Little Letterman

A little bit of necessary and unselfish sewing which had been finished in time for the arrival of cold weather is my new pride and joy.  After all, it is worn by my little pride and joy!  The fall and winter holidays are all about family and appreciating those in our lives, after all!  My son needed a warm yet dapper winter coat and I more than stepped up to the challenge.  By using a vintage pattern with scraps leftover from other projects, I came up with a no-cost classy children’s coat unlike what any store has to offer with all the benefits of vintage and the longevity of brand new.  When a utilitarian garment like a coat can be as much as a fashion piece as a great shirt or a nice pair of pants, then outerwear is no longer an unwelcome covering merely necessary due to the weather.

It rather alarms me how successful my project was because of how grown-up this new jacket makes him seem.  Being that I see him on a daily basis, it takes something out-of-the-ordinary on him in a photograph for me to see our son in a different light.  I think kids’ clothes are way too casual in general today – kids are underestimated.  Dressing nicely in no way hinders them…rather the opposite. Children can be so cute all polished up and put together in something nice and halfway grown up.  It’s a good practice to get them in the habit of doing so every now and then, anyway, it gets them in a good frame of mind.  Sadly though, it is hard to find them dapper and somewhat fancy clothes in the ‘normal’ RTW circles.

Children’s clothes lacking attitude, lettering, and brand logos are hard to find today; however, letters were popular in vintage kids and teens clothing too (30’s to 60’s, peaking in the 50’s), with a different purpose.  Back then it was all about school pride, name initials, and occasionally movie stars like Roy Rogers (for one example).  Most of this lettering went on outerwear, like the well-known Letterman jackets and sweaters.  This particular jacket I made is very much a combo of the youthful Letterman style mixed with the more grown up Gabardine style.  A men’s Gabardine jacket is about hip length with little to no shaping at the hem (straight cut), regular set-in sleeves, and a collar (normally).  It was popular in the 1940s.  A letterman jacket for the youthful crowd often had two-tone colors going on with the sleeves – frequently raglan style – being a different color than the body, a banded bottom and collar.  Both styles have front welt pockets.  The pattern I used is a quaint “Father and Son” mini-me design after all, so I love the way the adult and the child features combine to make my son look like the little man that he is!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  the plaid is a rayon suiting, the forest green accents are a vintage cotton corduroy from my paternal Grandmother, and lining is a combo of fleece quilted to a poly lining

PATTERN:  Simplicity #7744, year 1968

NOTIONS:  I only used what was on hand – thread, interfacing scraps, leftover fabric, and even a zipper which was cut off an old RTW sweater of his which has been long ago been thrown away after he wore out.  I even had the snap system leftover from doing the placket on this dress of mine!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  After 30 plus intense hours over the course of just over a week, the jacket was finished on November 4, 2018

THE INSIDES:  Full lining means “What raw edges?!”

TOTAL COST:  Nothing, zero, zilch is pretty much the full cost.  Leftover materials from several other projects plus using material given as a gift for the other half of it means this coat of his is as good as free!  How’s that for a homemaker’s dream!

What I particularly love about this project is that because I am using up remnants for it, besides emptying my stash, my son and I end up matching each other just a bit.  Let’s fluff off the “Father-Son” look the pattern advertises and give a big ‘yay’ for a not so commonly seen “Mother-Son” pairing!  My 1945 Glen Plaid me-made skirt suit set left just enough leftover – one yard – to be more than just a scrap.  At first I was thinking of using it for a purse, but rayon suiting it too nice for just an accessory I probably won’t use all too often.  Great fabrics need to be seen, worn, and enjoyed!  By chance I asked my son if he liked it – he sometimes likes to “pet” my softest fabrics and his opinion is normally quite thoughtful and interesting.  His positive enthusiasm lined it up for something for him.  A winter dress coat was the next big thing he needed, and one yard was just so close of a cut for my chosen pattern so it seemed like those two were meant to be together.  It is not too obvious of a mini-me look (compared to my suit) for him to mind but it is still enough of a pairing that I am thrilled!

It also continues his mommy-made wardrobe sort of like a theme.  If you look at the 1940s overalls I made him a few years back and his recent 1960s house coat, leftovers from both projects are in this coat – one seen and the other unseen.  The forest green corduroy for the jacket’s sleeves and trimmings are leftovers from the overalls, which is already leftover from my Grandma’s stash.  She used this corduroy to make things for my dad and his siblings when they were little so I feel all choked up over how special it is for me to carry on the tradition.  The puffy lining to the inside of the jacket was made possible by the leftover “lily pad” fleece of his house coat.  I mock-quilted it to the poly lining in angled lines that meet at the back center for a bit of a decorative touch to something very practically meant to merely keep our son warm and toasty.

It’s the details that make a garment standout and stand the test of time, just like all the vintage items that are loved by so many or like the high fashion items crafted by design houses for superstars and runway shows.  There is something to the love for the beauty of sewing – or the love for the recipient, too – manifesting itself in the excess time which goes into fine details.  Such details make creating in the first place have a bit more easily visible worth, sort of like a proof of time well spent, remotely tangible for those open to appreciating them.

Such reasoning is why I spared no amount of effort in my zeal for a fantastic, professionally finished coat.  My first mission in this goal was to make the best welt pockets I have done yet.  I normally am not adverse and stressed out by a sewing technique as I am with creating welt pockets, even though I know how to do them.  The pressure was especially hard because of several irreversible steps before the pocket needs to be created and if I messed up, well…the coat would be no more.  However, I happily feel that I succeeded in not ruining my project, but still failed in making the best welt openings ever.  I am just overly critical on my own work, so to every other eye they are great welt pockets.  Working with tiny and precise seams in corduroy is not by far an easy thing.

That fact also applies to setting snaps though corduroy.  I had to make several “test run” tabs, complete with interfacing to mimic the thickness, and we failed with a few settings before we both realized we were running short of snaps and rather finding the right pressure to use on the press mechanism.  These sort of things – much like welt pockets – get to a point where you just have to take a deep breath and just go for it!  We made one ‘male’ snap on the hem tab itself and two ‘female’ snaps on the coat to give the option of pulling it in…or not, if wanted.  Having options to one’s clothes is lovely!

We did not want to push our good luck with the snap settings, and I wanted something lower key, so I stitched down large, black, easy-to-handle snaps at the sleeve cuffs and neck closing.  As much as this was mostly my idea, and my creation, I was thinking of him throughout the process.  I made sure the large snaps were something he could handle all by himself.  I made the front pockets bigger (they reach all the way to the front zipper and end at the bottom hemline) because I know all the things he likes to stash in his coats.   The front zipper is recycled off of an older garment he wore out and grew out of so I knew it worked for him.  Even the choice of green corduroy was really his choice – he could have chosen navy blue or burgundy cords, too.  I did think ahead and made the sleeves just a few a few inches longer in the hopes of this jacket lasting an extra winter.  The way he eats more food than us, though, and grows like a weed that thought is just a hope, perhaps.

Ironically, or maybe appropriately, the pretty fall backdrop for these photos is his school’s front entrance street-view grounds.  This was soon after he went back into a new year of school and after class picture time.  Sometimes, those school pictures are not always the best so we had a good excuse to take good shots of the jacket – going out and try to capture the real side of him in a much more ascetically pleasing look than a uniform.

For a jacket that resembles the symbol of the elite in a school, he really is nothing stuffy no matter how nice he may look.  He is just an eager, individualistic little man who is still trying to get the hang of finding the words for everything he has to say (it’s a LOT lemme tell you!) and the letters that form such.  Thus, he has no logo inscriptions.  I appreciate the fact he does seem to be forming another sphere of his life at the same time – a rather dapper, fun style for himself in his non-school-uniform clothes.  Sometimes we have to remind him on weekends to reach for the printed tees in his closet and not his plaid dress shirts!  If I can encourage and help him along in this sphere (especially since, for the moment, he likes my taste and I enjoy his), than my sewing is very worthwhile to be such a means of expression for one of the most important people in my life.  Never underrate the power of a boy and his mother.

“Alley Espionage” – a 1945 Glen Plaid Suit Set

There are many, many old movies that I absolutely love, and then there are others that I like just as much in their own way for being interesting, inspiring, or having actors/actresses I enjoy seeing.  The 1945 noir film “Escape in the Fog” is one of the latter.  Actress Nina Foch plays the part of a mentally battered war nurse who had a frightful dream of a future event while on leave for rest.  She disturbs the hotel guests with her screams, bringing her to meet one of them – the actor William Wright, a mysterious but friendly (and handsome) double espionage agent whose future she had foreseen.  Nina Foch becomes an important part to William Wright’s mission, but later she becomes a desired pawn for those w ho would seek to sabotage his efforts.  I hope I didn’t give away too much of the plot here, but I find the details of this movie enthralling (the conversations, the subjects, etc.), as it was made during war time.  Although it is not as good as Marvel’s “Agent Carter”, I enjoy seeing the lovely Nina Foch take on a significant role for a woman trying to actively aid world events, besides enjoying her alongside William Wright, to me one of the most dashing and little known Hollywood men of WWII times (next to John Hodiak).

What this chatter amounts to for this post is the fact that I made a suit set inspired by the fashion on the “Escape in the Fog” movie.  It all started with finding and buying a $5 vintage beret-style wool hat, really.   Soon after the hat was bought, I watched “Escape in the Fog” for the first time and I saw an almost exact style hat worn on Nina Foch.  A few years back I had also made the skirt half to a 1945 suit set, and seeing all the finely tailored suits and trench coats both Wright and Foch wore in the film inspired me to finish up the coat half of my set.  Now I have the perfect year 1945 outfit to relive “Escape in the Fog” by watching the details of life down darkened city alleys and warily wind my way home in the gathering dusk in a complimentary muted grey Glen plaid.  It’s really the perfect suit for anytime, but a girl can dream, right?!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a rayon and acrylic blend brushed Glen Plaid suiting with a grey cling-free polyester lining the coat blazer.

PATTERNS:  a vintage year 1945 Advance #3964 pattern together with a year 2006 Simplicity #4044 reprint of a 1941 Simplicity #3838

NOTIONS:  The buttons for both the skirt and blazer came from the stash of hubby’s Grandmother.  The bias tapes, interfacing, shoulder pads, and thread I used were already bought years back and on hand.

TIME TO COMPLETE:   The suit jacket was made in about 20 hours and finished on October 25, 2016.  The skirt was made pretty much a year before, whipped up in only a few hours.

THE INSIDES:  The skirt is all bias bound finished and the suit jacket is fully lined.

TOTAL COST:  Well, I sure stretched out only a few yards here!  I only used about 2 ¼ yards for this suit – true 1940’s rationing smarts – which leaves me with about ½ yard leftover for another project!  This suit set probably ended up costing me $10 because the suiting was bought on clearance from the now defunct Hancock fabrics, while everything else was from my stash on hand.

Well, this suit might be vintage but it also happens to be right on trend this cold season.  Suit sets are the new “thing” it seems and popular in all styles and variety (see this recent post from Simplicity)!  There is a suit style out there for every body and every taste – vintage or modern!  Yet, I love how 1940’s suit sets are strong but womanly, simple at first glance with details and fitting that is top rate.  This suit was originally intended to be entirely made from one vintage pattern, but as my old Advance #3964 was missing significant body pieces for the suit jacket, I had to improvise and use a modern Simplicity reprint to supplement.  New pattern and old pattern combined, same wonderful details with a result I love!

Some of the older Simplicity reprints have disappointed me before when it comes to fit so I was wary about Simplicity #4044.  I’ve already made the arch-waisted pants (blogged about here) and the skirt (yet to be blogged), and they turned out great.  Thus, I had high hopes for the jacket, and I was not disappointed!  It was as easy as a suit jacket is going to get, and the fit was spot on…no bad surprises.  I do miss the two piece, true suiting sleeves but the front closing and the general silhouette was strikingly similar to my old original Advance pattern’s jacket so I just had to try it out.

My favorite features to the suit jackets are a combo of the pockets and the bias front shoulder panels.  Look how they really make such a simple design have some character that elevates!  I interfaced both of these pieces in heavy interfacing, while the front facing along the edge of the jacket opening is reinforced in a slightly lighter weight interfacing.  I feel this use of two different interfacing weights is a good idea for this jacket pattern.  The bias shoulder pieces need to be stable to keep the strong shape of the jacket, and stiff pockets on lend a crisp, matching flawless air.  The wide curving front closing edge isn’t quite supposed to be limp, nor like a poker, so something in between seems to be the right body.

Yes, I did slightly cheat as to the closure and made a fake button hide the snap closing front.  Sometimes when I am undecided when it comes to what button to choose for a project, I am so reluctant to make something as permanent as a buttonhole.  However, I did make this snap closing very nice and use it as an opportunity to try something new!  With a tiny fabric remnant, I covered the exposed half of the snap before stitching it onto the jacket.  It is fun to have such lovely features as this fabric covered snap on my sewing…it makes me feel so proud of what I can accomplish, and gives me what I feel is a small taste of the amazing attention to detail and fine finishing which is on couture garments.

Now my skirt was the necessary half to my finished suit but definitely the most simple and useful.  Without the matching jacket, this skirt can go with many other items in my wardrobe – navy, ivory, green, and brown blouses, tops, and sweaters as well as a true vintage forest green 40s blazer (see this set put together in this post for Emily’s Fall Color Challenge).  In this post I am wearing the whole set with a creamy pastel yellow blouse (not me-made, from a resale store years back) to brighten up the set and contrast with the black accessories.  With the lofty thickness of the suiting and its brushed, cozy finish, this skirt is incredibly warm – like being wrapped in a blanket – yet with a light and manageable weight.  I really don’t know how I made it through the winters before without this skirt!

I love how the pattern simplified the box pleat by having it all-in-one with the skirt.  There is merely a center front seam and center back seam that nicely lines up the center of the folded sections which make the box pleats.  I do find it sort of unusual that there is a center box pleat in back, too. Usually it’s only on the front.  Sitting on a skirt back box pleat rarely ends up other than a mess, but surprisingly this one keeps its shape really well.  Maybe it’s a combo of the fabric and a thorough steaming job from the iron.  Whatever it is, it works!  The fact that the folds of the box pleats are on a slight bias does give them a slight squiggly appearance, however

Making the skirt was a bit frustrating for as simple as it was because it ran so very small!  Most of the time patterns outside of the “Big Four” (Simplicity, Vogue, McCall, Butterick) tend to run on the larger side with a few random ones being true to size.  Not this Advance pattern!  I even graded up so it should have been slightly roomy on me, but no – it turned out mysteriously too snug.  Luckily, I had extra room to give myself by letting out the side seam allowances as far as possible for the perfect fit.  However, I would have preferred not to have to do that because there’s now no leeway if I need more room yet.  I suppose it was a good thing after all that I did not use the suit jacket half of the same pattern because it could’ve run on the smaller side as well.  I do see a good number of these Advance #3964 patterns for sale all over Etsy, Ebay, and various other pattern market sites, so if you pick one up for yourself, you’ve been warned about the sizing.

Sorry, but if you would like to see the “Escape in the Fog” movie for yourself, it is frustratingly hard to find.  I just happened to get lucky and catch it on our local station which shows old classics.  For being a movie from 1945, it is rather like one of the early pioneers of the Film Nor genre which hit its height post WWII.

However foggy and dreary my suit is in color, it is certainly not bland but useful and exciting to me.  Actually, it is only the beginning of a small spell of suits that I have lined up for the next few months, most of them from the 1940’s.  Will you be joining in on this suit trend, too?  For me, it’s pretty much an excuse to make some of what has been languishing in my want-to-do project queue!