“Hollywood Ending” – Peggy’s Cut-Out Neckline Dress

The last scene of the last season of Marvel’s television show “Agent Carter” could not have went out with more of a bang when she wears a stunning mid-40’s dress of contrasting colors and pie-sliced neckline cut-outs.  Here is my version!  Where else but in the decade of the 1940’s will you find such unusual features, in a dress which is a mix of both fancy and casual, like this!

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Cut outs seem to be all the rage everywhere I look this year so far, and I’d like to think this is due to the last dress we see Captain America’s girl wearing in her own series.  So why not (as I thought) just go along with things courtesy of that awesome, indomitable Peggy Carter – a woman ahead of her time in many ways.  Now I can not only be fashionable in modern day but also back in 1946!

a-hollywood-ending-wiki-gallery-1cropThis is the one of the more difficult vintage patterns I have come across, and also I think one of the most dramatic and highly detailed of the ones that I own.  Leave it to me to only make this more difficult in an effort to be more like Peggy Carter.  I made all the contrast bias tape for the belt, sleeves, neckline and cut-outs, with way too much unpicking to get the top-stitching right.  Whatever!  This dress deserved all the attention it received at my sewing table to even get close to a “Hollywood Ending”.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Two different colors of the all American-made 100% cotton sold at JoAnn’s Fabric.  The one is a deep navy which has a hint of turquoise (so I think) and the other is a baby blue color leftover from making my other Agent Carter project, a hybrid 1940’s style blouse.

PATTERN:  McCall #6728, year 1946mccall-6728-year-1946-envelope-front-comp-w

NOTIONS:  Well, I did need to go out and buy a special ¼ inch bias tape Dritz notion to make my own tiny single fold custom binding from the blue fabric.  Other than that I had all the thread, seam tape, bias tape, shoulder pads, and the zipper I needed. 

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My dress was done on August 8, 2016, after maybe 25 plus hours spent on it.

THE INSIDES:  All cleanly finished off in either French seams or bias tape.

TOTAL COST:  Not much for what I think it looks…less than $15.

Gigi Melton, the designer of the original “Agent Carter” wardrobe as seen on the show, now commands my great respect after making my own attempt to both replicate Peggy’s dress and stay historically authentic by using an old pattern.  She also deserves the credit for my inspiration.  Sewing this baby up was hard!  I have not come across many sewing project which so completely challenge me, even drain me, like this dress did.  Therefore, I am so very proud of this project, and I feel like a million in it!  Gigi Melton did indeed make a seriously complex, yet lovely version of a post-war dress for Peggy (actress Hayley Atwell) – it very much deserves to be part of the current FIDM exhibit of “The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design”!

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I know my version is slightly different when you get down to nitty gritty details, such as the sleeves and skirt front.  I could have made an exact copy, and considered it, too, but Gigi Melton deserves to keep the privilege of having her original stay one-of-a-kind…and besides I personally adore the details of the old original pattern I used.  Originally, I fully intended on making my version in a different color scheme, with blue contrast but brown overall.  When I found the exact blue-slightly turquoise deep navy cotton in my face at the fabric store, I couldn’t resist going with the same color scheme.

What I find interesting is that season two of Agent Carter is supposed to have taken place in 1947, but my dress is dated to 1946, as are many other similar neckline cut-out dresses from the 40’s that I’ve seen.  See my Pinterest board here for other related vintage cut-out neckline ladies’ garment patterns that I have come across.  Burda Style has recently released a few patterns which have features which are so reminiscent of this 1946 Agent Carter dress, such as the “Cutout dress, No. 112, 06/2016”, or “Open-Back Jumpsuit, No. 112 A, 04/2016”, the “Fancy Pocket Dress, No. 104 B, 10/2016”, and even “Long Sleeve Jumpsuit, No. 107, 10/2016“.

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Cut-outs are such a demure but appealing touch which instantly glams up a garment and turns it into something eye-catching and unique.  It’s also like getting to wear a high neckline without really having one…cut-outs keep skin in eye sight.  Outlining the cut-outs is a very bold touch that I would never on my own have thought could have worked so well, at least visually.  I can almost picture how the original dress has its contrast applied, but then I can’t imagine my attempt turning out that professionally.  My method was to have the neckline cut-out facing to be in the light baby blue with the tiny bias tape top-stitched along the very, very edge.  Many times I either gave myself a crick in the neck for leaning into the stitching (intense sewing sucks me in) or I would fall off the furthest edge (like walking a balance beam) while top-stitching the tiny bias tape.  Am I nuts or what?  I’ll do what I takes to be happy with something I sew, and that is frequently a hard order!

dsc_0155a-compwNow the pattern was technically not hard, just finely detailed work, in my opinion.  I also think its instructions are both well laid out and the method it is made ingeniously designed.  The top edges of the neckline cutouts get matched up with corresponding notches in the tiny bias strip which becomes the contrast neckline.  This way I knew how wide the tops of the opening needed to be.  However, the skirt front with its shirring and wing pockets is mostly the part of the design that I enjoy the way it gets made.  The skirt details were what mystified me about the pattern from the first I saw of it – how do the gather stay so nice and the pockets drape out?  The secret is an inner panel that fills in over the belly between the pockets.  By bringing together the pockets from inside, all the details of the skirt front are kept unstretched, the shirring gets a layer to anchor to, and the oversized pocket edges (stiffened with seam tape) then flare out.

This dress is the first time I’ve come across several different features, most of which I’ve already mentioned except for the sleeves.  I know they are out there, but this is the first kimono style with a full sleeve that I’ve seen in the decade of the 40’s.  I usually have a hard time keeping the inner curve of my kimono sleeves from wrinkling and bunching, even with precautions like snipping and such, but these sleeves turned out great.  Tacked inside are giant ½ inch thick shoulder pads to help define the shoulders, sculpt the silhouette, and give the impression of a defined sleeve seam.  I find it so curious that such bulky shoulder pads work so well and look so good with 40’s styles – maybe it’s just that I have the body type that (I think) can handle over-exaggeration of the shoulders which the 40’s does best.

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Now my belt was entirely self-drafted, and it merely two strips of fabric with a layer of “Stitch Witchery” bonding web ironed in between for a stable, one-piece of material.  Then the bias binding was sewn over the edge and the closure added.  Now, Peggy’s original dress as designed by Gigi Melton had as its closure a black buckle in what looks like leather.  I was inclined to use Vogue #9222, view B, since it looks like a carbon copy of Gigi Melton’s design (lacking the lacing over the edges, of course).  However, again, I went with my taste but still stayed a bit true to the original by having no buckle.  My belt has a ½ inch bias strip sewn to the inner center of one rounded edge, then about ¾ inch space away the other rounded end of the belt latches onto a sliding, waistband-style hook-and-eye.

I usually love making my own bias tape (no irony, really I do), but tiny ¼ inch single fold bias tape was living hell.  My hands received some very painful injuries from the steam of the iron and every seam line only made the folding even harder.  It wasn’t the tool – the Dritz tool worked great.  It’s just that the smaller the scale the more difficulty.  So my lesson was learned never do this scale bias tape again…until my next “very good reason” to suck up and make it again!  The finished look of some custom made bias tape is so worth whatever extra bother goes along.dsc_0118a-compw

Check out my shoes – they are so “mathy-matchy” I am a little embarrassed at myself and proud at the same time.  They are “Kimmy” ankle strap pumps by “Chase and Chloe” in light blue to match the contrast color in my dress.  These shoes are not leather and not that comfy for long periods of wear, but they were on sale for so cheap, have a vintage flair, and they have the same triangular cut-outs as my dress!  They are not what Peggy wore with her outfit, but hey, this outfit is for me to wear.  How could I resist the call of the perfect pair of shoes?  I rarely can…

Our background settings for these pictures are two of the historical theatres in our town.  season-two-hollywood-endingThis was meant to match with the “Hollywood Ending” in Agent Carter’s television show.  Jarvis drops Peggy off in front of the SSR’s “cover” shop front of a theatrical agency, catty-corner to an old movie theatre.  If you notice, our one picture of me has the dual masks of comedy and tragedy over behind me – a subtle hint to Peggy Carter’s nemesis Whitney Frost, a.k.a. “Madame Mask”.  The theatre with the masks on the front entrance box office box is the “Tivoli” theatre, built in 1924.  Here we were not able to take pictures anywhere other than outside.

However, the theatre in most of our pictures is from 1922, the “Hi-Pointe” theatre, the oldest and the only one built for showing movie films – not vaudeville acts like the Tivoli’s use – and done so continuously since its opening.   The Hi-Pointe theatre technically has won awards as having the best urinals in town (not that I would know), but – no really – I love the simplistic Art Deco Look of the front ticket office box with its streamlined metal sheeting.  The head employee so kind and helpful to let us explore inside and even pull the curtains and turn on the spotlights so I could have the picture perfect “Hollywood Ending” shot!  That’s all, folks!  Cue the happy finale…

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Rich in Jewel Tones…the 1950’s Way!

This outfit of both skirt and blouse is rich in mid-50’s style, deep color, quality fabric, and especially family memories and friendly connections. Would you believe two one yard cuts were all that I needed here? It’s true.

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Nevertheless, with two “Easy-to-Make” patterns I managed to have a hard time and make some “design opportunities” (a fancy phrase for a mistake). Sometimes with the simpler things there’s more room for error. What did go right for me is how the finished outfit turned out. It’s perfect for flaunting my curves through clothes that turn me into a classic retro 50’s hourglass shape!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  For the blouse: a 100% cotton, found in the quilting department in Hancock Fabrics. For the skirt: an extra thick 100% linen100_6054a-comp

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed – thread, a zipper, interfacing, hook-and eyes, and buttons.

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PATTERNS:  The blouse was made using a “Quick and Easy” Butterick #7490, year 1955, and the skirt pattern was a McCall’s #9901, year 1954.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse was not as easy as expected, so it took me about 8 hours to make, and the skirt had maybe 5 hours spent on it. Both projects were completed on September 11, 2015.100_6141a-comp

THE INSIDES:  My blouse’s fabric is such a tight weave cotton and (for a ‘quick’ pattern) I took too much time on it the way it was. Thus, the insides are raw. For the skirt, well…what insides?! This is a pun and rather ironic – I’ll explain lower down in this post.

100_6140-compTOTAL COST:  The linen was on an insanely super discount since it was a one yard remnant, and the blouse fabric was reasonable at one yard, too. In total I suppose my outfit cost me about $7.00.

The blouse’s fabric really looks like something better than just quality cotton. It is such a deep green that, as a one-sided print, the white underside shows bleed through dye marks from the other side. A metallic gold is printed on top of the design to highlight the print and make this fabric appear as a brocade (this isn’t the first imitation brocade I’ve used for a 50’s blouse). However, this cotton is so much softer than any brocade could ever be, yet stiff enough to give a ‘crisp’ appearance, perfect for the pattern. My skirt is a linen, which is already a very nice fabric, but this is a type of linen that I’ve never seen or felt before…very luxurious. Some linens can instantly become wrinkly, feeling very rough to the touch or scratchy and even stiff – not my skirt. As a mundane description, this linen could be a blanket, it’s so plush and pliable but so thick (about 1/8 inch). Having a loose weave helps the linen not seem so overwhelming, though. Together, the two fabrics are in a dressy ensemble making me feel oh-so-put-together. They also are a very comfy set that makes me conscious of some very nice material. It’s like a treat for me to wear.

100_6096-compFor some reason or another, I was a bit off while sewing these two pieces, and so some boo-boos were made. I made the best of the mess-ups, although my mistakes on the skirt could not be recovered. When this happens sometimes, I find it’s best if you just go along with your mistakes, and make the best of them by letting them become part of the design, as if it was something intended.

100_6055a-compAbove in “The Facts”, I mentioned the irony behind trying to explain how the inside of the skirt is finished. Well, there not a straight answer here, which is also directly part of my mistake. Somehow or another what was supposed to be the right side of the skirt became the wrong side, and the wrong side became the right. This might sound like an obvious thing I shouldn’t have missed, and it’s really not like me to do this. Here were some of the sources to my problems. The linen fabric itself has no right or wrong side but has the same finish and appearance on both sides, so the fabric was confusing me. The pattern itself is so simple. It is just like an enormous one yard square, to which you shape by sewing in a quantity of darts along the waistline, so it’s kind of like a wrap skirt. This made it hard to figure out sides, too, not to mention the possibility of my son running around inside with too much energy and my dog stepping on the fabric begging for attention. Cancel any undivided thought process. My mistakes with the fabric and the pattern would not have been a big deal if the vertical button plackets on the right and on the left side were not completely different from one100_6107-comp another – the right side with the buttonholes is half as big as the left side with the buttons. I did not realize my mistakes until all the darts were sewn and the interfacing ironed on – darn! The right still had to close over the left (I knew that much) but now the button placket is off center instead of centered. Oh well, it is now officially an asymmetric button front wrap…this is how I’m satisfying myself with the finished garment.

100_6106-compOfficially, there are no inside seams to the skirt and it is a very nice skirt, so mistake or not, I love it. The color and the weight of the fabric should make this an all-season piece. Happily, I looked at several other 1950’s era blouse projects I have lined up “yet-to-make” and they will all match with my royal blue skirt.

I did line the waistband and the front placket with a heavier weight interfacing than what I conventionally use. This makes the soft linen of the skirt adhere to the stiffer and straight lined look of the 50’s, at least in certain spots. The interfacing also makes my skirt extremely hard to button as do the backer buttons I added for stability. I found this out after the fact. Oh well – the skirt sure feels secure when it’s on me! To top off the whole project, the bottom edge was extremely wonky. Two inch hem here, three-100_6143-compsomething inch hem there – the line was all over the place! To have a straight hem I had to measure down from the waist all the way around and hang the skirt up while I sat the bottom of it hand hemming with a ruler at my side. Sorry if I sound like a ninny, but usually hems are much easier than this. That’s o.k., I was forced to give this skirt a nicely finished invisibly stitched hem finish like it deserved.

100_6105-compNow, the blouse has a wide bateau neckline, classic ‘50’s kimono sleeves, with what the pattern back calls a “pie-cut neckline with modified wing collar.” I’ve never seen a blouse with open lapels called a “pie-cut neckline” but it’s a cute term and I sort of like it because it reminds me of yummy food. The back design made me highly doubtful it would work with a closed end zipper ¾ of the way down the center. Below the hips the fabric is together. I wondered why there is this strange layout. Separating bottom zippers (like on a coat or jacket) were invented already, but maybe they weren’t readily available to the home seamstress or perhaps just too expensive or bulky to be practical. Anyway, the closed bottom to the top isn’t a problem – it just makes it more of a ‘step-in’ garment than something which goes over the head.

100_6109a-compMy main problem with the “easy” blouse was mostly because of a slight fault in my work of down grading the pattern to my smaller size. I figured out how much to take out and where to hack it out, but I didn’t re-slope the shoulders and take off some of the length. Thus, after my blouse was quickly done I realized there was too much room between the shoulders and the waist, creating a bubble sticking out of my back with the zipper. Yuck! So I went to work doing my least favorite thing to do in the sewing sphere…unpicking. I took apart almost all of the tricky facings and all of the zipper, then cut off about 1 ½ inches from the top edge to bring the neckline down. Now I could re-sew those tricky, sharp cornered facings and the zipper back down again for a no longer easy basic blouse. That extra time and effort sadly was really necessary or I wouldn’t like my new top and therefore not wear it – so is life with sewing! Tailoring takes effort but has its reward, too.

100_6116-compThe sources and history to both patterns is part of the “family and friends” goodness to this ensemble. The skirt’s pattern was found at a nearby vintage/antique store, and picked out by me on my birthday as my own present. On the front there is a stamp of “Goldie’s Department Store, Maplewood, Missouri”. Hey, hey, Maplewood isn’t too far from us. So I spoke to some family and did some Google searching about the town to find out a rich, local history to Goldie’s owner and it’s multiple stores in the area. The Maplewood location, burned down in 1966, was at a part of town that I already know and love to visit. My Hubby even remembers going to get his boy scouts uniform at one of the last surviving locations. Neat! This makes it a local pattern which actually stayed in town, and came from a store family members have memories of, just like the one I used for my 1944 dress (post here). The blouse’s pattern was given to me from a close friend of mine who shares many similar interests as myself, among which is sewing.

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Yup, this is me at 3 1/2 years, playing dress-up!

My blue wool hat is the most special part of my outfit. I’m so proud! It is from my Grandmother. This is the same hat I remember when I would go over her house as a little girl and play dress up with my cousins. She would let me put on this very hat, among others too, and now that she has given it to me, I can again wear it for some grown up serious dress up time. Unfortunately, my parents can’t find, but do remember a picture of a mini-me in this wool hat. However, I do have a picture of myself from one of those dress up parties (see at right). I suppose my love of having fun with fashion and enjoying making my own look hasn’t died back one bit since then. Thank you Grandma for those times…and the hat!100_6111a-comp

Our photo location was at a gloriously stern but bright early “Mid-Century Modern” building built during the boom our neighborhood experienced in the 1950’s. I think it lends my outfit a business-like, professional aura. Besides, I love architecture appreciation!

See? Money isn’t necessary to look like a million – just a little talent, a sewing machine, some ideas and creativity…viola! It is so much easier than many realize to personalize one’s style be the master of your own fashion and do it all on the cheap. Look what two one yard cuts of fabric did for me in this post. Do you also love the freedom and enjoyment which comes from sewing your own clothes? Better yet, do you also have a family memory attached to a particular outfit you’ve made?