…To Peplum or Not to Peplum Is the Question

One would think that it is only living things that would be able to make up their minds.  In the case of this year 1945 dress, I feel the pattern’s design could not make up its mind whether or not it wanted a peplum, and what styling it really wanted.  Being a pattern for teens and juniors, it totally makes sense to be a bit mixed up…since those of the “in between years” are being overwhelmed by everything!  Now, with some dramatic re-sizing and re-drafting, some cheaply priced wool suiting, and an old unwanted skirt from my basement to re-fashion, I think I’ve hit the right balance to rock this War-time design as a grown woman, ready to flaunt the cold of winter in panache.  Of course, a pair of killer 40’s style ankle strap shoes also completes my power 40’s outfit – they are velvet fabric reproductions from Rocket Dog.

This dress was actually my Christmas outfit for this past 2016 holiday, but I think the plaid has enough small amounts of other colors in it that, together with the navy it is paired with, keeps things relevant for most all of fall of winter, as well.  If I want it more holiday-ish, I can pair my dress with more red items or even browns or goldens.  Women of the 40’s loved to use plaids (especially teen girls), so I’m focusing on that rather than my mental query that I might be wearing some sort of Scottish plaid (which is why my bottom half is in a solid).  Reds and blues were popular colors for teens wear in the 40’s after all, too, so although this is my “adult” dress I am sticking to colors and fabric types “traditional” for the pattern’s intended audience – juniors, that is, those of the 14 to 18 crowd just as they were officially being known as teenagers (see info source here).

This dress is also my first time making a vintage garment where the print (or at least the contrast fabric) is just in the bodice and nothing else.  I’ve always admired those kinds of two-fabric clothes, always wondering if they would work for me…now I know they do!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The solid navy skirt and sleeves are in a 95% wool/5% polyester blend suiting from Fashion Fabrics Club in town.  It has a textured finish much like a gabardine.  The plaid, re-fashioned from an old skirt no longer worn, is a half and half rayon/poly blend with twill finish.  It’s label inside read as “Robyne’s Dream“, “Made in the USA”, and I believe this is from the 90’s.  I have seen this style of red, forest green, yellow, white, royal and black plaid labeled as a “Prince of Wales” design. The waistline and the peplum are lined in a basic, navy blue, all-cotton broadcloth, merely scraps on hand.

PATTERN:  McCall’s #6297, year 1945

NOTIONS:  I had everything on hand in my stash that I needed here – thread, a zipper, bias tapes, interfacing, shoulder pads.  The three buttons down the front are vintage pieces from hubby’s Grandmother’s stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was a last minute decision and was started the week before Christmas and took about 20 hours’ worth of time.  It was finished just before leaving for Midnight church service, December 24, 2016.  Whew!  I was ‘cutting’ it close, ha ha!

THE INSIDES:  All cleanly bias bound.  Strips of 100% cotton batiste are used as facing for the inner waistband for a lovely smooth feeling against my skin.

TOTAL COST:  I am counting the plaid fabric from the re-fashioned skirt and my cotton lining scarps as being free, as well as the notions from on hand, with the wool only costing $2 a yard.  My total for this dress is about $3 for only a yard and a half of the wool I used…how awesome is that!?

This project is one big hooray for re-using and re-fashioning!  As I’ve discussed past posts, my wardrobe is something I consider long term, and if I do not wear or am not happy with an item, it is re-done and cut into so it can used differently ‘til it is 100% what I will use or wear.  Why can’t unwanted clothes be treated as a commodity (defined as in “useful or valuable item”) for creativity just the same as a newly cut piece of fabric, the way I see it?  Anyways, this skirt had been an occasional favorite when I was between 10 and 15 years of age, but for the last 10 plus years it has been in my fabric stash waiting for a new incarnation.  Something from when I was a teen, becomes a new garment for grown-up me, sewn from a pattern catered for teens.  Oh, the irony…

My original skirt before re-fashioning was a simple long bias skirt with a gathered elastic waist.  Thus, I had a good amount of fabric to work with, but the skinny width was restrictive.  This is part of the reason why the plaid is not as perfectly matched as I would have liked and also the fact it is on the bias…although I do like the look of the plaid cross-grain!  Cutting off the two side seams and folding the length over on itself, I had just enough as you can see.  The front half of the skirt became my bodice fronts, while the back half was enough for the bodice back, peplums, and a neckline tie that ended up making piping for instead. So close!

For some reason, the envelope and instructions to this dress are one of the most fragile in my pattern collection, but the tissue pattern pieces are seemingly fine.  Just in case of a damaging accident, but also since I knew I needed to both add in several inches for size (29 inch bust, yikes! so small…) and bring the dress to some adult proportions, I traced all but the skirt and sleeve pieces onto new, semi-sheer medical paper.  In case you didn’t know, any pattern from about the early mid-1930’s up to about 1946 that are marked “Junior Misses” will be every short in proportions and used “as-is” are only sized for an under 5 foot tall person or an under sized teen.  Most of the time I have to add in a good 2 or 3 inches horizontally to bring ‘sleeves-bust-waist-hips’ all down.  It’s kind of what is done to make a pattern appropriate for someone tall, and opposite of what needs to be done to fit someone petite.  Yet, as I demonstrate, these juniors’ patterns are very usable for those are willing to do the ‘work’ of dramatically grading and re-sizing.  However, doing such an effort (in my mind) can only be a good thing – it brings new styles to suddenly be available to use besides teaching bunches about working with patterns.

The original cover drawing is quite cute – and I do not do outright “cute” if I can help it.  Both neckline options are the nails in the “cute factor” coffin (I generally find it hard to like a Peter Pan collar on myself), so they were the first to go and be re-drafted while I was tracing out a copy of the tissue pieces.  I originally figured on making an open V-neckline, and adding in straps that would twist and criss-cross across the chest opening and come back around to button back down on the same side – very military-like and strong, similar to Simplicity #1539, also from 1945.  Well, I guess you can tell I didn’t end up sticking with that idea – not here at least, but hopefully in the future on another project.  My neckline was the very last thing that I figured out before the dress was fully finished.  In the end, I merely took the lapels I drafted as self-facing and made them into a small, slightly pointed, turned back collar instead.  I like the simple subtlety of it, even though it was not at all what I had planned for at all.  There’s enough going on with the rest of the dress, so I felt it needed something non-distracting but still dramatically plunging for a not-as-conservative, grown-up touch.

What is not so obvious but remarkably lovely to the bodice is the way the bust is shaped by a vertical shoulder pleat.  This so completely exaggerates the shoulders as only the 40’s can do – I love it!  It really does wonders to complement the waist, especially since there is a set-in waistband to define the middle of this dress.  The fold of the shoulder pleat on my dress ends so precisely at the seam of the shoulder/sleeve, it was bit tricky to sew around without catching it…a bit of unpleasant unpicking made things alright.  It’s rather a shame that this detail is only in the front (much like the peplum, I guess).  Nevertheless, I still wanted a very defined line at the end of those shoulder edge pleats so there are ½ inch shoulder pads inside.  I always find it so curious how well gi-normous 1980s shoulder pads seem to be made to go inside many of my 40’s fashions.  Except on the occasional dress, I think the WWII years’ silhouettes are just lacking some sort of potent, calculated, confident fullness without emphasized shoulders.  I have seen similar vertical running shoulder pleats on many 40’s patterns circa 1945 – a McCall’s #6102, McCall’s #6902, and Simplicity #1891, as well as a modern (retro-inspired) pattern Butterick #6363, to name off a handful.  Also, for some hard-copy examples, here’s a photo of a mid-1950s wool dress, an extant 1940’s rayon crepe gown, my own Chanel-inspired 1967 linen suit set, and an 80’s chiffon dress, (notice the varied fabrics and years).  This ingenious method of bodice shaping is too good a detail to keep to only one decade.

With such prominent shoulders, I softened the sleeves by not sewing them as set-in.  The sleeves were sewn to the bodice much like on a man’s shirt, connected together at the shoulder so then the entire side seam – from sleeve hem the bottom hem – is stitched in one long continuous seam.  The sleeves are quite deeply cut, similar to this 1946 blouse that I’ve already made.  My sleeve ends taper to being fitted at the elbows but nonetheless these are very easy to move around for full movement and reach room – much appreciated.  Reach room is something I generally do not find modern patterns have unless I alter them in some manner.  Reach room is under respected…if something is good enough to make and wear, accepting being restricted with basic arm movements is something no one needs tolerate.

I was originally very hesitant about sewing on the skirt’s peplum flaps, but I’m so glad they turned out to be something new to like!  Apparently the odd, front, half-peplum design was a quietly popular yet not mainstream style for the mid-decade.  Besides seeing front half-peplums on Juniors’ dresses in my 40’s Sears catalog, the character of Rose from Season Two of the Marvel TV show “Agent Carter” is wearing a lovely drapey rayon dress in this same style.  Even Simplicity pattern Company released their own half-peplum the same year (1945) as #1357.  For one more tactile example, here’s an awesome vintage original half-peplum dress, in a wonderful novelty print, which had been for sale on Etsy.  I certainly don’t “get” the “why” of the style, but since before this dress I’d never really tried a peplum before, I figured half of one might be an easy way to acclimate myself to them.  Turns out this is not all that bad because being anchored on all but one edge prevents too much “pouf” of the peplum flaps.  Still, I generally do not like corners being cut, “party in the front, business in back”, or “coffin dresses” (as they are distastefully called when everything is in the front and the back is totally neglected).  However, technically the back of my dress is not neglected at all – it does have the plaid bodice, too, and the lovely classic 1940s tri-panel skirt back.  There is still one extra touch I added that makes sure the details from behind are just as nice as the front.

Self-made, matching plaid fabric piping runs along the bottom seam of the set-in waistband.  This was actually my hubby’s idea…I’ll give him the full credit for this great custom notion for which I was doubtful about at first.  I did not have the right thick cotton cording on hand for the piping so instead I used several strands together of thinner cotton cording on hand that we use to hold plants upright in the garden.  A bias strip of fabric was then wrapped around the piping and stitched down using my invisible zipper foot (just like what I demonstrated in this post).  This piping made installing the side zipper a bit challenging, and it’s not the best closure I’ve done…but it works to close the dress just fine and that’s good enough for me.

I guess it’s not all that surprising that this sweet vintage style for young ladies and teens is so strongly adult in its attribution – in 1945, women on the cusp of growing up were receiving more representation, acknowledgement, and opportunities, all with greater diversity, that year than ever before.  Firstly, 1945 was the year of a historic Miss America Pageant Competition.  That year of 1945 was the first year the winner was offered a school scholarship as her prize, rather than gifts of an item to wear or travel packages.  Year 1945 was also the first year that a young lady won who had been a Collage Graduate, but more significant was the fact that the winner, Bess Myerson by name, was a Jewish American.  She used her fame for so much good – raising awareness to biased prejudice, as well as helping out the last of the war effort, and later as a New York Politician.  Teen-age girls must have been a big enough “thing” in American after all to get a long article in Life magazine for December 11, 1945 (read the whole thing here, pages 91 to 99).

Furthermore, the magazine Seventeen had just begun the October of the year before (1944) and in 1945 were really gaining influence and gumption to speak out for their intended audience, “the age when a girl is no longer a child, yet isn’t quite a woman.”  Periodicals focused only on Hollywood stars and starlets were going out of favor and Helen Valentine, who, after starting out at Vogue, had already begun Mademoiselle: The Magazine for Smart Young Women by 1944. Seventeen was started by her as a magazine meant to be a teenagers’ voice, a benchmark for thought, and a place to bounce off ideas, so much so that they were not scrupulous about mentioning heavy world affairs and controversy.  By the 1950’s, Seventeen quickly moved from Valentine’s original focus on service and citizenship toward themes of fashion, sensuality, and body scruples…more like magazines of today.  See this amazing web page for more early history of Seventeen magazine.

Young ladies of 1945 and after were influencing history like never before.  I hope a lovely dress style like the one I made for this post might be just a small example of that fact.  Teenagers’ clothes of today generally strike me as disrespectful to their potential and distasteful to their capabilities.  Sloppy clothes, ones trying to be overly “on trend”, or the large majority of clothes which have writing or characters in the most surprising places all seem to put them in a box of what society expects them to feel and react – and many end up never growing out of those attitudes and habits.  This is in no small part (in my opinion) to the incidental that what one wears can impact how we think of ourselves.  Not every teen or 20 something is an electronic addicted being with an I-don’t-give-a-blank level of respect.  They need a constructive way to build their own entity.  Let me share a Helen Valentine quote from the book Fashioning Teenagers: A Cultural History of Seventeen Magazine.  After seeing the 90% of teens at the 1945 opening of New York’s U.N. building, she said, “People have an idea that the only thing they’re interested in is their next date, but it isn’t so. They (young people) are really thinking about very important things and we ought to be thinking about them in those terms.”

Vintage clothes for the middle years strike me as giving them a taste of their future in their own special way, with some small detail of the features of the clothes styles they grew out of so as to not forget where they are and where they have been in life.  It’s like their fashion and not just their education was attempting to transition them into the confidence of independent and capable decisions while allowing them the fun and freedom that still part of their life.  Their ideas and habits are the future we all have to deal with.  May teens of today wear clothing that is respectful of their place in the world every bit as much as fashion of the past has done.

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“I, However, Am Not Afraid of You…”

On a day that revolves around fear and frights, I can’t help but default to America’s Sweetheart, Peggy Carter, for the self-assurance to have a heroine’s heart!  She was speaking to her nemesis, a woman who almost wiped out all of New York, when Peggy uttered my title’s quote, a perfect mantra for Halloween night.

In those same first five minutes of the Second Season, you can see Agent Carter in a striking suit of the unusual combination of peach blouse and forest green skirt and jacket (see part of that here).  I have interpreted this set into my own wardrobe, and as it has all the colors associated with Halloween, I’ll think of this outfit as a fashionable pumpkin!

There wasn’t a whole lot of sewing needed for me to have this set.  I sewed the blouse, and it is a luxurious everyday basic piece, in a cheery color, which I needed in my wardrobe anyway.  The skirt is something I’ve had in my closet for the past decade, a RTW piece which had been not seeing much wear as of late, so it was time for a simple re-fashion to perk it up.  My optional suit jacket is a true vintage piece that had been given to me by a friend, and fits like it was made for me.  It was that simple – my easiest Agent Carter outfit yet!  Perhaps the style choices of myself and Peggy are naturally on the same page – maybe that’s why I feel the need to have every one of her outfits in my closet as well, he he.  Many of her wardrobe choices have a sensible practicality combined with a panache for a touch of standout details.  Perhaps there is something in your closet, too, that can translate easily into an Agent Carter outfit of your choice?!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The fabric for my blouse is a 100% silk crepe de chine, from “Printed Silk Fabric” on Etsy, with the front lined in a peach poly chiffon from Jo Ann’s Fabric store.  The skirt’s added portions are of a cotton twill suiting, also from Jo Ann’s.

PATTERN:  The blouse was made using Simplicity #8243, a reprint that originally was #2337, year 1948

NOTIONS:  I had the thread needed on hand already, as well as the abalone shell buttons I used, a snap, and a hook-and-eye.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My silk blouse was cut and finished in 5 hours, on October 29, 2017.  The skirt was refashioned in a few hours the day after Halloween.

THE INSIDES:  A nice blouse deserved nice finishing, the way I figured!  The inside is in French seams.

TOTAL COST:  $20 for the blouse and a few more dollars for the extra fabrics from Jo Ann’s.  How much more reasonable could an outfit like this get?!

The blouse pattern I used is wonderful.  It sews up in a flash and has a decently good fit (with a few tweaks) and lovely details.  This silk version is actually the second time I have used it, so I was confident enough about the fit and details to slightly change it up a bit.  My first blouse version using this Simplicity re-issue was part of another Agent Carter themed outfit, and I will be posting that soon so you can get the full low-down on making the blouse as-is out of the envelope.  For now, my second version will come first on my blog!

My tweaks to the blouse pattern of Simplicity #8243 were small.  First, I took out the downward curve that the collar points have and straightened them out so it could be more like my inspiration Agent Carter blouse.  Her blouse had collar points which are more wing-like, more horizontal, pointing straight out towards her shoulders rather than down to the hips as on the original pattern.  In other words, my current collar is now a true “wing collar”, much like the 1950s “Agent Sousa” shirt I already made for my husband!  Secondly, I made the shoulders about 5/8 inch longer.  The first time I made this pattern, the sleeves ended up more on my shoulder than going over it.  This time I corrected the short shoulder line.  Third, I changed up the sleeves to make them more like an early or mid-1940’s style than post war, as the original pattern is from 1948.  I added pleats in between the trio of darts that shape the sleeve cap, creating more fullness as well as a bit more room for me to move.

The original as-is length of the short sleeves is very long – not so that they can be ¾ length but so that you can have room to cuff the hem, as the original pattern shows.  For this blouse, I cut off the excess length from the sleeve hems to have a facing-like binding strip to easily finish off the hem.  I added small triangular notches at the outer center hems of the sleeves.  I love how this little detail adds just enough subtle class without detracting in complexity from the straightforward simplicity of the styling.  After all, there is a wide shoulder-to-bust dart that smoothly and beautifully shapes the blouse without the “traditional” gathers on so many other 40’s blouses.  On this blouse, there are none of the common 40’s hem-to-waist shaping darts, as well, eliminating the conventional “blousy pouf” and making this blouse just as nice to wear untucked as tucked.

I must say, that my main gripe about the pattern is the weird placement of the buttons if you follow the pattern’s markings.  The bottom button is right at the waistline (does it end up as a lump under my waistband or what?) and the top one makes the neckline restrictively high, almost to the point of chocking.  If you make this pattern, you need to change to your own liking where you put the buttons and button holes.  I lowered my top button placement down 1 ½ inches and raised the lowest one 1 inch, with the middle one naturally in between.  Three inches down from the last third button, I sewed on a snap to keep the lower half of the blouse closed.  Sewing a snap below the waistline is something I see on many 1940s original patterns and it makes total sense.  A snap would not show a bulge through the belly of a skirt or trousers like a button would, and I makes the bottom half of the blouse smooth if I want to wear it untucked.  I wonder why this bit of sensibility which I always see in vintage patterns is somewhat lacking when it comes to the instructed closure of this blouse.

The main body of the blouse seems to run a bit snug for me, so I cut a size bigger for the back than the front, and taper a size up for the hips.  As my silk crepe de chine is a bit sheer, I doubled up on the back bodice, but as I only had two yards of 45 inch wide material, I used the supplementary fabric to line the front.  The all-in-one collar and front facing combo can be a bit fussy and not want to lay down well, but between ironing and some small tacking stitches between the layers, I am able to have my collar behave well!

For my skirt, I really didn’t do anything to change the fit – I just added a few things to mostly change where it fit!  The main addition was to give my skirt a true waistband.  This was a skirt meant to sit on hips, with a wide waistband which ends just below the waist.  My waistband was sewn ¼ inch onto the edge, so it makes no real impact to the original skirt, ends just above the invisible back zipper, and I can easily take it off if I ever want to in the future.  The back of the skirt had a high kick pleat-style slit for freedom of movement.  I am not used to showing this much thigh, even if the slit doesn’t open up unless I do some true Agent Carter kick-but moves!  Nevertheless, I unpicked both the fashion fabric and the lining around the back opening to stitch it down like a slit.  Then, I filled in the slit with a small rectangle of fabric I had left over from the waistband to make a box-pleated fill-in piece.  This way the slit closes nicely on its own, but when it opens up as I need it, the fill-in piece unfolds to keep my thighs covered without restricting movement.  My slit addition makes the skirt now look closer to a pattern from my stash – a McCall #6338 from 1945.

Somehow, it seems as if there is always some small ‘something’ I would like to have which is lacking when it comes to RTW off the rack clothes.  Whether it’s a detail (such as “…if only the neckline was different”), or the fit (who hasn’t had “…it fits except for here!”), or even availability (why is it so hard to find nice, solid colored blouses or non-knit bottoms?), relying on off-the-rack can be so frustrating.  If you don’t have the time for sewing every dream item (who really does?!), combining sewing skills with RTW can be a match made in heaven for making your clothes truly speak for you!

Although this is a sort of an after-Halloween post, and an outfit from a “fantasy” character, this is not a costume.  To me, this is something I am bringing into my own persona from a screen heroine that I can closely associate myself with.  That is one of the many amazing things about Agent Carter.  What she wears on screen can easily be worn by anyone today, yet is still very 1940’s chic, and not in the least a costume.  I really do think that is one of the major attractions of Agent Carter – she’s so very realistic yet still as capable as any superhero, and she’s oh-so-empowering.  That’s not even taking into account the fact that she started a whole new interest renewal in the fashions of the 1940’s…yay!  I so want to see more of her story on screen…until then I’ll keep making her wardrobe for myself!

Right now, there’s a petition out there to “Save Agent Carter”, and it’s in need of more people to sign and join in the plea for Marvel to continue Peggy Carter’s story in some form or fashion.  I’ve already signed up…will you consider signing, too?  Let’s let Hollywood know the world is better with the inspiration and bravery of Agent Carter. Spread #SaveAgentCarter!

My “Naomi” Dress

Many times when I want to try something experimental in my fashion, I like to start with something I’m not as completely invested in as a sewn ‘from-scratch’ garment.  Therefore, if I don’t find something unwanted from my existing wardrobe, I often resort to re-sale and thrift store offerings.  They are low-cost, there are a plethora to choose from, and I feel like I need to do my part in making a dent with the unwanted and uninteresting leftovers from our modern fast fashion industry.  Here is my latest re-fashion attempt, made for a special family occasion.  As a frequent vintage wearer, I am rather surprised how taken I am by this…it makes me feel so on trend with all the latest off-the-shoulder looks this summer!DSC_0923a-comp,wMy husband actually thinks it reminds him of the character Naomi from the television series “Mama’s Family”, although my dress is green and not her favorite shade of yellow.  For some reason, this attribution to Naomi makes me sigh, half-smile, and feel ever so slighted even though I know she was a great character in her own right.  Hubby is right, though, this is something she would totally wear!  I mean, she even wore an off-the-shoulder dress for her wedding to Vint!  Yet, do I think this dress reminds me of the peasant and hippie styles of the 1970s and 80’s especially with the hem ruffle, but maybe it’s the vintage lover in me which only wants to find a past decade to associate with.  I have a whole Pinterest board dedicated to peek-a-boo shouldered garments, starting from the late 20’s ‘til now, as well as a board for the Peasant look, if you’re interested in looking at more past twists on this modern trend.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a rayon knit big-box store sundress 

NOTIONS:  nothing but some thread…

PATTERN:  none – this was all my own inspiration!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Making this dress took me about 2 or 3 hours and it was finished on July 5, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly overlocked (serged)…more on this below.

TOTAL COST:  I only paid $2 for this dress about 2 or 3 years ago

I have been waiting for the perfect re-fashion idea to hit my mind for the few years since I bought this dress.  After simmering on the back burner of my projects list, it was only recently that I suddenly came up with this idea which felt ‘right’.  I went with it (as you can see), and was so pumped to dive in that a picture of the original sundress was forgotten before it became re-fashioned.  Oh well – it was very boring and basic after all.  The original dress was just an empire, under bust sundress with spaghetti straps and very long skirt which had two ruffles at the bottom hem.  There were inseam pockets – one on each side – at a very awkward, low hip spot.  It was pretty much shapeless and uncomplimentary, but the fabric is a wonderful rayon knit with a nice color and print, so I figured it was worth saving.

My first step was to cut off the bottom of the two large hem ruffles.  Most of this became the shoulder ruffle.  I couldn’t have asked for an easier refashion here – I kept the gathers at the top of the ruffle when I cut it off, so all I had to do was hand tack it to the spaghetti straps and the neckline front and back centers.

There was just enough left over from the shoulder ruffle to make a new, wide, middle body waist band so I could have more shaping than just the high empire seam (which gets covered by the ruffle anyway).  The skirt was cut off at the empire seam and my new middle waist panel was sewn in there instead.  It extends down to my natural waistline so the skirt could be re-sewn on at that point.  I did cut off an extra several inches from the top of the skirt portion, just so the inseam side pockets could be at a natural height for my hands at mid-hip.  Next, this was stretched while sewn onto the bottom waist seam of the middle body panel, giving the dress a nicely controlled and loosely gathered skirt.

As this is a ready-to-wear item originally, I departed from my normal dislike of serging (overlocking) seams and thought I would give it a go again just to match with the rest of the finishing inside the dress.  This is a knit so I figured I probably would not need to really change, adjust, or otherwise tailor this too much in the future…but hey, this was cheap enough to buy and no skin off my back if it didn’t turn out.

Since I do not have a serger, I made a visit to my wonderful neighborhood sewing room.  It’s a place equipped with every sort of machine, notion, fabric, pattern or necessary supply I could ever want sewing-wise and the best creative, happy, and friendly atmosphere one could ask for…with a kitchen and wash room to boot.  I pay a ‘per hour’ rate and get sewing done while relaxing and enjoying the company of interesting, fellow sewing enthusiasts.  There are many such places popping up all over – I suggest you search and see if there is something like this in your town…if there is, please support it; if not at least do what you can to connect with other sewing friends!  Apart from my diversion in topic, I now had the perfect reason to spend more time at my local city sewing room, and used the sergers and large cutting tables there to make and finish my dress.  I totally had much more fun making this dress than it is to wear it.

Don’t get me wrong.  My dress is great, and I do like it, but I am not just 100% won over by this off-the-shoulder trend.  I plan to try some more versions yet, to find one I like the best.  As elegant and airy as it is, I feel like I’m always loosing something down the sides of my arms…apparently I’m not used to it.  For those of you that do wear these off-the-shoulder fashions, I need to ask you some questions.  Do your ruffles ever happen to have their hems roll up on you when you lift your arms up?  (This is a “problem” with my dress.)  What do you do if you are chilly – do you like sweaters, loose shawls, or jackets over your off-the-shoulder ruffle fashions?  (I haven’t yet found something I like to cover my arms against some air conditioning which is cranked up like the inside of a refrigerator.)  Also, to get technical, does anyone know whether an off-the-shoulder ruffle is really a sleeve or not?  Just wondering.  If anyone can let me know what they think or know, it would be much appreciated.P.S. – Does anyone else (like me) get the biggest kick out of the character of Naomi from “Mama’s Family”?  I just couldn’t achieve her second season massively fluffy hair the day of our pictures, unfortunately…

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Teens Era Transitional Suit Set

As of this past April, my country of America began commemorating a century since we entered into World War I, when we added our hearts, efforts, and supplies to the rest of the nations who had already been fighting.  As someone who sews and likes to dive right into history, I guess it’s no wonder I took to making my own outfit from the era as my effort at remembering history.  Besides being commemorative, our local art museum hosted an exhibit linked to the era of my outfit, “Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade”, and it gave me an actual destination to wear my historical garb.  Their “photo opportunity wall” was the setting for many of our pictures.  You see how I blend right in at a 1912 Millinery Parlor shop?  Also, the newly released “Wonder Woman” movie, which has a WWI setting, was the final odd but added impetus behind making my suit set.  My reasons are varied, but deeply rooted in the history that I love.

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1912 to 1914 was a true transitional period of history and my outfit, as I planned it, intends to pay homage to this.  1912 is roughly the end of the Titanic era, in which fashion still gave a clear visual definition of who was in and who was out of money.  1914 marks the beginning of World War I and the founding steps towards democracy of fashion and greater freedom in many realms of life.  I realize I am riding a fine line between pre-WWI and post WWI with my outfit but it has been two years in coming, and I couldn’t be happier with my first foray into both sewing and wearing teens era fashion!  During those two years, my outfit has been well-researched, long thought out, and lovingly worked on for a while now.  Most all of my details are tied to a historical fact.  Now I feel as if I have a historical statement piece with a story to tell about the history Great War.

Of course the best way to place myself in the shoes of a woman from circa 1914 was to go all out and do my outfit authentically from the inside out.  Yes this means the underwear, the corset and the whole bit!  You can see my past post about the under layers here, although I have yet to post about the teens era slip I have since made to complete the underpinning ensemble.  Without the right underpinnings my set did not have the right silhouette, nor did I have the correct posture, ahem.  Wearing a long line corset does make me realize just what a no-slouching posture really is, and it makes me appreciate the comfort of actually sitting in a chair to relax, not just the dainty ‘perching’ that I do in my teens corset.  Plus, it smoothes out all the ‘bumps’ that were undesired for the times, something which modern underwear only ‘supports’, if you know what I mean!

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I believe this combo of blouse, jacket, and skirt (not forgetting the hat) is technically called a “walking suit” even though a slim hobble skirt is not the best for walking.  Yet, I did not find this fashion as confining as many humorous cartoons (such as those by the satirist Benjamin Rabier) and other images make them out to be.

Circa 1914, the hobble skirt was widely worn, yet was being frequently and publically made fun of.  Then there was Paul Poiret, who backtracked on what he claimed he created and introduced the freedom and progressiveness of harem pantsJeanne Paquin, the first major female courtier, is supposed to have created a version of the hobble skirt which included pleats for ease of movement for the new, more active woman.  My own skirt is a combo of Paquin and Poiret – it has a trio of asymmetric pleats that are stitched down halfway up to free up my knees.  The world itself was fighting for the death of the skinny hobble skirt.  Active women who become a part of the workings of society were sorely needed and anything whatever fashion stood in way of that was destined to depart.  A suit such as mine was meant for a time in history when a woman of society was merely meant to be a figurehead and present an ideal image of her status.  By 1914, such a suit set was in its last, glorious, waning sundown.  Wearing this outfit was nothing too terribly uncomfortable, but it was a bit confining in its own right, which did take some getting used to.  It helped me realize why the fashions of the 1920s came about.

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When the newly enlisted soldiers left on the boats to go off to the Great War, many ladies wore their best “going away” clothes.  Not only was it dressing up to see their men off, but it was also one last big splurge, or indulgence, before buckling down into rationing and a full-hearted war effort.  I think this set certainly falls into the “going away” category!  I had ideas for even more finery I could have added, like a pocket watch, extra pockets, and more buttons.  I might get to that yet, but for now what I have is something finished and totally wearable.

DSC_0151-comp,wThe Great War had far-reaching implications on the previously active global import/export marketplace, thus there was an absence of much that had to do with the clothing, fashion, and textile industry.  Imported dyes, which had been coming out of Germany, became rare thus leading to a more frequent wearing of black and neutrals.  This is besides the fact that many people (especially mothers, wives, and sweethearts) were in mourning, anyway.  My own outfit greatly reflects this historical point, by using primarily black and grey tones together with two neutral cream colors to calmly brighten things up.

The war effort also caused heavy rationing/unavailability of leather, wool, and cotton (which, among other materials, were going towards supplies such as uniforms and tents).  Ladies had to wear more silks, with the occasional rayon blend (invented in 1910). Heavy rationing applied throughout many countries and America wasn’t excluded, but it did have situations a bit easier comparatively.  Straw, with some linen, were also somewhat rationed, so substitutes from paper were invented in counties like Russia and Germany, and “Jean cloth” (yes, denim) was resorted to as a leisure cloth.  At the beginning of the war, however, most walking suits still tended to be in “practical” and breathable pure linen.  As I am in the USA, I felt it would be fitting for me (if I was living back then) to have such a set as mine in linen, lined in a very basic cotton.  Non-war effort cottons like gingham and batiste were nonetheless used and still popular for housedresses, anyways.  Many women who weren’t involved in manual, farm, or food related work were enlisted into the textile industries or assigned to convalescence and hospital needs sewing, so I imagine access to rationed fabric was not entirely off-limits for all women.  Thus, my outfit is a mix of some fabrics and materials which would have been a luxury and some which would have been used for an authentic early war-time suit.  Restrained opulence was common with early and mid WWI clothes (see this for one example) since – after all – old habits die hard.  The Titanic era didn’t go down overnight like the famous ship did…

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Asymmetric designs were incredibly popular at this point in fashion, being used on blouses, skirts, suits, and dresses for both day and evening – no doubt from the Art Nouveau influence.  The asymmetric trend probably had to do with the ‘new’ draping of fabric on the body (Grecian idealism) for evening and tea gowns as well as an elegant and avant-garde desire to break away from the sweetness of the Edwardian period before.  I wanted my suit set to have some asymmetric loveliness…I do love how the trend continued into the 1920s, 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s so strongly.

Even during WWI, common luxuries could frequently be taken with neck line collars, since they needed such a small amount of material.  This is why my single asymmetric collar with matching sleeve cuffs are from an expensive, all-cotton, burnout velvet tapestry.  My top collar is from the same fabric as my skirt to add continuity to the outfit, plus I see it as a practical, “making-do” touch to use up every last scrap!

IMAG0287a-comp,w“Making-do” was greatly encouraged in many aspects of life, more so when it came to fashion, especially when it came to hats.  Headwear was a necessity that a lady would not do without and publications of the times stepped up to the need to show how homemade hats could be done easily, inexpensively, yet with a no less fashionable appearance.  My own hat started out as an inexpensive, basic floppy-brimmed hat blank bought from Wal-Mart…of all places.  (Pardon the pins in the picture at left – it was here a work-in-progress.)  It is made of a thick 100% wool felt so it is an accurate and proper hat making material, just something that might have been an expensive luxury for 1914 – all the more reason a woman of those times would have re-fashioned it herself!

Feeling united with the war effort extended into the modes of fashion with many hats and clothing mid or late in WWI possessing details which had a very obvious, albeit past, military influence.  Napoleonic Era hats were frequent, and I channeled the old-time tricorne hats with my own re-fashion (although I know it’s probably more 1917-ish to do this).  My favorite part is how my hat looks so different from every angle it’s seen.DSC_0172-crop-comp,w

The top heavy, floral, opulent picture hats of the early teens were shrinking in size by the time the decade was nearing it midpoint.  World War I nudged hats to become more compact, with many non-flower related decoration and interesting features to the brims.  They were often trying to create more of a straight-line silhouette to the rest of an outfit…pretty much like my own hat does (especially thanks to the feathers)!

The overly frequent and outlandish use of birds on millinery in the decades leading up to WWI led to many protective steps to ensure the survival of many kinds of flying creatures, the most well-known being the founding of the Audubon society.  At the turn of the century, the Audubon Society offered 5 public lectures on such topics as “Woman as a bird enemy”. In 1910, the Audubon Plumage Law reigned in extravagant millinery practices harmful to wildlife, which is why I’m using humane but no less elaborate pheasant feathers.

There are a few modern re-makes that I snuck in to help complete the overall outfit.  Firstly, what you see under my suit jacket is more like the sensible and fully wearable option to the little neck dickies in the Butterick pattern.  I am wearing a full blouse, something that is a modern re-make my mom bought for me maybe a decade ago.  I am sure as fashionable as a woman of circa 1914 might have been, no doubt she would have appreciated the practical option of taking off her jacket, versus the façade of the neck-only dickies.  My blouse has a hidden button placket up the front, which would have been in the back for a true-vintage piece, but this is undetectable enough to not detract from my overall authenticity.  At my neck, I am wearing a “Downton Abbey” brand brooch I had bought from a Department store years back.  I think it is the perfect touch!  My glass bead earrings are from my Grandmother’s jewelry collection.

DSC_0199a-comp,w,cropFinally, my boots are something that I found at Wal-mart (of all places) about 17 years back.  They are only vinyl, yet they do have working grommet and hook closures plus a semi-French heel, so close enough is again wonderful.  Not that I wouldn’t be willing to spend a bit of money to have my ideally perfect outfit…but when I have items ‘close enough’ on hand already, that’s even better because what I’ve been holding on to for years can get its long-awaited opportunity to be useful and shine.

THE FACTS:Butterick 6108

FABRIC:  Suit Jacket – 100% linen exterior and a cotton lining with a combo of cotton brocade and linen for the collars; Hobble Skirt – 100% linen; Hat – Wool felt hat blank

Past Patterns hobble skirt pattern-compPATTERNS:  Suit Jacket came from Butterick #6108, a 1912 pattern; the hobble skirt was made using a Past Pattern, a copy of a Pictorial Review #5462, circa 1911 to 1913; the hat was self-drafted from looking at era authentic fashion plates and photos

NOTIONS:  Surprisingly, much of what I needed came from on hand, as it needed not all that odd of supplies.  I went through lots and lots of thread (of course), and I covered most all the inner seams of the jacket in bias tape.  The skirt’s inner waistband has a ribbon from my stash, and hook-and-eye tape (which I always try to keep on hand) goes in the side closure.  Vintage fancy buttons for the skirt pleats look as if they could be authentic jet, but they’re only deceptive plastic.  They came from the stash of my dear departed Grandmother.  Cotton interfacing (another vintage notion I always try to keep on hand) went into the collars and sleeve cuffs.  The only notions I had to buy was the frog closures for the jacket, the pheasant feathers (from Hobby Lobby), and the hemp ribbon (found at the Dollar Store).

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The skirt was made first, and was finished on March 28, 2017, after only 8 hours.  The jacket was done on April 20, 2017, after only 20 hours.  The hat was made on April 21, after only an hour or two.

DSC_0184,a,p-comp,wTHE INSIDES:  I finished everything so nicely in bias tape.

TOTAL COST:  The linen for the jacket exterior was made from a combo of one vintage tablecloth (found at rummage sale for $1) and a one yard cut of linen bought at Wal-Mart about 17 years back (old enough to be counted as free).  The cotton jacket lining was on sale at Jo Ann’s Fabrics for $2 a yard at 4 ½ yards (about $9).  The damask collar was $10 for half of a yard (coming from the expensive home furnishings section) and the grey toned linen for the skirt and single jacket collar was also only $2 a yard, bought when Hancock Fabrics was closing its business ($4 for only 2 yards).  The frog closures actually came from the button section, and so were a bit more expensive.  The supplies for the hats cost me a total of only $20.  So…added up, this outfit is a total of about $50.  Not a bad price for not cutting any corners with what I wanted!

DSC_0187-comp,wAs to the actual sewing, each piece really easily came together.  Making each was no harder than regular sewing and, when I think about it, actually more fun and informative!  The biggest challenge to making this set was the fact that I had to put on all the appropriate matching under layers (meaning the underwear combo, corset, slip, and blouse) each time I wanted to try on my suit jacket and skirt, see if they fit, and tailor them appropriately.  If I was going to do what a woman of those time would have done, fitting the suit to any other shape would have been pointless – a modern shape has too many buldges.  This caveat was not all that bad as it sounds.  Sure it was a bit of a bother, I was dedicated.  You know, the best part is it got me used to dressing into and wearing the Titanic era garments, so much so that it was not all that odd when I actually got around to wearing the full outfit out and about in public.

DSC_0193a-comp,wI found the fit of both patterns to be at generous.  The skirt pattern ran a few inches big and I had to make a giant pleat/tuck kind of adaptation down the center back as a fix, while the jacket was just a tad generous so I went down in size to find my perfect fit.  Other than this tip, my two garments needed no other change and were made as-is.  The skirt needed a giant 8 inch hem, but the wide hem helped properly which down and round out the bottom like interfacing.  Keep in mind that the teens era skirts have longer backs than fronts as the corsets were designed to smooth out the bum and back curve so they naturally sat higher from behind.  As I am quite skinny in my corset, I had to even out the hem, anyway.  The jacket sleeves were slightly brought closer into the armpit for more reach room – and yes, I do have full and comfortable movement!  I suppose I could have shortened the sleeves for my lightly petite frame, but they’re ok.  I did add a ribbon closure inside the jacket to help keep the wide open neckline closed better, with a small hidden hook-and-eye at the point where the asymmetric collar ends.

My biggest shortcut to sewing the jacket was to line each ivory linen jacket piece with the black lining.  I didn’t want any seam allowances showing through the light colored linen. Backing the pieces in the back knocked out ‘two birds with one stone’ by providing opacity and lining.  I just then finished off the seam edges with bias tape and top-stitched them down in their proper directions.  Not the best way, I know, but it gets the job done almost just as nicely yet quicker.  I do not like to take more time than is reasonable on an outfit that will not see all that much wearing.

(I’d like to title this next picture, “Hello ladies, may we chat?”)

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I originally planned on a fully hand-made, from scratch millinery creation for the hat to match my outfit, but I was running short on time before the event I was to attend.  This is why I re-fashioned a hat.  The wonderful Tanith Rowan (blog here) was of assistance to be at this step, and even provided a few helpful links to free newspaper archives for some awesome yet relatively easy patterns from 1912 and 1913.  I have plans for those hats yet on another future teens era project, but for now I think this hat is just what my outfit needed.  No kidding – my set was “meh” or even “good” but still missing something until I put the hat on and it turned into amazing!  The power of hats is truly underrated.  They add so much to an outfit and a person…and with a hat like this, it can even add height when you have dramatic feathers!

If you’ve made it this far reading, thank you for joining me on my tirade about my efforts to make the perfect World War I commemorative outfit.  I have a special Pinterest board dedicated to my inspiration for this project – please visit it here.

So much of what has happened in the past is linked to why things are how they are in the present and clothing can be used as a tool to help tell such a story.  I like to share how my sewing skills help me accomplish that.  Look for more (and perhaps less involved) WWI era and older historical clothes to come here on my blog!

“Cross My Heart” Agent Carter Dress Re-fashion

The Marvel Comics heroine Peggy Carter deserved to have more luck in love than heartbreaks, but either way the people she cared for were a major driving force behind her life.  Perhaps no other dress so blatantly shows Peggy’s ups and downs in love with such a fashionable, classy, yet visible way as Season Two’s “Better Angels” (episode 3) frock that I recreated for myself.  I know this is sort of weird to feature such subjects of grief intertwined with affection now that the holiday of love and friendship is here.  However, matters of the heart are powerful things and I can’t think of a stronger (if imaginary) woman than Peggy Carter.  My dress does have a rich, bright red and is elegantly perfect for a night out.  So, happy heart day to all of you and those who are part of your life!

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A quite plain and slightly ill-fitting knit dress had been in my wardrobe hanging unworn for the last few years.  Slackers gathering dust and taking up space are not to be tolerated – we do not have the room for useless items!  It was high time for it to give me a reason for it to stay, and I figured it was basic enough for a re-fashion as it was still in good condition.  I realized it was in a lovely rich navy, one of the colors Peggy wears the most frequently, especially paired with red for a patriotic nod to her dearest Captain America.  The original dress also happened to remind me of a silhouette which would be something I could picture on Agent Carter – body hugging with a lovely bias flared skirt.  Thus, it occurred to me to attempt to make one her bolder garments I’ve long admired, as I had a short cut to easily make something I wasn’t willing to take the time to make from scratch!  Besides…I found a better fit and lovely re-use for something that I wasn’t wearing and enjoying otherwise!  I feel like this one of my best, easiest, and most fun of all my re-fashions so far.

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THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton knit “Land’s End” dress bought about 10 years back with the added bright end panels and contrast being a 100% polyester interlock bought at JoAnn’s Fabric Store

PATTERN:  None!  All personal drafting  

NOTIONS:  All I needed was thread, and I had that…

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was so quick to make it felt almost too good to believe!  It was made in two evenings for a total time of 8 hours.  I was finished on November 17, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  The original dress had overlocked seams, which I kept, but the rest of the new seams did not unravel so I left them raw.dsc_0611a-compw

TOTAL COST:  maybe $10 at the most

On a night out together, a girl friend of mine helped me pick the contrast fabric for my re-fashion.  She couldn’t have chosen better!  My navy dress is a matte finish cotton, so together we figured I needed a knit (of course) which had a lovely satin shine for a smartly contrasting perk.  Both of us decided the bright red (which I would never ever wear alone) was the right tone over the deeper shades.  I bought way more than I ended up needing in the end, so I plan on convincing hubby he would wear a shirt I might make for him out of this interlock.  We’ll see what I end up really doing with the leftover red knit.

First of all, the original dress’ fitting problems were the odd placements of both the waistline and the sleeve hems.  The waist was too low to be an empire, yet too high for a natural middle placement, while the sleeves were like a slightly short bracelet length with a bulky, fake button placket keeping them unnaturally below my elbow.  The sleeve fix was easy – I shortened them above the button placket to hem them so they fall above my elbow.  My re-fashion plans also fixed the waistline problem perfectly and immediately by adding in the belt-like panel.  It brought the skirt to fall at the natural waistline and connected perfectly with the weird empire seam of the bodice.  The new red arched front belt-like panel is double fabric layered for stability and top-stitched onto the blue dress.  There is one center back seam to the belt as I designed it.

1940s-dress-w-green-panel-side-pin-fm-augusta-auctions-junior-house-cotton-40s-skirtThe skirt portion was the best part.  Drawing the curve of the red swirl panels was so fun!  I might have gotten just a bit carried away and added more of an arch to the panels than Peggy’s original dress.  My dress panels go from the front right side’s off-center over to the left side seam, while Peggy’s dress has panels that go a straighter down with a slight curve to one side.  I believe my dress panels’ sharp angles are the main reason for the slightly weird wrinkling going on with the red parts, combined with the fact I cut the insert sections on the bias and sewed them in as a double layers of fabric.  However the “faults”, I so love the red swirls on the skirt portion!  They make my dress have such movement when I walk I feel so elegant – static pictures do not do this dress justice.  I have been able to find only a few extant original vintage garments which have a similar bias, color contrast, swirled panels.  The ones I have found have been from the 1940’s but, to me (going with my gut), this dress appears to have a strong late 30’s influence, especially with my 30’s re-make Aerosoles strap heels.  Needless to say I’m a big fan of this fashion detail.dsc_0086a-compw

The toughest parts to this re-fashion was adding on the red interest strips that give the continuous crossed-heart all the way around the bodice.  The fabric is so silky it was hard to pin into a defined, consistent band.  Bias strips of the interlock resisted being ironed into a single fold shape, and I couldn’t use a hot iron, either.  I just had to pin like crazy and do a butt-load of eye-balling in between measuring to check the placement.  The dress was hung up at this step and I would look and look at the bands ‘til I was cross-eyed and I knew I just had to stitch them down soon or I’d never wear it.  I’m still not sure the bands are as precise as I’d like but – hey, if only I would notice any ‘imperfections’ that’s totally good enough!

The bodice bands are continuous around but pieced to apply. I started at the center back above the red waistband and went all the way to the opposite shoulder for each side.  Then, the back neckline band is another continuous piece from shoulder to shoulder.  I probably could have done better had I done hand stitching to the bands, but this re-fashion was not meant to take too long in time so I merely did machine stitching (which was another frustration in itself).

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By time the bands were sewn on, the dress became a bit of a challenge to wiggle into for dressing.  With all the top stitching visible and the looser cotton knit, my dress needed to look dressy as well as keep its shape so I used small straight stitching.  The ease of dressing was something I was willing to give in on for the nice stitching and assurance of stability for many wearings (and washings) to come.  Adding in a zipper was not an option here.  After all, most vintage garments are a circus trick to get into anyway…I’m used to it by now, just so long as I don’t pop any seams.

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I know my dress is not a carbon copy and I want it that way.  The original dress as designed by Gigi Melton is (I believe) wool crepe, with petal sleeves, low V-neckline as well as a bottom hem red band to differentiate itself from my own version.  I greatly respect the ingenuity of Gigi Melton to find so many lovely 30’s and 40’s inspired ways for Peggy to wear her classic colors of red and navy!

There are other bloggers who have done a symbolical low-down of my specific Agent Carter inspiration dress, so I’ll defer to “Hard Boiled Meggs” if you want more of that, and please do visit if you’ve seen Season Two.  Here’s a link to Megg’s specific post about Episode 3 (the one in which my inspiration dress can be seen), but her post on Episode 2 and Episode 9 further explain the crossing over her heart.  Here’s an official photo gallery to see more from the source of some of the screen shots I shared.

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My photo backdrop is meant to mirror the sumptuous, curious, and spacious setting of the Stark mansion where Season Two saw much of Agent Carter’s time.  We went on a visit to the Samuel Cupples Mansion on the grounds of Saint Louis University.  This historic home is the epitome of luxuriousness which its remarkable amount of fireplaces – 22 spread out over a total of 42 rooms and three floors!  This place now serves as a gallery for SLU’s collection of fine and decorative art dating from before 1919.  The ample space inside made it challenging to have the right light so the colors look a bit different in each of our photos.

This dress reminds me of so much.  Firstly, it reminds me of how one can be vintage without going hard-core by taking a mere feeling, an inspiration, or even a silhouette and blending it with what’s out there today for a mainstream form of the past that is beautifully unique.  On a more personal level, by jogging to mind Peggy Carter, this dress further reminds me to enjoy and appreciate every minute of the time spent with the people in my life.  Taking time for someone is a priceless gift that goes both ways, and Valentine’s Day isn’t the only day for doing sweet things.  Cross my heart – take my word for it.

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