and a Mail Order pattern for two examples.New York #238 30s sundresses-McCall 7746 yr1939 button front sundress with tie shoulders-40s Mail order playsuit-Simplicity 3833 yr1941McCalls 3514 50's Bateau Neckline Tie Shoulders, Wrap Around Dress&McCall's 7148 from 1960sThe 1950’s have a plethora of examples of tie shoulders (McCall’s #3514, for one), as do the 1960’s (see the McCall’s #7148). Basically the only decade tie shoulders don’t seem to me to be prevalent are the 1990’s.  Out of all the decades, I see the heaviest influence of the era of the 50’s, though, in this Burda dress.100_5750a-comp

I don’t know how much shoulder-ties on garments are utilitarian, versatile, or pure gratuitous, but it certainly makes things interesting and fun, adding a bit of interest in a place not as commonly expected. “Fashion” might come and go, but “style” persists through the test of time. If the shoulder tie feature has lasted most of the 1900’s, than there must be something worthwhile. Once you make one, you might be unsure (as I was), but I hope you’ll tend to agree with me that shoulder tie garments are worthwhile and a very good different. Different is good for me in my sewing…I think it keeps skills sharp and piques interest.

I don’t mean to dish out a selling line to you good readers, but – really- there a lot to offer here with this dress. Anyone who has a stash of relatively small portions that could use a makeover and thus see the light of day (this is many of us, I’ll bet) should definitely consider this Burda Style pattern. This in itself will make any “stash-saver” happy and think of it as a big “mix-and-match” game. Also, any woman who has curves, too (and isn’t that every) will benefit from the illusion of the panels and their shaping. Besides all this, it’s not all that hard to make. You’re using a style history-tested and proven worthy. I’ve told you enough about my own take on this pattern, so here’s you turn. Try it for yourself and let me know so I can read what you think of your own version. I love seeing other people’s creativity.burda butier dress gif 10times 25%

Speaking of creativity, I’ll end my post with my first attempt at a gif file. It’s kind of like a happy head shake.

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This post is part of my “Retro Forward Burda Style” series.

Fooled You! They’re-Fake-Suspenders 1947 Day Dress

Post WWII was an interesting time for the fashion world to dive into new styles, new fabrics, and new idealized silhouettes. While some things were changing, some things were also staying the same. The dress presented in this post is from 1947, a year caught in between the famous Dior “New Look” and the lingering classic 40’s appearance. I made this dress a little bit of both worlds but still oh-so-very 40’s – it is the classic comfort of basic cotton and accentuated shoulders, together with the boldness of dramatic color-blocking and handy, yet interesting details.100_4015abadge.80This is another “Agent Carter” Sew Along post.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  A basic 100% cotton broadcloth was used for the entire dress, bought from Hancock Fabrics. The main color, a deep purple, is slightly stiffer than the contrast color, a bright Kelly green.

NOTIONS:  I had bought the bias tapes, zipper, and thread needed when I had picked out the fabric, so that everything was on hand when the dress was finally put together. Half of the needed bias tapes were on clearance – ya hoo! – bought for only $1.

100_4026aPATTERN:  Simplicity #2075, year 1947

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Not long at all (in my estimation), at total time of about 8 hours, stretched out over three evenings. My dress was finished on September 26, 2014, and worn out to go vintage shop browsing the very next day.

THE INSIDES:  Everything is nicely covered in bias tape, and the only seams left, the suspenders, are covered on the inside by being lapped over with another mirrored piece. Smooth and comfy on my skin!

100_4035TOTAL COST:  I don’t really remember exactly anymore, only I think it might have cost me around $15 to $20, which is a little more than expected on account of buying double amount of the purple cotton (I’ll explain later).

The split neck and the pocket placement and styling is classic of ’47/’48. The hips began to be emphasized more for the first time in the decade – an early way to ease into the overly-exaggerated hips of Dior’s “New Look”, unveiled in 1947. The hip emphasis of ’47 and ’48 patterns is still quite subtle and very beautiful, in my opinion. I love the way that pockets were something more to show off externally and incorporate into the style of the outfit, rather than merely creatively hiding perfectly placed pockets, highlighting only with an external flap or such, like in most 1946 and earlier patterns. Here below are some sample 1947 and 1948 patterns (which I do not own) to prove an example for my point.  A style very similar to my ’47 dress, with fake suspenders, also apparently came back in the 80’s.

McCall #6752 yr1947,left, McCall #7185,yr1948,rightVogue 8375 80's tops, Simplicity 2094 yr 1947

My 1947 Simplicity #2075 pattern gave me the opportunity for some fun color pairing or stripe contrasting. I chose the color blocking, short sleeved option this time, but I can’t wait to make a wintertime long sleeved dress out of some bold stripes, just like on the other model in the envelope cover (see above). I tended to go for the bright apple green color for the pockets and “suspenders”, no doubt on account of the cover. The thought of having a dress with so much solid color of grey would not be very complimentary on me, so I paired the bright green with a very dark, deep purple. Using cotton broadcloth made my choice of these two colors quite a challenge, because Hancock Fabrics has so many colors and different tones to choose from.

100_4012a

My second leg is really there, just hidden!

The fact of matter is, my choice in color, fabric, and pattern for this 1947 dress is technically not a new one. Simplicity #2075 pattern is one of the very first old patterns I bought in 2011 when I discovered the vintage world. I knew wanted to make the dress, but d100_4016aidn’t pick out the fabrics until 2012. This dress was cut out and ready to be sewn up for Lucky Lucille’s 2013 “Sew for Victory” sew along, but that didn’t happen so the next year I made sure not to put off this project any longer. Sometimes waiting so long for the finished product of a project really makes you amazed and extremely happy to finally be able to wear it, although there is the possibility for it to be totally neglected or even loose it’s “new” and “exciting” luster. Even still, I am very happy to see my idea completed after all this time. My only regret is that I wish I had bought slightly more fabric, because I had to shorten the hem to mid-1940’s below knee length, instead of the proper mid-calf fall of the late 40’s skirts and dresses.

I made the construction of my fake suspender dress just a bit harder for myself so as to get paid off for it later by having a nicely finished project. Firstly, all of the purple pieces are double layered, because a single layered seemed too see-through…this is why I bought double amount and spent a bit more money. The double-layers made the seams quite thick for my machine to sew over, especially since all the seam edges were covered in bias tape. This purple cotton broadcloth is tightly woven! Secondly, I doubled up on the suspender and pocket pieces to have the insides covered and stable, and to give a deep toned color for a dramatic contrast to the purple. Now, just to clarify, the bright green fake 100_4025suspenders are actually a separate piece that gets sewn on and connects the sleeve/side bodice section to the middle bodice section. The suspenders are not just applied bands! (See pattern back picture.) Neat, huh? Lapped onto the inside of the suspender piece you see from the outside, is a second piece sewn down. The pockets were supposed to (as per the instructions) just have the opening edge turned under with bias tape. However, I treated the second pocket piece like a facing, sewing them together at the opening curved edge, then turning right sides out and top-stitching for a smooth finish, before the rest of the pocket was sewn on the dress like instructed.

100_4018Besides the interesting features of the dress which I have mentioned already, there is a very curious detail under the pocket area which unfortunately is completely hidden. At the upward arch where the pocket comes to join in the dress’ waistband, there are a handful 100_4033of tucks on either side underneath, on the purple cotton. Then the top strip gets gathered and sewn right over those tucks…why?! I thought the tucks looked good (hated to cover them up), and they sure make that spot a bit bulky, especially with the pocket top gathered, there too, and belt tabs sewn in that same spot, too! That’s right, this dress also has contrast green belt carriers, like big free hanging loops. I love the late 40’s Post-War fashion – so elegant and fetching and intricate.

100_4007

You can see how the fake suspenders wrap over my shoulders…however, I blinked!

Keeping the whole color-blocking theme going, I decided to make my own belt out of the same deep purple cotton as for the rest of the dress. The belt pattern included with the dress pattern was the one I used. Each time I make a belt I seem to make it differently in order to find my favorite, or at least the best, way. This time I experimented using “Stitch Witchery”, and I must say I am ecstatically pleased. It was easy, too. Three belt pieces were cut, two out of the purple cotton and one from the “Stitch Witchery”. Then I sewed the belt as any tube or tie would be sewn, including top-stitching. The final step was the ironing process which fuses all the layers and sets the belt into being one stable but flexible amazing “new” single piece of belting. Luckily, the belt was exactly the size of a sliding insert style of belt from my stash. The buckle might be fairly new, but it was a low-shine, low-key silver color to provide a neutral balance to the two bold colors of my 1947 dress.

Color blocking strikes me as holding a very odd, but special place in the history of the fashion world. It appears that pairing two different solid colors, whether in the same color group of not, has been around for quite many decades, and it still always has the ability to seem fresh and new. Of course, the ways in which the colors were used on garments has changed a bit. Not until the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and especially 60’s did different tones get assigned to panels and sections which are part of the clothing’s’ construction rather than layering contrasting tones of separate pieces of clothing like in past centuries. For some ideas of color blocking from the past, see this Pinterest page.

Agent Carter at Cafe in two tone dress from facebookPeggy Carter, from Marvel’s “Agent Carter” TV series, wears an amazing color stepped dress that is actually a vintage 40’s original. It has a duo of patriotic “Captain America” colors – cranberry red and dark navy blue – which run horizontally across a wide waist cummerbund. There is an excellent video on Marvel.com (found here at this link) where you can see this dress in reality, and see the rest of Peggy’s wardrobe closet. Apparently the waist cummerbund is attached to the front part of the dress, and, after studying pictures, I have also noticed several rows of runching below the center of the contrast bias neckline. The neckline detailing and her sleeves makes me guess that this dress is from about the year 1944 or earlier. (See the right 1938 ad for a very similar color blocked National Bella Hess catalog ad, 1938 color blocked tops and dress -cropped picdress.)  She is stuck in the life she had during the war, so wearing a dress that might be a few years old (the TV show takes place in 1946) would make sense for her character. Nevertheless, her dress is beautiful, and I challenge someone to use a pattern like Simplicity #1692 (a year 1944 reprint) to make a knock-off copy…I hope to make one myself at some point!

“Jump-ing” Into the New Year

It’s been a few years since I made my first jumper – a vintage, warm and cozy fashionable (yet unusual) piece of clothing.  As I don’t want my single jumper to get lonely in my closet, I made a second unusual and very fun vintage jumper to kick start my sewing for this year of 2015.

100_4552-comp     Does it look like I love it?  I do!  It’s a little bit of mod and bold and uniquely complimentary all at the same time.  Ah… most importantly it is warm and versatile winter wardrobe piece.  Also, it was a stash busting project!  I have to laugh, though, at the fact that my jumper is turquoise in color.  Looking at the amount of projects that I make in this color, I guess some things don’t change in my sewing habits.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  I don’t really know, but at the same time, I do know.  I’ll explain.  This jumper’s fabric totally seems like a felt by its thickness and composition, but it also feels like a flannel by its softness and brushed pile.  So, to explain, I’m rather confused, but I’ll call it a felted flannel (if there is such a thing).  The content is probably cotton, but there might be some polyester or even acrylic in this fabric.  This felted flannel is backed in a 100% polyester, cling-free, matching colored lining for a smooth feel and fine finish.100_4600a-comp

NOTIONS:  Everything but the zipper down the back and front button came from on hand.  The zipper and button were bought from Hancock Fabrics, with the button being “fiber-optic” from their own “Lauren Hancock” brand.

PATTERN:  a year 1967 junior’s pattern, Simplicity #7255 (I love the studded gloves drawn on the center model!)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My jumper was made in no time – maybe 5 hours or less.  It was finished on January 10, 2015.

THE INSIDES:  So professional and perfect, because of the very nice construction methods directed in the instructions.

TOTAL COST:  The felted flannel has been in my stash for as long as I remember, and the lining was bought a few years back, so I’m counting both as being free.  All the expenses are from buying the zipper and the button, which is a total of $3.00 or less…cheap, huh?!

Notice that this pattern is a “junior’s” sizing.  So I went back to the same method of adjusting the bust/waist/hip lines as for my last late 60’s junior’s pattern, which you can see by clicking here.  For that first junior-sized dress, I added in 2 inches horizontally at the high chest (above the bust) to lower all the bust/waist/hips at the same time.  After all, I measured and found out that the distance between the main sizing points is correct, just where those spots hit needed to be brought lower.  That same adjustment was done to this jumper pattern and, again, the fit turned out perfectly.  The dip of the side opening falls at my high hip, the bottom point of the front piece ends below my hip, and the decorative button becomes my “fake” belly button – all as the pattern shows.  I know all this sounds strange, and maybe a bit weird, but, hey…the jumper is from the “Space Age” and I do say I like to try new and different things.

100_4564a-comp     Speaking of “new and different”, this 60’s jumper pattern introduced me to a completely odd and never-heard-of-before sewing term for a specific part of clothing – “plastron”.  The back of the pattern envelope States that “the lined jumper with button trimmed plastron has slightly lowered round neckline, very low armholes, back zipper, and top-stitching.”  Apparently the plastron is the downward arching piece which ends around my hip into a tri-pointed keyhole on the front of my jumper.  Now, what exactly is the plastron?  It does indeed sound like some sort of super cool science fiction space story word…sort of like the word “dalek” from the British television series Doctor Who.

From the research I have made, a basic definition for a plastron is more or less and interfaced chest piece that fills the hollow between the shoulders and bust (based on “The A to Z of Sewing” by Janome/uk.com).  However, “Gertie’s Blog for Better Sewing” quotes a 1947 book- here –where a plastron is listed as a type of a yoke.  A basic dictionary definition of plastron has several general terms showing how this article of clothing has been around since the middle ages when it was a front piece for armor, and later a defensive protection for the sport of fencing.  The basic idea of a plastron, a separate piece of garment meant for covering the chest/shoulders, was incredibly popular in the 1830’s into 1860’s as well (see this wikipedia page). During those eras, it was popular for women to appear to have wide shoulders, and also use pieces which covered, protected, or fancied up their bodices with such plastron style pieces as a fichu, or a tippet , or a pelerine (see this Pinterest page for a picture of a pelerine).  A pelerine appears to be the closest and1959 dress oldest thing to what we know as a plastron, being that they both are made from the same fabric as the rest the garment, are trimmed and decorated, and have a high neck.  Now, both you and I can properly recognize a style that has been used for many centuries.  I have a 1940’s plastron dress to post about soon and a few 50’s plastron dress patterns I would like to find (such as the 1959 dress at right), so keep watching for this neat style across the decades!

100_4566-comp     After my failure at attempting to make a funnel neck (back when I made this 1968 corduroy dress), I had little interest in making the pattern’s version with the high collared turtle neck.  Although it does look neat on the cover drawing, in all reality I don’t think I could pull off the collared funnel neck view, styling wise.  A turtleneck if definitely a necessary item of clothing to wear with this jumper, anyway, big funnel neck or not.  I have searched high and low with no luck at finding a wild colored paisley turtleneck like the one shown on the cover model at far left – but I do have another late 60’s pattern in my stash to make my own copy at some point.

Anyway, let’s talk about being economical!  Making this jumper using 60 inch width material took even less fabric than the amount listed on the back graph of the pattern envelope.  That is always a nice surprise to be able to make something great on so little fabric.  In total, I believe the jumper only used 1 1/3 yards.  The suggested fabric types also leave this jumper to be made out of practically anything a seamstress might possibly have on hand: cottons, synthetic blends, denims, fleece, linen, double knits, woolens, gabardine, and corduroy.  This is one sensible but strange pattern.

100_4557a-comp     The jumper itself went together in a flash, even with completely lining the insides and covering every seam.  I found the pattern construction methods to be amazingly smart, and for once I followed the instructions almost 100% (only once in a blue moon do I do this).  You sew up the back, connect it to the plastron at the shoulders, and also do the same for the lining.  Then, you sew the lining (wrong sides out) to the jumper fabric all along the back half of the armhole and all the way down and around the plastron.  Turn right sides out, top stitching completely around the edges except for a few inches away for the side seam edge.  Now the zipper had to be installed so the neckline facing could be sewn on.  Next, the bottom front of the jumper had the armhole edges finished off in the same way as the back/plastron piece, lining to fabric, wrong sides out, with right sides turned out and edges top stitched.  I covered the inner raw edge of the bottom front with bias tape before lapping the plastron over the lower front to make one whole piece.  To my happy surprise, the marks to match up the plastron on the lower front matched up so very perfectly, making things incredibly easy.  Last but not least, the side seams were sewn up in one continuous line of fabric and lining so that the top stitching around the armhole bottom could be finished.

100_44381960s vintage home sewing ad frm Miss Dandy blog Aug 7 2009      A 1967 poster for this jumper pattern was found on the internet, with the singer Beverly Ann as the “popular face” to promote sewing this project.  I find it interesting how just top stitching on the plastron in different lengths from the edge changes the jumper’s front.  In the old poster, Miss Ann‘s jumper has the plastron’s edges sticking out dramatically because I suppose it was sewn down about 2 inches in from the edge, looking like a real breastplate.  My own jumper was sewn about 5/8 inch from the edge, making seem to be more a part of the overall jumper.  I like both ways, and can’t decide which I like better, but as my jumper is made how it is, I’m suppose I’ve decided already 🙂

The last decision on the hem finishing was difficult for me because I wasn’t quite sure what length to choose.  On account of adding in the two inches to adapt in from a junior’s measurements to normal proportions, the bottom length came to fall a few inches below my knee.  The jumper, from the hips down, fitted like a very nice, straight pencil skirt, and I felt the hem would look best quite short.  Adding a little “hottie” factor would not be a bad100_4441 thing, anyway.  However, most people I know who lived the prime of their lives in the 60’s and 70’s seem to look back and cringe at the mini-mini lengths they wore for those decades…and I did not want to completely revisit those days.  Thus, my jumper is shorter than what I am used to, but still long enough to be conservative.  The lining is just an inch shorter than the jumper itself, and free hanging separately, attached at the side seams by thread chains.

100_4423     It is funny how just a little bit of different styling changes the theme of the jumper between blatantly junior’s into modern flashback retro.  Knowing about the styles of the era and observing the pattern envelope, I enjoy pairing matching/contrasting colors of my turtleneck and the tights worn with my jumper.  The different toned yellow colors as seen in these second pictures, together with my hair pulled straight back into a low messy bun and basic flat shoes, seems like the junior’s theme for the jumper.  I don’t need any help looking younger than I am.  100_4563a-comp

So, to make an adult theme, I paired it with my knitted beret hat, a basic white mock-neck top, cranberry tights, chunky socks, and suede boots.  This second modern adult theme is my favorite and warmest way to wear my jumper.  The boots you see are Italian leather and were my mom’s boots, bought for some ski trips she took with my dad in 1979, so they are about a decade off in years from the era of my jumper, but they add a special fun and warm touch to my outfit.

Even with being bundled up, I was quite cold in the picture at right and used my jumper as a sort of muff to warm up my hands.  Look for more pictures of the different ways I use and wear my jumper loaded soon to my Flickr page.

100_4433     Creating a garment like my ’67 jumper highlights one of the best benefits to making one’s own clothes – you can try new and unusual styles, something you can’t find or get to wear otherwise.  To me, making one’s own wardrobe is all about exploring one’s own tastes in style, attaining a fit uniquely one’s own, and finding enjoyment from being open to endless possibilities which come from fashion being in the hands of the individual. Being an individual keeps you from turning into a boring, uniformed robot, like so many who wear exactly what the advertising industry tells you is “the thing”.  Sure, I keep up with trends, but just enough to know what’s going on and recognize quality or a vintage style feature when I see it.  This 1967 jumper might be different…and I like it that way.  Will you help me end the fast-fashion, advertising-brainwashing of our modern culture and make your own wardrobe, too?

“Summer in the City…” the Burda Style Way

Ah, yes…summer in the city, when it’s hot out and the perfect time to sew up a new and bold, modern-styled shift dress.  Like my “grey T-shirt re-fashion” (the previous post), this dress was definitely another impulse project, fulfilling a dual ‘need’ of the moment – my desire for a new modern easy project, and my new found love for Burda Style patterns.

100_3540a     The year 1966 song by “Lovin’ Spoonful”, “Summer in the City”, popped into my head while taking the pictures for this post, as we were out and about in the modern banking/business/government district of our town’s county.  “Dressing so fine and looking so pretty” says a verse from the lyrics to the song “Summer in the City”.  I certainly felt like this verse was for me from the way hubby dispensed compliments while I was wearing my simple sewing creation.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The color-blocked quad-tone fabric of my dress is a 100% polyester buff finish satin. It is a “Hancock Fabrics exclusive” print which I bought the summer of last year (2013).  My dress is fully lined in a white polyester pongee, also from Hancock, for a soft, comfy, and nicely draped dress both inside and out.

NOTIONS:  I needed interfacing and thread, and both are in good supply here.  Seam tape was also handy to sew into the shoulder seams to keep them from stretching, as they are on the bias.

PATTERN:  Burda Style pattern 108-022014, from pages 50 and 71 of the Spring 2014 US magazine.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress is practically THE easiest and fastest dress I have made.  Now, granted, I left out the two welt pockets from the front hip line.  In total, however, without the pockets, my dress took me only 4 short hours, from start (cutting) to finished and on myself.  How great is that…a one evening dress!  It was completed on the evening of August 16, 2014 100_3582

THE INSIDES:  Very clean and nicely finished for a quickie project.  The side and shoulder seams are covered in bias tape, while the neckline is covered in fabric facing, and the sleeves and bottom have small hems.  See the “inside-out” picture at right.

TOTAL COST:  When I bought the color-blocked fabric, I got 3 yards cut, and I vaguely remember paying maybe $15, at the most.  For my dress, I only used half of those 3 yards, so my total is about $7.50 or less.  Cheap, huh?!

100_3626    As you can see in the line drawing of the dress, “the neckline pleats contour perfectly around the bust, and allow for a departure from standard bust darts,” as the Burda magazine summary states.  The neckline pleats do an unexpectedly beautiful job of shaping – just a nice gentle shaping to match the uncomplicated, easy overall dress theme.  I didn’t even think of or attempt to do any matching of the fabric’s design for those front neckline pleats, but I absolutely love the way they ended up.  The big black square in the center neckline is nice by the way it highlights any necklace or pin I wear, and the other darts flow with the colors of the squares without breaking them up.  The neckline facing tuned out well, but it was the hardest facing I’ve done in a long time.  The facing pattern pieces aren’t on the bias, and I left out the interfacing, but both together made it harder to turn.  It turned out alright, though 🙂

100_3558     Something to know about this dress is that it has what the magazine calls, “overcut sleeves” that “drape beautifully across the shoulders”.  This is very true, but not very obvious what it exactly means until you get into making it yourself.  The underarm spot (where the side seam and the sleeves meet) is open to halfway down the chest.  Not that it’s a problem, it just means it have to wear a tank top or something underneath.  Having such large, deep cut sleeves actually does make them slightly different, but very nice, and extremely comfortable to move around.

This dress is my second Burda style pattern which I have made, but actually the first to come from the magazine issues.  The main difference between the patterns in the Burda Style magazine and the patterns downloaded from the website is the ones online are lacking in necessary seam allowances.  Both sources (magazine and online) need to be traced out (I use see through medical paper), but internet downloaded patterns need to also be printed out in small sheets and pieced together, before you can have a full pattern to trace.  From what I have learned so far, Burda patterns seem to fit pretty closely to right on, maybe just a tad big, when it comes to choosing the sizing.  For example, with other patterns from the “Big 4” companies, I usually go by the finished measurements, because of the way they re-make vintage designs and over/under compensate for ‘modern sizing’.  However, with Burda, all I have to do is find measurements in their chart, and stick to that for a great fit.  It’s so nice to have Burda as a predictable fitting pattern line, with designs so very worth any their extra effort.  I’m hooked!

100_3554     For my shift dress, nevertheless, it did have a generous fit from the hips up to the bust.  I ended up sewing in 2 inches tighter on each side, starting from horizontal to the original underarm seam and tapering to the original seam allowance at the hip.  That makes for a whopping 8 inches total taken out of the bust for this Burda dress to fit (loosely still) on me.  The dress is, I believe cut rather generously, because the magazine said it is meant to flatter women with a fuller upper body, and this drastic fitting is not common for most fitted Burda designs.  At least I have not yet again encountered such a generous fit in a Burda pattern, but I now know what to look for.  I think I can pinpoint other patterns that might fit similarly.

100_3561a     There is a special trademark touch added to make my new dress even more unique and special than everything already mentioned.  Being a “Hancock Fabrics exclusive print”, my fabric had this info printed onto the selvedge.  I cut out that selvedge information, folded over the edges around it, and added into the side seam for a quiet but obvious statement.  Just like those expensive RTW brand names that have an exterior signature label, I am both advertising for my favorite store and letting those who would understand know that, “hey, I made this!”  I did (and promised to do) this ‘selvedge label’ method last time another Hancock print was used for a creation of mine, see blog post here (Leather and Chiffon dress).  As you can see in my pictures, I inserted the ‘selvedge label’ at the lower left side seam of the dress.

I understand the color-blocked Hancock Fabrics print used for my dress as being completely modern.  However, being color-blocking it necessarily has a heavy nod, if only on a small scale, to the history of art, fashion, and mathematics the century past.  ‘Modern’ color-blocking actually was idealized much earlier than many realize.  The De Stijl, also known as neoplasticism, was a Dutch artistic movement founded in 1917 in Amsterdam, whose principal members made a rather big name for themselves with their works and idealism.  Theo van Doesburg is best known as the founder and leader of De Stijl, while another member, Piet Modrian, began by painting suggestively simplified landscapes, but evolved into his trademark non-representational form – a white ground, upon which was painted a grid of vertical and horizontal black lines and the three primary colors.  The American Sol LeWhitt was not a DeStijl member (he promoted minimalism and conceptualism), but his “structures” and wall art was based on similar geometric color blocking principles.  As ancient as Euclidean geometry is, most color-blocking designs use it in one form or another to portray the world around us in simplified, uncomplicated terms.Mondian - 1970s Japanese linen abstract geometric shirtdress combo

The graphic style of color-blocking focused on a clean, ordered contrast in the 1960’s, while, by the time the 70s hit, it had mellowed into more of a freewheeling pieced print with a geometric flair.  To see what I mean, look at the difference between this vintage 1970’s shirt dress’ color blocking (on left, at right) compared to the iconic Yves Saint Laurent color blocked shift dress (far right) of 1965 (year before “Summer in the City” song came out).  Saint Laurent’s ’65 color-blocked dress is obviously straight Mondrian, based on his “Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow”, year 1930.  My dress’ pattern seems to be a mix of styles.  What a link between the decades!   Perhaps it’s the uncluttered boldness of color blocking which has made its popularity last from 1917 until now, and still going.  A niche for simplicity is needed in everyone’s life, I would think, and color-blocking is only one artistic way to express it.

100_3535     Speaking of keeping things simple, I have categorized my dress as the perfect travel dress, also just right for those “I don’t know what to wear” days. The poly satin is easy care, wrinkle-free, and quick drying. There is no zipper…nothing but softness. Slip on, slip off is the simple dressing of this frock, with endless options to accessorize or go simple. Simple is fun and relieving, but, nevertheless, here are a few of the ways I switched up this dress’ appearance with my accessories.

Which way do you like my dress styled – belt, no belt, scarf belt, black shoes white wedges?100_3577

Ariel Adkins has a great post, found here, on her blog “Artfully Aware”, where she also styles her own “Mod Mondrian” shift dress.  Her dress is a vintage silk piece which she altered to fit, but I find it interesting it has the exact same mix of colors as my dress, except for the yellow being the only difference.

Please check my Flickr page, Seam Racer, for more great pictures soon.