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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“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!

Metamorphosis

There can be no other garments to the home seamstress that feel unattainable, mysterious, and awe-inspiring than couture garments created by history’s greatest designers.  As beautiful as they are and after sighing over many for so many years, I recently was also thinking – why just gaze on such garments as a museum artifact?  Surely they are not being preserved, archived, and presented just to be admired a hands breath away or be a picture of what you read about in a book on fashion.  Could they be there not just to learn from but also to motivate one’s personal creativity?  Could they also be seen as a challenge to be understood?  How else to recognize or appreciate such stupendous, unrivaled garments unless their mysteries are deconstructed?

With these thoughts, I am now set on admiring such garments in a very tactile way, such as attempting the recreate one-off couture garments according to my own personal taste.  I am by no means claiming I’m in the same position of skill as history’s famous designers, nor do I see this as detracting from the uniqueness of the original garments of such designers when done with the proper respect and credit to the individuality of the existing garment.  An original piece from its maker is and will always be unique and unrivalled in matchless worth.  However, by trying to think like a designer towards both the sewing craft and the personality of fabric offers many opportunities to learn and advance personal ability.  But most importantly, there is the pure fact that by doing so, only increases the value of couture items in the eyes of one who tries to truly “copy” them, helping a sewist to realize the pure genius of designers and couture creators…details that others who know nothing of fabric are completely unaware of.  I have already successfully made a Vionnet design.  That was an amazing eye-opener.  Now, I’ve made my own version of Schiaparelli’s summer of 1937 butterfly dress and mesh duster coat.  Metamorphosis from the oppressive ‘shell’ of conventional home sewing habits like the insects on the garment I attempted to recreate is so redeeming and exhilarating.

I do feel as if I ‘broke free’ with this post’s make.  I did a whole lot of self-drafting and re-designing of existing patterns from the same time period which I loosely used as my base starting point.  I started with looking at a garment, understanding it from Schiaparelli’s perspective, then constructing from there. This method is a departure from the “normal” …”what pattern do I pick for this fabric” or “what fabric would go with this pattern” and following directions.  As I mentioned above, it was a very great learning process, but it also helped me see proportions and details of garments in a revealing way – this is the most important lesson I’m taking away from this, besides ending up with something so very close to my ultimate dream outfit!  Yet, for as wonderful as I feel wearing this, my face might not show because I was trying to imitate the emotionless stoicism of the classical-style 1930s designer photo shoots.  Believe me, I’m elated inside!

As this is my own knock-off interpretation of a designer garment, this is part of Linda’s “Designing December Challenge” at “Nice dress! Thanks, I made it!!” blog.  In this case however, from what I have discovered in my research on this particular set from Schiaparelli, my inspiration piece was not actually “designer” in the garment production sense of the word, not even made for commission.  It was a couture creation, a one-off, no-duplicates outfit made for her own enjoyment, herself to wear, and for fashion statement purposes, expressing the inner artist that she was.  If you would like to more pictures of her original outfit, visit my Pinterest board for that here.

For all that the butterfly print stands for on its own (more on that just below), I personally see this set as symbolizing a lovely elegance half confined, half complimented by the mesh duster coat, like a beautiful creature caught in a net.  The hood adds further restraint with an air of shy mystery, as beauty does not always like to be put on display, merely only respected for what is inherently is.

Fabric is here both full, flowing, and unrestricted yet also structured at the same time.  Fashion can be restricting or freeing, depending on how you wear it, choose to clothe yourself, or follow society’s expectations.  We tell others about ourselves by what we wear without ever needing to make a sound…let that message be a beautiful one that’s exactly what you want to say.  This outfit says a lot about how I feel in my current sewing skills and where I’m going.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  My dress is in a thick yet soft premium 100% cotton, a M’Liss brand print from the now defunct Hancock Fabrics.  The mesh duster coat is made of a Kathy Davis brand knit, bought from Jo Ann’s Fabric store.

PATTERN:  Patterns I loosely based my own re-drafted designs on were – Simplicity #3508, year 1940 (made already – see the blog post); Butterick #8078, circa 1939; Simplicity #8447, a modern reprint of a 1940 pattern; and Hollywood #1391, a Glenda Farrell year 1937 pattern.

NOTIONS:  All I really needed was pretty basic – thread, interfacing, hook-and-eyes, and some ribbon from my stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was made in about 20 hours (not even counting the many hours drafting and tracing out patterns) and finished on August 1, 2017.  The mesh coat was made in another 20 plus hours and finished on August 19, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  The dress’ insides are left raw to keep the bias free flowing, while the coat’s seams are finished by being covered in grosgrain ribbon to keep it clean, interesting, and stabilized with a hint of contrast.

TOTAL COST:  The mesh knit for my duster coat was bought over this past summer for about $30 on sale for the 3 ½ yards I bought…it was expensive but so worth it!!!  The butterfly cotton for my dress was bought at least 5 years back when I first had the idea to somehow make my own version of a Schiaparelli outfit.  After that many years back, I don’t remember cost, but knowing the price of M’Liss cottons I’m supposing about $12 for 3 ½ yards.  The rest of the notions I needed only cost a few extra dollars so I suppose my total is about $45, spread out over the course of several years.  This outfit has been so long in coming!!!

Butterflies were one Schiaparelli’s trademark symbols that she used on many occasions, along with her penchant for postal stamp prints.  Butterfly prints were one of the many custom printed fabrics made exclusively for her to create with and 1937 was a big year for it.  All in butterfly prints, she also made a simple dark crepe evening gown, another dress in a less formal “waltz-length”, a butterfly parasol (which you can see in some pictures we recreated in our own way), scarves (of course, she loved scarves!), and a suit jacket.  Wow!  That’s at least half a dozen butterfly creations in one year, counting my own outfit’s inspiration piece.  The next year, in 1938, she created an insect necklace and in 1940 she created an evening dress with a dramatic butterfly bodice.

Butterfly prints and embellishments have been and are still quietly but perennially popular even today, all thanks to Schiaparelli I would like to say.  See this beach set from Versace’s Spring 2018 RTW, or Moschino’s Silk tie-neck blouse for just two examples of butterfly prints for the year ahead, and this Burda Style magazine page from July of last year (2016) for a look behind.  Alexander McQueen is another well-known modern muse for the butterfly trend.  There can be found random examples of butterfly prints from most of all past decades since her (my favorite is this one from the Harper’s Bazaar in 1942).  Although insects were added on many ladies gowns in the earlier Regency period (roughly 1810 to 1820) as well, up until the last 70 years insects were seen as something oddly repulsive and unusual to have on women’s wear.  So, technically she wasn’t starting anything completely “new”, just finding a whole new way to express it to a receptive audience at the perfect moment in time.  People seem to have moved on from a fabric print or clothing decoration reminding them of creepy crawlies on their body.  I’m assuming that the popularity of butterflies in fashion has been lost in the muddle of frequent use and is not manifested for the same lovely reasons as the ones Schiaparelli for which was entranced by the transforming creatures.

Elsa Schiaparelli felt that she herself and many of her friends and clients did not have the expected societal norms of beauty in face and/or figure.  The manner in which one has to wait and see through the unsightly caterpillar stage to see the final gloriousness of the flying butterfly stage gave a message of internal beauty and hope for redemption.  Also, a butterfly was also seen to mirror the work she could do with her garments – the way a well-designed and expertly constructed piece of clothing can transform any body into something only imagined is indeed magical!  Besides, there was the Surrealist movement’s influential touch, of which she was a major participant in as she was friends of artists such as Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst and Man Ray, often collaborating with them on sewing projects.  The Surrealist movement wanted in itself to challenge accepted notions and ways of thinking, and find new outlooks of seeing everyday objects and situations in a new light.  Using butterflies showed their desire for change, offering the unexpected in a background others can generally relate with in a way that dares our set conceptions.

My own fabric is admittedly not entirely butterflies – it also includes dragonflies.  However, I see this as very appropriate and only adding to the message.  Dragonflies also undergo a sort of metamorphosis – they live a good part of their lives as ugly, mud-colored slightly monstrous looking nymphs or naiads in the water.  Then they come out of the water to break from their shell complete with beautiful, sun reflecting wings to enchant us with their color and agile movements.  Sadly, the stage that we know them by out of the water is the end of their lives, only lasting a few weeks or so of bittersweet beauty.  My fabric is also only a basic cotton, while Schiaparelli’s original sundress was a fine silk satin.  If these facts don’t further embody the whole “transformation of understanding loveliness” ideal, I don’t know what will.

From what I have seen on juniors and teens patterns of the late 1930s, Schiaparelli butterflies were popular in print and style suggestion with young fashion.  I have seen several patterns with giant poufy sleeves which are gathered down the middle to resemble butterfly wings at the top of the arms.  This McCall #9335 pattern from July 1937 is the best example of young ladies’ Schiaparelli inspired style!  In fact Schiaparelli’s style in general was popular with the youth and it makes sense that the younger people (besides her rich socialite clients) would be happy and willing to accept her idealism. Thus, I found it appropriate to use another junior misses’ design, a Butterick #8078 pattern from my stash, as the base to adapt and redraft my pattern for this sundress’ bodice.  Butterick is a year 1939 juniors ensemble which reminds of the style of Schiaparelli (in the late 30’s Butterick came out with a few “designer inspired” patterns).  It is very similar to her fascination for playful yet structural interest around the neck, face, and shoulder line that would reoccur every so often (see this 1948 winter set with even more exaggerated features than my sundress).

It was the neckline that takes the main interest and was the greatest challenge to making this dress.  I had to put myself in the mentality of working with the nature and drape of the fabric to figure out how part of it can be so structured yet supple, with the rest flowing on the bias.  In the end, I interfaced the edge about 5 inches down from the neckline edge, and faced it.  Then a self-fabric, interfaced strip was attached underneath to invisibly hand tack down the neckline rolls.  Interfacing the straight necklines worked out well to keep them crisply linear and support the rest of the long dress.  I have no idea if this method is anything close to how Schiaparelli engineered her neckline, but this was the way that seemed the most simple and made the most sense to me.  She probably made her neckline in some way that would blow the mind.

I realize the original dress had some sort of soft pleats at the front ends of the neckline, where the shoulder straps join.  But as my dress did not seem to like that in the front, I let the fabric do its own thing and keep the pleats in the neckline ends at the back only for a smoother front.  I do love how the wide neckline over-exaggerates the shoulders how have a strong T-silhouette to lengthen the body line in this bias dress.  The original dress had deep armholes and I followed that on my copy to have the free and breezy free arm look of this sundress.  Luckily, though, my placement of the sleeve straps and the armpit dip was adjusted so that I can still wear my regular lingerie!

Schiaparelli’s original dress also had an inverted-V bodice which comes to just above the hip bones at the side seams.  The bodice also has a slight poufy fullness to it at the seam, with a two piece bias skirt below.  I was able to get all of this by redrawing the bodice and skirt of my nightgown Simplicity #3508.  However, to further shape my dress, there are tiny tucks in the skirt where it meets the points of the bodice at the side seams.  This is where I realized proportions are very important to get a specific fit and drape on the body for the desired effect.  I also realized there is no closure needed, amazingly…this is one of the most elegant slip-on dresses I could have imagined!

For the mesh over-jacket, I realize that Schiaparelli’s original was more of an open netting over a tighter, smaller netting.  Mine is similar in styling and ideal, and every bit of luxurious practicality.  I mostly stuck to the original basics of Hollywood #1391 from 1937 (the right year!) to cut it out.  I over-laid the pieces together so that there would be none of the original princess seams and therefore minimal design lines.  The main seams were going to be clearly obvious and showing – that is part of the intended appeal – so I was paring unnecessary ones down.  Where the princess seams had been, I changed the amount of difference to simple darts above and below the waist instead.  As I was working with a knit, and it was only a jacket, this was also a very good fail proof way to sort of muslin this Hollywood pattern since I intend to make another version into a dress at some point!  It was really the easiest part of the whole set to make, just tricky due to the open fabric.

The pointed collar to the jacket needed to be interfaced and have structure like the neckline of the sundress underneath, so I used navy blue mesh tulle netting.  This worked like a charm and indistinguishable!  I also added inner sleeve cap supports of more tulle at inside at the shoulder tops so that I would have uber-poufy sleeves that would obnoxiously stand out on their own just like on the original!

I could not find what the hood on the Schiaparelli original looked like in shape so I allowed myself whatever was available.  The new Simplicity vintage winter and fall 1940 separates was an opportunity to again test out (at least, in part) a pattern I want to make again, and stick to the same time frame of years with the patterns I am using.  I had no trouble making the hood, although I needed to add in an extra pleat to make the neckline smaller.  Only, I liked the way the jacket looked both with and without the hood!  I didn’t exactly want to commit to one or the other, so I made the hood removable!  How?  I added half a dozen snaps along the bottom of the hood to match with other side of the snaps in the inside of the neckline to the jacket.  I will definitely make the next hooded dress, jacket, or whatever I make with it removable in this same way!

The front of the jacket has the option to close with sliding hook-and-eyes.  Most of the time I like it open, or just the one at the waist closed.  When I wear the dress’ matching neck ascot scarf with my jacket on, it really has the summer ideal of winter bundling!  Surrealist contrasts in action!

To complete my outfit, I adapted a long rectangle scrap of my dress’ fabric to have flared ends and interfaced inside with organza for an easy ascot.  My wood and fabric parasol is something I acquired about 12 years back at a re-enactment.  It has a simple floral design hand-painted on a small section of it.  What I did in the blank section to simulate idea of the original matching parasol was to add a handful of my Grandmother’s many butterfly pins and brooches.  Butterflies had been a source of joy and interest in her life, especially as she had a thriving flower garden for many years.  She loved nature and appreciated it in a way I can only wish to emulate.

Butterflies have a way of entrancing us.  Their fragility yet endurance and strength lends a mix that is their privilege.  Their freedom to come and go across our path as they please, to randomly and unexpectedly light up a moment in our life, is no doubt a big part of their charm.  A favorite author of mine, Nathaniel Hawthorne, once said that “Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”  I’ll leave you with that.

“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!

“I, However, Am Not Afraid of You…”

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

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

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

THE FACTS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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