A Bold Upgrade to Your Modern T-Shirt Dress

Vintage styles are my preferred ‘look’, even for a comfy everyday outfit, but yet I do enjoy getting out of my comfort zone to sew up boldly individual fashions for myself in the styles of today.  I want to make sure I am in touch with today sufficiently to still enjoy modern designs here and there.  After all, although I do not follow ‘fads’, sometimes I can’t decide what decade I want to wear for the day and just want something that might remotely “fit in” for the 21st century!   Burda Style patterns are my preferred resource for my modern sewing.

This year I might just have a dress-down Mother’s Day in my newest Burda Style creation!  It is such a bright and fun version of the American favorite – the t-shirt dress – made in deluxe rayon jersey.  This is perfect for these quarantine times when I want to be put together without a lot of effort but still just as comfy as if I was still wearing pajamas.

THE FABRIC:

FABRIC:  100% rayon jersey knit, partially lined in poly power mesh

PATTERN:  Burda Style “Dress with Waist Yoke” #110 from December 2015

NOTIONS:  I just needed lots of thread and a small bit on interfacing.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was finished on May 6, 2020 and took me about 8 to 10 hours to make.

TOTAL COST:  I have no idea when or where or how long I’ve had this fabric, so let’s count this as a stash-busting winner and completely free, shall we?!

I have had my eye on this dress pattern ever since it came out, but had not yet come up with a way to highlight the fantastic seaming until now.  It was really a sudden revelation kind of idea.  You see, I have been going through my fabric and notions stash lately – taking account of what I have, what I might run low on, what I should put away, and what I will tackle.  All this is because of Covid-19 shortages of sewing supplies and the resulting impossibilities to shop in stores in person, but also a bit of “spring cleaning” is in my blood.  I am being as smart, sensible, and thrifty as I can lately!

So, in continual process of that organizational effort, I ran across this bright fuchsia rayon jersey and the navy striped rayon jersey both paired up together on the same bolt.  I didn’t realize they had been sitting out of my storage bins for so long.  Then, I suddenly thought of this Burda pattern, long forgotten in the back burner to my mind.  These two fabrics would be an unusual, experimental, and certainly eye-catching combo!  Never one to shy away from a risky project, as you can see, I just went with it.  Yes, I need crazy sewing projects to entertain me right now.

I do think this dress turned out quite well, much better than I expected.  However, I am not totally won over to a t-shirt dress, even when it’s this good.  I suppose I just need some time for this project to grow on me.  The jersey knit is so super soft and slinky – I am not used to how luxurious it feels.  Something this lightweight and weightless on my skin makes me forget what I have on…and that feels kinda wrong to a girl like me totally used to vintage fashions like the 1920s, 50’s, or even 40’s that demand a certain silhouette with the corresponding lingerie and dress padding for shaping that said silhouette.

To help me feel better about wearing this t-shirt dress and also use up my extra fabric, I did take some extra steps to make this both opaque and easier to sew.  I doubled up on the layers of all the dress pieces which have the fuchsia knit.  Rayon jersey is a super fine material and harder to sew than any silk, in my opinion.  It so very easily catches on even a small fray of my fingernails.  My first wearing of the dress created a few new snags.  This is just going to have to be part of the dress, but at least I didn’t mess up the fabric while sewing it.  One layer of jersey is quite sheer and hard to sew without creating holes (yes, even with a ball point needle).  Two layers of rayon jersey knit makes for a heavier weight dress but is much more manageable to turn into a design, more opaque to wear, and easier to place through my sewing machine.

I lined the navy striped knit panels in a nude colored power mesh.  Doubling up on this contrast fabric would only make the second ghost layer of stripes underneath appear weird.  The power mesh does an awesome job at helping to shape the most important, detailed sections – the bodice front and the left skirt flare.  There is an interesting panel under the top half of the side skirt flare to keep the skirt in its slim shape and prevent the pleated section from getting too overwhelming.  I really like the lining panel especially because it keeps the skirt from wrapping into between my legs (which can happen with any knit skirt which is full).

There is one piece that is not like the others, though.  The left waist panel I heavily supported with iron-on interfacing to keep all those gathers in check to the seams above and below it!  Luckily, this was just a small pattern piece because interfacing is almost impossible to come by today, right?!  However, I am very glad I chose to make this one piece stable.  Doing so helps define the design.  I am not exactly sure if a curved corner was what I was supposed to do instead of my very angled finishing but at least it matched up precisely to the other fuchsia skirt section over the center front (not an easy feat here!).   I rather like the angled corners because they match with the lines of the stripes.

I made the necklace myself, too! However, this is just one part to a full jewelry set I have made for a different outfit to be posted soon!

The pros and the cons of sewing this were about equal on the scales, I suppose.  Firstly, don’t forget – this was originally drafted in tall women’s sizing!  On the pattern tracing, I had to take out a horizontal swatch of two inches through the bust to make this work for me, but the jersey knit pulls the whole dress down with its weight so I could have taken out more still.  I did trace out the tall woman’s equivalent to my “normal” Burda size but ended up taking it in along the side seams by an inch or so because of the jersey knit super stretch as well.  The dress length I chose was originally in between the longest length option and the ‘short’ knee length option.  Again, the knit stretches and makes the dress longer than was expected, but I rather like the way it swishes around when I walk, so the length it is will be staying.  I left out the back zipper and opted for no closures as the knit is so stretchy.  There is no need for any hemming to the sleeves and the bottom skirt because this kind of knit does not fray.  Thus, in summary, choosing a knit for this design made certain parts easy (no zipper, no hemming) and other parts harder than necessary (cutting double pieces, adjusting the sizing).  You win some, you lose some, but as long as I have something so cute and wearable for my efforts my time was worth it.

The list of things I want to find time to make is already quite long and Burda Style just keeps coming out with super tempting releases lately to add to my list of sewing projects.  Their vintage reprints are especially enticing and in almost every issue recently.  I’m not complaining, but it does present a bit of a problem.  Anybody out there have ideas for an easy way to keep track of what patterns are in individual sewing magazines?  I have enough Burda magazines now that I need to figure out a way to organize the designs in them which I intend to sew.  I wish it was as easy to file them by garment category as it is my individual patterns in envelopes!   Any insight would be helpful.  In the meantime, I’ll just get back to my crazy quarantine sewing and cooped up cleaning efforts.  I may even do some of that in this post’s dress.  We’ll see.

Tribute to Emanuel Ungaro

Continuing my ascension in decades for my yearly Easter outfit, this year’s make was decidedly going to be from the 1990s.  This is an odd decade for me to handle as I was an awkward teen through most of it.  I, however, felt more at ease with diving into the challenge because this year my Easter sewing is a bit more personal.  It is my way of showing my deep respect for the life and talents of the recently deceased French courtier Emanuel Ungaro.  He will always be one of my favorite designers – I literally can’t look at his work and not sigh in admiration.  He worked and trained under all the other designers I so esteem.  Some outfits more than others, but especially his suits, are something to wish was on my back.  Yet, in every creation, I see and admire how he brought 80’s and 90’s couture up to an enticing, avant-garde form of artistic beauty.  They are bold but not garish, inventive but still wearable, and all definitely great confidence boosting fashion that I need to ogle over in our troubled times today.  I reached for one of the Vogue Paris patterns I have of Ungaro from my stash, and went about stitching out my own interpretation of his work.

I will admit, in imitation of Ungaro’s frequent use of mixed materials, I went out of my comfort zone (and common sense) to combine a silky crepe satin with a two-tone ombré shantung into a highly tailored-cut suit coat.  I was pretty much expecting either a horrible failure or a really good surprise.  I couldn’t tell, but a creative haunch drove me on.  Perhaps it was merely my desire to do something spectacularly useful with two one-yard remnant cuts on hand.  Either way, tweaked with the right padding, strategic interfacing, and hours of hand stitching, I think my experiment is at the opposite end of a disaster, happily!  The longer I stay in isolation, the bolder my fashion and sewing choices are becoming, which ultimately came in handy here.

I have several skirts on hand already that do match with my suit jacket so for now only that is a designer creation.  My skirt here is a decade old RTW item.  I might get around to making the skirt portion to this Ungaro pattern in the future, but not for right now.  I’ll confess to being dubious as to how the complex skirt would actually not distract or otherwise overwhelm the jacket, but I have faith in the designer’s vision.  All the paneling to the skirt is further calling me to color-block it, too, and I knew that might not match here…nor did I have more fabric to work with at this time.  So, I will be revisiting the 90’s and more Ungaro fashion soon, then, and experimenting with still more boldly ‘modern-vintage’ fashion designs!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a polyester ombré shantung together with a polyester satin (using the crepe side only) for the exterior and facings, with a 1990s original poly print as the lining material.  The inner panels were flat-lined for structure in a poly-cotton broadcloth fabric.

PATTERN:  Vogue Paris original #1842, year 1996

NOTIONS:  lots of thread, ½” shoulder pads, both a ¾” (for the sleeve vents) and a 7/8” (for the center front) covered button kit, and lots of interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This jacket was finished on March 28, 2020, after over 40 hours put into it

THE INSIDES:  What insides?…fully lined

TOTAL COST:  I’m not counting the light pink crepe, lining, and the notions, as they were all either practically free from a rummage sale or scraps on hand from years ago.  My only real expense was the shantung remnant picked up at my local JoAnn store for about $5.  Yup…this is a $5 designer jacket!

This Ungaro design seems as if it was MADE to be color blocked the way the seams line up for the side and under sleeve panels as well as the faux pocket flaps.  I shouldn’t have been so surprised but actually should have seen it coming.  It was Ungaro’s surprising color-blocked suits from the Parisian runways of the early to mid-90’s that I wanted to imitate with sewing my own version.  Yes, I know my actual pattern date is on the late end of his ‘trend’, but hey – I’m open to finding a way to appreciate the 90’s.  So, if this is the means, then I’m here for it (and I hope you are with me for this, too!).  Give it another 10 years, and this decade will be ‘vintage’ soon enough.  Ungaro stayed with the bold color-blocking trend for a good part of the decade (1990 to at least 1997 – watch this runway video).  I had some lovely scraps to use up and the color pink on my mind, anyway.  After being cooped up in quarantine around the house, I am further inspired by the blooming redbud tree in our backyard!

Happily, this pattern had been ‘used’ before but was ready to go and not missing a thing.  Someone had been ready to use this because all the pieces were cut out nicely, organized, and no longer in factory folds.  The sleeve pieces had been altered, folded 1 inch shorter – great for me because that was just what I needed anyways!  Most importantly, the pattern had a “Vogue Paris Original” label inside the envelope. These labels are a treasure that makes my garment so much more satisfying.  I am so thankful that this pattern’s previous owner (and seller, too!) had enough foresight to take such care of it, especially since there were 20 pattern pieces to deal with, too.

The back of the envelope sums up the jacket design as “closely fitted, fully interfaced and lined, above the hip (flared) jacket with button/buttonhole trimming, raised neckline, shoulder padding, side panels (no side seams), pocket flaps and long, two-piece sleeves having a mock vent.”  That about sums it up, yet the nuances that I came across while making this make it all seem an understatement.  That being said, I noticed right off the bat that it was listed as “closely-fitted”.  I went up one whole size and I do believe this is a great fit.  It is a tailored enough jacket that a bit of room – which I have – to both be comfortable and wear different weights of tops does not take away from the shaping which still complements the body.  Good shantung naturally wrinkles like the dickens, and for an ombré shantung, that is part of the beauty to it, similarly to a fine linen.  However, wrinkles which come from a garment that is too tight is another thing, and not preferred for this designer imitation jacket of mine.  It is so much easier to tailor in a few inches than try to add pieces or get creative because of the need to let inches out.

While a shantung – poly or not – has some structure, and the satin has next to none, neither is enough to become a suit coat!  Thus, the overall saving grace to this jacket was flat-lining every…darn…piece.  “The Dreamstress” has a fantastic terminology, how-to, explanation post here that lays out the process’ details and benefits far better than anything I could ever write.  When I made my Agent Carter “One Shot” suit jacket the year before, I quickly learned flat-lining was the only way to go with the perfect fabric no matter what its hand or content.  For that jacket, I found that a tightly woven, poly blend broadcloth provided the best combo of soft structure to make my supple, loose flannel transform into a rigid suit coat when layered with heavy cotton, starched muslin interfacing.

What worked well then worked wonderfully once again on my Ungaro blazer with a few differences.  As I was using fabric even more slippery than almost any poly out there, I did have to choose the iron-on interfacing this time, however.  I omitted pad-stitching the three layers (for each piece – fabric, interfacing, broadcloth flatling, in that order) together, as the poly fabrics I was working with did not have the loftiness of nap that woolens or flannels have.  In place of pad-stitching, I did hand tack the layers together along the seam lines, and graded down the bulky seams by cutting.  Suits are like a fine art that comes together in stages so complex it’s often hard to see the final result up ahead.

The instructions were amazing, and walk you clearly through each and every step.  In comparison to last years’ 1980s Givenchy suit, this one was every bit as detailed with the same advanced difficulty rating and yet it was easier in the construction, which I find so very interesting.  The prime example of this is with the sleeves’ mitered corner vents.  They are a part of the traditional two-piece suit sleeve.  The Givenchy pattern had several steps and some hand stitching to achieve the exact same end that the Ungaro suit sleeves engineered into a simple two-seam technique.

Seeing and experiencing this has made me respect Ungaro even more than before.  I do not know which method – Ungaro’s or Givenchy’s, if either – is the traditionally ‘proper’ way to do this common suit detail, but I appreciate the former for finding a way to streamline such a complex corner, with no difference in result than if you spent more time and took more steps.  That, right there, folks, shows Ungaro’s madly underestimated talent.  This is why I beg you to pick out a designer Vogue pattern to try for yourself.  You’ll thank me in so many ways!

I did go just a bit rogue when it came to the buttonholes.  I spent so many hours to make the windowpane buttonholes you see on the ‘good’ side of the jacket by hand.  It was draining but worth it.  I’m so glad there were only four of them!  So, for the inside facing, I made machine stitched buttonholes.  Again, this is exactly what I did for my Agent Carter 40s suit.  Doing so turned out great this time as before, gave a quick and clean way to finish the inner half of a bound buttonhole, and – most importantly – saves some of my sanity. It is hidden inside the suit after all.  Let’s face it.  No matter how much I love crafting suit jackets, after 40 hours of work on them, crammed into a week and a half, I start to become frazzled.  Yet, I always want to make sure such a work fully deserves that respected “Vogue Paris Original” tag which came with the pattern, so I know when and where to discreetly take a shortcut.  Larger 7/8 inch self-fabric covered buttons close up the front, while slightly smaller 5/8 inch buttons keep the sleeve vents together at the wrist.

This suit is the first time I have splurged on a bright, fun, patterned lining.  As I had about 6 yards of the material (estimated to be from the 90s or 2000s) on hand, and to continue the boldness of my pairing idea, I figured I’d go for it!  Yet, I thought ahead so that the crazy print would not show through the pink tone.  The flat-lining I used was a dark, opaque blue.  Yes, that made sure no seams would show though either.  From an aesthetic standpoint, it shades the light pink contrast a bit darker to unnoticeably complement the ombré blue in the shantung when it crinkles.

There are so many secrets inside a good suit coat than you could ever image with a casual glance.  This is why adding the lining to a suit jacket is always such an exciting, satisfying, emotional step to me.  It covers up all the evidence of precise engineering and well-thought out little background details that are the key to a successful suit coat.  This is both rewarding to have a clean finished appearance in one step, yet terrifying to have all your work be covered up, never to be easily appreciated from the self-explanatory way that only something visually seen can demonstrate.  At least I remembered to take a picture!

I really have to laugh at myself for loving this project.  Sure it is my favorite designer, but really – enjoying the 1990s…what have I become?!  I do love a good color blocked garment in any other era, I suppose.  This suit somehow has everything I love about a good *true* vintage one – wonderful hourglass shape, strong shoulders, a peplum to boot, and great details.

I knew this project was coming for this year’s spring so I had time to be choosy about which pattern I would go with, though.  I went through a lot of very unappealing designs on the way to this perfect find.  You see, ever since I started with the 1920s for my Easter outfit of 2013, I have been ascending in decades with what I sew for Easter every year.  Only since hitting the 1970s have I chosen to make suits.  Thus, once I catch up to our current decade, I do believe I will go back and make a suit from all those eras I only made dresses for, in case you’re curious as to my plans!  Yes, next year will be the 2000 decade and I have it all planned out already.  This yearly commitment keeps me experimenting outside of my comfort zone.  I had to keep it going no matter if there’s anywhere to go or reason to be fabulous!  I am enough of a reason to dress amazing, and once I slide this jacket on I just want to stay fabulous and linger in enjoying the power of a great suit.  Ungaro has unfortunately passed away from us, but I can make sure we don’t forget his talent by finding a way to bring his patterns from my stash to life!

“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.

“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.