Inverted Floral Wrap Dress

Just as a mirror has two faces or a coin has two sides, so is there symmetrical inversion in botany.  I have channeled this natural state of balance into a vintage wrap dress for the ultimate challenge in forethought and clear-headed pattern planning.  I do normally gravitate towards asymmetrical designs. 

However, I was directly inspired by the dual personality of the Marvel villain Madame Masque, as seen in my favorite television series Agent Carter (Season two of 2016) as the stylish Hollywood starlet Whitney Frost, set back in the time of the 1950s era.  The last scene for Whitney sets her up for the future villain she becomes.  Watch it for yourself here on YouTube. She is shown as unhinged, delusional, and desperate to live her old life even as she is disfigured from the power she found searching for a new way of existence.  However, we are viewing her situation through the lens of a mirror image which distorts her reality. 

Whitney Frost, Season Two, episode 10 of the Agent Carter show

Her dress was appropriately two-faced, with a pleasing feminine floral on one side for her Hollywood alter-ego and a deep purple on the other side to reference the Dark Matter which resided in her.  This beautiful ruse is the scene that I sought to imitate.  As short as it is (only 1 minute) the clip is very telling – Whitney Frost’s sadistic and selfish ways left her with the opposite of everything good that her gifted intelligence could have achieved.    

THE FACTS: 

FABRIC:  The solid portions are a cotton and poly blend broadcloth, while the other half is an all-cotton handmade block print direct from India, fully lined in a thin bleached muslin cotton for opacity

PATTERN:  Anne Adams #4803, from the year 1952, labeled as a “Wrapron” jumper-dress-apron, vintage original pattern from my personal stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread and some bias tape for finishing the edges…that is it!  No zippers or interfacing, or buttons – pretty simple!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was made in about 30 hours and finished on June 13, 2021

TOTAL COST:  Two yards of the floral block print was ordered from DesiFabrics on Etsy for $26.  The rest of the fabrics came from my local JoAnn Fabric shop – 2 yards for the purple and 3 yards for the muslin.  My total is about $45.

There has been a semi-intentional year 1952 spell lately on my blog.  This is the third post in a row to feature something I have made dating to that year in fashion history!  1952 saw the full transition of women’s’ fashions away from the last vestiges of late 1940s influence and took on the styles which would be the classic silhouettes and design lines for the rest of the era.  This third consecutive post of a 1952 dress combines a sample of the predominant fashion trends for that year (mentioned previously) into one project.  I will explain!

My last post – a Cinderella inspired dress – had a simpler version of the same inverted floral look as this post’s frock.  The latter was my test project for gearing up for a full interpretation as the one in this post and diving all in to the challenge of trying out some tricky mirror image paneling.  What I learned along the way is that there is no secret technique to help make the process easier.  Everything is in terms of opposites and cut single layer.  This kind of inverted paneling of two fabrics is just plain craziness to sew and plan.  My best advice is to work on such a project when you have a clear head and limited distractions.  Write out ahead of time which pattern piece will go to which fabric so as to have a visual guide.  Also, have some extra fabric as a little ‘wiggle room’ in case you mess up figuring which pattern piece to cut from which fabric.  Trying to create a two-fabric dress was easier for my Cinderella dress as the McCall’s pattern I used was clearly printed.  Unless you’re looking to make things harder for yourself, do not try such a style when working with an unprinted tissue pieces, which was the case for the mail order pattern I used for this Whitney Frost dress.

In the princess-themed post mentioned above, I spoke of how 1952 had some definitive fashion trends that are easy to spot, but I’ll now add wrapped dresses to the list.  Before Diane Von Fustenburg got credit for popularizing wrap dresses in the 1970s, they had been a creative “craze” in the 1950s.  Notice how this post and the former of my last three (my Charles James look-alike) both are 1952 dresses that wrap closed in some such way! 

1952 was definitely a benchmark date to the prevailing wrap trend, as evidenced by an overwhelming amount of that particular style for that year.  Butterick even had a specific tag line for their popular wrap pattern #6015 of 1952, calling it the “Walk-Away Dress” (reprinted as Butterick 4790), but all the other pattern companies of the time came up with their own version over the following few years afterwards.  It seems rather clever to me that Anne Adams took the “it can be a full body apron or a dress” creative approach to tagline and market their wrap dress and keep if different from Butterick’s offerings.  Advance also came out with another apron-dress wrap in #7811 (see it here).  McCall’s had rather fashionable wrap dresses for the time, but they did offer their “Instant” wrap-around apron dress in pattern #2104.  Simplicity Company even came out with their wrap dress in #2466 which was tag lined as the “Answer” dress so you can look presentable enough to answer the door in a matter of seconds.  Simplicity’s “Answer” dress is surprisingly similar to my Whitney Frost dress in the way it has both a print and a solid at contrasting sides.

The first reason I chose the Anne Adams “wrapron” dress pattern for Whitney Frost’s inverted floral dress was for its basic design lines.  It was the only early 1950s dress pattern in my stash that had center seams both front and back and a similar overall style.  Sure, I realize I could have just thrown in extra seams but I wanted my base pattern to be just what I wanted from the start.  With so much figuring to account for already, I didn’t need to add one more alteration for me to think about.  I have also been aching to try one of the many early 1950s wrap dresses, and this one seemed to me to have the best chance for success.  It seems as if every vintage sewist has tried Butterick’s classic “Walk-Away Dress” and been deeply underwhelmed – I was not going to walk into that trap.  Even still, every wrap dress – including the most successful – is a frustrating beast to sew.  They are shifty things that do not have one set way of fitting and tend to have a mind of their own.  Their adjustability is to their benefit at the same time.  Bodies are not static and fluctuate quickly – even from the morning to the evening my body has different measurements.  A wrap dress accommodates all of those changes! 

I was hoping for a rousing victory out of this project, of course, and inspiration from the Agent Carter show has not once let me down, always spurring me to create my wardrobe’s best pieces.  I have found that this specific wrap dress turned out to be perhaps my best fitting wrap and amongst my all-time favorite dresses.  It was quite an experience to sew (as expected) but most of that was simply the combination of mirror imaging the two fabrics and the fact that vintage mail order patterns run roomy.  If you want the same look as my dress without dealing with an unprinted, fickle sized, true vintage original like what I used, I have noticed that the modern reprint Simplicity #8085 is a strikingly similar pattern.  However, I have not tried this reprint for myself.  Using that pattern, nevertheless, you would need to draft in a front V neckline and a center front seam.  Then, you could add in some sleeves, just as I did. 

For some reason it seems as if most of the 50’s wrap dresses do not have sleeves.  They are easy to add on where sleeves are wanted but missing and help keep the garment anchored nicely on the body.  Depending on the design, make sure to add in at least an extra inch to the inner armhole edges to a sleeveless frock if you are going to sew in sleeves.  I drafted my very own sleeve pattern here because I wanted exactly what was on the original Whitney Frost dress which was my inspiration.  They have pleated top caps which almost give the illusion of a puff sleeve from a decade or two previous to 1952.  The hem is also pleated in but with half the number as on the cap.  I love how cute and comfy these sleeves turned out to be, and how they enhance the overall dress and level up its elegance.  The dress looked very casual and was clearly an apron-derived style before sleeves.  With them, it is 100% Whitney Frost’s class and suddenly a refined dress that is low-key hiding the fact it is a wrap.  I love the little epiphany moments that every step of making a garment reveals.

The scene of Whitney Frost hallucinating at a vanity dresser’s mirror only lets us see her dress from the chest up, so it left me a lot of creative license to imagine the full frock for my imitation.  I ended up primarily basing my dress off of similar extant dresses, content with only a strong reference my inspiration garment.  However, I found an interview of the actress Wynn Everett off screen (click here to watch it for yourself) which gives a waist up view of the inverted floral dress she wears in that last scene for her character.  In the interview, the shine off her dress and semi-transparency of the fabric tells me it is a lightweight satin, perhaps silk in content.  Finding a remotely matching satin print was exhausting and fruitless after several years of intermittent searching, so I went for something that would guarantee to bring me joy – an Indian cotton “buti” block print

These fabrics always have the most beautiful floral stamps and are the most luxurious cotton to be had.  Through this route, I easily found more than one option that would easily mimic the print on Whitney’s two-faced dress.  Looking at the extant 1950s dresses that encouraged my inspiration, they were all cotton, and using such a material would keep this dress practical and wearable for many occasions, after all.  Summertime is much more pleasant when one is wearing Indian cotton…and India’s Independence Day is coming up August 15th!   

In the understanding that Whitney Frost and Agent Carter are very much alike in many ways despite being each other’s nemesis, I have merged a hair accessory that matches with a Peggy dress into this outfit.  Season Two occasionally has Agent Carter vested in purple, Whitney’s trademark color, depending on where she stands in the plot or how her actions have affected others.  There is scene in episode 2, called “A View in the Dark”, where Peggy is glamorous and acting according to her own designs (both of which is tied to Whitney’s character).  This is also when Peggy is garbed in all purple.  I made my own copy of her jeweled, floral purple hair comb to complete my copy of that dress from the episode.  To get a good view of Peggy’s hair comb, please go watch this short clip for yourself here.  More details about this yet to come, though!  That hair comb really seemed to fit in all too well to the character development I see tied into both leading ladies.  It fancies up the dress, too, since I had to go with a string of pearls as my necklace – pearls are Whitney’s most common jewelry choice.

Peggy always wore her Nana’s 1940s watch, just as I do, but she gravitated more towards a gold tone whereas Whitney wore silver metals.  I again blended in both characters by wearing one of my Grandmother’s special watches, her only one in a silver tone.  I have done what research I can and estimate it to be from circa 1952 – how perfect, right?!  It is in a 14 carat gold with tiny diamonds set into the sides of the face, so I wonder if this was a wedding gift piece, as she was married about that time.  As you can see, this was indeed a special outfit for me to bring out such special accessories.

For starting off with a basic looking wrap-apron design and some cotton fabrics, I think I really pulled off this idea better than I ever expected and turned into a very fun and appealing dress.  Wherever I go in this dress, I always get a number of compliments and positive comments, so apparently it is something which others would like to have as well, if ready-to-wear offered such a thing.  Please go view my Pinterest board on “Wrap-on Dresses and Tops” for a plethora of inspiration.      

I hope I have given you some encouragement to give wrap dresses a try or maybe try them anew if you have been disappointed in them before.  This mirrored paneling of two different prints is a great way to use up two smaller cuts of fabric and makes it seems creatively intentional.  I find it unexpected that wrap dresses seem to have been a popular medium for such a dual fabric style in the 1950s.  I hope you agree that the character of Whitney Frost was a good choice for me to channel for this project idea because I feel wonderful wearing my finished dress…every bit as pretty as a summer flower! 

Burgundy Jacquard Dressing Gown

Hubby and I have been long overdue for a vacation for over 5 years now.  A few weeks back we finally went somewhere for a few days – Chicago!  Our hotel was the historic Knickerbocker in the heart of everything, along the Magnificent Mile.  To cut to the point, we explored the hotel in the evenings, and we found the secret door to the speakeasy upstairs as well as seeing some of the unique, original 1930s and 20’s posters which lined the hallways.  All of this made me glad I had taken this as an opportunity beforehand to sew myself something special for the occasion!  I figured (correctly), that by the evening, I would be dog-tired, and not want to stay completely put together, yet stay elegantly presentable while being comfortable.  A vintage 1936 dressing gown was the perfect answer…

It seems a true dressing gown is something that rides a fine line between opposites.  It is not purely utilitarian and overly warm, both of which better suits a housecoat.  Yet, at the same time, a dressing gown is much more restrained than a tantalizing, sexy boudoir robe and not flimsy like a negligee.  It is a garment with practical, chic elegance which is unashamedly luxurious and feminine.  It is meant to be cozy in the way of being light yet chill-busting, because a dressing gown is generally flowing (and very classical Grecian in influence especially for the decade of the 1930s).  This vintage page (below) from a “Good Needlework Magazine”, year 1937, describes the ideal dressing gown.  See how it recommends satin, rayon, silk velvets for the best materials.  A modern robe is no match in opulent charm to a full dressing gown.

Unlike both a housecoat and a boudoir robe, a dressing gown is something to be seen and worn in somewhat private settings, such as a secluded hotel lounge (my immediate modern purpose) or to host late night card parties with friends or answer the front door (traditional recounts of their usefulness).  However, the name immediately implies that a dressing robe is a garment for a stage in-between dressed and undressed…like a “wrap dress sort of a housecoat” for when you would just have your slip on to do your hair and makeup before going out or for doing the opposite actions unwinding in the evening.  Even still, a dressing robe isn’t so much about action, as it is for inaction…especially for any time after the 1930s.  Most homes have had decent central heating since then, as well as leisure time being an attainable part of life, and with the frilly details and scant warmth to a dressing gown, this is something perfect for not doing anything, and completely treating one’s self to a little bit of luxury under the excuse of usefulness.Making this gown was somewhat of a leisurely luxury…it was so easy to whip up!  I used a great, small Etsy shop reproduction of a year 1936 German pattern and some luxurious mid-weight jacquard that seems to mimic a very nice rayon for the ultimate dressing gown for myself.  I am not one to wear reds all that much, but this burgundy jacquard was like a magnet to me in the fabric store…something I wanted to use in some way.  I couldn’t see it as anything but nightwear, for some reason – even though my dressing gown idea meant I needed a whopping total amount.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The fancy exterior is 3 ½ yards of 60 inch wide mid-to heavy weight jacquard, 98% polyester/2% spandex (which feels like a rayon), from Jo Ann’s fabric store.  The lining is a crepe finish (buff, non-shiny), lightweight, matching burgundy poly lining, also from Jo Ann’s.

PATTERN:  a German year 1936 pattern re-produced in PDF form through “Repeated Originals” Etsy shop  

NOTIONS:  I had thread, ribbon, and clasp closures on hand…this needs only very basic notions!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This gown was made in about 10 to 15 hours and finished on August 9, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  …what insides?  This gown is fully lined…

TOTAL COST:   This maybe cost me about $30 or $35, all coming from purchasing the fabric…

Perhaps I only pictured the jacquard in nightwear because I was thinking of the rich red robe of Scarlett in the movie “Gone with the Wind” or Whitney Frost’s robe in Season Two of Marvel’s Agent Carter.  Both ladies wear some dressing robes I crush over but I credit Whitney Frost’s gown to give me the idea to use two metal, gold-enameled filigree clasp buckles from on hand for the asymmetric chest closing.  An elegant robe with a luxury fabric which is not seen that much anymore deserves even more fancy touches…because I can!  Any garment can have buttons.  My gown has something to close it as unique as it is, and there are two less items in my notions stash, too. One of the unique details which are part of the design itself is the pointed, arched front waist seam.  It perfectly complements the gently arched neckline, in my opinion, and both provide a nice ‘frame’ for the asymmetric bodice closing.  The arched, pointed waist is on both sides of the front wrap, and amazingly do line up when the dressing robe is closed.  The waistline does have double tie closings to anchor this flowing robe in place – a pair of burgundy satin ribbon ties for the inside, and a pair of self-fabric bias ties for the outside closing.

The hardest and most time consuming parts to having a finished dressing robe were two things.  I’ll start with the first in the order of being made – assembling the PDF pattern.  I believe we have an extra ordinary amount of open floor space in our living room (where I cut out projects and assemble PDF patterns) and still I was almost completely out of space, so the large size of the connected pages into one full set of pattern pieces might be the biggest drawback for anyone else.  Take note – this pattern is similar to many PDF patterns, especially from Burda Style, where there is no seam allowance given.  It must be added in by you, in the width of your choosing.  As the size for this dressing gown’s original measurements are (bust 38”, waist 30”, hips 42”) technically inches above my body size, I did not add seam allowances so as to easily cut down on the excess.  In reality I could have added little seam allowances because this seems to run small in the overall fit.  It just fits me, without any room for bulky clothes, but I do not think I would like this any bigger because a sloppy fit would make all the fabric to this ankle length robe overwhelming.  So I guess I succeeded in a good fit after all.

Turning all the edges out all around so I could have a fully lined gown was the second challenging part that took up most of the relatively short time I spend on sewing this.  I didn’t really want to bother deciding on a seam finish (bias, French, or raw) and a dressing gown’s inside is seen much more than any regular wearing garment.  Thus I went all out and fully lined my robe, except for the sleeves.  Whenever I want to make something nice, going the extra mile to make that special touch, even though it’s probably a bother, always ends up so very worth it in the end…at least for me!

I know the pattern shows cuffed sleeves, but I can wear that on my every day long sleeve shirts – I wanted the drama that wide bell sleeves add to my dressing gown.  Besides, many, if not most, of the various other dressing gowns I perused on the internet (both patterns and extant garments) have similar bell sleeves, especially the 1930s ones.  I did find the original pattern sleeves to be a tad short when I checked before cutting out.  I am on the smaller side of average for my arm length, and I added 1 ½ inches, so everyone else interested in this pattern take note!

Many of the 1930s dressing robes also tend to have a neckline frill or ruffle, too, I noticed.  I do have a vintage one yard scrap of some sheer, black, mechanically pleated 3 inch wide trim that would mimic the collar on my pattern’s drawn image cover.  I was sorely tempted to add that trim to my dressing gown, but the trim is vintage and uniquely lovely, so I really think it deserves to be seen on a 1930s street dress or nice dress.  I actually used up all of my jacquard fabric on the gown, so a self-fabric neckline ruffle was out of the equation, anyway.  Having something frilly, fussy, and complicated around my neck doesn’t sound like anything but a bother on something meant to relax in, and I like the simplicity of the elegance to my robe as it is.

You really can’t see my slippers all that well, but I am wearing my prized vintage late 1930s to mid-1940s Daniel Green slippers.  They are mine because of an even trade with a local shop of some vintage heels I wasn’t wearing, so I count myself as lucky to have these because they are something I probably wouldn’t have bought otherwise.  They are in pristine condition and just so amazing, I had to bring them on the trip and wear them with my dressing gown.  House slippers have changed so much since these beauties – another example of how modern versions of things cannot stand up to vintage when it comes to class and personality.

Please – do yourself a favor and find a dressing gown pattern for yourself (maybe use the one I did) and make one, too.  Like me I believe it will come together quicker than you imagined, and you will want to wear it more than you expected.  Just find that luxurious fabric that speaks of fluid elegance in your mind, and go for it!

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“Poster Girl” – Hat, Dior Flower, and 1951 Dress

If it’s on the front cover of a magazine, or in a publicity shot, your outfit had better be good, right?  Well, the villainess for Marvel’s “Agent Carter” television show wears some pretty killer post-War 1940s and early 50’s fashions, and no less so for the outfit she wears for both the preview publicity pictures of her character and for the cover of a vintage “Fashion News” magazine (seen in “Better Angels”, Season Two, episode 3).

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In order to recreate her “Poster Girl” outfit, I made a bunch of different pieces – the dress, the hat, and the clip-on flower.  I’m not complaining – this was closer to being a labor of love to sew, not a bother.  It required a good flow of my creative juices, some good pattern sourcing, and taking my time to enjoy myself for things to turn out “just so” for an equally killer outfit which I would like to think could hold its own against the class of Whitney Frost.  Her sense of fashion is probably one of the reasons she was held as the face for Hollywood, as well as her seemingly ‘perfect’ life with her husband.  However, 'All eyes on her, but no one sees her'-combobeing a “Poster Girl” (definition here) was a hard standard to hold up to for her.  For Whitney, it only meant keeping up the façade of happiness and glamour, always smiling and keeping the truth hidden…and boy, did she have some dark secrets to hide.  George C. Scott once said, “Technique is making what is absolutely false appear to be totally true in a manner that is not recognizable.”  Here, I intend to only stick to Whitney’s fashion without her superficiality.  This is my closest copy yet of a Ms. Frost outfit, and I absolutely love it!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  THE DRESS and FLOWER: a 100% cotton sateen, a “Gertie” print; THE HAT: Simplicity 8390, cover front-comp,wa buff satin polyester solid in fuchsia color

PATTERN:  THE DRESS: Simplicity #8390, year 1951, “Misses One-Piece Dress and Stole”; THE HAT: Vogue #7657, view F, year 2002; THE FLOWER: the instructions and guide to how to make a ‘Dior’ rose came from a small “Easy-to-Sew Flowers” booklet, compiled by Threads magazine, copyright 2012.  The tutorial is listed as adapted from Threads article “Dior Roses” by the late Roberta Carr, in issue no. 34. 

Vogue 7657, yr 2002, pics onlyNOTIONS:  Believe it or not, this outfit was made with only what was already on hand.  I had all the thread, interfacing, closure notions, bias tapes, and other odd and ends needed for the hat, dress, and flower here in my “magic” stash.  The only thing I needed was to order a buckram hat blank base (more info where it came from and what it is exactly down later).  Ah – and the cotton velvet ribbon,  “Waverly” brand, was bought (of all places) at Wal-Mart.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The Dress was made in about 20 hours and finished on September 15, 2016, and the hat came maybe 10 hours later.  The flower was made in just under an hour the day or two afterwards.

THE INSIDES:  There is a combo of both French and bias bound seams inside this dress for a clean finish.

TOTAL COST:  The dress cost a reasonable but decent amount, about $7 a yard for about 4 yards.  The hat fabric combined with the buckram base and ribbon cost me just under $15.

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I had some problems dating my dress’ pattern.  My first problem was the presence of new pattern numbers stamped in grey on the back info of the envelope.  The instruction sheet has the date of the year 1951, but the newer stamped numbers of ‘4291’ would make this about year 1953.  However, as everything else to this pattern points to the year 1951 (the style of dress, the original numbers, the instruction sheet, as well as the double bars on the top left side of the front envelope), I am sticking to that early year in the decade.  I have not yet found any evidence of this design being re-released later under a new number, so I’m not sure why the stamped combination was added on (it does look quite official like it was a die cast impression).  One of the many wonders and curiosities that vintage patterns offer…

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The dress design is lovely, and smartly designed.  It also fits very well on me – perhaps the best fitting 50’s pattern to date.  I usually find that the back waists are too long, shoulders proportionally too wide, and busts too generous on other 50s patterns, but not here!  The pattern was close enough to the inspiration dress that some small adaptations were needed to get to where I wanted it to be for my copy.  The fabric is, as you might have seen above in “The Facts”, another lovely Gertie print.  My other Whitney Frost dress that I made was in a different Gertie print, so this is the second time her fabric has been what I feel is the right parallel for channeling the Agent Carter villainess.  Sure my dress fabric has more grey with an addition of magenta and deep purple, but these last two mentioned are her signature colors, and the print is still a water colored in theme like the original, so I feel it is a good match.  From what I can tell, I suspect that the original dress on Whitney Frost is silk, and maybe a taffeta form of that, but Gertie’s sateen prints are quite luxurious without being impractical for a not-overly-dressy garment.  This means my dress will see more wearing…and as comfy and classy as I feel in this, frequent donning of it is good!

DSC_0419a-comp,wThe collar is of course the highlight of the dress and although the original design is neat, with a little mind crunching to figure out the curious construction method I was able to tweak it to have it more like Whitney Frost’s inspiration dress.  I re-drafted the over the shoulder portion to eliminate the notches, then curved and widened it a tad more.  I also had the facing be the same as the dress fabric, not a contrast as the cover envelope shows.  The underside of the collar has this interesting L-shaped method of piecing together the collar while the outside facing is all one, long, giant wrap around-to-the-back cut – I love vintage pattern details!

Maybe the collar is vying for the top favorite position among this dress’ feature because I also love the squared off armholes and the squared back of the collar.  This shows how subtle complimenting of details can go a long way and make all the difference for an awesome garment.  The square back of the collar end is something I haven’t seen in a pattern before and it is a nice way to add interest to the view from behind.  The squared armholes allow for extra room that my larger upper arms appreciate, as well as something extra different and lovely.

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The skirt had been a small, sort of adapted half-circle, bias-cut four-panel style.  What I did for my dress was to take the side seam side (over the hips) and add about 5 more inches out so I could gather the skirt over the hips.  This created and extra 10 inches over each hip which was then tightly gathered between side front to side back.  The gathers give my dress an extra 50’s style widening emphasis on the hips, slimming my waist (so I feel) and also (I think) balancing out the giant collar better than the original plain skirt as the pattern shows.  (This vintage year 1949 dress has the same skirt with gathered hips.)  Besides, I wanted to copy the same detail on the inspiration dress of Whitney Frost.

DSC_0416a-comp,wHowever, adding the gathers over the hips of the skirt portion to my dress did mean that I could not place a zipper in the side.  Where would I put the zipper?  Bing – on goes the light bulb over my head.  Down the front like a pants fly!  This idea actually came from seeing this kind of closure method on and existing vintage 1950’s dress I have – this is how I knew to re-create it plus the benefit of knowing this was done in the decade (keeping things authentic).  The front bodice of the dress is a wrap-over, double-breasted closure so I merely continued the closure down the front center seam of the skirt to include a small 7 inch zipper.  It took some forethought, but I love this part of the dress!  It’s so easy to get in and out of with all the closures in plain sight…not on the side or down the back like many other vintage garments.  I think the front zipper is pretty undetectable.  Knowing that I made something work out, besides its being different and new (for me), leaves me tickled.

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Now – onto the hat.   I must say that the hat itself is ingeniously designed and the pattern was excellent, very clearly explained and turning out a finished product better than even what the picture shows (so I think).  It is incredibly simple in its construction and design, but it is also terribly tedious and detailed work to make so that it turns out well.  The last part is where the ‘trouble’ comes in, especially for me because I cannot tolerate hand sewing (because my wrist and shoulders do not take it well).  However, every ache and minute spent on this hat was so worth it to me ending up with something like this!  I feel like this hat is my first fully ‘proper’ millinery piece, and it was good practice with good teaching steps towards diving into more detailed and professional headwear.

I was able to use everything that was on hand already, but the buckram hat base was something special needed here – no ways around it.  The good news is that I found the buckram hat blank quite affordable and very easy to work with…I was even able to stitch around the edge on my machine!  For this hat I used a 7 ½ inch by 5 ½ inch teardrop shaped blank from “Dance Costume Supply” on Etsy.  It did have a covered edge with a wire in it (not called for in the pattern’s instructions), but I think it gives the hat better, firmer shaping than otherwise.

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My first step was to cover the buckram blank.  The instructions say to steam the fabric or soak in water in order to shape over the hat blank (blocking method), but my chosen fabric is a poly blend and would not react to either method so I cut the piece on the bias and lightly stretched (then stitched) the cover pieces over both underside and top side.  Next, the head straps were made and stitched onto the side edges.  Then I made a bias binding and stitched it over the edge just the same as one would for the neckline or armhole edges of a garment – easy!

I am so glad I went with my gut and made the head straps to match my hair color rather than the hat.  I love how this helps the hat stand out all the better and the way it stays on all the more subdued.  I especially love the fact that I used good old-fashioned cotton velvet ribbon, too.  Not only does it add a bit more authenticity (being in cotton), but from a practical standpoint the velvet literally acts like Velcro to my hair keeping the hat band in place like glue where I put it without needing pins.  Cotton velvet ribbon hair bands for hats are literally the best thing ever!  I need stock in this ribbon for my next hats…

DSC_0383a-comp,wThe final step to the finished hat was the hardest – the stand-up crown.  This is really nothing more than an interfaced rectangular strip of fabric whose edge gets sewn right onto the very edge of the front 2/3 of the hat.  This was very slow, tricky work that did damage to my hands and required precision to make the stitches invisible.  Beforehand, however, I scavenged through the house to find something more poker-stiff than the DSC_0422a-comp,winterfacing sewn in the crown and – bingo – I came across a perfect sized strip of thick plastic laminate to slide in the rectangular piece.  Every so often my habit of saving “things-that-might-be-useful” comes in handy, as long as I can find what I want when I want it.  Anyway, this plastic worked perfectly – it’s still 100% bendable but keeps a shape nonetheless.  I cut the strip a few inches shorter than the fabric’s length on each end so I could fold the crown down and tack onto the hat base, behind which the bow sits.  In order to give the bow some pouf without stiffness, the final extra adjustment was to have a strip of sheer organza in the fabric bands.  In order to cover up the not-so-perfect bow center, I have a small bias band to finish things off nicely.

Last but not least is the fabric flower clip.  This flower was so fun and easy to make (one hour!) I am tempted to spend one day to make a dozen of these out of my fabric scrapDSC_0417-comp,w stash.  They do not need that much fabric – just three pointy almond-shaped ovals in consecutively smaller sizes cut on the bias.  My flower turned out very good without much difficulty and too much hand stitching (I was about done with hand stitching after the hat).  Some scraps of green felt finished off the bottom of my flower and gave me a lovely ‘leaf’ look as well as a base to sew on my hair clip.  I’d bought this how-to booklet at our local JoAnn’s fabric store a few years back, but finally just came to using it – I should have done so sooner!  If you’d like to try these Dior roses out for yourself and don’t know where to find the Threads booklet, visit the blog “Oliver + s” for an excellent tutorial along with a mini history lesson (link here).

Witney Frost cameo shot in collared 50's dressThis flower just so ultimately finishes off my outfit, in my opinion.  It’s that understated extra touch, not to mention the fact that it is a fabric rose in the style of the famous Dior.  This is so like Whitney Frost to wear an accent used by the “famous Parisian couturier whose designs were worn by the world’s most glamorous women” (to quote the Threads article).  It all adds to the sham of the “Poster girl’s” face.  For me, it makes my handmade efforts seem all the more worthwhile to be able to use my talents to re-create something from the likes of Dior, Hollywood, and the decades that had more style and class than what I see in most  fashion of today.

Speaking of style and class, a small part of this outfit is (I would like to think) also in the mode of the most sophisticated woman I’ve known – my own dear, and now departed Grandmother.  She was a young, newly married 21 year old in 1951 (the year of my outfit) and she frequently dressed up, and on these occasions would never go out lacking a hat, pearls, and a flower (she loved nature).  Grandma was also a “Poster Girl”, too – in her younger years she was a local vaudeville celebrity.  Oddly enough, I recently found a picture of her in a dress similar to the one in this post, with a large collar and double breasted front closing, from the year 1951.  I know her dress is in a solid with a notched collar, different from my own, but we do share the same smile and taste in clothes, so I would like to think she would be proud to see me wear something after her own heart.  This is why I’m including this dress in Tanya’s “Dress Like Your Grandma” sewing challenge.  Have you heard about this!  Maybe you could join in on the challenge along with me?!

DSC_0561-comp,w,combo, me & Grandma

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Bringing Some Texture to the Party

Allie J's Social Sew badgeRoses are always lovely, and red and green are so stereotypical of Christmas.  Thus, for a yearly fancy holiday festivity (sponsored by hubby’s work), I went and made a dress which made the best of both – a textured rose satin in a blue-green turquoise.  This dress throws in some awesome texture to what was a plain pattern, and puts a nicely different spin on wearing one of my very favorite colors!  This dress is my creation for Allie J’s monthly Social Sew #9, “Holiday Glamour”.  With my sewing skills and some standout fabric, I won’t have to worry about wearing the same dress as someone else at a party!

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The inspiration for this dress is due to the chic fashion of the villainess on the Marvel TV show “Agent Carter”, Whitney Frost (played by Wynn Everett) in the Season Two episode “Better Angels”.  If it hadn’t been for seeing the Hollywood model gown, I wouldn’t have had the gumption or the idea to even try to sew a dress like this…believe me, I’m loving wearing the result!

whitney-frost-her-first-use-of-zero-matterThe “Agent Carter” designer Gigi Melton’s original dress is different than my own but I hope you can see where I was coming from, especially with the golden background colors and the mirror (which was an important symbolical part of the scene).  I believe the original dress has rows of crinkled, shirred, ribbon-like rows of fabric creating the direction and texture on top of a solid dress base.  My dress captures a similar symbolical greenish hue, the same complex surface, and the same wide shouldered classic silhouette as the original.  I am glad I made my own interpretation because there is something a bit unsettling about how “alive” the original dress is – it is as unnerving and deeply layered as herself and her first use of “zero matter” – a dark force from another dimension.

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I see this as a pure fantasy dress, with no real vintage to date it.  After all, I did use a modern pattern, albeit with many changes.  However, at the same time as I say this, I must be honest and admit there are references to this style to the late 40’s or early 50’s, the consistent era of Whitney Frost’s wardrobe.  The longer calf length hem and the wider skirts are very mid-40’s to early 1950s.  Also, the shoulder widening, face framing capelet-style collar piece to the dress can be found on many patterns from the same time stretch (I have saved many of them together on this Pinterest page here – look at McCall #7662 and Butterick #8457 especially).  It is interesting to me how styles were used in the past…studying such often gives me great ideas of how to use them in the present, and I’ll bet others, including Gigi Melton, do the same.

THE FACTS:mccalls-6505-year-2012

FABRIC:  a polyester satin specialty rose fabric bought from the Etsy shop “Fabric Cult”, based in Los Angeles, California.  Sorry, but if you wanted some for yourself, it’s no longer available!

PATTERN:  McCall’s 6505, year 2012

NOTIONS:  I already had on hand all the thread, bias tape, and zipper that I needed.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Believe it or not, this was practically a one evening dress.  It was finished on December 1, 2016, after only 5 hours of effort.

dsc_0843a-compwTHE INSIDES:  This fabric’s raw edges were so messy, with the roses fraying and unwinding at every cut edge, so all of them were covered nicely in bias tape.

TOTAL COST:  only 2 yards of this lovely fabric cost me $14!

In my opinion the pattern runs a bit snug in the fit, but I do like the basic design, which gave me room to improvise as well as not calling for much fabric.  By having few seams, the designdsc_0798a-compw of the fabric wouldn’t be marred besides saving me from sewing more than I had to on this thick and complicated material!  The French bust darts are a nice touch I don’t see as often as I’d like in modern patterns.  I just don’t understand the one way mentality for this pattern to be made in lace – I treated it as a regular pattern for woven fabric and it turned out fine.  My changes were mostly only to lengthen the hem by 12 inches, widen the skirt, and eliminate the sleeves in lieu of a lapped on, all-in-one collar piece.  For both the front and the back, I matched up the sleeve pattern to its corresponding bodice and used leftover tissue to redraft based on tracing from the finished garment shape.

The capelet collar was added on as my smart and sneaky way to finish the neckline.  It was sewn on like a visible facing saving me even more time and trouble, besides ending up with a clean finished neckline!  If you look, perhaps on the front you’ll notice I didn’t top stitch the collar hem to the dress all the way to the sleeve for a real “cape” appearance, softly covering my arms.  With the collar being one solid piece around the neck, I had the back zipper start from its hem end, several inches down from the neck.

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Breaking up all the monotony and busyness of the dress is my belt.  It was self-drafted from the solid, flat fabric selvedge edge, stabilized with interfacing, and it ties around me with a grosgrain ribbon top-stitched down through the middle.  The original inspiration “Agent Carter” dress has a similar non-texture middle where it lacks some rows of crinkled gathers, and a simple ribbon becomes her belt.  I do love how my Chelsea Crew brand vintage style “Mandalay” sling back, peep-toe, tie-up shoes compliment the belt…wearing these shoes with my dress was my hubby’s idea – thank you!  My vintage brooch is also another bow tie…

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Have you ever tried an unusual novelty fabric?  What did you make with it?  What would you make with such a thing?  It’s different and took me some confidence and a number of compliments to realize my experiment with unusual material was a success.  But it’s definitely a relatively easy way to achieve a very luxurious and complicated frock.  I now know that with a lovely specialty fabric, much of the effort of making your handmade garment look good is done for you!  Besides all this, I have never yet gone wrong imitating an outfit from Marvel’s “Agent Carter” (just an F.Y.I)!

Happy New Year everyone!  Enjoy whatever you’re doing, wherever you are over the transition of the new and old year!  Here’s to 2017!

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