A Tribute to Bernard the Flamingo – The “Devil in Pink”

When there are frigid temperatures, and forecasts of ice, snow, and dreary skies, part of me cannot help but mentally travel to the opposite clime…somewhere warm and sunny, where living is relaxed and duties are a thing forgotten (for the time being at least)!  Flamingos can be found at such tropical getaways, and imagery of their one-legged standing silhouette is often associated with resort lounging anyways.

This year, rather than just imagining, hubby and I are actually off at a sunny Florida beach for the moment.  Thus, now is the perfect time for me to share my 1940s outfit I made inspired by the “devil in pink” himself, Bernard, pet of the master of carefree lounging himself, Marvel’s inventor extraordinaire Howard Stark.  (Watch this clip for a small minute of understanding!)  Bernard the flamingo was the loud and hard-to-handle bane of Howard’s butler, Mr. Jarvis, to the humorous amazement to the two ladies Agent Peggy Carter and Mrs. Ana Jarvis in Season Two of the Marvel TV series.  This inspiration was the perfect opportunity to channel my love of vintage, Agent Carter, and casual yet nice separates all into one handmade outfit.

Thinking of a warmer climate basked in sunshine, my post WWII blouse has brass sun buttons and golden flamingos printed on a rich pink rayon.  My trousers are a multi-climate wool blend twill in practical khaki tan with post-war style hem cuffs for a masculine touch.  My accessories are a classic straw fedora (just like what Agent Carter had), pink patent oxford-style shoes, vintage pink pearl earrings, and an old 40’s original tooled leather box purse, the kind that were popular tourist souvenirs brought back to the states for sweethearts.  I couldn’t be happier with the comfort, chic, and practical usefulness of this set!  It’s a girly pink overload (with the shoes, too) in a restrained and professional way coming straight from the past.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Blouse – a 100% rayon challis; Pants – a wool blend twill in a medium weight thickness

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8243, a reprint of an original year 1948 pattern #2337, for the blouse and a vintage original Simplicity #4528, year 1943, for the trousers (used before to make these denim pants)

NOTIONS:  I used everything from on hand – bias tapes, cotton scraps, thread, and vintage notions.  My pants have an old vintage metal zipper in the side, and my blouse’s amazing sun-image buttons come from hubby’s Grandma’s stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse and the pants came together quickly – about 5 to 7 hours to make each.  The blouse and the pants were finished in June of 2017.

THE INSIDES:  all cleanly bias bound

TOTAL COST:  The flamingo rayon was bought in early spring 2017 at JoAnn’s fabric store, while the fabric for the pants was bought at a rummage/resale store for only $2 for 2 yards. I don’t clearly remember the total but I think the blouse and pants together might have been about $10…pretty good, right?!

I had been saving the khaki fabric to make something that would be a staple piece which would see much wearing – weather that would be a 1940s Eisenhower jacket, vintage trousers, or a 1930s skirt, I wasn’t sure.  The flamingo fabric was a sudden, spur-of-the-moment purchase – one of those things that when you first lay eyes on it, it screams to you “you need this”, and then mentally you know exactly what to do with it.  The sudden purchase helped me narrow down what to do with the fabric purchase I had been hoarding.  Together, these pieces are awesome, but I really do immensely appreciate how each goes with so much else in my wardrobe.

Many times, spur-of-the-moment projects can satisfy one’s creative need but not really fit into one’s existing separates.  Not so with this blouse!  It actually looks good with khaki skirts, denim bottoms, and even some rust red and dark brown or white colored bottoms too.  As for the pants… they are something I really don’t know how I lived without until now.  I like them so much better than my basic black knit pants.  The material is nicely substantial and wrinkle free, and doesn’t show fuzz the same as a dark color would.  When my pants are worn with a basic blue oxford shirt and some suspenders, I feel like vintage menswear for women wipes out modern business attire.  Not even close to equal in awesomeness!

Rayon challis feels remarkably soft and silky on the skin, but as this was a blouse, it needed some stability in the neckline.  I didn’t want the collar and button front to be overly stiff from interfacing so I opted to use plain 100% cotton instead.  This gave it a bit extra body, and kept the fabric from losing its shape, without the stiffness.  As I used khaki colored cotton for the interfacing substitute, it also helped make the facing become invisible (more or less).  The pink rayon is slightly sheer, but a slip or anything skin toned becomes invisible under it.  I was afraid the double layer of fabric, where the collar and button placket are faced with on big fabric piece, would be glaringly obvious, making the pink a different color there.  However the flesh toned cotton interfacing happily disguised that.  I do like my sewing to be well engineered, keeping up the art of beautiful insides with tricky facings as subtle as if they are not even there!  Keep this in mind if you try this blouse in a light color, too!

The shoulders of this blouse pattern seem to run slightly small.  I have generous upper arms so I commonly have problems fitting in modern sleeves and some vintage sleeves, anyway.  This pattern is definitely not the tightest in its armscye, but it could benefit from a 5/8 inch longer shoulder seam in the bodice to make it extend out to the end of my actual shoulder blade as well as a wider back for more reach room.  The trio of darts at the sleeve caps are such a lovely detail, and make the actual sleeve itself generous in room, so any tightness in the bodice’s armscye is easily forgivable.

Besides the sleeve armscye, I did not find any major regrets to change for next time.  I did however, look ahead and make a bunch of slight tweaks.  The hem length ran a bit short for a blouse to stay tucked in on its own so I lengthened the blouse the fall under my hipline.  The collar was a steep curve to turn right sides out and so I snipped the seam allowances throughout down to about 1/8 inch.  The facings did not lie down as nicely as they could so I made the outer hem wider for a thinner facing that meets the back neck collar seam rather than hanging over it.  The recommended button placement was weird – the top button makes for a very chokingly high necked blouse while the bottom button ends right at the waistline making it hard to tuck in without looking like you have a majorly protruding belly button.  I lowered the top button by over an inch and raised the bottom one by ½ inch (could have brought it up even more) with the middle one coming in between the two.  Finally, I added a snap closure to close the blouse between the last third button and the hem.  This below the waist snap is something I always see in vintage patterns, and it helps keep my blouses closed nicely so I added it here even though it wasn’t in the instructions I saw.  Most of these recommendations I also made to my second, sequel version of this pattern – my silk orange Agent Carter blouse, posted here.

The length of the sleeve hems is something I see frequently “misunderstood” when I see versions of this pattern sewn up.  Looking at the original pattern piece, the extra length to the sleeves might appear as a ¾ length sleeve.  I installed my sleeve unhemmed to see for myself, and yes, it turns out as long as a ¾ sleeve.  I did not like this look in the least on my blouse, nor did the sleeves strike me as having the right shaping to give elbow room to be a ¾ sleeve.  Even if you do the instructed 5 something inch hem this makes the sleeve above elbow length, just like what you see on the silky red version on the model images on Simplicity’s site.  If you look at the original old pattern’s cover, the sleeves are meant to be cuffed, and honestly I think a shorter, mid-bicep sleeve looks better with this blouse, anyway.  It takes a lot of extra fabric to give room for cuffs, and I find it so weird, confusing and misleading that the line drawings and made-up versions to this pattern seems to inexplicably “forget” to show sleeve cuffs, throwing many sewers off with this pattern.

If the versions of this blouse that I am seeing are longer sleeved because they are intended to be so, because they like them that way, then that is another story and all fine and good.  But it sure seems the sleeves are this way because of a glitch on Simplicity’s part, since the pattern works out just fine being cuffed without making any changes.  I am wondering how many don’t see the sleeves were originally meant to be cuffed, and they don’t realize that in the extra hem length as the pattern intends all because Simplicity “forgot” about it in their modern make-up.  Every little detail matters when it comes to vintage – that is what makes it so loved, so likable, so unique, and so timelessly wearable.

Speaking of the sleeve cuffs, since I had made these pants before, and they fit me out of the envelope with no changes needed, I was comfy with the assurance of a good finished pair of pants and therefore played around with the long hem to add cuffs at the hem.  Each is cuff is tacked down in four places – one at each side seam, and one at the center fronts and backs.  This is what I did for the cuffs of my blouse sleeves, as well.  Cuffs are somewhat confusing because you have to over account for the extra fabric, but as I had my previous pair of pants to measure from and I had just done the cuffs on my blouse, I felt more to grips with making cuffs on my pants.  I think I would have preferred the cuffs to be a bit wider, now that I look at them, but I feel like they match the blouse this way, add a touch of masculinity, and bring my WWII era pattern up to date with the freedom from rationing that would have been the case with a 1948 outfit.

For these pictures, I had a good taste of how Bernard could easily have been a bothersome handful which was his reputation when we visited the flamingo pond in our town’s zoo.  I was a yard or so away from a flamingo fight and they were totally unafraid of people.  For all their socialness in the pond, they can really get into things with each other!  Their noise quickly turned into a harsh and grating ruckus, and the two fighters walked away with a pride that was really laughable for their movements.  Bernard the pet had no intentions of acting like a pet in the least if he was anything like the flamingos I saw!

In ancient culture, flamingos represent a calming confidence.  It can also stand for femininity and a firm outspoken attitude.  Combine all of these together and there is one awesome combo to stand for an interesting creature.  The wild, unpredictable brashness of the flamingo was sort of a running joke and source of humor to the creators of Marvel’s Agent Carter, some of whom I hear were pecked at and chased down by Bernard off set.  A trio of Agent Carter ladies had show-girl style flamingo inspired outfits for the song and dance sequence in the beginning of the 9th episode, and from what I have seen on the social media sites of some of the actors/actresses, but especially the costume designer Gigi Melton, anything flamingo related (brooches, novelty fabric, fan art) is appreciated.  So – this outfit is to all of that quality entertainment, killer vintage style, and much-needed inspiring characters which is Agent Carter.

You will be seeing my pants making recurring comebacks to match with some of my future to-be-posted blouses.  Other than that, don’t fall over when you try to stand like a flamingo, and I will be back at home to share something closer to my winter clime when I give you my next post.  Here’s to happy sewing everyone!

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Fuchsia Pleats to Brighten Up the Greys

Winter skies here can be so blasé and I am not at all afraid to use bold color in my choice of sewing plans to counter attack that!  This post will try to be short and sweet about a not so simple 1940s blouse I made to complete a recently acquired vintage suit set of the same era.  This blouse proves that mantra, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!” to be very true and not just words.  I indeed had to struggle to have this blouse turn out successfully and am so glad I persevered for this gem of a garment!

I will confess that I now have a hopeless taste for silk and silk blends recently.  A fine silk cotton is my especial combination of fascination – it can come in so many finishes, levels of opacity and crispness, besides the myriad of colors available.  Add that to its relative affordability, it is a no-brainer to choose for blouses.  Find some for yourself and you’ll thank me later.  Just don’t go and buy it all, now!

If I let myself get technical, I would guiltily admit that I am mislabeling this blouse because if you go by the book “a tuck is stitched down, a pleat is not”.  So this is a tucked front blouse whose detailing is made to look like what we conventionally think of as pleats.  There I said it – I’m admittedly wrong.  Nevertheless, tucks and pleats are frequent and lovely details on vintage blouse designs, and are a fun and relatively easy way to have a blouse that’s a complex, standout piece.  Tucks and pleats are just about cleverly manipulating folds of fabric after all.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 58% silk, 42% cotton blend fabric, opaque and rich in color with a sheen like a satin and a crispness like a shantung

PATTERN:  Hollywood #1165, year 1943, a “Ruth Warrick of RKO-Radio” design

NOTIONS:  All I needed was thread at first, which I happened to have, but then I ran out of thread and I needed a zipper so I had to buy (at the last minute) some of my notions needed for this project.  Otherwise I used up some interfacing scraps for the cuffs, and I used vintage buttons from the stash of hubby’s Grandmother.  The buttons might look like cut glass, but I believe they are Lucite

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This blouse was finished on November 20, 2017 after maybe 20 plus hours invested in it.

THE INSIDES:  So nice I’m tempted to wear the blouse inside out…well, almost!  100% French seams.

TOTAL COST:  I ordered this from a seller on Etsy than imports in from Hong Kong so it’s at a discount.  Two yards cost me only $14 including shipping.

Now, before I get into the details of the blouse, let me gush over the suit details.  From what I have seen in my research, I can date this suit with relative certainty to circa year 1946.  It could be as early as year 1944, but not much later than 1947.  They just do not make suits remotely close to the level of quality and beauty as they did in the past.  This wool, though it is plain grey, has a satin sheen in varying colors that is simply breathtaking.  Pictures just cannot capture that shine, neither can they convey the substantial thickness of the wool and the crepe lining inside.  These kinds of fabrics sadly are not to be found anymore.  This wool is almost like a felt in plushness, and with the lining and complicated, impeccable structuring I can feel is going on inside, this is more like a jacket than just a suit jacket.  If you haven’t ever felt what a 1940’s quality suit is like, you need to experience it.  Put it on your bucket list!  These garments are truly transforming when you put them on.  They make you feel like the best darn good version of yourself you never knew existed.  I feel like I can tackle anything in a killer vintage suit – they’re empowering.  The trick is to take your measurements, know what garment measurements would work well for you, and then wait and check around to find the one that “suits” you!

More often than not, unless you are willing to make a larger monetary investment, a vintage suit will need some upkeep and TLC, with many even missing their matching skirt.  This jacket needed its buttons tacked on and some popped seams closed up, but these are the most common repairs with vintage pieces as cotton thread was frequently used back then and is to the point of disintegrating by now.  Luckily, I had a matching skirt, only it didn’t fit me very well, not like the suit jacket did.  Since someone had obviously tinkered with the skirt before I received it, adding modern-style repairs I wasn’t happy with, I didn’t feel too bad when I refashioned it so I could wear it.  The waistband was unpicked and removed to make a center back panel that gave me about 3 inches more of booty room and better, curved shaping around the waistline.  To finish the waist, I turned under the edge in simple bias tape.  Without the waistband, the skirt does have the tendency to droop now, but at least it is more wearable for me and I was able to fix it using all of the same original material!

With all the effort I put into bringing this vintage suit set up to snuff, I felt that a more detailed and complex blouse was especially worth it here.  Don’t get me wrong – anything anyone makes for oneself is ‘worth it’.  I just mean that a rich looking, detailed blouse that might take more time than my normal project would justly give my suit set the finishing touch I was seeking to have a full outfit that has a bang!  Of course, the right accessories help that, too. My gloves, handbag, and hat are all true vintage, as well as my Grandmother’s jeweled turtle brooch and earrings set.  My two-tone spectator pumps are new reproductions from my favorite vintage-style brand, Chelsea Crew.

Finally, to the blouse!  Not that I don’t have blouses already that work with this suit – of course, white and black tops match here, primarily because of the buttons.  But that is so boring and predictable.  Blouses with collars distracted away from the lovey curved collar (and matching pocket flaps!) on the suit.  My oldie-but-goodie 40’s basic round neck satin blouse works nicely under the suit, so for my new shirt I reached for a rounded neck blouse with interest down the front that would peek out.

I have been wanting to use this Hollywood blouse pattern that I have had for years!  Ever since I saw Emileigh of “Flashback Summer” blog make a Maasai-inspired version for herself using this pattern it has been higher in my sewing project queue.  I had a feeling that a solid color would be the best way to show off the detailing, and I think I was right.  Only, I was wrong when it came to estimating the sizing.  This pattern ran really small!  It was weird.  Emileigh had said that she felt her pattern ran large, and I have made another Hollywood pattern from 1943, the same year, that ran true to size, as well as one which ran very large from the next year.  It’s not that this pleated blouse pattern had weird proportions, for all the pieces were nicely marked and fit together well.  It was just all over small.  Luckily, when I graded the pattern up to my size, I gave myself and extra ½ inch or so just to be on the safe side so I had just enough bonus so that that a small change could fix things.  More on that change in a minute!  The only thing I can think is that this was an anomaly rising from the combo of an unprinted pattern and an off-brand company (meaning something other than the “Big Four”, Simplicity, McCall, Butterick, Vogue).  Many times unprinted patterns are less reliable in accuracy than printed ones due to how they were made in stacks of hundreds of sheets at a time, die-cast stamped with their balance marks and darts.  Also, out of all the vintage patterns I’ve worked with, I do find unpredictable sizing almost always in brand patterns like Du Barry, Hollywood, mail order, and even Advance.

You start with the front, which is in three panels – one side front on the left and right of the center panel that gets pleated.  Except for the center where they spread out towards the shoulders, the pleats are in “blind tuck” style, which has folds that meet each other so no stitching shows.  Then I made all bodice darts, sewed the back panels on, and inserted the sleeves.  Sounds easy, right?  Well, I adapted the sleeve fullness to be pleats rather than gathers as the pattern intended.  It was tricky to get the sleeves looking even and exact together when I was free handing the detailing.  I wanted the pleats on the sleeves to match the trim darts on the sleeve caps and the pleats on the body of the blouse.

That done, then I realized that the neckline add-on piece would make the blouse so high necked I might as well choke myself with it.  No, I was leaving the round neck panel off. So I took what little material I had left and made bias tape facing to cleanly finish off the neckline at the level it was at.  While I was at it, I then also made a bit more bias tape to cleanly hem the bottom of the blouse, too.  I tried it on without the back closing, and realized the bust darts needed to be re-stitched about one inch lower.  With that fixed, the blouse seemed to fit great, so I finished it by stitching in all the buttonholes and buttons in the sleeves and bodice back.  Here came the problem.

The blouse was not all that small of a fit in itself if I just stood with my arms to the side, but add in the back buttons and that was a difficulty.  I found it almost impossible to button the blouse closed on myself, with not enough extra ease room.  Once I did finally do that feat, I saw that when I reached out, the stress on the buttons was making me scared the delicate fabric might possibly rip.  Stitched on and already cut through buttonholes are non-reversible, so I thought, “Why not cover up the buttonholes (my only real option anyway) and add a pleated panel down the back to also cover up a zippered closure?”  This way the back of the blouse compliments the front and now has equally lovely interest, besides that fact that a separating zipper is so much easier to do blind reaching from behind and much stronger than four buttons could be.  Adding the panel with the zipper technically gave me one whole extra inch of space across the back, making my blouse fit me so much better overall.  A crisis was averted that night, and I actually like my method of covering up a sewing “failure” much better than if everything had gone according to plan.  Mistakes are often blessings in disguise, I suppose.

The Hollywood star associated with my blouse’s design, Ruth Warrick, is herself an interesting woman that is not heard about as much as she could, for being in the limelight in as many ways as she was.  First of all, she played the character of the actor Orson Welles’ first wife in the famous 1941 movie “Citizen Kane”.  She worked with Orson Welles on both the screen and the radio on several occasions because he said he was looking for a woman who “was a lady”, not just someone who could “play a lady”.  Mostly she is known for the later career in the television soap dramas.  She was in “As the World Turns” for a number of years after the show debuted in 1956, then she moved to “All My Children”, which she was part of from 1970 to 2005.  She has bonus points in my book for being a gal from my own state of Missouri!  It’s amazing how adding the association of a famous screen star can really add to a pattern’s appeal.  Pattern companies should bring back Hollywood patterns, and I’m not talking about cosplay either.

Speaking of Hollywood, this reminds me of a quote of some fashion advice by Joan Crawford, “Find your happiest colors – the ones that make you feel good.  Care for your clothes, like the good friends they are!”  (Full quote here.)  This is good advice for store bought clothes, even more so for things that you have sewn.  If you have taken the time to think of it, buy the fabric and work with the pattern, you are worth seeing what you have made be a success and not an unwanted failure.  However, Joan Crawford’s quote is especially the case for vintage items.  It would be sad if the general interest in fashion from the past also becomes the cause for it to be more scarce and therefore less attainable.  I don’t mean to get on a soapbox, but really – it’s kind of like what is said about our environment, we should leave vintage the same or better than how we found it, but never worse off.  Those who own a garment piece from the past should make sure to wear it only if it fits (as there will be less chance of it tearing irreparably and more chance they will like wearing it), take care of it, and examine, appreciate, and learn from it.  Without clothes from the past how will we learn and understand our present and future fashion styles?  Anyone who has or does sew vintage and even those who do not should appreciate the value of true authentic pieces in the hands of everyday people.  I hope you agree and enjoy what I have done to add value to this 1940’s suit set.

“Winter Soldier” Blue Suit Dress

I despise the cold and hate the season of snow and dead looking trees.  Grey skies and a body not tolerant of bundling up in layers combines to make the fact that we’re at the beginning of what is officially winter now gives me no reason to celebrate.  In my mind I’m like a “winter warrior” that endures through the tough season…wearing my own made garments to make staying warm much more enjoyable than it could be.

This post’s suit dress is from 1955 and to me is the best of me putting up with the past cold season in lovely vintage style.  I love this!  Warm (but not bulky) boucle, slimming design, interesting asymmetric features, and mid-50’s chic fashion.  There’s even a good influence of Agent Carter inspiration, courtesy of Peggy’s Smithsonian interview from the movie “Captain America: Winter Soldier”, to combine for one awesome result, if I do say so myself.  (Watch the whole 3 minute clip here…warning, it’ll make you cry!) My dress may not be as “line for line” a copy as some of my other Agent Carter makes, but it is definitely similar in a way that is clearly recognizable, even if I do only have one lapel!  Life is better with a little bit o’ Peggy in it!

A good Agent Carter dress in 50’s era class deserved an amp up in some quality features.  Perhaps that’s why this dress is the first to have me hand-stitch everything when it came to finishing – the side zipper, all top-stitching, and all hemming.  As one who hates hand work due to achy wrists and a bad neck, this is a truly strong statement to how I feel about this (not just a slight brag) that my “Winter Soldier” dress is the first to have deserved such treatment.  It deserved it, believe me, but all that hand stitching taught me some unexpected but much appreciated lessons on a new outlook to certain aspects of sewing.  More about this down later!

To “top off” my set is one of my favorite vintage hats that I own – a rich navy velvet halo hat, also asymmetric in style, complete with a matching velvet vintage clutch purse.  My gloves are also vintage, so I guess my suede, patent toed heels are the only real modern accessories of my outfit!  This kind of asymmetric halo hat found great popularity for a short period of time (about 1948 to 1953), so my hat is a tad early for the actual date of my pattern (1955).  However, as the “Smithsonian Interview” scene was supposed to be in 1953, it is right on spot in both year and complimentary style, I do believe.

My lipstick is my favorite crimson shade, “Red Velvet” from Besame Cosmetics.  “Red Velvet” goes on so smooth and is intense in pigment.  It often lasts through eating a meal!  Anyway, I’m naturally swayed in favor of “Red Velvet” – it’s the color that the Agent Carter actress Hayley Atwell wears whenever she’s in character, so it is only fitting to pair it with this Captain America outfit.  I love how subtly patriotic and richly cheery it makes my mellow winter blue suit dress!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  an acrylic/poly/rayon blend boucle lined in a crepe-finish polyester

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1353, year 1955

NOTIONS:  I had all the interfacing, thread, and other notions needed (bias tapes, shoulder pads, zipper) in my stash already.  Yay for using what’s on hand for a project that easily comes together!  The buttons are vintage from my Grandmother’s collection.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was finished on February 11, 2017, and took me about 20 or more hours to make.

THE INSIDES:  All cleanly bias bound, as boucle shreds like a maniac otherwise!

TOTAL COST:  The boucle had been in my stash for I don’t even remember how long.  It was one of those good materials that I hold onto until I find a very convincing reason to use it!  My lining was something from my longtime stash, as well, so I’m actually counting this as free!

I’ve never gone wrong knocking-off or copying a Peggy Carter outfit for myself, and this dress only continues the good trend, even though it is from the next decade than we’ve traditionally seen her in.  It is definitely 50’s, but it still has the strong shoulders with waist and hip slimming features that looked so well on her in the 40’s.  In classic Peggy style, my dress is a wonderful combo of appearing impeccably put-together in a garment which is comfortable and practical.  This is a soft, not stiff or even itchy, suit dress in just the right weight to keep me warm yet without being overly toasty indoors.  I have no idea if such an ideal dress exists in RTW (I am highly skeptical there is), so I am extremely thankful to be able to put my sewing capabilities to use to make my own “copy” of a garment worn by my fashion muse, Agent Peggy Carter.

Sewing this dress was a real pleasure.  Sure it had its challenges, especially when it came to getting sharp corners to the collar and adding in the skirt pleats.  The boucle was lofty and nubby making it hard to be so precise with such details.  As tempting as it was to just pin it all down in place and whiz through to tack it down with a machine stitch, I couldn’t stand the thought of a harsh stitching line around the edges standing out against the lovely speckled boucle.  I wanted a finish that would blend in with the boucle invisibly and there was only one way to do it.

Many times I feel an inner unwilling tolerance to the necessity of doing a large amount of hand stitching, most due to my resulting physical discomfort.  This time, I slowed down and took time to give it the detailed work it deserved, coming to a new realization of the power of time lavished and well-spent on a special quality which sets handmade clothes apart in best of ways from RTW.  When a certain hand-made technique would make a particular garment be finished with a quality which would bring it to another level, a handmade garment can receive that treatment whereas a RTW dress made in a sweatshop or factory setting will not…ever.  Bureaucratic time restraints and the frequently penny pinched fast fashion system has too many limitations on the quality of what can be offered in stores.  A home dressmaker’s common constraints are often finding “free time” and availability of easily found or affordable supplies!  As efficient and productive as I am with what I make, I do not like to see what quality I want be sacrificed to time constraints…especially not after this dress.  What I found is that when I relaxed and appreciated my hand sewing like never before, it was not as uncomfortable to my body or as terribly drug out as I had expected.  It’s amazing what a new outlook can do.  I really do believe that quality concerns must be one of the many reasons I sew.  I just hadn’t seen this before I had this dress to give me an example and come face-to-face with it.  Poor quality is one main reasons why store bought clothes so quickly end up thrown or given away, and become uninteresting.  High quality is one of the main reasons why a vintage garment from 50, 70, or more years ago is still existing in such good condition and are such a treasured treat to wear.  I want to learn from time-honored lessons.  Be warned, though – a French seam or a hand-picked zipper and hems can totally “spoil” you in a very worthwhile way!

Speaking of details, other than the aforementioned challenges with the points and corners arising from the nature of the fabric, the rest of my challenges were mainly about fit and the asymmetric front.  You see, asymmetric designs are always an interesting departure from the “norm” because suddenly you don’t have one pattern piece which is laid on a double layer of fabric for an easy, instant result of both right and left sides.  Ever since this 1947 asymmetric dress, I realized the importance of making sure your patterns are all equally facing “right side up” when laying them down on the single layer of fabric, otherwise you don’t end up with a “left” and a “right” piece with the good side of the fabric on the outside.  When you are cutting double fabric layers with one piece you don’t have to think of this detail.

Also, the fit was a bit unexpected on this pattern.  The bodice turned out generous, but the skirt turned out slightly small.  Bringing the seam allowances out and then in at the proper areas helped this matter but even still, this was a weirdly unique fitting fluke for a 50’s pattern.  Oh well, this gave me an opportunity to use some thick 80’s style shoulder pads from my stash so as to fill in the extra fabric to the bodice, pick it up, and square it off.  You’d never have guessed such big shoulder pads were in there, right?  I’m always amazed at how vintage fashions benefit so discreetly from exaggerated shaping!  Shape definition is something this decade of the 50’s was known for being good at – creating and emphasizing the ‘ideal’ hourglass shape.

From the back the dress merely looks like a lovely, tailored, but basic dress.  The sleeves quietly amp up the details – they have darted French cuffs (similar to these on this 30’s blouse I’ve made), cut on-one with the sleeves and merely faced.  Now it’s the front that carries the weight of the intricacies!  It might look like a wrap, but that’s only part of the guise.  The “wrap” is sewn down from the waist to mid-thigh were the skirt releases up into a double pleated opening for fashionable freedom of movement.  The pattern only called for a solo oversized button to ‘hold down’ the collar’s left lapel, but as I had a matching smaller sized button I added it above the waist to help keep the bodice wrap closed a little better and add to the asymmetric appearance.  I will definitely be trying out pulling a small scarf through the collar lapel buttonhole, just like the cover envelope shows, for a whole different visual effect!

My background is meant to lend a professional and city living kind of air to my outfit besides being rather accurate in era.  However, for clarification, my background building is special…just about the last of its kind in the area, an icon in the history of the famous Route 66.  It is an early 50’s office space, a late successor in the style of the infamous Coral Courts Motel, which had been just a block up the street.  Glass block windows and golden bricks with decorative aluminum work began in the 1940 and 1950s as a way to build the bridge between late Art Deco and early Mid-Century architectural styles.

The end of this post brings me to think of a quote from Sir Ranulph Fiennes, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”  I see he’s described by The Guinness Book of Records as ‘the world’s greatest living explorer’ so his quote may not be the best from a fashion point of view, but technically it’s still every bit as appropriate.  From my point of view, I really don’t see how, if you can sew or knit, why your clothes can’t be every bit as warm AND as fashionable as you would like!  Beat that you cheap store bought dresses that only make me freeze in the winter…or you worthless sweaters that have unravelled on me after a few washes.

What is your favorite winter garment to make or favorite winter fabric to use?  Do you like the dressy luxuriousness of velvet, the loftiness of fleece, cozy comfort of a knit, or the warmth of a classic wool?  Do any of you find yourself infatuated with boucle as I am?  If you haven’t experienced this fabric for yourself, you need to!  Let me know your special way of rocking your winter style!

Autumn Maize

The thing that many downward spiraling leaves and a dizzying corn maze have in common in the season of fall is a golden rich hue.  I’m talking about the color called “saffron” that has been popularly seen everywhere beginning in the early fall of this year…it’s also called mustard, goldenrod, and harvest gold among other things.  However, I love word puns, so I’d like to associate my dress as being more the color of the traditional grain maize, with a title that calls to mind one of the joys of autumn that a field of corn can provide!

This dress is so comfy, the skirt is so swishy, and the details are so unique I can’t help but love it, although I’ll admit it was a bit hard to like at first because it is so quaint and more blatantly dated in style than much of what I make.  This dress does have rick-rack and an obvious vintage metal zipper in the side closing, after all.  Nevertheless, I enjoy trying novel things, and that includes new styles, new colors, new sewing pattern companies, and new techniques.  This dress has all of that in one project…so hooray for a feminine and fun vintage dress in the latest color for those warm “Indian Summer” days of fall!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% rayon challis

PATTERN:  American Weekly No. 3545, circa year 1941

NOTIONS:  I had all the thread I needed, and the oversized rick-rack and vintage metal zipper I used were from my existing stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Even with the tricky paneling and added rick rack, this dress was still relatively easy, made in 8 to 10 hours and finished on September 10, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  All the seams are either enclosed in bias tape or French finished, with just the armholes left raw edged. 

TOTAL COST:  This was bought at Jo Ann’s Fabric store within the last few months, for a total of about $10 to $12.

That American Weekly dress pattern has been stumping me for the last few years since I bought it.  As much as I liked the design and wanted to make a garment of it, I could not figure out how to picture myself in the dress or get past the example drawing to see my own interpretation.  On a completely different strain yet a similar situation, when I bought the golden floral rayon, I loved it and knew what era of vintage it would be perfect for – the late 30’s to early 40’s.  Yet once it was brought home, I realized I was stumped with how or what to make of it.  Both the pattern and the fabric were dually stumping me in their own ways.  Maybe this is why the two of them felt right for one another in some vague way when I was sorting through my pattern stash for ideas!  I am so glad I have found a way to conquer the rut I was in and make something I love wearing!  For me, pairing a pattern with fabric and notions is something deep down inside I can’t always pin down, a sort of creative intuition.  No matter what I want to do, sometimes I need to wait for right moment of inner approval for me to sense that I have made the perfect match.  Many times the process of a project coming together is different, such as pairing fabric off first, or being inspired by the notions or merely a picture, but it all feeds my creative intuition that keeps cranking out ideas which keep me going.

Although I see it mentioned nowhere at all on the pattern, when I was doing my preliminary fitting of the tissue pieces I realized this was a petite Junior miss pattern, not in adult proportions in other words.  I can’t help mentally pat myself on the back for finding this out ahead of time and not just whipping it up.  Never assume too much when it comes to vintage patterns!  Check them out fully and figure them out before you reach for those cutting scissors, especially with old mail order patterns…I’ve made enough to know by now you can’t exactly know what to expect.  I retraced the pieces out onto my roll of sheer medical paper so I could then cut, tape, and otherwise re-size the pattern.  I suppose this time I had an obligation to preserve this pattern by being ‘forced’ to make a copy if I wanted to sew a dress out of it!

The sizing read as a nicely “normal” bust-waist-hips combo for me, and it should have technically been a tad big.  Just to be safe, however, as well as to have bigger seam allowances than the given ½ inch, I did add some ease to the side seams.  Good thing I did this!  Even with the extra width, the pattern still ran small enough to fit perfectly…I would not want it any more snug, especially in the hips.  Apparently not only is their sizing chart off when it comes to the finished dress but there was not a designation for body height sizing either.  McCall’s and Simplicity would use the term “junior’s” on their patterns and generally would be in the small sizes like a 30” bust.  My pattern was a size 16, for a 34”-28”-37” body, so it was not a small size by vintage standards.  Although there have been other mail order patterns I have come across which had some mysterious, slightly shortened proportions, this pattern was so short…it made it look so tiny!  It needed over two inches added to bring the bust, waist, and hips down to where they needed to be.  Just how many American Weekly patterns are actually in a junior’s size and no one would know the better until the tissue pieces get fitted on someone?

Sizing complaints aside, American Weekly patterns were offered through a Sunday supplemental magazine of the same name produced by Hearst for inclusion in their newspapers – kind of like the modern day “Parade” leaflet.  At one point, it was billed as having a circulation of over 50,000,000 readers!  Apparently this magazine only offered patterns from circa 1940 through the 1950s.  As I can find proof of one of the first American Weekly patterns, dated to year 1940 with a number that slightly precedes the numbers on this post’s pattern, I am pretty certain at dating my dress as year 1941, when the patterns just started being offered (besides basing the date on the style).  My instruction sheet says that their patterns only come in 5 sizes for anyone between a 30” to 38” bust, so that is not a whole lot of variety!  The actual construction directions were some small line drawn pictures and several brief paragraphs of text – not much for those you who would need assistance.  American Weekly patterns do have some really lovely styles, nevertheless!  Nothing I’ve seen is really is jaw-dropping, but they strike me as subtly complex and harmoniously designed.

Enough facts…look at the dress’ lovely details!  It has mock tabs on the hem of the gathered-top sleeves, and a mock-jacket look to the body.  The curving to the bodice panels was amazing on the pattern and really make for an interesting, unusual, yet quite complimentary fit.  The dress elongates the bodice and puts emphasis on the hips, yet the full skirt and wide, strong shoulders (thanks to the sleeve tabs) balance it out.  The bodice dips lower in the back than in the front, but as the hips turned out snug, this feature is not as obvious as I’d liked.  The skirt is 6-gored for a very pre-WWII fullness, with each of the skirt seams perfectly lining up with the bodice darts in the back and the two bottom points to the bodice angles in the front…simply marvelous symmetry of design.

This sure gave me an opportunity to use up a pack of giant rick-rack from my stash of never-touched notions in order to make sure the lines of the panels didn’t get lost!  The points, curves, and corners of the dress sections were tricky already, made trickier by the rick-rack, but I just love the interest the exposed notches create.  I probably could have achieved sharper points had I not included the rick-rack but – oh – how it brings this dress to a whole different level I’ve never had before!

Previously, I always had this idea that rick-rack was very home-sewn distinguishable, and for feedback dresses or aprons, even though I do have a generous stash of it.  I tested rick-rack out on this 1945 top, loving the results, and the more I’ve recently looked at really creative uses of the stuff, the more I felt I need to dive in with a major project, and that this was the one.  Similar dress designs from about the same time frame use the “half-rick-rack” method on the edges (see Marion Martin #9547 and my fabric inspiration dress New York #1368 from the late 30’s/early 40’s), so it seemed like the proper thing to do for a style like this anyway!  Adding the rick-rack was really time consuming, especially as I went to the extra trouble to tack the points down to the fabric so they would lay flat nicely.  I realized after the dress was done that the rick-rack actually does much to stabilize the bodice seams of shifty rayon, thinking practically.  Going out on a limb can be so amazing when it’s this successful.

“Three inch hem” according to the instructions, my eye – the dress, unhemmed, came down to my ankles!  I ended up doing a hand-sewn hem that was actually 8 ½ inches deep (see picture above at “The Facts”)!  Initially it was because I didn’t want to cut that much off my dress, but then I realized by making the wide hem it actually helped the dress immensely.  Firstly, the wide hem weighs down the otherwise very full and floaty skirt.  It keeps me from having a “Marilyn Monroe” moment of my skirt coming up on me and gives it a very feminine swish when I walk and especially twirl!  Secondly it makes my skirt opaque, much like a self-lining, so my lingerie slip doesn’t always have to be the perfect length.  Lastly, I didn’t have to commit permanently to a certain length.  I like my clothes to have the versatility to be tailored and changed if need be so that they’ll be something I’ll be happy with and fit into for many years.

One of the good surprises to this dress is actually how versatile it is to accessorize.  In these photos, I went for the brown and snow white tones, but is also works well with black shoes and earrings, as well as dusty greys as well as maroon brown-reds or orange tones.  My two-tone, brown and cream, slingback spectator heels are actually a good example of how the 1970’s era can imitate the 1940s era so closely the difference is almost indistinguishable.  What I like about 70’s-does-40’s shoes are the chance of finding them in a much more wearable state, as well as cheaper prices!  The rest of my accessories are true older-era vintage, however.  My gloves, my earrings, and the little beetle brooch are all from my Grandmother, while the 40’s hat is my very first vintage piece of headwear I acquired from a second-hand shop so many years back now.  It’s so hard to find brimmed hats from the 40’s and earlier in decent condition, and this one is a winner that has some stunning petersham ribbon decoration to boot!  In fall weather my allergy sensitive nose needs attention too, so I couldn’t resist grabbing this lovely seasonal handkerchief from my collection to pair it with my outfit for the day!

Yellow does have the connotation (at least so I’ve heard) that it does not “work” for many people, but I think this stylish golden hue is a bit more promising than other ochre shades!  Granted, I suppose I am a bit biased…I have made a hat in this shade already!  Besides, I know that just because something is pushed as a style ‘trend’ or ‘fad’ doesn’t mean people really like it on their own terms, after all.  My hope is that I have presented an attractive way to style and accessorize this golden maize color, though.  I have taken what is on trend, and interpreted it for myself using the way the past had done it before.  What goes around comes around and fashion is persistently resurfacing in surprising ways.  In the hands of someone who sews, fashion is whatever you make it!  Are you or have you worn a similar golden tone, or have you used your sewing talents to find a way to better like a style or shade of color?

“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!