Bouclé Mid-Century Shift

Achieving the ideal fit for a garment is by far the most difficult process of sewing, but also the technique that completes it.  Every article of clothing, on every human body, has a unique fit, as individual as people themselves, which will make it best serve its purpose and look its best.  Funny thing is, I have found that styles which ride the boundary between loose and baggy or body skimming (such as many 1920s or even 1960s fashions) are actually the trickiest to find such a “sweet spot” of ideal fit.  Take into account that thick but warm fabrics (like my favorite textured bouclé) can become bulky when you sew something with them, making it challenging to achieve a close fit.  There is such a thing as a chic fit that doesn’t fit the body the way we’re used to, though!  Just look to the best designers and the most famous actresses of the 1950s and 60’s to see inspiration for what I am talking about!  This 1964 semi-fitted shift dress that I’ve sewn is a perfect example.

Certain well-known designers were changing the idea of a stylish silhouette for women earlier on, making oversized and non-body fitting garments attractive and fashionable.  Most of what we think of as the 60’s “look” had its beginnings in the decade before.  By the 50’s, Claire McCardell had already crafted her “monastic dress” and Yves Saint Laurent is credited with beginning the classic “trapeze dress” (in Spring/Summer 1958), both of which are generously unfitted than the ‘normal’ garment at the time.  Jacques Fath began the ever popular swing coat fashion in outwear circa 1950 (here’s one pink example) to accommodate both the post-WWII baby boom and full skirted or structured garments which were being released.  Balenciaga was the heavyweight!  He was using sculptural garments that had a shape of their own apart from a perfect body symmetry.  Their beauty is focused on the shape of the garment itself, only hinting at the body of the wearer underneath.  In 1953 he introduced the “balloon jacket”, while in 1957 came the “babydoll dress”, the gracefully draped “cocoon coat”, and the “sack dress”.  He even worked with fabric houses to develop innovative material, like silk gazar, which would be heavy and stiff to lend itself to such stand-away-from-the-body designs.   Pierre Cardin had his fair share of influence in this matter, too – he introduced the “bubble dress” in 1954, and was known for his preference of geometric shaping and ignoring the female form (see this coat of his for one example).

These types of fashions were an alternative to the immaculate, overly shaped (wasp waited) feminine form which was popularized by Dior.  It was seen as the newest chic of the time, and a very modern approach to styling, besides the fact that they were more often couture because of the high talent it took to uniquely shape such designs.  They might seem simple at first glance but these revolutionary creations emerging in the early mid-50’s were paving the way for the next decade.

The model woman drawn on the front cover of my Butterick #3296 pattern bears a striking resemblance to Audrey Hepburn, I think!  Hepburn was one of the model women for the youthful, fashion forward aura which was frequently associated with 50’sand 60’s loosely structured garments.  The coat especially reminds me of her clothes from the movie “Charades”, released the year before in 1963, but I think it’s the hat, too.  I stayed close to this with my interpretation.  This was my chance to accessorize with the only 60’s hat in my collection (and a good one, too – just look at its details), vintage wooden bead necklace, old earrings from my Grandmother, and vintage leather driving gloves.  I do want to make the coat half of my pattern at some point, but for now, a vintage 60’s hot pink pea coat matches quite well with the color, styling, and era of my dress!

After all, hot pink coats seemed to be the ‘thing’ for women’s outerwear in the 10 years between 1956 and 1966 if one looks at advertisements, movies, and designer creations for some examples.  Firstly, there is the March 15, 1956 “International Fashions” edition of Vogue magazine, with Evelyn Tripp on the front cover wearing a rose tweed cocoon coat by Zelinka-Matlick (A).  Then there is a year 1960 pink Balenciaga cocoon jacket suit (B) to be found as well as a Burda Style’s March of 1964 tweed bouclé A-line coat (C).  Ah, let’s not forget that swoon-worthy oversized hot pink coat worn by Audrey Hepburn and made by Givenchy from the 1966 movie “How to Steal a Million” (D).  So – among the many colors that are mixed in to make my dress’ bouclé (grey blue, maroon, black, pink, and a touch of orange), having a dress match with my period 60’s coat is partly why I stayed close to the pink undertones with the color of my lining.  It was also because a soft pink sweetens the dress, keeping it being too glaringly modern.  I love how the pink can be seen peeking out if you look closely inside my wide sleeves or just under the hem of my knee length dress.  Dior himself has said (in his “Little Dictionary of Fashion”) “Every woman should have something pink in her wardrobe.  It is the color of happiness and of femininity.”  I’m covered because I do have plenty of pink in my closet for every season now!

After all, the pink influence of my dress pays homage to yet another designer which had her own part to play in this kind of fashion, too – Coco Chanel, not mentioned in the above list of influencers.  Pink is one of her signature colors, and is often used with black (both colors are in my bouclé).  Chanel often used bouclé, tweed, and other textured, nubby materials for her suits and shift dresses in the 50’s and 60’s, as well.  However, to be braggingly specific, there is an uncanny resemblance that my own fabric bears to a suit set of hers from the same year of 1964 (see it listed here at the MET museum).  It is claimed that Chanel criticized the boned and uber-cinched waists that Dior was producing, in favor of a looser fitting, but still tailored look that both she and her forward-thinking contemporaries were producing.  Her collection of 1954 (when she re-opened her fashion house) is easily recognizable today – a boxy jacket with an A-line skirt – and still being worn.  Those like her who used more wearing ease with greater structure in their garments of the 50’s had more of an influence on the success of the fashion of the 60’s and beyond.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The visible outside of my dress is a loosely woven, but thick and textural bouclé, in a fiber content of wool, mohair, and acrylic.  The inside is a super soft all cotton in a soft pink color with a pink satin facing.

PATTERN:  Butterick #3296, from the Fall/Winter season of year 1964 (see cover picture above)

NOTIONS:  I had all the thread and interfacing I needed already, as well as extra bias tape, hem tape, and a large button.  The neckline placket is actually a faux closure permanently sewn into place by this large, vintage, dusty blue, carved shell button, salvaged off of this vintage suit when I refashioned its skirt’s waistband.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was made in about 8 hours and finished on December 14, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  Since bouclé is a fraying terror of a mess along its raw edges, and I am allergic to mohair, all seams are either covered by the cotton lining or encased in bias tape.

TOTAL COST:  The fabric was stuff I had bought from Hancock Fabrics when they were going out of business, so it was only about $2 a yard.  With one yard needed of both the bouclé and the cotton (as they were 60” wide), this is a $4 dress, believe it or not!

Making the dress itself was ridiculously simple, and just a tad difficult due to the challenges of working with such a thick and full-bodied material.  I made sure to trim most of my seams allowances and even pulled a secret sewing trick I rarely use – I hammered the seams once they were stitched to make them flat, especially the front fake neck placket.  The tricky part about trimming seam allowances with bouclé is that the fabric unravels easily.  Thus, I kept the small seams together and finished them cleanly by using the bias tape over the edges.  The bias tape finish was especially tricky on the inside curve of the kimono sleeves, but I stretched It has I stitched it down as I kept the seam curved.

The back has the basic “fish-eye” darts to shape the waist, but the front holds the creative options.  There are lovely sun-ray darts coming out of the neckline to shape the chest and upper bust.  These were quite tricky to sew across the grain!  In conjunction with the long French darts to shape the dress below the bust, this dress has elegance down to an understated art.  It’s too bad the few details are not that noticeable with the blended business of my bouclé!  This was (amazingly) a 65 cent pattern.  For having both a coat and dress in one envelope, this still sounds kind of cheaply priced, even for 1964, when Simplicity patterns for one dress design were the same price and Vogue pattern were about $1.00.  Was this an unmarked designer knock-off, I wonder, because it sure does look like something out of the movie “Charades” anyway?

The pattern I had was a size too big for me – but no problem.  To have an easy fix to that, I merely left off the given seam allowance at the sides and shoulders when I cut out the dress.  Kimono sleeves can sometimes hang far too low on my almost petite frame, anyway.  Then I sewed in slightly wider seam allowances in this because it still seemed to fit too generously.  I ended up with a wonderfully loose, comfy, and ‘slightly fitted’ dress (as the envelope says) that is a perfect fit for this design.  I feel this unorthodox but simple way at approaching a pattern merely a few inches too big for me worked very well for this dress, but it probably would not be the best for a body-conscious tailored garment.  Nevertheless, I do love finding shortcuts that don’t compromise quality or fit.  Anything that puts my sewing projects from out of my fabric pile onto my back is most welcome!

My Australian and other southern hemisphere readers should appreciate the fact that this is a cold weather outfit!  (Bouclé lined in cotton is just as warm as wearing a blanket, for your information!) Even though it is finally spring here for where I live, only recently was the anniversary of Audrey Hepburn’s birthday (well it was May 4), and so I felt that this was appropriate to share.

Besides, I like to make sure I don’t get stuck in a rut of only one decade.  Not that there’s anything wrong with staying in one era for what vintage one recreates.  It’s just that I know I do enjoy all of them.  Sewing from all the decades of the 21st century also helps give me a good overview of the big picture.  Everything is connected in history – it’s not just static dates and names to remember – and this carries over into the accounting of what people have worn through those same times.  As I presented in this post, the 1950’s set things up for what defined the 60’s.  The minds of today inspire those of tomorrow.

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A Pink and Brown Power Peggy Dress

Power dressing is not something invented by 1980s fashion, even though that is the decade with which it’s frequently associated.  No – people have been doing it for as long as clothing has been around.  It’s not just a showing of status or wealth anymore, though.  Somewhere along the line power dressing has become a manifestation of character, confidence, and personal taste.  Power dressing is empowerment that we put on in the form of fabric.  It is a silent but commanding declaration.  The trick is to find a balance between having it being a cutting edge statement yet tasteful enough to last through more than just a passing fad.

I don’t know anything more basic that can empower women than an awesome dress which combines the best of style, design, comfort, and classiness.  If you don’t know what I mean then maybe you haven’t found something like this for yourself yet.  Every decade in fashion history has had its own version of a power dress, but since the turn of the previous century, this is what the 1940’s had down to an art!  There is no other woman I can think of than Marvel’s Agent Peggy Carter to look up to as a vintage inspiration for these kind of dresses.  Peggy Carter of the post-war 1940s had the basic fashion needs of life that we have today (speaking for myself) frequently have – an on-the-go necessity to look put-together in something comfortable that suits more than one occasion.  Some things never change, and a vintage frock that looks as good, and fit as well as this one (if I do say so myself) is every bit just as stylish and practical today!

This dress is my copy of something seen in Agent Carter Season One television show, episode2, “Bridge and Tunnel”.  My shoes are vintage leather originals, but my purse is a 1940s style make of mine, as well (see post on that here) to complete a period ensemble (which I don’t always have).  In my previous post, “Just Call Me Agent”, I had shown my make of the Peggy’s Season One dress from the episode before, “Now Is Not the End”.  Even though it has now been 3 years since Agent Carter first was on television, I have been occupied with remaking the clothes from several of the ladies on Season Two.  Since 2015, I am still busy filling in my now rather extensive Peggy wardrobe with inspired outfits of Season One.  Look for more to come!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Kona 100% cotton for the dark brown part of the dress, and a poly stretch satin for the pink sections

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8050, a 2016 reprint of a year 1941 Simplicity #3948

NOTIONS:  I had all the thread and interfacing needed on hand already, but I ordered the true vintage buttons from an Etsy seller especially to match with the pink tone in the dress.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This took me about 25 to 30 hours to make, slightly longer than the average dress for me (mostly on account of the bodice stripes), and was complete on November 7, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  bias bound, which was tricky at some points!

TOTAL COST:  The fabrics for this were both bought at my local Jo Ann’s store, and although the pink satin was expensive I only needed half a yard, and the dress pattern is from the 1940s so it is economical.  This pattern probably only cost me $20 or less.

I love how the fashion of the decade of the 1940s doesn’t take women for granted.  Rather, from what I see, it empowers them.  There are the strong shouldered, sharply tailored suits to show they are every bit a confident, formidable strength in the world while being as productive as the other sex.  There are the sweet, feminine styles that are generally the most comfortable and easy-to-move in for all their puff sleeves and gathers.  Then there are the separates – tops, blouses, and bottoms – that can create a flawless yet endless versatility for a casual chic.  Don’t forget the crisp power trousers that society could not frown down into oblivion!  Free of confining body shape wear worn in the previous and following decades (30’s and 50’s, I’m looking at you!), women were instead equipped with bras akin to armor and comfy underthings.  In all, between the these points and the attention to detail, the plethora of tailored looks, the thriftiness, and practical economy of the 1940s, I do believe this decade in fashion had it all going for the ladies…war or no war!

Now, as much as I am for the 1940s, I must say I have normally had a mixed love-hate relationship with reproduction patterns, especially from Simplicity…until the last few years.  Since then, Simplicity has supposedly changed its vintage patterns to be closer to being re-issued old originals than modern re-drafts of old styles (as they had been, hence the funky wearing ease and fitting irregularities I found aggravating).  Now this doesn’t take away from normal sizing frustrations or difficulties of achieving the right fit, but I must say that this Simplicity #8050 pattern is the first from them that actually felt like a true 40’s style pattern.  Ever since 2016, I have had dramatically less issues with as many of their vintage patterns than I used to have.  Simplicity has been impressively standing tall among Vogue, Butterick, and McCall’s now, after all, when it comes to offering the best designs, the most variety, and amount of new vintage patterns.

This leads me to say that I am so freaking pleased with this dress pattern, Simplicity #8050, I cannot rave about it enough.  It fit me as-is, after cutting out my size following the size chart (not finished garment measurements), and there was no special tweaking needed to make it comfortable to move in, besides me doing a precautionary “extra reach room” adjustment to the armscye.  I am sort of ready for a fail, when it comes to repro vintage patterns from the “Big Four” companies, so I added in reach room, because that’s what I always used to need with their reprints and it’s easier to take excess fabric out than it is to be stuck without it in later!  Turns out, this finished up great.  I love the details to this dress, especially the cool front bodice points with lovely body seaming, and found the instructions to be very good – speaking from a vintage point of view and not just a modern one.  Either way, someone used to vintage patterns should like this, and someone not used to vintage patterns should have a good, albeit learning, experience, too.  I am impressed, and not just because of the clear reference in the color and styling choices of the model dress on the envelope cover!  Yes, the ubiquitous red Stetson says it all!

The inspiration dress from the “Bridge and Tunnel” episode is very similar to my own (except for the cummerbund difference) but this pattern could not be a better base to make an Agent Carter outfit.  Besides the clear reference in the model dress, as I have mentioned before, Peggy Carter was a woman of the 40s who had the tendency to wear styles from early in the decade, mostly on account of on her struggle to move on after Captain America’s ‘death’ as well as her bother Michael’s passing (from Season Two) early on in the War.  This is a year 1941 style.  It strikes the perfect balance between femininity and functionality, comfort and class, and standout style that does ‘standout’ in any era – so perfectly Agent Carter, but also great for a woman of today!  Granted, from what I have heard about the original inspiration dress, the brown sections were a flowing wool crepe, while mine is a stiffer, more basic cotton.  I was mostly focused on finding the right color brown and making sure my version was practical for more than just winter wear (and it is)!  All it really took was a little extra flourish (speaking of the shoulder striping) and adding cuffs to the original pattern to have my copy of one of Peggy’s most popular Season One dresses.

Before I made my dress, I read several other reviews from bloggers who had already tried this pattern, and they mostly mentioned quirks that needed to be worked out in regards to the front button closing and the neckline.  Having loops on one side of the front in the right seam edge and buttons on the other side of the front opening can naturally end up with the buttons looking off-kilter, or asymmetric down the front.  It’s not that this ruins it in the least – no, one who sews would probably be the only person to notice such a thing.  However, someone who sews is often his or her own worst critic.  If a true center button closing is what you want with this dress, you cannot just whip it up as the instructions tell you.  I did not sew the loops into the seams as instructed, but sewed them to a separate fabric strip, like an anchor piece, and sewed that further in (by hand) under the right edge so the button loops would not hang out so far over the other side of the front opening.  Then, the buttons were sewn quite close the left edge.  Big buttons especially need big loops, and moving the buttons over on the extreme left edge to center the closure, necessitated the loops to be beveled in underneath.  Making the loops wider like the letter “U” also helped not make them as long as a loop which is snug against itself.  This is probably not the best way to fix this ‘quirk’ of the design, but from an engineering standpoint, it was the simplest, most direct way to correct the centering of the front button closing.

After all the work and forethought I invested in the front button closing to this dress, as it ends up, I don’t really use it.  You see the neckline turns out really quite low.  I didn’t like cleavage showing because the top button wasn’t keeping the collar together.  Thus I sewed an extra little strip of the dress’ brown fabric and have that hand tacked vertically in place from underneath to close the bottom point of the neckline collar together for an extra inch above the top button.  I know…this defeats the purpose of the working buttons and loops down the front that took me so much time.  I know I should have probably just re-drafted the collar to close up a little higher to have one more button and loop at the top, and that would have fixed it.  Yeah, I should have done that – but I didn’t, and this works just as well.  Besides, having to get dressed in this was fiddly with the side zipper, too.  I can just slip it on over my head without unbuttoning the front anyway, leaving me with only the side zipper to remember to open and close when dressing – much easier!

The dress itself came together really quickly compared to the time I spent wherever there was pink – the entire front closing, collar, neckline, and sleeve cuffs.  The sleeve cuffs were self-drafted off of the existing sleeve pattern.  I traced out the last 5 inches of the long sleeve, and opened it up to have more of a curve with a wider top edge.  My dress’ cuffs are double thick, self-faced, and were sewn into the side seam of the sleeve so that they stay in place.  The collar facing was a bit of a pain being all in one piece – but I’d like to credit this to the awful slippery and slightly stretchy properties of the contrast pink satin.  The front buttoning took way too much brain power to perfect – but I’m happy with the result and love how it highlights my awesome vintage buttons, even if they’re mostly just for looks at this point.  Then, there was the last step to finish the neckline – the striping.

 I splurged on a ½ inch bias tape making tool to help me finish the dress more easily, but that only went so far.  The tool did make constructing the bias tape fun, and relatively quick. However, adding on the strips to the dress was hard!  I pinned them down to the dress, then would let my garment hang while I walked away from it, only to come back later and look at it again with a fresh view.  I thoroughly measured the heck out of the placement of the strips on the dress to make sure both sides were even and check my eye-balling of the trimming I was adding.  The area that the strips cover has a lot of curves and movement, and mine turned out sort of wavy-looking on the dress at times because the pink satin had a lot of stretch in it and I followed the existing shaping of the dress.  If I had hand stitched it down, I suppose it might have turned out better, but this step was going to be a pain either way, so I finished it by machine.  I did take my time to work out the placement of the stripes – I wanted them to pretty much be parallel to the bottom edge of the collar yet radiating out of the two top buttons.

I LOVE how much the stripes add to this dress.  This is a trim I would never think to add on my own, much less even try if it hadn’t been for Agent Carter looking so killer in it. Color striping, color blocking, and color mixing were all popular ways in the 40s of adding interest, fun, as well as practical use of small scraps of materials into a wardrobe.  This particular Agent Carter dress is one of the best examples of 1940s fun with solid colors in my opinion.  I can tell from the response it gets.

You see, this dress is one of the few in my arsenal of me-made clothes that gets compliments every darn time I wear it, from all sorts of people, in all sorts of places.  It really is a discussion starter, too, because most of the time, a compliment is followed up by the query of where did I get my dress and how they can have one too.  One woman was amazed that this dress was cotton, because as a quilter, she associated cotton with crafting and bed covers.  Ah, Agent Carter truly is an inspiration for the world today, and if her influence can spread through her clothes, then all the better.

In the episode Peggy wears this dress, she was inquiring about finding a place to stay at the Griffith Hotel, a single woman-only boarding house with strict rules on their occupant’s moral and personal life.  To match, I visited a place which boards young people as well, and is a place of well-established rules and expected conventions (at least supposed to be) – the local college known as “Harvard of the Midwest”, Washington University.  Both the Griffith Hotel and the University share stately architecture and long dreary halls!  Washington University has some sections that were built many years before he 40’s, but heavy stone work and corner gargoyles make for a slightly mysterious and dark feeling that I think is appropriate for an SSR Agent wanna-be!

Have I convinced you to try out this pattern?  If you have sewn something with it, what do you think?  What is your opinion of the Simplicity pattern’s vintage reprints in the last two years – do you think they are better than they used to be, too?  Is this a Peggy dress that stood out for you, as well, in Season One?

“Just Call Me Agent…” – The Classic Peggy Dress

Red and blue are Marvel Agent Peggy Carter’s default colors – and very appropriately, too.  As Captain America’s biggest believer and a staunch defender of liberty and equality, she is the fictional heroine that seems more historical for all of the stories on her life and times that have been on screen in the past several years.  Today is “Walk Like Peggy Day” in honor of her “birthday”, April 9, and I’m excited to present you with (finally!) my make of her most memorable outfit.

Her trademark blue suit set with red fedora was too involved for me to make in one week, which was all the time I had before an upcoming “Marvel versus DC” themed event.  Yet, I knew I wanted an easily recognizable and well known option to wear so I went for THE iconic dress that lasted Peggy through two seasons on her TV show.  You can see it in the premier episode “Now Is Not the End” of Season One (2015), and also in the promotional posters for Season Two (2016).  My ‘copy’ turned out to be such an easy-to-make dress that is supremely comfy, complimentary, and striking.  It just might be my best Agent Carter garment yet!  This just like all my other Agent Carter outfits – it feels like a natural part of me, and not a put-on cosplay garment, which is perfect for my everyday vintage wardrobe.  Incorporating the wardrobe and resilient character traits of Peggy is the best part of going 1940s with my vintage sewing and wardrobe goals!

Happily, I was equipped with a lucky find of a vintage year 1941 pattern that is the same as the Agent Carter dress I wanted to copy.  Yes – you read right…the same! I didn’t have to change the design lines of the 1941 original to end up with an Agent Carter series look-alike dress.  The original inspiration dress used in the television series was a faithful vintage design, after all!  From what I have read and heard, it was a true 70 year old piece.  This fact says good things all around.  Not too often does a designer use such authentic costumes in such widely popular film, nor can a cosplayer or one who wishes to copy a garment from a modern Hollywood production frequently be able to dip into a primary source of history and still make a believable version.  This is another Agent Carter piece where the lines between cosplay and vintage dressing are blurred to the point that there is little differentiation – this is historical fashion as seen on screens today.  This is fiction that seems more akin to real history than anything.  My vintage pattern for this dress is a ‘Hollywood’ brand after all…so ironic, isn’t it?!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% rayon challis in two colors – deep true navy blue and bright red; navy 100% cotton scraps to be the facing and support for the inner waistband

PATTERN:  Hollywood #517, a “Linda Hays of RKO-Radio” pattern, year 1941 (For a brief, well-written overview on the life and career of Linda Hays, see this blog post!)

NOTIONS:  All I basically used was thread, which I had on hand as well as the zipper I used and a scrap of sheer organza to puff out the sleeve caps.  Oh, and some waistband hook-and-eyes… 

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was made in about 12 hours and finished on August 26, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  All nicely French seamed or bias bound, with the hem being a tiny ¼ inch one, and the front waistband panel’s seams covered by the inner facing I added. 

TOTAL COST:  $10 – that’s it!  Both fabrics were found on half price discount at (now defunct) Hancock Fabrics and JoAnn’s Fabric Store!

Vintage patterns never cease to amaze me.  This one Hollywood pattern is a prime example.  Firstly, I made this dress on only 1 ¾ yards of fabric!  I’m the one that made this dress, and even still this fact amazes me.  Granted, the 1940’s was good for practical use of material goods but this is from before the American rationing.  I’m floored!

The most significant detail to this pattern is yet to come, though.  The closing detail to this dress obliterates the well founded modern concept I have heard many times that ‘a zipper down the center back is NOT authentic’.  I have seen other bloggers say that a center back zipper “ruins” some of the vintage 1940s reprints and re-issues that some of the “Big 4” pattern companies have come out with in years past.  Well…look at this old year 1941 pattern of mine.  Apparently a center back zipper totally IS authentic, surprisingly, just not common.  Right there in the description is, “…the back closes with a slide fastener.”  Now, this is awesome to see!  I’m assuming this center back zipper is because this is a versatile “Sew-Simple” dress which is labelled as either being a house coat, house dress, or street dress.  Perhaps the simplicity of getting dressed in a center back zip dress has to do with it being designated to house wear, and to be practical the pattern wanted to give the purchaser the most for her money by pointing out that this can also pass as a street garment.  I suppose it all depends on the print and material used.  Nevertheless, I will bet that a long slide fastener was harder to come by or at least quite pricey back then, and they probably were not even an option available for any garments other than military ones after America was involved in WWII.  Yet, I would think that surely women didn’t only have one dress closure option, anyway, to always endure the circus trick it can be with a tiny waist side zipper.  So make things easy for yourself and go ahead and sew those center back zippers if you darn want to!   

Since I was metaphorically “allowed” a back zipper with no “guilt” of being lazy or modern, I ran with this and installed a 22 inch invisible zipper down the back.  I know – I took the other extreme!  As my fabric is delicate and flowing, I didn’t want a bulky zipper showing in an obvious manner.  I wanted my dress to also look as professionally crafted as possible, too.  This project made me realize that the longest invisible zipper to be found is 22 inches, and sewing one that long is a real test of skill!

Fit was right on for this pattern, maybe a tad small actually.  Luckily I had added on some extra allowance on the sides so that I could have “normal” 5/8 inch seams rather than the called for 3/8 inch seams.  I am glad I did this because I ended up having to take the seams out anyway.  This is a change from all the Hollywood, DuBarry, and other now defunct brands which have almost always been consistently generous in fit.  Luckily rayon has a lovely soft ‘stretch’ when it comes to the cross-grain.

The skirt length was a bit wacky, too.  There was a perforated dot marking across at several inches above the cutting line, which I understood as the line for stitching down the hem, but even still, it was rather high up above the knees for me.  This pattern had obviously been used in its past, because someone had freehandedly cut a short length out of the skirt…and not very well either!  They had cut the sides of the skirt longer than the front so I found the skirt bottom to be quite crooked before a proper hemming.  But anyways, I just cut the hem longer and figured out what dress length I wanted as the last step since I couldn’t tell what was originally going on.  I so wish whoever cut this pattern had included what they took off.  The skirt is cut so wide there is a good amount of bias to make this a wonderful dress that flows with me as I walk (which would be perfect for swing dancing or doing Peggy Carter kick fighting), but it makes it very tricky to get a straight hem by the time it hangs over my hips!

This kind of high, almost chocking neckline can be such a turnoff, and as I am claustrophobic myself, I do understand.  If this wasn’t such an awesome Agent Carter dress, the neckline would turn me off, too.  What didn’t help is that the pattern had an impossibly small neckline cut as-is.  It was too small to remotely squeeze around my neck – it actually fit around my arm.  What were they thinking when they drew this pattern?!  Maybe I just have a big neck circumference.  Nevertheless, before adding on the contrast red bias band, I cut the neckline to be more open by just under 2 inches (all around) and it’s still small.  Just so long as I have room to fit my four fingers in between my neck and the neckline, that is as small as I will tolerate around my throat whether it is a necklace or a garment.  I have made other clothes with such a similar neckline (such as this 40’s blouse) and yet every time it is so fun yet tricky to work with taming gathers into such a small bias facing.   I do love how these kind of necklines turn out looking so feminine, delicate, and cleanly finished, especially with a contrast color!

Speaking of a clean finish, I am quite pleased at the finished look of the contrast red striping to the middle front and cummerbund pieces.  The contrast strips to the dress’ panels were stitched face down, wrong sides out, then turned over to line up with the seam allowance edge, before any further assembling together was done so that no stitching would be seen.  I do wish I would have made them just a bit wider, but they are noticeable enough as it is so I didn’t want to make them quite as wide as Peggy’s original dress.

The front paneling is part of the dress, but for the back half it becomes cummerbund belting pieces that overlap to close at the center, independent of the dress itself.  This is the way Peggy’s original dress was, but it is also staying true to my dress pattern as well, with only a minor change necessary.  The pattern calls for long cummerbund pieces on each side that line up with the middle front panel and come out of the side seams to tie at the back center.  I merely cut one long cummerbund piece, and cut it into two short pieces, added the striping to them, then facing the two undersides with navy cotton scraps, and finally adding them in the sides like the pattern instructed.  Two sliding waistband hook and eyes close the back.  There is still a ‘normal’ 1940s back to the dress under the closing cummerbund – a waist seam that has a simple skirt below and a poufy bodice above.  I slightly downwardly curved in the top edge of the back cummerbund pieces so that they would have nice dip and look more tailored than just a straight band.

Yes, I added a bit extra and changed up the back ties, but with some lucky internet research I was able to see that this style of dress and color combo was quite popular in the late 30’s to very early 1940s primarily.  In other words I wasn’t just making a cosplay copy or directly trying to be patriotic here (even though I totally am) – remember the dress was a vintage original anyway!  Also, her two seasons of television shows were supposed to take place in 1946 and 1947 respectively, it was one of Peggy’s personal traits, mostly blamed on her struggle to move on after Captain America’s ‘death’, to be stuck in the past and wear fashions from an earlier period so a 1941 dress like mine was just her style.  There is an image of a year 1938 National Bella Hess catalog advertisement showing a dress (in a different color combo) with a recognizably similar style.  While my Hollywood pattern has the closest design lines to Peggy’s original dress, I have also spotted this style as extant vintage 40’s dresses for sale through some well-respected shops – see this neutral-coral toned beauty from Scarlet Rage Vintage or this studded rust-orange toned version from Archiverie.  However, the closest “proof” of Agent Carter’s dress is existing already in the vintage realm is I think to be found in a Vogue #8247 pattern cover image from 1939 – this one’s almost a carbon copy even color-wise!  When it comes to the use of navy and red, have found a vintage original photo (colorized, no doubt, but I cannot find the source for this) that has a different style dress, but distantly comparable use of colors and color blocking.  Bright red and rich navy were popular colors the 1940s used alone as solids for dresses, tops, and bottoms, sometimes combining the colors to be nautical inspired.  Otherwise these colors were integrated into florals, stripes, accessories, or outfits which are contrast detailed, much like my classic Agent Carter dress.

So – as Peggy’s dress is apparently a vintage piece that the designer bought and not designed for the actress (Hayley Atwell) to wear in the two Seasons of her television series, I would like to think of my Hollywood pattern or some of the close copies I have mentioned above as the source that could have been used to make the original dress.  Especially since the center back zippers, as seen in many of Peggy’s dresses, have made some commenters throw question on the authenticity of her wardrobe.  Hopefully the 1941 pattern that I used to make my Peggy dress copy should rest this case once and for all!  After all, the designer Gigi Melton has shown and said that she was heavily influenced by old classic Hollywood starlets and 1940s designs, besides staying admirably true to the materials and techniques which would have been worn at the time for everything she created for the characters.

Not only were the clothes historically true to the Marvel character of Peggy Carter, but even her position as a secret agent operative was a real job for specially chosen women in Britain during WWII.  The SOE, acronym for “Special Operative Executive”, employed about 3,200 women (one-fourth of their force) in all countries or former countries occupied by Axis forces and was a top-secret organization to conduct espionage, sabotage, aid resistance movements, and do reconnaissance.  The SOE’s existence was not known for many years and even today it is still being explained and understood.  (The various branches of the SOE were often ‘hid’ under fictitious military bureaus that were believable to keep secrecy.)  It was about finding everyday people from all ages, gender, background, and walk of life and unlocking their hidden, inner talents to make them extraordinary beings with a secret military mission.  The newest installment in the SOE’s biographies is the “Secret Agent Selection: WW2” series currently on the BBC television station, which follows 14 modern volunteers undergoing the same training as back then, in the same clothes, in a secluded old country house.  See this “Sun” article for just a sampling of the original recruits who joined in the first year or two after the SOE was formed in July 1940 and read their abridged stories.  Like Peggy Carter, these Agents were real life superheroes, who didn’t need a superpower to do great things.  They just needed to know their value and believe in their worth.

In conclusion – can fiction help us learn about nonfiction?  Can recounting the past be every bit as interesting as something made-up?  Can the right garment to wear help you know your worth and clothe oneself in confidence? Can anyone be an everyday superhero?  Can Marvel just please continue telling Agent Carter’s story?  I think all of these questions in my mind just deserve one resounding YES!  Happy birthday Agent Carter, one of the most influential women I know.

“School Teacher” 1940’s Suit Set

So many times, more than I can tell you, I hear from people who meet me, “…and, you’re a school teacher?”  As if it’s a half statement, that’s still a half question.  I really don’t know why this is – I do like tutoring but maybe it’s the eye glasses, he he!  Nevertheless, I’m embracing the school teacher vibes this time – the vintage 1940’s way!  My teacher’s outfit is authentically completed by a vintage oversized key brooch on my lapel, true 40’s alligator leather heels, and a post-WWII school building as our photo shoot backdrop.

This 40’s suit is achieved from an eclectic mix of vintage and vintage repro, sewing and refashioning.  The jacket is a true vintage piece that had seen better days (sadly), so I refashioned it using the skirt to salvage something wearable.  The skirt is made from a modern re-issued Simplicity pattern and some polyester plaid.  The blouse is made from a true vintage pattern and classic cotton for a basic, versatile wardrobe staple.  All these pieces have differing years in the 1940s as their sources.   Together, I end up with a cohesive 1940’s suit that is warm and classy to wear in the winter, and something I love to wear!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The blouse is cotton broadcloth, the skirt is a poly suiting, and the vintage jacket is a wool-rayon blend twill or gabardine

PATTERNS:  Simplicity #3714, year 1941, for the blouse (the legs on the cover women are intolerably, ridiculously long!); Simplicity #4044, a 2006 reprint of a 40’s pattern, now out of print

NOTIONS:  I had all the thread I needed, I used a modern zipper in the skirt, modern shoulder pads for replacement in the jacket, and new two-tone metal buttons (with an open filigree middle!), with bias tape packs to make all the insides nice and finished.  The only real vintage notion used here was the buttons on my blouse – they were from the stash of hubby’s Grandmother.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The jacket was re-fashioned in about 6 hours and finished on January 8, 2016.  The skirt came together in about 4 hours on October 24, while the brown blouse was made in 8 to 10 hours and finished on November 27, both in 2015.

THE INSIDES:  The blouse and the skirt are all nicely bias bound with lace hem tape.  The jacket’s lining covers up all inner seams.

TOTAL COSTThe vintage suit was bought for $15, the cotton was maybe $10 for 1 ½ yards, and the plaid suiting was on clearance at Jo Ann’s Fabrics at $10 for 2 yards.  A total of $35!

Before my re-fashion, a beat up mess of a suit set was offered to me for a small amount during one visit to a local vintage re-sale shop.  The owner knew I sew.  She gave me one of those “Buy this if you think you can do something with it or else I’ll probably end up throwing it away, but I did spend some good money on this” offer.  The shop owner was thankfully very forthright letting me know the condition history of the suit set.  The suit was originally so dirty when she got it there was ‘no choice’ but to throw it in the wash machine…which ended up shrinking the wool, making the lining’s stitching to fall apart and the metal buttons rust, thus causing brown staining.  She had then spray painted the buttons silver to cover the rust.  Ugh!  That one wash sure got the jacket clean but caused a MESS of problems for me to fix.  The shoulders pads had balled up and fallen apart inside, as well.  The left sleeve to the jacket was chewed up, but not by moths.  It looked like it had been caught in some machinery or run across something sharp that tore it up all the way down the underside from the elbow to the wrist.  Other than the sleeve, though, the body was luckily free of holes or fading.  The matching skinny straight skirt was generally fine, with a few fade spots and random holes.

The suit did fit me and with its lovely design lines and details, and felt I had to save it for all its potential still left.  I guess it’s like going to “just look” at a new puppy – I tried it on, so I was hooked.  The capability to give it the attention I felt it deserved is well in my ballpark, anyway.  The bittersweet fact is that many vintage suits do not have their matching skirt as this one, but that skirt was unfortunately sacrificed for the jacket to save face.  I was hopeful, but slightly doubting my efforts would turn out so well.

As it had been washed once already, I took the old buttons off, added stain remover to take out the rust marks, and washed it once again.  With the lining was loose, I could reach right into the jacket and take out the old shoulder pads and unpick the sleeves.  I unpicked them completely to use the pieces as a guide to trace out a pattern.  The new sleeves have their bias slightly off due to the size restrictions of the skinny skirt, but are overall the exact same.  Then, with the sleeve set in, new shoulder pads, and the lining all stitched up by hand, and the new buttons (pic below) as the icing on the cake, I must say this was an amazing renewal for a formerly desperate vintage item.  Now, with a new separates sewn to match, it really can shine again for years to come in my wardrobe.

The best basic perk is that it is nice to have a new suit jacket without all the effort of starting from scratch.  Besides – they just don’t make them like they used to anyway – in way of styling, fit, and material!  It’s more like the weight of a coat, it’s so lofty!  I am amazed at how sturdy this jacket is to have survived everything it has and still polish up like this.  It’s amazing enough to have something from the 40’s last until today as it is.  I do really think, from the look of the inside seams, the shoulder pads, and the lack of a label, that this could have been private seamstress or tailor-made, but it’s done so well, it’s hard to tell.  As it is now, how unique is a part me-made, yet still vintage garment?!  It’s ‘true-vintage-with-my-personal-touch’, I guess.

There are many reasons why I absolutely LOVE this blouse.  Firstly, it’s in a nice rich earth tone – not ugly or boring and uncomplimentary as some solid browns can be, but it has many undertones that I notice every time I wear it with a different color scheme.  Pictures do not do it justice.  Not your basic dirt shirt here!  Also, it was an easy make, coming together in no time, and it’s perfect for layering with the slimmed down details.  It’s a true 40’s pattern, yet without being as obviously vintage as some others, as this one’s lacking a giant sized collar and gathers in the body.  There still are the gathered sleeve caps, but there is giant darts that shape the chest from the bust up to the shoulder tops.  Looking at the pattern envelope front, this is primarily because it is designed to go under a jumper, but to me it is just as good on its own to change up my vintage style.  The simplified, toned-down details make this versatile to customization.  With a tweak here and a variation here, I can have a different style.  This time, nevertheless, I stuck to the original design and left it unchanged.

However, the best perk is that this pattern fits me like it was designed for my body in mind, and I can use it without needing to adjust anything.  Finding such a pattern in the world of sewing is a real treat.  They’re a true gem to hold onto (and copy!) when you have one, especially when it comes to vintage patterns, as sizing and fit standards have changed throughout the decades, and yet even for today as modern wearing ease can be unpredictable.  For this blouse pattern, I can just lay the tissue pieces out, cut it out, and whip it together, almost like I don’t really have to think much at all to do it.  I suppose the greatest demonstration for how much I treasure this pattern is the fact I have made three different versions of blouses using it, as you will see in the next few posts.  I really have been meaning to make the jumper, too, as I like the rest of the pattern so much!

The skirt was another quickie project, thankfully.  When making your own suit set, even though I didn’t start from scratch for the suit coat, sewing more than one garment to have an outfit can become wearisome by the time you come to the second or third item!  This is partly why I made sure that the skirt was so easy-to-make!  I kind of knew how this skirt would generally run a bit roomy, as I have made the trousers from the same pattern, so I had the assurance of what size to choose to fit as well as really liking the front curving detailing to the waistband!  I also love this skirt – it is a go-to item that matches with lot of other items that I have and has a nice dressed-up look without being too formal.

To make up for my limited fabric amount and to match up the plaid in a more pleasing manner, I went rogue against the grain line recommendations.  Don’t judge me here, please!  I rarely do this and then it’s only when I have thought things through.  The fabric was a tight, rather stiff man-made polyester so it was not going to have much of a grain line from the fabric, so I merely stuck with matching the plaid up well.  In order to fit the two skirt pattern pieces on my yard and s half, I stuck with the same tact as some of my other 40’s plaid skirts.  The A-line shape is emphasized by having the plaid line up horizontally on the side seams, while the plaid miters together at an angle in the middle front and back seams.  For a fabric more drapey, this layout probably would not work as well, but I like making the most of the little of what I had to make an idea work.

The finely detailed and openly-spaced plaid lends an interesting visual texture to the suit set, I think.  At first I wasn’t sure that such strong colors on my top half would overwhelm the muted but busy skirt fabric.  However, the plaid does have the tendency to look weird from a distance in the full shot pictures for some reason!  There is a sneaky bit of turquoise in the plaid actually, if you look up close.

As I mentioned at the beginning of my post, this is the first time I feel I have been able to assemble a cohesive outfit from garments across the entire decade of the 1940s.  The blouse is from the beginning of the era – year 1941 – when many styles were still very 30’s inspired, fully feminine and dramatically distinctive in the decade.  The suit is I suppose from circa 1946, when extra fabric was again allowed, as it has a longer length, flared peplum, and decorative pocket lapels.  The skirt is (again, from my estimation) a little later than the suit, circa 1947 or 1948, especially with the slightly longer length.  It was common for a woman from back then of the 1940s to have worn garments many years old already, but with all the inventiveness, the refashioning, and desire to not publicly show that rationing was putting a cinch in their fashion life, I imagine an outfit that spans 7 years might have been a stretch.

To me, I see set differences every two years at a time in the styles of the 1940s (such as hem lengths, sleeve styles, body emphasis), but I will leave a discussion of this for another time.  I will say that, for some reason, it seems the conventional stereotype for the 1940’s seems to be circa 1945, when skirts were quite slim and under the knee, as if the wartime fashion was the benchmark for the era.  In reality, there was so much variety in the decade that a dress for 1940 compared to one from 1949 would and could totally confuse someone as to how to “do” 40’s fashion.  There was as much going on in history at the time as there was in the garment realm, and so 40’s style can be all over the place!  There is no “one way”, and that’s the beauty of how the 1940’s can appeal to so many people with so many individual style tastes and body shapes.

I always like to respect the style differences I notice in each year of the 40’s because I see it as important to realize the rhyme and reason behind them.  However, my sewing is about personalizing fashion for me – after all I am the one making things – and learning and feeling fulfilled are the greatest perks I enjoy about it along the way.  Thus, I enjoy the fact that I am able to a slightly less predictable style of a blouse from pre-war, and incorporate it with a skirt from post-war, and a suit blazer from the very end of the time of the fighting and rationing.  I certainly did take a very “made do and mend” 1940’s attitude to the pitiful condition of the jacket as I found it!  I hope the original owner of this blue suit would be proud at how I saved it to reinvent a new suit set 70 years later.  1940’s year differences, modern fabrics, vintage tailoring, self-made fashion, and a refashioning mentality have all made peace together with my outfit!

“Retro Forward” Burda Style – a Vintage Inspired Novelty Knit Dress

Waffles aren’t just for breakfast anymore!  Silly me, you probably knew that.  However, I’ll bet you didn’t know there was such a thing as a waffle knit fabric.  Plain, flat surface knit isn’t the only option in my mind anymore, and this opens up a whole new world of fashion ideas to me.

This dress, made from a novelty, reversible (yes!) textured knit, is sewn using a modern Burda Style pattern with strong features of 1960s and 70’s fashion.  Thus it is part of my ongoing blog series, “Retro Forward with Burda Style”.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a polyester blend knit bought from my local JoAnn’s Fabric store

PATTERN:  Burda Style #116, from February 2014, “Dress with Buttoned Back” view B, or “Jackie Dress” view A.  (Both views look the same to me, by the way!)

NOTIONS:  Nothing but thread, some cotton scraps, and some buttons and snaps were needed and I had all of that on hand already.  Yay!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was made in about 8 hours and finished on October 15, 2015.

THE INSIDES:  As this knit is a polyester and it is a dense weave, it does not fray so the innards are left raw.  Hey – even the dress hem is left raw and unfinished!

TOTAL COST:  I don’t clearly remember, but I believe it was between $15 to $20.

When you look around at it, novelty knit fabric is ah-mazing, especially this waffle version, which is totally reversible, too (in a “photo film negative” sort of way), making it all the more open to crazy fun possibilities.  Novelty knits hold a certain balance that amazes me about modern fabrics – they keep their surface quality while still having a forgiving stretch which still acts like a normal knit, with a “memory” to go back to its original texture.  From what I have seen in my research, I have realized modern knitwear has been around since the 1920’s, but it seems as if novelty manufactured knits exploded into the designer fashion scene beginning with the end of rationing after WWII (in the 1950s), and have been out there ever since.  Look at this 1950 “blistered” textured knit dress from the great Claire McCardell, or this 50’s puckered knit wiggle dress for two examples of how a solid color becomes so interesting with this kind of fabric.  Then, after the 50’s, avant-garde fabrics (made of plastics, paper, and metal, to name just a few) were popular in the late 60’s and in the 70’s, so I feel this unusual fabric especially suits a design of that era.  After all, the pattern is called a “Jackie” dress, and as Burda calls it a “classic” design (which I really don’t agree with), I would like to think they are referring to the Presidential fashion inspiration for the 1960’s, Jackie Kennedy-Onassis.

This was really an easy-to-make dress that is so versatile and comfortable.  I found the sizing right on, and the instructions very good. Now, as for any Burda Style pattern, printing and/or tracing is necessary to have a usable pattern to lay on your desired fabric.  My pattern was traced from the downloaded and assembled PDF bought at the online store but if you have a magazine issue, use a roll of medical paper to trace your pieces from the insert sheet.  It’s at this preliminary step that you pick out your proper size and add in your choice of seam allowance width.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a finished pattern prepped.  Sorry to repeat something you might already know, but this is just an “FYI” for those that don’t.

I did not make any changes to the design, but I did take advantage of it by using both sides of the reversible fabric.  The main body of the dress is in the side that has more grey than white undertones, while the belt which is sew-in to the front shaping tucks was made from the side which is mostly white.  I love how using the other side of the fabric for the belt helps it blend into the dress without getting lost over it at the same time.  I kept the dress a little on the shorter side, and I think it looks better that way…it also gives me a reason to wear fun colored tights in the winter!  Looking back on it, however, I now wish I would have left out the center back, between-the-shoulders, vertical closing because when this dress is sewn out of a knit it is not necessary.  I could have sewn a basic center back seam rather than making a proper placket with fake, sewn on, non-working buttons as I have.  It looks good in the end, so I shouldn’t complain.

I am proud and happy with the way I figured out how to interface the back placket and back belt after all.  I have seen but never tried the interfacing fabric stores sell that is labeled for knits – it is a lightweight tricot mesh with an iron on adhesive back.  I do not see how this would help much or even really work well.  A good knit dress needs certain areas to be non-stretchy, and this is what true interfacing should do.  However, anything iron-on can rip off a knit if stretched too much, and a thick facing would not look good.  Thus, I used a basic 100% cotton broadcloth and basted it in place of the interfacing with some stitching, and have it inside the waist belt straps.  This works wonders to let the back facing and belt be pliable without stretching and be stabilized without undue bulky thickness, besides being an easy, on-hand solution to something that could have been more complicated.  Basic cotton bias tape was used to finish off the neckline edge, as well.  The cotton tape, though on the bias, is not all that forgiving – it is primarily stable in character – which is what I needed to keep the wide V-neckline from losing its shape.  Cotton woven fabric used as interfacing or a stabilizer for stretchy knit fabrics is a match made in heaven and one of the best tips I have discovered!

I’d say the trickiest part to the whole dress was the back belting.  Now, it wasn’t hard to do.  It was just fiddly and required my being precise with matching up the alignment of where the belt straps came into the bodice tucks.  I did lower the belt pieces slightly by about 5/8 inch so they would land just above my natural high waist rather than be at a true empire waistline.  Even still, I was and sort of still am self-conscious about the style and how it compliments (or doesn’t compliment) the tummy and hips.  I do receive tons of compliments by people when I wear this, so it must look alright.  I fudged with the closures of the back straps and sewed on fake buttons to hide the oversized snaps underneath…so much easier to do on myself blindly reaching behind.  Thread loops at the sides and center back keep the belt in place.

This “almost-mini-dress with a back waist band that comes from the side front seaming” is something I see a plethora of when it comes to sewing patterns in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  I see variations of it in patterns from every single year from 1967 to circa 1972, even with many designer names attached, so this must be good style for it to persist for at least 5 years straight in the Disco era!

Simple, straightforward and uncomplicated fashion is needed and has its place.  Solid colors and basic fabrics are staples that many times become a most-reached-for item to wear.  However, stretching the limits of what is conventionally available (the boon of sewing) can be such a likeable refreshing change for both yourself and others to see.  Doing so also stretches one’s habits of dressing and provides fun to an everyday need and unique personal expressiveness.  Novelty fabrics and creative uses for patterns can do all this!  Don’t be afraid to go find that odd fabric that speaks to your wild side and whip something up with it!  I have thoroughly enjoyed my trial with a newly discovered fabric, and a newly found vintage-does-modern fashion style only helped me like it all the more.