Being a Spectator

“Being is always a two-way street: as soon as you are aware that you can see, you will also know that you can be seen – and judged.” (From “Why is Caring About Fashion Considered So Unserious?” by Madison Moore.)  Now this is a rather harsh way of looking at a basic human reaction, and it does make us sound rather vain and self-conscious, but it’s unavoidable.  All the way back to Adam and Eve in the Bible story, who covered themselves because they were afraid of being seen by God, clothing ourselves is intertwined with self-awareness, personality (hidden or manifested), inner or outward expectations, and scrutiny under the sight of others.  This is all the more prevalent today, in our world of Instagram and Pinterest, which feeds off of and provides a seeming endless sea of images.  There’s no harm in such digital age resources, in my opinion, provided one gets out to see and experience real people in real life more than one spends the time to observe remotely via a computer or phone screen.

Public events happen to be the best places for bystander watching.  This sounds bad, but let’s face it – we’re a curious race.  It’s where people come to be entertained by the main attraction of the moment as well as find amusement in turn watching those who are present.  Everyone’s a spectator.  This makes me think – is there a style for being a spectator?  Why don’t many people even bother to dress our best anymore when going out in public, especially for fancy, special events?  How much do we dress for ourselves compared to how much we dress for others or for society?  Whatever does this have to do with my normal fashion-history-sewing blog postings, you may be wondering, too.

Well, there is a style of vintage garments and footwear which is labelled as “Spectator” fashion, and I have taken the Marvel’s Agent Carter interpretation!  In the very first episode of Season Two to the television show, “The Lady in the Lake”, she sets off the plot with a bang in a very striking, post WWII year 1947 rich red dress outfit.  She wears this fully accessorized set to the ultimate place and event for the sport of both being a spectator and watching them – horse racing!  To mirror her location, I had my own visit to a Clydesdale horse ranch.

Most people know the shoe version of Spectators – what we also call “Two-Tones”.  Perhaps the most well-known spectator style footwear might be saddle shoes or the quintessential “Lindy Hop” lace up flats of the Rockabilly 1940s and 50’s youth.  But Spectator styles were for fashion too, mostly in the form of a nice, collared dress, which was comfortable yet tailored and easily fancied up or down as needed.  I cannot find anything more definite than these consistent trait details, besides the fact they seem to have been quite popular in 1950 (here’s one example), petering out by circa 1954 (see this pattern), and are seen mostly in solid colors or low-key prints such as tiny polka-dots, for one example.  I need to do more research digging to be more specific on Spectator fashion, but it was certainly “a thing”.

Each piece to my whole outfit is very much a red and white, two-toned spectator-style item.  My only real variance from my inspiration was gladly changing the details to a more authentic and personally pleasing hat and shoe style.  Yes, I could have done a mirror-image “copy”, but opted not to follow exactly the Agent Carter outfit as seen in the program.  As with the rest of my Agent Carter “copies”, I ride a fine line between adhering to the movie inspiration and being true to history, but being authentic to my own taste for the 1940s always wins out for me.  I work so hard to find true vintage patterns that are strikingly similar, capturing a recognizable essence of my inspiration, and luckily the costumes are generally so good at being authentic themselves I really don’t have to sacrifice much at all to have the best of both worlds!

My Spectator dress is completed by one of my favorite millinery hat making projects.  A dingy, stained, and unwanted true vintage late 30’s or 1940s hat was rescued, refashioned, and spruced up into a new, bright life as a dramatic late 40’s/early 50’s style to match my outfit.  Hats, after all, are something not to be without when it comes to showing up at the horse races I know, such as Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.

My shoes are – of course – spectator style in red and white.  The ones seen on Peggy (of Chelsea Crew brand) are more of a 1920’s style spectator with the T-strap and pointed toes and quite expensive to buy everywhere they are found.  I personally prefer the likes of a true 1940’s heel on my feet, so for myself and for the outfit’s sake I went with a platform, peep-toe, and sling back heel from B.A.I.T brand footwear.  I think these are much more of a power shoe to bring this outfit up to the commanding and flashy woman that Peggy Carter needed to be for the occasion of her visit to the races.

This is my second entry to the “Sewing the Scene” sewing challenge sponsored by the “Unfinished Seamstress” blogger.  After all my efforts to mimic my inspiration outfit, this is still more than just a Hollywood copy for me, and not cosplay either.  This outfit will gladly be worn as part of my vintage-inspired wardrobe because Agent Carter is something which is part of my everyday life.  In fact…I wore this dress to get my official driver license picture for my renewal!  How’s that for bringing my inner Agent Carter into my ordinary duties!?

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a polyester suiting fabric from JoAnn’s Fabric store for the dress and a poly felt for the hat

PATTERN:  a “1st Place Prize” mail order pattern No. 1993, which I can date with confidence to year circa 1947

NOTIONS:  I used two zippers I had on hand, a true vintage metal one for the back neck opening and a modern matching red one for the side closure.  I had on hand the interfacing that I needed and plenty of thread otherwise.  The piping I made myself of leftover satin blanket binding and macramé cording!  The satin blanket binding went towards the hat as well as me-made bias tape of dress fabric leftovers.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Ugh!  After way to much hand-stitching to remotely tolerate, about 40 (probably more) hours, this dress was finally finished on July 12, 2018.  The hat was refashioned in one afternoon/evening soon after, in about 5 hours.

THE INSIDES:  All clean in either French seams or bias bound seams

TOTAL COST:  about $35 was spent of the dress fabric, about $5 for the hat felt, and $20 to buy the vintage hat.  If I count the $10 deal I got on the shoes and the cost for my other accessories, the total outfit cost is about $100.

The outfit was quite a challenge to make – by far one of the hardest outfits to make, Peggy Carter related or not.  For the dress, I blame the crummy fabric I chose for a lot of my problems.  The fabric was the right color red to be sure, readily available in a local store, with a nice slightly textured finish, and a good multi season weight.  It was just too man-made in the way it acted, as if it was such an unnatural fiber that it was fighting being made into something worthwhile every step of the way.  I had to do meticulous hand-stitching for almost everything to get the dress to turn out halfway decent and not messy or cheap looking…I mean the fabric was rather pricey after all!  I was convinced into believing anew the need to go on a personal strike against polyester and other man-made materials.  For the hat, the main issue was dealing with something wonky and beat up and trying to revive it.  The man-made felt I used is again “man-made”, yet it worked out well for this refashion.  This hat could not be cleaned and it was the wrong colors but the right shape…when looking past all of its faults from the wear and tear of time.  Polyester felt was a weight which was thin enough to not make covering the existing hat too bulky, and I don’t think it is obviously an imitation of wool.  When making one’s dream outfit, sometimes price, budget, and available materials sure does make things more of a challenge than it need be!

The pattern itself presented its own challenges along the way.  From the very beginning, though, a big chunk of the extra time it took to be finished with this set was even before I could cut.  The sizing needed such a major change (it was for a tiny 30” bust).  I traced out the entire dress onto sheer medical paper so I both wouldn’t have to ruin the original and could gradually, in small segments, add in the 4 inches I needed widthwise.  Besides resizing, the only other design change I made was to the reshape the neckline.  I widened out the top angle of the neckline so that it would be more squared off and the two corners would land at the middle of my collarbones.  I raised the bottom drop of the key-hole neckline higher by just a few inches, so it would at least cover any cleavage (unlike Peggy’s dress, which shows way too much in my opinion).  Even still, it turned out quite low.  What would the original neckline have been like at this rate?! 

In order the finish the neckline edge, anchor down the piping, and accommodate the newly shaped neckline, I drafted my own facing accordingly.  This is really a dress about visible facing after all – that is the quickest, cleanest, and reasonably easiest way to do the neckline.  The whole of the dress is about the decorative chest, anyway. I made the new facing a replica of the neckline shape and made it an even 2 ¾ inches wide all the way around.  Then I made my own piping and stitched that along the outer facing edge.  Keeping the curves and corners to this step was so tricky but extremely necessary to the design.  Finally the facing was sewn onto the neckline, wrong side (dress inside) to the right side (visible facing).  This way the edges are finished (as I mentioned) and the piping is both covered and regulated in width away from the edge all in one step.

The finishing to this step was the hardest part because everything was invisibly tacked down with tons of hand-stitching which was tortuous to do.  So many pins were needed to keep everything in place in between the episodes of stitching, and my hands and arms became so scratched up and wounded.  The back neckline zipper was absolutely needed but only complicated things further with the piping ending there, too.  Sorry to complain!  In the end, though (after much steam ironing) I do believe the detailing turned out well, but not as perfect as I had hoped.  All those layers and the piping makes the neckline quite stiff, and it puckers slightly sometimes.  However, I do believe the proportions of the key-hole neckline are quite the same as Agent Carter’s dress, so I’m happy.  Yet, I feel now as if I can say I passed some sort of “trial by hand stitching”.  I definitely have a greater respect for the costume department of Agent Carter, now.

The criss-cross straps that finalize the drama of the neckline are shown to be more like a woven design right at the bottom of the key-hole according to the original pattern.  I merely repositioned them to match with Peggy’s dress.  The X over Peggy’s heart is a recurring theme throughout Season Two, as you can see in another copycat dress I made already here.  It is used when she is vulnerable – caught between needing to finish her hardest mission yet while being emotionally torn at the same time.  Love has come into her life again in a whole new way she didn’t see and didn’t expect. With Peggy however, it often seems that love is intertwined with heartbreak.  So – this dress is a strong statement of her both moving on to another chapter in life yet still staying the same strong woman as before she lost ‘her’ Captain America.  She still seems to receive more than her fair share of grief, in my opinion.  I suppose all it does is go to show just how strong and resilient she can be…though not tough enough to refuse to open her heart.

Only the year before this design, the bombshell actress Lana Turner had popularized decorated keyhole necklines when she wore several in the sultry 1946 movie, “The Postman Always Rings Twice” (see fashion pics here).  One of the only times she isn’t wearing white in the film, her black dress has white trim a few inches out from the edge to outline the shape of the keyhole neckline.  It looks all too similar!  Agent Carter was apparently only keeping up with Hollywood to wear this neckline style.

Otherwise, there is not much to say about the rest of the dress.  It has very basic shaping and almost boring darts and seaming.  That’s okay – the body of the dress needs to take a backseat to the neckline.  I kept the sleeves as they were designed, even though they are so different from my inspiration dress, because not only did they turn out cute in my opinion, but they are very easy to move in and provide a great 40’s shoulder widening appearance.  They are quite loose around my arms, but the rest of the dress also had a giant amount of ease to match.  I had to pare off about two inches from each side seams, and take off several inches from the hem.  This brand of pattern company must run really generous.  I guess I didn’t need to do all of that massive resizing after all.

Enough said about the dress – now I’ll talk about the hat!  Originally it must have been quite stunning – to me it has an almost sea-faring pirate feel and the back tassel bumble is an interesting addition.  Many late 30’s and early 40’s hats were similarly obnoxious in style with wide brims.  As I found it, there was an ugly black stain on the crown, and the brim had some rips or moth holes.  The brim edge wire was terribly twisted and kinked, too.  It needed a re-fashion, or else I cannot see anyone wanting it in that condition.

I hate seeing vintage items on their last leg, and I really didn’t want to make a hat from scratch to match my outfit…so I fulfilled both in one step!  Now I know my refashion tuned the hat into the bowl or platter style popular in the early 50’s, but it evokes the post war fashion of 1947, the year Dior unveiled his “New Look”.  It also shows how little details in shape and finishing can change a style so much!

My very first step was to unpick the stitching of the grosgrain ribbon along the edge, to then be able to unpick the millinery wire stitched on the edge.  Next, I took the tassel bumble off and stitched up the back brim slit opening.  Then the hat received an all-over steam ironing!  This flattened out the wavy brim and freshened it up in both smell and shape.  Now the hat was ready to be covered.

I started by covering the bottom underside of the brim using the dress fabric.  I made three rows of stitching from the edge for decorative looks and to keep it in place.  Then the crown was covered by gently stretching out my felt over the existing hat, and my knee was the best thing to put inside to keep in shape while I was doing this.  Stretching the felt made the two layers stick the one another better than stitching the two layers together.  If I was working with a wool felt, I would have soaked it in water before stretching it, but the polyester felt wasn’t going to work like that.

Finally, the top crown was covered with more felt, hand stitched down along the inner and outer edges, then my self-made bias tape, made from the same dress material, was stitched along the edge for the finishing touch.  The last thing was to make a tube of the leftover white satin left over from making the piping, and gently hand-tack that from the inside to where the brim meets the crown.  Agent Carter’s original hat had two different colors and textures of red just like my hat, but I just could not bring myself to copy the trim.  The original hat in the television show hat grey velvet trim with a matching bow, and to me it looks too much like a costume that way, and too over-the-top.  I like the classy simplicity of how I decorated my hat – again, not distracting from the dress, but definitely part of it by sharing the same materials.

It is remarkable how much this outfit forces me into a new outgoing spirit that is almost more than I can handle if I’m not quite feeling myself.  It’s all good stuff, though.  I’ve never really been a girl who is all about a red dress…it comes from reading the book “The Scarlet Letter” or watching Scarlett O’Hare show up at Ashley’s birthday party in the movie “Gone with the Wind”.  Besides, my mom never let me buy outfits in red when I was growing up.  I had only one fancy red dress, and that was reserved for a Valentine’s Day father-daughter dance to attend as a pre-teen.  Now, I’m rediscovering the empowerment of the color.  I even went all out with the color by treating myself to the complete Agent Carter red accessories as seen on television, too – cheaper copies of her Ray-Ban sunglasses, Besame brand “Red Velvet” lipstick (from the Agent Carter collection), her same mother-of-pearl flower earrings, and a true vintage alligator leather handbag.  If I’m going to enjoy the shade of crimson, and go all out in one of my most time consuming Agent Carter outfits yet, then it has to be absolutely awesome from my head to toes and everything in between.

Now I am truly a classic spectator…dressing up in my best, decked in a flag-your-attention set of red, sticking to two tones, and definitely realizing I am seen.  I may therefore be arbitrated, too, but then I am not afraid of it because I feel great in what I wear when I make it.  Besides – I am not afraid of others judgment in this outfit in particular.  I have a sneaky suspicion that it will get favorable opinion from others anyway.  I’ve already had someone drive buy and offer a compliment to me the very first day of putting it on.  There must be something with spectator fashions, because here I am talking about the self-consciousness, personality, and preparedness for scrutiny arising just from what I am wearing.  Clothing certainly adds a necessary complexity and interest to the human existence.

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Dust Bowl Dress

Of all the times that were tough to live through in the last 100 years of American history, it was the 1930s in my opinion.  Yes, the 1940s were no doubt hard as well with the rationing, and every decade has its struggles and challenges, I am sure.  From what I heard from my Grandmother and from reading old periodicals of the times, however, it seems that the 1930s was a struggle just to make it through each and every day.  There was an alarming lack of jobs, and therefore a battle to get the money and food you needed.  It challenged all ages to see how much you could do without and yet still survive, with the goal of ‘making it’ although (for much of the Depression) no certain end was in sight.  The 1940’s at least had ‘the war’ and ‘those serving’ as its definite goal.  Sorry to be bleak but facts are facts to me.

Nevertheless, fashion of the 1930s seemed to generally have the intent of telling the opposite story and conveying an everyday beauty that did not necessarily scrimp because of the pervading conditions of the times.  A certain elegance was expected to be kept up.  All of this was rubbish in the face of the “Dust Bowl”.  It was just clothes on one’s back and a gritty, plain old effort to live, breathe, and eat.  Most of us have seen the famous government sponsored photographs of Dorothea Lange (the picture above is only one of many). If you haven’t, well you should.  This situation in the lives of our poorer fellow men, women, and children is frequently forgotten in the popular 30’s glamour.  Hopefully, such is acknowledged in my newest vintage-inspired sewing of a comfy and very un-pretentious feedsack printed cotton house dress, topped off with a basic, crushable, bright blue hat.

As much as I like dresses, this was out of my comfort zone, even though I have been planning on making this project for the last three years.  I do love useful and practical dresses, because a good part of my life does not call for the lovely, elegant clothes I desire to make and wear.  Thus, when a recent trip to the country we were planning gave me no excuse to put it off any longer, I whipped this dress up (because it was easier than I had expected) and loved wearing it (because it is so comfy and cool for a summer day)!  Of course, no proper 30’s dress for a day in to sun is complete without a hat, I whipped up a wonderful Depression-style hat to match too!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Dress – 100% cotton; Hat – a dense, low nap, polyester velvet for the visible exterior and a poly lining for the inside crown

PATTERNS:  Dress – Burda Style “Drawstring Dress with Peter Pan Collar” pattern #123, from April 2014, for the dress; Hat – Simplicity #8486, the “Snow White” 80th Anniversary pattern

NOTIONS:  Everything I needed for the dress was on hand as this was a long awaited project (mentioned above) – the oversized rick-rack, the thread, and interfacing.  The two buttons are true vintage from the stash of my hubby’s Grandmother.  The hat only needed supplies on hand – interfacing and thread.  The ribbon around the hat is a true vintage cotton velvet supply from my Grandmother’s stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was a one evening project.  It was made in about 5 hours on July 20, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound

TOTAL COST:  As the dress’ fabric was bought a few years before I came up with a plan for it (which was 3 years back) I no longer remember how much I paid for this.  I do know what store this came from though – the selvedge says it is a JoAnn’s Fabric Store Exclusive print.  The velvet was on clearance at JoAnn’s and 1/2 yard only cost me $4.50…and I still have enough for another hat!

Why was the dress out of my comfort zone?  It is just almost too homey and old fashioned for my general taste with most of what I make and wear.  Yes, I this is definitely NOT my first time sewing with a feedsack print (see my first, second, and third here), but this dress style fits in so comfortably with the fabric that my new dress doesn’t seem all gloriously bright and shiny but already broken in, as if it has already been loved and used for some time yet.  This is a good thing, and what I wish more of my makes felt like this, but I am not used to it.  Now that I have such a kind of dress, I don’t know what to think, but the cute practicality, cheery details, and simple femininity of it wins me over to loving it.

 Also, I generally want an authentic vintage style that is just as attractive and wearable for today, and although this is definitely suitable for today and will be worn with a maker’s pride, it is more obviously old-fashioned (the way I made it) than much of what I create.  There is no fashion-forward style I can point out, or designer influence here, just an everyday sensibility and a taste for the finer things on a very utilitarian level.  This kind of dress was what many women wore in the 1930s.  Not every woman looked as elegant as we might be led to think, especially when so many necessary duties of living were much more toilsome than today. (Washing is just one example…machines to do the job still required much hands-on attention and personal time to get clothes clean!)  A dress like this one was what was worn to get done those jobs of cooking, cleaning, and such.  It definitely had it place then and I’m enjoying finding a place for it today, too.  A frock like this makes house work or casual time feel much more elegant than doing the same in t-shirt and jeans for me.  This very appropriately part of my ongoing blog series “Retro Forward with Burda Style”.  It is also part of my one a month” pledge for the Burda Challenge 2018.

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 cut out from a downloaded PDF assembled together after being printed out onto paper, but it can also be traced, using a roll of thin, see-through medical paper, from the inserts in the appropriate magazine issue (although the older issues are harder to find).  It’s at this preliminary step that you pick out your proper size.  Some people add in your choice of seam allowance width directly to the pattern while some as they are cutting out the fabric pieces.  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.

Looking at the finished garment in the example picture for the pattern on Burda’s site, I chose to go down a size for the bodice half and went up a size for the hips.  This was a good move because I have a great fit – originally, above the waist is generous while the hips are quite snug…too snug for the hip pockets in my opinion!  This why I left them out and opted for something more authentic, which also happens to be so much more fun – a fancy patch pocket.  I drafted my own rectangle for this, something about the size of my hand, and then added to the top a parallelogram which was a diagonal half of the square.  This was cut out in both my print and the contrast solid, with both facing one another, so that the point could be pulled down to become pleasantly, complimentarily noticeable, and trimmed with rick rack along the angled edge.  The pocket pulls the grey touches in the dress’ collar and waist ties together as a whole quite nicely.

There were a few things I left out and added on to the dress (besides the pocket). I did lengthen the hemline by 5 whopping inches.  This way I was able to use the selvedge along the hem and save myself a finishing step.  I wanted a dress that was closer to a true 30’s mid-calf length – I do find this length quite complimentary.  Besides, it keeps my knees covered (I’m self-conscious about my chubby knees) and yet is not long enough to get in the way of my ankles.  I also left out the sleeve ties because I disliked the idea of something that fussy.  Trying to fix something on one’s sleeve with the opposite arm is tough – I’ve done that before.  There is enough interest going on in the bodice with the collar and crossover placket that a basic hemmed kimono sleeve suits it better, I think.

The collar came together nicely, but boy was it a long and unusual pattern piece.  I was halfway expecting a very wonky fit, but no – it turns out a lovely face-framing shape which creates a wide neckline.  I love how the wide open neckline prevents this dress from being too conservative, also.  The only minor complaint is that it lays funny in the back half of the neckline.  After I had stitched the rick-rack under the edge, I was forced to sew the collar to the dress for about 6 inches across the center back.  I also found out that the wide open neckline reveals the bias facing used to finish the collar and neckline edges along the inside.  Luckily, I used a matching grey, but this is an important word of warning to anyone else who might consider making the pattern.  Definitely use a facing material that you won’t mind if it is seen because this design makes it visible.

Normally, I am not one for gathered waists, whether they be drawstring or elastic.  Anything that adds bulk at my waist – no thanks!  This was yet another ‘out of my comfort zone’.  However, I gave this one a try and I am quite happy with it.  The instructions had said to sew the casing on the fabric inside (wrong side) at the waistline, as the dress’ only real seaming (besides the sides) are on the upper chest (bodice) – there is one continuous piece for the entire dress body.  Instead, I sewed the waist casing on the outside (visible side) since I had cut that piece out in the matching dress fabric.  Then the tie for inside the casing was cut and made in the contrast grey.  Yet, rather than having the ties come out of the casing at the center front as the pattern directs, I also switched the opening to the center back.  Waist casings always seem their bulkiest at the spot where they open.  The nice casing is mostly covered up because the ties are so long I can wrap them around to the front…kind of like having a belt attached – so easy.

Last but not least, I’m not forgetting the hat!  On its own and how they style it on the pattern cover, this hat does look a bit cheesy.  However, once I had put the ribbon band on, had my hair styled, and wore it with the dress, it looked a lot better to me.  I think you really need to use a quality material for this hat for it to turn out plausibly and not seem like a costume prop.  Otherwise this is a great hat that has just enough of a brim to keep the sun off my eyes yet not be overwhelming.  It is crushable, sized well, and fits nicely on the head.  It was super easy to put together, even with doing a full lining and interfacing all of the pieces.  A hat project this successful that only took a few hours is an awesome win even if it’s not a new favorite accessory.

My major tip to have this hat turn out is to use alternate interfacing.  I used a stiff heavy weight sew-in interfacing and sandwiched it in the brim while I went with a lightweight iron on for the head crown pieces.  This is important – you want the brim to have the most body (you really shouldn’t have a wonky brim here…this isn’t the 70’s).  Yet you need a soft crown that isn’t completely floppy either.  Two weights of interfacing for the different parts of the hat work great.  What really finished off the hat and gave it the perfect fit and shape was doing a full crown lining, too.  In lieu of sewing the lining into the hat when the brim and crown were sewn together, and then finishing the headband seam with a ribbon (as most hats have and as the instructions direct), I merely turned the lining’s seam allowance under and invisibly had stitched it to the edge of the hat body.  Sometimes hat bands can be scratchy on the forehead, and I don’t have the proper Petersham ribbon on hand anyway.  Having the lining start immediately makes sure this hat slips on and off my head without messing up my hair at all and feels quite good on the forehead.  I was able to make the most of the car ride into the country by sewing the lining down while being a passenger!  Ah, the benefits of being a modern vintage seamstress.

As much as we take advantage of our modern machines today – why, I used the sewing machine to make my outfit, the radio to keep my ears occupied while working on it, the computer to see the program for the day, and the car we used to get to the event – I find it funny that the ingenuity and efficiency of the old 100-something year old farm equipment we saw still is a marvel.  And yet, it is these same technological advancements in farming that were blamed for causing the “Dust Bowl” era storms.  The efficient and deep cuts such farm equipment made into the ground broke up deep roots that held the dirt together and made quick work of something much more grueling done by hand giving farmers the opportunity to forget to rotate fields with rest.  This weirdly made me reflect on what the unfavorable aftereffects might be from the technology we take for granted today.

Hidden Opacity

There is so much “extra” that goes into completing an outfit, especially with vintage styles because that can include a bunch of things that are overlooked today.  This might include gloves, jewelry, hats, and even more hidden and not so noticed items such as lingerie…proper slips and the like.  Necessary, matching underclothes and accessories often came with vintage garments originally, yet, most sadly, a large number have these items missing today.  There must be some mysterious gremlin or just some badly run estate sales which misplace those matching slips for vintage sheer dresses, or those self-fabric belts which somehow are sadly missing to complete an outfit!  Perhaps their former owners wore such items to death and they didn’t survive.  Anyway, this leaves one who can sew plenty of extra work to make items that will not be seen and be underappreciated (as a whole), yet just as necessary to bring a vintage original piece back to life.

What cannot be seen doesn’t mean it is not important.  Take this lovely vintage late 50’s or early 1960’s dress which came into my possession.  All I got was just the dress. Now, I am not in the least complaining!  It fits me, is in perfect condition, has wonderful details, and has my favorite colors.  However, it is missing its belt and definitely needing more than just your average slip to be complete it.

Now, the ‘trick’ of a classy, ladylike sheer dress is to be revealing yet not show enough to look like a tart.   So, that opacity which is needed can be an opportunity for fun – you can make that slip naughty, add whatever details or go basic, and even have fun with the color.  What is great about making an underslip is that, firstly, it is all about you – it is the most indulgent selfish sewing which is still justified because of its necessity.  It is all for your viewing (unless you post a picture of it) and your intimate wearing.  Secondly, I love the irony in that you are wearing it but yet it is both seen and yet not detected!  Such little things as a slip or a belt is also a great way for one who sews to make a little extra effort and both put your personal touch on a vintage piece and restore it at the same time.

After all this chatter, what I did make to go under my vintage dress was a deep burgundy-tinted purple satin crepe slip.  Any shade of purple is my favorite color, but I love the way it prevents any see-through and adds an interesting tone of color to the sheer dress over it at the same time.  I do like going darker than lighter with my underslips (as I did for this 1930’s dress) – it makes the dress more obviously sheer yet still highlights your underwear discreetly.  The print on this vintage dress is so busy you can’t notice the dark slip here, though.

The funny thing is, that on its own, my slip actually looks like a sundress to me.  It has nice details, but it still is rather basic overall and provides full lingerie coverage.  Oh well, I wanted something that rather looked like a dress actually because I had other plans for this slip.  There is another sheer outfit – one that I will post in the coming months – which I like wearing over this slip as well.  The neckline on this outfit is a deep V, so I want the slip to fill in the décolletage for me.  I love making one piece become a useful, working staple in my wardrobe.  Already this slip has proved its worth and is used more often than I had imagined.  Yay – so many times the simplest projects are the most useful.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  For being a polyester, this fabric is soft, flowing, and very good quality.  It has a darker, more burgundy color satin side, and a lighter, purpler buff crepe side.  I used the satin side facing out on my slip.  This is the second time I am using this fabric – the first time was to make the ‘pocket’ flaps and the belt for my 1955 Redingote jacket (post here).

PATTERN:  Advance #5552, year 1951 (I’m dying to make the dress from this pattern as well!!!)

NOTIONS:  Nothing but thread and bias tape (to cover the raw edges inside)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was whipped up in only 4 hours and made in one afternoon (on May 11, 2016)

TOTAL COST:  as this was clearance fabric, and I only used under two yards, this is a $3 slip.

Just a few posts back I mentioned that circa 1951 is one of my new favorite time periods for fashion…well here’s another one to add to that count!  This slip does have a classic 1950s “New Look” shape of the times to it with the full skirt and trim waistline.  I’m supposing the cover drawing is slightly deceptive the way the woman is so tall and the skirt is so full.  I have to wear a poufy petticoat, but without that I would have to sew horsehair braid to the inner hemline to get my version to actually copy that image.  Many times the idealism on drawn envelope covers makes us think our projects will turn out differently than they really do…but that’s okay to a point for me – we all love a good and glamorous pattern image, but the line drawing to a design are the meaty reality at the end of it all.

There is a waistline zipper in the side seam – there was no other way to get that trim waist shaping.  A zipper in the side seam of a slip seems really odd today, doesn’t it?!  I learned from sewing this 1940s slip that such a closure feature isn’t really a problem until I wear another garment which also has a zipper on the same side.  A zipper on top of a zipper is not comfortable.  This was the 50’s though – fashion was above comfort.  My Grandma has told me the corsets from that time were torture.  At same point I might re-install my slip’s zipper on the opposite – the right side – as clothes so that there is no overlapping.  It feels odd when I get dressed to find my zipper on that side but it turns out better for the overall comfort of wearing.  This is not the 50’s anymore and after all this is my sewing, so I am darn well going to customize it however I’d like!

The bust shaping here was also definitely tailored for a 1950s bra, maybe even a bullet bra or one-piece corsetlet.  There was sooo much extra room!  I brought a lot of the extra in by sewing a much larger seam allowance in the top half of the center bodice seam.  Otherwise, the little trio of radiating horizontal tucks did a fine and unusual job of allowing room for the bust.  I have seen this manner of shaping once before on the Simplicity #8252 (originally #8270 from 1950) but the reissue has French darts, too, which my slip dress doesn’t have.

Advance patterns have funky sizing issues in my experience, so as much as I wanted to make the sheer dress from this pattern, too, I felt that making the slip first was a good way to test out the proportions.  Many Advance patterns run small, and this one kind of held true to that.  The overall length (unhemmed) was evening length (remember how I said the cover drawing made the model too tall?) and the bust was generous (expected because of the lingerie popular for the time) but otherwise the waist was inhumanly small.  I sized up for the waist and hips for this slip from looking at the pattern tissue on me beforehand.  It’s a good thing I did, otherwise this would not been a success…only a headache to fix.  Now I know what to expect when I make that wonderful sheer dress that is the rest of the pattern.

From the best estimating I can do, I am guessing that my slip is a bit early for the actual dating of the true vintage dress that I wear with it.  As I mentioned in the beginning of my post, I am estimating this dress is late 50’s or early 1960s after finding a few sewing pattern covers and fashion photography images.  There is a year 1958 Simplicity #2411 pattern with a similar back neckline drape, kimono sleeve, and rounded neck.  There is an unidentified late 50’s Butterick with an even more exact back neckline sash drape.  However, the closest and classiest look-alike to my vintage dress is actually from Nina Ricci of 1960 – this has a similar silhouette and fabric colors and print.

However, my dress has a label of “Marcy Lee of Dallas, Texas”.  Marcy Lee was one of the over 100 blossoming clothing companies that began in the mid 1930s (circa 1933, actually) of Dallas, and this line capitalized on the marketability of low-cost cotton housedresses (info from here).  For being an affordable “housedress”, this is still a lovely dress, with amazing details, a classic style, and appealing design.  I really can’t say the same about the cheap and basic cotton knit clothes that are sold today!  Even though this dress is made of the most delicate cotton gauze, somehow it still was made well enough to hold up all these years so I can wear it today.

The details to the closing of this dress gave me the inspiration to adapt my own sewing.  When I was making my 1951 wide collared dress and I couldn’t figure out a front closing method to replace the side zipper, I used the front fly method off of this dress to know what to do.  This was a gift to me in more ways than one because it actually taught me how to do something in my sewing I would not have known otherwise.

As much as I do not advocate wearing vintage garments as a clothing source, because such regular wearing without constant care and respect can render these old clothes torn, destroyed, and eventually non-existent, I do think it is important for everyone to handle, see, and experience at least some kind of old clothing on their back at some point.  Just seeing such clothes confined and displayed from a distance in a museum does not have the same personal effect for people as being subjectively tactile with them.  Find your local shop or resale boutique and enjoy yourself, open your mind to the new details you will see, and start trying things on!  It might take awhile to find something that both fits and looks good on you, but find something that you absolutely love and care for it like a good friend.  It will give you a whole new insight on the clothes of today, help any sewing skills you might have, and let you love yourself with a style as unique and individual as you are!  If you are up to it, you can even be a hero or rescuer for some of the ones that need some tender loving care (see this ‘save’ of mine), or be the one to fill in the missing parts such as I did here.  Finding clothes that earn your respect can help you wear attire which help you esteem your body shape as it is in way that I don’t see many modern clothes doing for the masses.

Yet Another “Leave Her to Heaven” Lumberjack Blouse

As much as I love so many old black and white movies and films, there is something significant missing in all of them – true-to-life color.  It doesn’t really bother me, and I feel no disconnect with the stories because of it, but when a really amazing outfit is spotted…well, I am racked by the mystery of what that garments must have looked like in reality.  I have a suspicion this curiosity of mine is a major factor to why I am so drawn to the movie “Leave Her to Heaven”, from 1945.  Yes, the tale also has an eerie way of getting under the skin and staying in the mind from the excellent acting of a disturbingly intriguing storyline, but the outfits are spectacular – and all filmed in full color!

I’ve already ‘copied’ one lumberjack shirt worn in the movie (post here).  Thus, it was not like I was actively wanting to make another outfit from the same movie so soon, but when the right fabric happens to come along and fall right under your eyes…well, I couldn’t resist!  Besides, if I can channel vintage Hollywood with my casual wear (and I can always use more casual wear) and not just fancy stuff, I’m all in!  I do love a good blouse and the color pink.  So here is a short and sweet post about my second lumberjack shirt from “Leave Her to Heaven”.

Now, my first plaid blouse from that movie was a copy of one worn by the main actress, Gene Tierney.  This one that I am showing in this post had been worn by the “sister” in the movie, an equally beautiful and amazing actress Jeanne Crain, so it did not get as much screen time.  Jeanne Crain wore it to do the gardening (see pic at left).  My version is slightly dressier I suppose from the nice shirting material I used, rather than utilitarian flannel cotton like I used for my last lumberjack blouse.  Still, the mixed color plaid will hide any stains quite well and the fabric is pretty much wrinkle-free, so this is still a perfect casual day or outdoor work blouse which will still look so impeccable.  I love it!  This is why I make my own clothes.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a polyester blend shirting

PATTERN:  a combo of my old stand-by Simplicity #3714 from 1941 for the body of the blouse, and Advance #3152 (from the same year) for the sleeves and cuffs

NOTIONS:  Except for the thread and interfacing, which was modern and on hand, I used vintage notions.  The buttons are true vintage bakelite from hubby’s Grandma in a rich burgundy and the bottom snap was from my Grandma’s box of notions.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was made in about 15 hours and finished on October 22, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  All clean with side French seams and the rest bias bound

TOTAL COST:  This was bought at JoAnn’s at about $15 for just over 2 yards.

This was such an easy-to-make project.  I have made both patterns before, after all!  I chose the vintage Simplicity because I like the collar and body shape…and it fits me perfectly.  It had already been used to make a basic brown long-sleeved winter separate to complete this suit.  There will be a third, solid color, dressy version coming in a few months, as well!

Different sleeves were chosen out of the pinafore set for this blouse version because firstly, it is from the same year (1941) and I wanted the arms of this plaid blouse to be more structured, masculine, and simplified.  The sleeve caps are a trio of darts and the wrist (above the cuffs) was adapted to have pleats, in a trio as well, versus having everything poufy and gathered as the Simplicity pattern called for.  The blouse sleeves and their cuffs are the only thing left to that Advance pattern besides the pinafore (which I posted here).  For some reason the blouse body was not in the envelope when I got it (that’s okay…it was only $3).  The two patterns matched up like they were made for one another.

With this version, I found greater appreciation for the pattern because the plaid brought out the design lines.  I wasn’t really trying to match up anything too much, mostly the side seams.  I remember being conscious in passing that the plaid was passing through the waist tucks and shoulder darts.  The finished effect is best when my blouse it untucked.

This blouse goes with so much in my wardrobe – anything brown, tan, or maroon, which I have plenty of in both trouser and skirt forms.  In these pictures, I am wearing it with my post WWII cuffed twill khaki pants (blogged here).  I do love how the bakelite buttons bring out the undertones to the plaid, complement the pink in a very unexpectedly bold manner, and make it work for rich red tones as well.  Such special buttons deserve to be seen and standout, anyway!

As my blouse is a ‘copy’ attempt from a movie, this is my first entry into the “Sewing the Scene” challenge sponsored by the “Unfinished Seamstress”.  I had meant to make it in time for last years’ same challenge, but I ran out of time making this outfit for it.  I went ahead and made my blouse later on in the year anyway so I could get some use out of it through our cold season and am posting it now.  It’s a challenge for sewing bloggers to get their priorities lined up when juggling a lot in life (don’t I know!).  I make sure to have thoroughly enjoyed an outfit before I even write a word about it.  Sometimes some outfits are so loved I don’t exactly get around to posting about them like I want because I am too busy enjoying them – but that is a good thing!  Life can get in the way of sewing plans, but at the same time, both life and sewing is best when it is a joy and not a chore.

…At The River’s Edge

There is something so relaxing to me about being near where I can hear the movement of water.  Of course, as a city dweller I am never really that close to much water.  Maybe that why I appreciate it so much whether it’s a local rambling creek, a man-made fountain jumping enticingly in the summertime, the beaches of Florida (of which I’m a big fan), or the one man-made ‘river’ we have traveling through the heart of south city.  This ‘river’ was the perfect place to go relax, cool down, enjoy myself, and take a few pictures of my most recent sewing treat – a year 1951 dress with interesting seam lines, sewn using a true vintage rayon border print.

The flowers in the border print remind of some sort of tropical, lush beauties.  I like what the color of pink does for my complexion so I wanted this to be on the bodice, which wraps around me in a U-shaped fashion due to the cross-diagonal seaming.  Yet, the directional lines to the rest of the print first struck me as very animal-referenced, but maybe it is more like leaves on plant stems when I think differently.  The animal/stems lend a very proper post-WWII preferred-silhouette of a slenderizing, long and skinny skirt.

Whatever it is printed there, this slightly tropical dress is my new perfect summer dress, which is very ironic.  Usually rayon challis does not hold up well in our hot and steamy summers here – it sucks up too much moisture both from the air and off of me to become limp, wrinkly, and clingy.  Thus, my splurging on myself to use a true vintage fabric was one of my best, yet very wary, idea for trying something new for summer.  I don’t know what era this is from but it doesn’t wrinkle!  It is also a denser weave, and quite tightly stable yet so cool to the touch.  This is unlike any other modern rayon challis I have ever found.  I prefer past styles over newer ones generally already, but now you mean to tell me that old fabrics are much better too?!  I am glad to have this dress in my wardrobe and finally find out the benefits of old-style rayon.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% rayon challis, with a remnant of a modern poly lining for the bodice facing

PATTERN:  McCall #8376, year 1951

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed to make this on hand already – interfacing scraps, thread, bias tapes, buttons, and a vintage zipper from my Grandma’s stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Making this took me about 15 hours and it was finished on May 11, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  This dress has a clean and complimentary interior in pink and blue tiny ¼ inch bias tape along all the raw edges.

TOTAL COST:  Two yards cost me only $7…pretty awesome!

I felt extra pressure to be “perfect” with this make because of the vintage fabric I was using.  I found it at a reasonable price, and it is in very good shape so I don’t feel as if I have to be more careful wearing my dress. No – the pressure came from my respect for vintage and my knowledge that I had no back-up fabric to buy more of if I messed up.  Border prints are a specialty not to be found everywhere as it is, so finding a vintage fabric border print gave me even more of an expectation to find the right match of a pattern, too.  I had plenty of inspiration to go on which you can see for yourself as well here at my “Border Prints” Pinterest board.  The bodice of this earlier vintage year 1943 McCall’s pattern was my main inspiration, what I was going for with this year 1951 make.  Here, as my dress turned out, the floral border was too loose, oversized and not directional enough to make the U-shaped bodice all that obvious, as I wanted.  Oh well, it’s still just as pretty either way.  On the back, the border print runs along the bottom of the bottom of the bodice where it joins to the skirt.

The sizing on this pattern was weird.  Vintage McCall’s patterns are normally always so dependable, well instructed, with fine designs, and can be counted on to turn out great for me, but this one was one of the very few which I have found to run quite small.  I even sized up just to have a safety cushion “in case”.  Luckily, there were 5/8 inch seam allowances which I let out.

My dress’ pattern overall length also ran long, which I left as-is.  I think the longer length is most elegant and very befitting to the transitional 1948 to 1952 period when hemlines were a length they had not been since the early to mid-1930s.  A “several inches above the ankles” mid-calf length hemline like this now seems to be labelled as a “midi” dress nowadays.  It can be awkward on some garment designs, and it seems especially weird from a wearer’s perspective looking down, but generally I think this length is very flattering.  The triple pleats flaring out on each side of the center front skirt give a very gentle hip emphasis to keep the longer skirt from seeming like a straight pencil shape.

I’m guessing the major change I made to the dress pattern is pretty obvious already.  I eliminated the full button-up front closing to instead have a bodice only half-button front (with a zipper in the side, as well).  It wasn’t just because I was a tad lazy and didn’t want to do all those buttonholes and buttons.  I really didn’t want extra busyness to the print and besides – I actually didn’t have enough fabric for a button front!  Two yards was cutting it so close for this pattern…most of the tissue pieces were touching one another laid out on the fabric.  As much as I LOVE pockets, I also had to leave them out for the same reasons as for adapting the skirt.  Luckily I didn’t have to compromise anything else major (especially grainline!).

Eliminating a button placket is pretty easy for being such a visually evident modification to a design.  Most patterns have a vertical line that marks out the center front, the ‘middle ground’ where the two sides lap over and under one another.  It’s normally where the buttons would line up with the buttonholes.  The center front line is the line I placed on the fold, so that I would have one, large continuous front piece.  If you would ever like a seam line in place of a button placket instead, the center front would be the stitching line and a seam allowance would have to be added on.  Many pattern adapting techniques are a lot easier than they look once they are done, and this change-up is no exception.

The minor alteration I made to the overall dress was to add some slight “sleeves”.  Well, technically they’re not full sleeves, the shoulder line was merely extended slightly and the armscye adapted into a rectangle so that my arms would feel a bit more covered.  My upper arms are on the larger side and this seemed to be a feminine dress, so since I had the little bit of extra fabric I would need to make the change, I made easy half-cap-sleeves onto the garment.  This way I also used up every spare square inch of my lovely fabric, too, he he.

With the nice fabric I was using, I took my time with this dress to do only invisible hand work when top-stitching was needed.  This was worth it!  Finding the perfect color thread was not working out, and having a harsh, obvious stitching line was I felt not at all proper for this dress.  I had stitched all along the neckline and buttoning fronts to tack down the facing underneath.  This was the true test of how invisible yet regular I could make my needle do its job!  Also, I hand stitched under to the wrong side the skinny bias tape edge finishing along the armholes.  This was really quite challenging because there were sharp corners and right angles to the opening for the arms very much like another year 1951 dress I made before.

After all the attention I spent hand working on the bodice, I felt I would have been terribly remiss not to spend the same care on the rest – the bottom hem and the side zipper.   I am so ‘sold’ on stitching on hand picked zippers (except when it comes to the ‘invisible’ kind).  I discovered this ever since doing all the “labor of love” intensive work put into this 50’s dress. Such zipper installations turn out so much cleaner, and less bumpy than machine finished ones.  They are less noticeable so that they blend in with the garment as much as possible (unless it’s an exposed zipper!).  One can be so precise with getting a hand-picked zipper to turn out looking every bit as good as it’s intended, it’s worth the extra time every time I finish sewing one.  A bonus on the side is that it gives my machine a break, anyways!

This dress is a continuance of a segment of vintage fashion I suddenly feel I don’t have enough of to wear.  The early 1950s and late 40’s are my current fashion fascination in my sewing.  I love the in-between periods when styles where trying to find the right balance of details and not quite looking like the stereotypical silhouette.  One of my favorite ways of understanding history is to sew.  As I do have a plethora of killer patterns from this time, look out for more of circa 1951 here on the blog (although I must say this is one of the best I think I have yet made from this time period!).  How could I go wrong anyway with a wonderful vintage fabric…in a border print, to boot…sewn with my favorite vintage McCall’s patterns?!