…To Peplum or Not to Peplum Is the Question

One would think that it is only living things that would be able to make up their minds.  In the case of this year 1945 dress, I feel the pattern’s design could not make up its mind whether or not it wanted a peplum, and what styling it really wanted.  Being a pattern for teens and juniors, it totally makes sense to be a bit mixed up…since those of the “in between years” are being overwhelmed by everything!  Now, with some dramatic re-sizing and re-drafting, some cheaply priced wool suiting, and an old unwanted skirt from my basement to re-fashion, I think I’ve hit the right balance to rock this War-time design as a grown woman, ready to flaunt the cold of winter in panache.  Of course, a pair of killer 40’s style ankle strap shoes also completes my power 40’s outfit – they are velvet fabric reproductions from Rocket Dog.

This dress was actually my Christmas outfit for this past 2016 holiday, but I think the plaid has enough small amounts of other colors in it that, together with the navy it is paired with, keeps things relevant for most all of fall of winter, as well.  If I want it more holiday-ish, I can pair my dress with more red items or even browns or goldens.  Women of the 40’s loved to use plaids (especially teen girls), so I’m focusing on that rather than my mental query that I might be wearing some sort of Scottish plaid (which is why my bottom half is in a solid).  Reds and blues were popular colors for teens wear in the 40’s after all, too, so although this is my “adult” dress I am sticking to colors and fabric types “traditional” for the pattern’s intended audience – juniors, that is, those of the 14 to 18 crowd just as they were officially being known as teenagers (see info source here).

This dress is also my first time making a vintage garment where the print (or at least the contrast fabric) is just in the bodice and nothing else.  I’ve always admired those kinds of two-fabric clothes, always wondering if they would work for me…now I know they do!


FABRIC:  The solid navy skirt and sleeves are in a 95% wool/5% polyester blend suiting from Fashion Fabrics Club in town.  It has a textured finish much like a gabardine.  The plaid, re-fashioned from an old skirt no longer worn, is a half and half rayon/poly blend with twill finish.  It’s label inside read as “Robyne’s Dream“, “Made in the USA”, and I believe this is from the 90’s.  I have seen this style of red, forest green, yellow, white, royal and black plaid labeled as a “Prince of Wales” design. The waistline and the peplum are lined in a basic, navy blue, all-cotton broadcloth, merely scraps on hand.

PATTERN:  McCall’s #6297, year 1945

NOTIONS:  I had everything on hand in my stash that I needed here – thread, a zipper, bias tapes, interfacing, shoulder pads.  The three buttons down the front are vintage pieces from hubby’s Grandmother’s stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was a last minute decision and was started the week before Christmas and took about 20 hours’ worth of time.  It was finished just before leaving for Midnight church service, December 24, 2016.  Whew!  I was ‘cutting’ it close, ha ha!

THE INSIDES:  All cleanly bias bound.  Strips of 100% cotton batiste are used as facing for the inner waistband for a lovely smooth feeling against my skin.

TOTAL COST:  I am counting the plaid fabric from the re-fashioned skirt and my cotton lining scarps as being free, as well as the notions from on hand, with the wool only costing $2 a yard.  My total for this dress is about $3 for only a yard and a half of the wool I used…how awesome is that!?

This project is one big hooray for re-using and re-fashioning!  As I’ve discussed past posts, my wardrobe is something I consider long term, and if I do not wear or am not happy with an item, it is re-done and cut into so it can used differently ‘til it is 100% what I will use or wear.  Why can’t unwanted clothes be treated as a commodity (defined as in “useful or valuable item”) for creativity just the same as a newly cut piece of fabric, the way I see it?  Anyways, this skirt had been an occasional favorite when I was between 10 and 15 years of age, but for the last 10 plus years it has been in my fabric stash waiting for a new incarnation.  Something from when I was a teen, becomes a new garment for grown-up me, sewn from a pattern catered for teens.  Oh, the irony…

My original skirt before re-fashioning was a simple long bias skirt with a gathered elastic waist.  Thus, I had a good amount of fabric to work with, but the skinny width was restrictive.  This is part of the reason why the plaid is not as perfectly matched as I would have liked and also the fact it is on the bias…although I do like the look of the plaid cross-grain!  Cutting off the two side seams and folding the length over on itself, I had just enough as you can see.  The front half of the skirt became my bodice fronts, while the back half was enough for the bodice back, peplums, and a neckline tie that ended up making piping for instead. So close!

For some reason, the envelope and instructions to this dress are one of the most fragile in my pattern collection, but the tissue pattern pieces are seemingly fine.  Just in case of a damaging accident, but also since I knew I needed to both add in several inches for size (29 inch bust, yikes! so small…) and bring the dress to some adult proportions, I traced all but the skirt and sleeve pieces onto new, semi-sheer medical paper.  In case you didn’t know, any pattern from about the early mid-1930’s up to about 1946 that are marked “Junior Misses” will be every short in proportions and used “as-is” are only sized for an under 5 foot tall person or an under sized teen.  Most of the time I have to add in a good 2 or 3 inches horizontally to bring ‘sleeves-bust-waist-hips’ all down.  It’s kind of what is done to make a pattern appropriate for someone tall, and opposite of what needs to be done to fit someone petite.  Yet, as I demonstrate, these juniors’ patterns are very usable for those are willing to do the ‘work’ of dramatically grading and re-sizing.  However, doing such an effort (in my mind) can only be a good thing – it brings new styles to suddenly be available to use besides teaching bunches about working with patterns.

The original cover drawing is quite cute – and I do not do outright “cute” if I can help it.  Both neckline options are the nails in the “cute factor” coffin (I generally find it hard to like a Peter Pan collar on myself), so they were the first to go and be re-drafted while I was tracing out a copy of the tissue pieces.  I originally figured on making an open V-neckline, and adding in straps that would twist and criss-cross across the chest opening and come back around to button back down on the same side – very military-like and strong, similar to Simplicity #1539, also from 1945.  Well, I guess you can tell I didn’t end up sticking with that idea – not here at least, but hopefully in the future on another project.  My neckline was the very last thing that I figured out before the dress was fully finished.  In the end, I merely took the lapels I drafted as self-facing and made them into a small, slightly pointed, turned back collar instead.  I like the simple subtlety of it, even though it was not at all what I had planned for at all.  There’s enough going on with the rest of the dress, so I felt it needed something non-distracting but still dramatically plunging for a not-as-conservative, grown-up touch.

What is not so obvious but remarkably lovely to the bodice is the way the bust is shaped by a vertical shoulder pleat.  This so completely exaggerates the shoulders as only the 40’s can do – I love it!  It really does wonders to complement the waist, especially since there is a set-in waistband to define the middle of this dress.  The fold of the shoulder pleat on my dress ends so precisely at the seam of the shoulder/sleeve, it was bit tricky to sew around without catching it…a bit of unpleasant unpicking made things alright.  It’s rather a shame that this detail is only in the front (much like the peplum, I guess).  Nevertheless, I still wanted a very defined line at the end of those shoulder edge pleats so there are ½ inch shoulder pads inside.  I always find it so curious how well gi-normous 1980s shoulder pads seem to be made to go inside many of my 40’s fashions.  Except on the occasional dress, I think the WWII years’ silhouettes are just lacking some sort of potent, calculated, confident fullness without emphasized shoulders.  I have seen similar vertical running shoulder pleats on many 40’s patterns circa 1945 – a McCall’s #6102, McCall’s #6902, and Simplicity #1891, as well as a modern (retro-inspired) pattern Butterick #6363, to name off a handful.  Also, for some hard-copy examples, here’s a photo of a mid-1950s wool dress, an extant 1940’s rayon crepe gown, my own Chanel-inspired 1967 linen suit set, and an 80’s chiffon dress, (notice the varied fabrics and years).  This ingenious method of bodice shaping is too good a detail to keep to only one decade.

With such prominent shoulders, I softened the sleeves by not sewing them as set-in.  The sleeves were sewn to the bodice much like on a man’s shirt, connected together at the shoulder so then the entire side seam – from sleeve hem the bottom hem – is stitched in one long continuous seam.  The sleeves are quite deeply cut, similar to this 1946 blouse that I’ve already made.  My sleeve ends taper to being fitted at the elbows but nonetheless these are very easy to move around for full movement and reach room – much appreciated.  Reach room is something I generally do not find modern patterns have unless I alter them in some manner.  Reach room is under respected…if something is good enough to make and wear, accepting being restricted with basic arm movements is something no one needs tolerate.

I was originally very hesitant about sewing on the skirt’s peplum flaps, but I’m so glad they turned out to be something new to like!  Apparently the odd, front, half-peplum design was a quietly popular yet not mainstream style for the mid-decade.  Besides seeing front half-peplums on Juniors’ dresses in my 40’s Sears catalog, the character of Rose from Season Two of the Marvel TV show “Agent Carter” is wearing a lovely drapey rayon dress in this same style.  Even Simplicity pattern Company released their own half-peplum the same year (1945) as #1357.  For one more tactile example, here’s an awesome vintage original half-peplum dress, in a wonderful novelty print, which had been for sale on Etsy.  I certainly don’t “get” the “why” of the style, but since before this dress I’d never really tried a peplum before, I figured half of one might be an easy way to acclimate myself to them.  Turns out this is not all that bad because being anchored on all but one edge prevents too much “pouf” of the peplum flaps.  Still, I generally do not like corners being cut, “party in the front, business in back”, or “coffin dresses” (as they are distastefully called when everything is in the front and the back is totally neglected).  However, technically the back of my dress is not neglected at all – it does have the plaid bodice, too, and the lovely classic 1940s tri-panel skirt back.  There is still one extra touch I added that makes sure the details from behind are just as nice as the front.

Self-made, matching plaid fabric piping runs along the bottom seam of the set-in waistband.  This was actually my hubby’s idea…I’ll give him the full credit for this great custom notion for which I was doubtful about at first.  I did not have the right thick cotton cording on hand for the piping so instead I used several strands together of thinner cotton cording on hand that we use to hold plants upright in the garden.  A bias strip of fabric was then wrapped around the piping and stitched down using my invisible zipper foot (just like what I demonstrated in this post).  This piping made installing the side zipper a bit challenging, and it’s not the best closure I’ve done…but it works to close the dress just fine and that’s good enough for me.

I guess it’s not all that surprising that this sweet vintage style for young ladies and teens is so strongly adult in its attribution – in 1945, women on the cusp of growing up were receiving more representation, acknowledgement, and opportunities, all with greater diversity, that year than ever before.  Firstly, 1945 was the year of a historic Miss America Pageant Competition.  That year of 1945 was the first year the winner was offered a school scholarship as her prize, rather than gifts of an item to wear or travel packages.  Year 1945 was also the first year that a young lady won who had been a Collage Graduate, but more significant was the fact that the winner, Bess Myerson by name, was a Jewish American.  She used her fame for so much good – raising awareness to biased prejudice, as well as helping out the last of the war effort, and later as a New York Politician.  Teen-age girls must have been a big enough “thing” in American after all to get a long article in Life magazine for December 11, 1945 (read the whole thing here, pages 91 to 99).

Furthermore, the magazine Seventeen had just begun the October of the year before (1944) and in 1945 were really gaining influence and gumption to speak out for their intended audience, “the age when a girl is no longer a child, yet isn’t quite a woman.”  Periodicals focused only on Hollywood stars and starlets were going out of favor and Helen Valentine, who, after starting out at Vogue, had already begun Mademoiselle: The Magazine for Smart Young Women by 1944. Seventeen was started by her as a magazine meant to be a teenagers’ voice, a benchmark for thought, and a place to bounce off ideas, so much so that they were not scrupulous about mentioning heavy world affairs and controversy.  By the 1950’s, Seventeen quickly moved from Valentine’s original focus on service and citizenship toward themes of fashion, sensuality, and body scruples…more like magazines of today.  See this amazing web page for more early history of Seventeen magazine.

Young ladies of 1945 and after were influencing history like never before.  I hope a lovely dress style like the one I made for this post might be just a small example of that fact.  Teenagers’ clothes of today generally strike me as disrespectful to their potential and distasteful to their capabilities.  Sloppy clothes, ones trying to be overly “on trend”, or the large majority of clothes which have writing or characters in the most surprising places all seem to put them in a box of what society expects them to feel and react – and many end up never growing out of those attitudes and habits.  This is in no small part (in my opinion) to the incidental that what one wears can impact how we think of ourselves.  Not every teen or 20 something is an electronic addicted being with an I-don’t-give-a-blank level of respect.  They need a constructive way to build their own entity.  Let me share a Helen Valentine quote from the book Fashioning Teenagers: A Cultural History of Seventeen Magazine.  After seeing the 90% of teens at the 1945 opening of New York’s U.N. building, she said, “People have an idea that the only thing they’re interested in is their next date, but it isn’t so. They (young people) are really thinking about very important things and we ought to be thinking about them in those terms.”

Vintage clothes for the middle years strike me as giving them a taste of their future in their own special way, with some small detail of the features of the clothes styles they grew out of so as to not forget where they are and where they have been in life.  It’s like their fashion and not just their education was attempting to transition them into the confidence of independent and capable decisions while allowing them the fun and freedom that still part of their life.  Their ideas and habits are the future we all have to deal with.  May teens of today wear clothing that is respectful of their place in the world every bit as much as fashion of the past has done.


Bloody Blitzkrieg Dress

“We have to move on – all of us.”  – Peggy Carter, in Season 1, episode “Valediction”

Starting off a whole new year always can be a basketful of emotion – including forethought and contemplative hindsight…and new, calculating, resolutions which may or may not result from the previous two.  Whether you are upbeat or downbeat, I’m letting some of Peggy (of Marvel’s “Agent Carter” fame) inspire me with a dress she had on while uttering her best, most inspirational quotes.  I’m including one especially in my mottos to remember for the New Year as I wear a sewn “Agent Carter” look-alike 1940s burgundy wool dress with Peggy’s trademark floral pearl earrings (also self-made).

Just busy doing filing work at the S.S.R. office…


“I know my value…” is perhaps the best line Peggy is known by from Season one.  This is a short, to the point one-liner which needs some potent self-confidence to pronounce properly.  Knowing one’s own self-worth and humbly but proudly believing in it is invaluable.  Hmmm…sewing for oneself also provides a healthy dose of self-assurance (from both the creative “high” and the new dress excitement).  Thus, here’s a newly made, awesome Peggy Carter dress to help me not just “step in her shoes” but step into wearing her clothes!  It’s like understanding a character on the inside by starting on the outside.


She needed to be authoritative to hold her own in the 40’s when it was primarily a man’s world, so for her undercover mission to “rescue” Steve’s (I mean, Captain America’s) blood in Season 1’s episode “The Blitzkrieg Button” she went with a strong rich sanguine colored dress.  The center of her chest is tightly held together yet pulled open, like her emotions, while the rest of the dress is simple and subdued with the vintage pearl buckle and earrings giving just enough class.  I adhered very closely to the inspiration dress designed by Gigi Melton, even using wool crepe, while still basing it off a mid-1940’s vintage pattern (with significant re-drafting and re-sizing).

THE FACTS:simplicity-1016-yr-1944-wiki-pic

FABRIC:   2 yards of 100% wool crepe with burgundy Kona 100% cotton to line the dress bodice

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1016, year 1944.  My copy is actually a Juniors’ half-size 12 pattern that I bought for cheap because of its size and because it was missing pieces.

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed on hand already from awhile back, all I needed halfway through was an extra spool of thread and a zipper.  The buckle is vintage carved shell.  The flower backs that are put between my ear and the pearl of my earring are simply buttons (LaMode style #46455).

dsc_0998pa-compw-peggyTIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress took me at least 20 hours (I stopped counting after that) over the course of a week and a half (much longer than my ‘normal’ time spent on a dress).  It was finally finished on January 11, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  I started off with good intentions, so all the skirt seams are French.  Then, I realized this project was involved, so I went to bias bound seams for all the main edges (side seams).  The armholes are left raw…just wanted it done enough to wear when the end was in sight!

TOTAL COST:  The wool was bought on clearance for dirt cheap when there was a Hancock Fabrics store closing in 2015.  I believe the fabric was two or three dollars a yard – insane, right!!!  This is why I got about 5 yards…enough for a dress and a vintage coat (to be made yet).  The lining for the bodice was a remnant bought at Jo Ann’s Fabric for only 4 dollars.  So I suppose my dress came to a total of about $10 with everything, notions included.

First off, making this dress was a beastly affair, one that I wrestled with insensibly for being such a basic shape.  This was a hard way for me to start off my new year of sewing.  The pins keeping it together scratched me mercilessly, the seams of the lined portions were too thick, the dress kept falling off my machine into a dusty corner of the basement, and almost every dart had to be adjusted and taken in many times post-completion.  This isn’t counting the unpicking (which I absolutely hate doing) plus the few times each day (between working on it) that the dress needed to be tried on just to see if my adjustments did the trick.  In all, it gave me trouble in every which way…all except for the neckline, which was the trickiest part as well as being the self-drafted part, and it turned out great.  It figures.  You know, I can take a difficult project, or even a challenging one, but one that refuses to co-operate no matter what I do is almost more than I can handle.  No kidding, sometimes fabric can seem to have its own mind.  Weird, huh?


The wool crepe itself was great to work with, wonderfully smooth, free of itchiness, and flowing.  I know, bad me – a 40’s dress out of such a fine fabric would probably not be seen in the real WWII times unless you had a stash or saved up bunches from rationing in other departments of life.  However, it was the perfect color match to Agent Carter’s original dress, besides being something I both had plenty of on hand and never sewn with before.  All this is aside of the practical fact it is both soft and warm, perfect for the near freezing winter we’ve been having so far.

It was very serendipitous for me to have found several points of reference to go on helping me draft, make, and base my dress on authentic history.  Even finding these attributes were part of the reason I decided to go ahead and make this dress (which had been on the “back burner” of my mind since Season 1 in 2015).  I figured I had enough help and ideas to go on and another Agent Carter dress is always a good thing for me to have – so why not?!  Please visit my Pinterest board of inspiration for this dress to see the patterns and pictures that motivated me.


Hey, Peggy’s dress and my own even wrinkle the same way…

This dress might not be “up there” as one of my awesome creations, but to me it has all the best that the 1940s has to offer for modern wearing.  It has simplicity of style enough (especially the back view) to be classic and not too obviously vintage, like some 30’s or 20’s fashions.  It also has practicality with the sneaky low-key pockets, ease of movement front pleats, basic short sleeves, and high neck for both warmth and demureness.  Yet, there is a subtle alluring factor keeping the dress so feminine – the low slashed front opening with interesting pleating.  I think the floral of the earrings and the pearl of them and the buckle breaks things up (besides dressing things up) just enough, with the rich deep color and different finish of the fabric lending a richness.  Not meaning to toot my own horn here too much, but, hey – I guess it shows how much I really like this dress!  All that effort was worth it for me to end up with something like this.

dsc_0991a-compwAs the base for my dress, I was looking for a very basic mid-WWII pattern with a high neck that had a tie.  I found it in Simplicity #1016 and my first step was to trace out a copy on sheer medical paper then hack, resize and adapt it.  Being a teen size, I added a swath of horizontal 2 inches above the bust, under the chest, right at the level of the bottom of the armhole to bring the bust, waist, and hips down to the right proportions.  This sort of adjustment has always worked before when I’ve re-sized Juniors’ patterns from the 60’s and 70’s, and it worked this time for the 40’s too!  Then I added in an overall 4 inches to be on the safe side since it was for a tiny size.  As I was working with a copy, I had leeway to add in the inches properly, vertically across in increments and not just on the center or on the side seams.  I believe my problems with fitting came merely from the pattern running large and me not completely accounting for the extra room coming from the front details.  The junior-to-adult change was right on.

dsc_0960a-compwFinally, I re-drafted to add in the pleats.  The inspiration dress had ties pulling the chest opening open, sort of like ties on curtains, but I wanted something sewn in place to give the same immovable illusion so I drafted slanted, sun-ray-style, open pleats underneath.  I had done similar pleats when I made my 1940s dance dress, Simplicity #1587 (posted here), in a different direction but I just studied how it was drafted and turned it around (like figuring out a puzzle piece) to see how it would work in a different angle.  Then I chose how wide I wanted the darts, how far apart, and how long then slashed and taped accordingly.  Looking at the envelope backs of my inspiration patterns also helped justify that I was on the right track.  When it finally came to stitching the front bodice together, it was an awesome moment when I realized that not only did my drafting work but sewing is like working on a flat plane yet seeing through it to create in 3-D.  Sewing is really so insanely awe-inspiring…some times more than others make me perceive so much.


The neckline ties were still sewn on as the pattern originally planned, except I folded them in, tacked them down, then brought them back out from inside to form the band that seems to ‘pull back’ the pleats along the chest opening.  It was almost more hand sewing than I could handle invisibly stitching the tie strips in place arching upwards along the neckline.  The tie strips wrap around to end lapped over one another at the back neckline.

Agent Carter’s original dress has a full back zipper as the method of closure – seen in adsc_0995a-compw fleeting screen shot when she hangs up her coat in the S.S.R. office (on the episode “Blitzkrieg Button”).  Now, I hate to criticize full back zippers in 40’s dresses because I’ll confess to having sewn them in some of my own garments, besides the fact that the original dress by Gigi Melton is too lovely to find fault with.  However, with all the fine details to my dress (much hand sewing, wool crepe fabric, etc.), I wanted to go all out authentic 40’s and have only the side zipper in conjunction with a working front closure in the neckline details.  Ugh, was it tough to figure but there is a hidden hook-and-eye where the neckline meets.

Now, besides the front neckline, I also changed up the pattern a bit more by eliminating all the small gathers and sewing darts in the same place instead, both above and below at the waist in the skirt and in the bodice.  This smoothes out the silhouette and makes it simple and unfussy, like Agent Carter’s dress.  This was not a problem anywhere else but in the skirt front.  I made darts at first, but after the rest of the dress was done, I went and made two knife pleats in the front instead.  These type of pleats in the front of skirts and dresses were used more in the early 40’s before rationing started being enforced, but these are only two in number and not very deep so these are a plausible effect to a 1944 design – the pleats also compliment the neckline!


At first, I considered leaving out the pockets, but they are discreetly unnoticeable on this dress and always so handy!  They were sewn as if in a really basic welt pocket method and yet sort of like a facing – right sides together, sewn in a small loop, slashed and turned in to the wrong side.  Then half of the entire pocket was sewn to itself and turned towards the middle.  Easy!  I’ve never seen pockets like this yet.  They’re not hidden by some clever trick or made to look like part of the design, just basic and practical.  I love the 1940s!

What I don’t love about the 40s is the harsh facts of the bloodier side to the decade, like the Blitz that the dress I made is remotely associated with.  England endured the Blitz admirably.  Germany, late in the Blitz, began to start dropping some its very successful heavy high explosive bombs, showing their aptitude for forward thinking inventions.  Both sides came after each other hard with the best of what they had – and sadly many people suffered in between.  Peggy’s dress and my blog title is not trying to be flippant about the blitz or England.  On the contrary – just as what happens in Peggy’s ‘life’ when she wears this dress, much of history is sad, powerful, and full of emotion but good nevertheless to learn of and re-visit at times.  Fashion is intertwined with history…the combo of a dress just as strong as the woman who wears it can do big things.

dsc_0972a-compwEvery woman could do with a little bit o’ Peggy in their life – it’s lovely.  I’m going to miss not having a Season 3 of “Agent Carter” this 2017.  She might not be relevant for this year but her message and persona is always appropriate.  We need non-super-power, down to earth, heroes like Peggy, onescreen-shot-close-up-in-bedroom-comp who can help you with her own attitude and outlook not just someone up on a pedestal, unattainable.

“I know my value…anyone else’s opinion really doesn’t matter.”  It was an attitude like this that got Britain through the awful Blitzkrieg.  It is always important and supremely empowering to believe with Peggy you do not need the world’s support to see yourself as awesome and capable.  Thank you, Agent Carter, for the reminder.


“Past Project” Highlight: Two Winter Wool Skirts

Winter’s worst is past where I live but I know this is not the case everywhere across the globe, so here’s a post that feature two skirts for brisk weather.  These skirts were made by me about 10 years back but they still are enjoyed and worn.  They recently even got an upgrade done to the waists to make them even better.  This waistband re-fashion might come in handy for others to try so I figured these skirts deserved a feature here on my blog.Butterick 4803 border print & front overlay skirts


FABRIC:  Grey border-design skirt – 100% wool;  Blue toned boucle skirt – wool and acrylic blend; lining for both skirts – polyester cling-free lining

NOTIONS:  elastic and thread with maybe some hem tape or bias tape

PATTERNS:  Simplicity #4593, year 2005, for the blue/navy/black skirt; Butterick #4803, year 2006, for the bordered grey wool skirt 

Simplicity 4593 skirts-envelope front and line drawingTIME TO COMPLETE:  a few hours to make each skirt with just a little more time to re-work the waist

THE INSIDES:  all seams are finished off by a serger/overlocker…these were made while I could use my mom’s Bernina.

These skirts are so cozy and a way to look nice while still busting chilly winds.  The long length looks elegant with the bias of the blue/black boucle skirt while the grey border print one is great for making me feel taller.  Both skirts can be even toastier when worn with long underwear or pants underneath and boots, too.  I know many people reach for pants in wintertime and the fall, but I go for skirts – they rock!  You can still wear your pants or even layer, but with a skirt over them is like having a warm blanket fashionably wrapped around you to keep you warm…and no one knows the better!


Anyway, both skirts were pretty much made as-is, but I added in full lining as well as my own darts to further tailor the waists of both of them.  The blue/black boucle is a very loose material, but lofty and matches well with many tops, sweaters and suit coats.  The loose boucle goes perfectly with the asymmetric bias panel in the front.  This skirt received one skinny dart on the other side of the waist that doesn’t have a seam.  The grey wool skirt is from a fabric that is thick more alike to felt, while its  border print is embroidered on – not printed.  I remember it was so expensive, but so unusual I had to have it and my mom pitched in, but I only bought one yard (in 60 inch width) with a coupon to help.  This cozy skirt has two long darts that are more like pleats to control the fullness and add interest.  I just can’t seem to leave a garment mint from pattern design without adding my own touch to personalize it.  That’s o.k., this is why I sew my own fashion.


The waists of both of the skirts had been nicely made but they were just basic casing-style with an all-around elastic gathering.  This was alright for me as I was growing up, but now I want a slightly more refined style and one that I can wear with a top tucked in, perhaps with a belt, too.  So I cut off the old casing and turned under the edge nicely.  Then I put the skirt on and pinched in the sides to figure out how much fabric needed to be brought in on each of the two sides.  Next, I took some wide 3 inch non-roll elastic and cut two pieces into the amount I figured needed to be brought in on each side of the skirt.  Since when you sew elastic down as you stretch it out it ends up longer, I decided to cut off an extra inch to the two elastic portions.  For the first skirt I did this to, I didn’t finish off the cut ends of the elastic before sewing it down, but for the second time I covered those edges in hem tape or bias tape (this is much nicer).  Now, I pin the elastic edges to the skirt, and stretch the elastic out ‘til it’s even with the skirt fabric and pin!  This process was helped by my hubby, otherwise I don’t know how I would have done this without having someone to hold it for me.  Then I stitched the elastic down to the fabric in four rows running parallel to the length of the waistband.  I was able to re-work one skirt waist in just under one hour.


Now the waist is smoother front and back, with the gathers over the hips (where they end up making nice shaping anyway).  The large elastic stitched right to the fabric makes for very small and unnoticeable gathers which are tightly and evenly spaced.  This waistband also keeps my skirt sitting at my true waist because the elastic seems to sit on top of my hips.  A casing waistband always seems to twist around and droop down on my middle unless it’s quite snug, and this new waist solves these problems.  I’m systematically working on weeding out the old all-around casing waistbands from my past made skirts (such as this paneled micro-suede one) and doing this new style.


There’s only one small tip to my new waistband method.  Don’t cut the elastic pieces even, cut them like an ‘isosceles trapezoid’ to be exact.  If the upper edge of the elastic that goes along the waistband top is the one with the smaller length, the finished look turns out much better. Cutting the elastic in this shape tapers in the waist for an even smoother finish.  Such a small point does make all the difference.  I didn’t cut ‘isosceles trapezoid’ shaped elastic for the grey skirt, just block rectangular pieces, and see how the top edge stretched out from stitching more than the blue skirt, which does have the special shape cut.


I see a number of these dated out-of-print patterns for sale in the internet stores (Etsy, Ebay, and other private site sellers).  Just because a pattern is dated doesn’t mean it can’t still have value and be made in an interesting manner…it just needs more creativity 😉

Every so often on my blog in the future I will feature a past project which is still a winner in my book, being worn through the years.  I figure why should just my newer creations get the spotlight?!  Besides, every review or picture of a pattern sewn up by someone has the possibility to help someone else who might want to sew with or be interested in that pattern.  I know so many other bloggers’ have helped and inspired me!


As Heavy as the Weather

Cold temperatures are my nemesis. I hate being chilly and get so very easily – even layers don’t help and only are uncomfortable for me. I know, I sound picky, but I seriously think I was meant for warm weather. Yet, clothes that are a combination of tailored, vintage, fashionable, extremely cozy are nonexistent in ready-to-wear…so I make them! The best thing about sewing is the complete independence it gives. You make reality what you want and/or need.100_6888a-comp

So…recently I opened my big mouth and expressed my excitement with a comment over at Burda Style.com when they recently re-released a “new” vintage 1957-1958 pattern. I don’t have anything like it and I really was struck by the simple slimming design. The comments that followed seemed to challenge me to get right to it and make my own version of the dress pattern sooner rather than later. Here’s that final garment just in time for an extreme cold snap. It was an unexpected project but perfect timing for our forecasted climate. My 1957-1958 wool dress is indeed as heavy as the weather demands, more like a coat dress than anything, yet oh-so-50’s fashionable and complimentary. I really do love it. The dress is cozy, comfy, and classy. Bonus – it has my favorite color purple with a little bit a sparkle!


FABRIC:  My fashion fabric is a thick wool blend (70% wool, 25% acrylic, 5% poly and other). It’s a purple and grey hound’s-tooth with some gold metallic strands woven through. The lining is a grey poly cotton blend broadcloth.Retro Wool Dress #128, 01-2016, dress pic with line drawing

NOTIONS:  Everything I needed was on hand already – bias and lace tapes, thread, and zipper.

PATTERN:  Burda Style’s “Retro Wool Dress” #128, from 01/2016

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Gosh, this dress took quite a while for me – maybe 30 to 40 or more hours spent over the course of two weeks. It was finished on January 20, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  All the inner seams are bound by either bias tape or lace tape, except for the armscye which is left raw on account of the complexity with the underarm gusset.

TOTAL COST:  This fabric was bought at Hancock Fabrics on a super clearance for $3.25 a yard. I bought 2 ½ yards but only used about 2 of them for the dress, so I suppose I spent about $6.50 on this dress. I’m counting the notions and lining as free because they were on hand.


When I saw the pattern it immediately struck me as a coat-style dress. This is why I went with such a heavy wool. There were other ideas in my head that someone else might want to try. I was tempted at first to actually turn it into a coat, but now I’m glad I didn’t because I love it how it is. Then, I also had the idea to make the top half and the bottom half in two different colors out of a lighter weight chiffon type fabric, in brown tones, and add pockets to the chest for a kind of “safari” look. The solid color that the Burda model is wearing would look fabulous with some beautiful embroidery down the length of the vertical pleat. So many ideas and so little time. Let me know if you make any of my other ideas for a variation on this pattern!

Burda patterns (for those readers who don’t know) need some assembly and tracing before being ready for layout on your chosen fabric. They can be bought as a downloadable PDF file, to print out, or traced from the leaflet included in a magazine issue (the “Retro Wool Dress” is in the January 2016 edition).  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a pattern prepped. This is the stage where I pick out my size, tracing out only the size I need to use, including any grading and adding on chosen seam allowances.


I don’t mind a challenging project, but during the sewing part, this dress was something I felt like I wrestled with and was confounded and frustrated by it instead. Part of my ‘frustration and wrestling’ was on account of the thick and heavy combination of the fabrics I used. However, the instructions to the pattern did not help make this dress a success at all. They are convoluted and not very clear. Since when do you sew together the side seams and the rest of the general dress and then add in the in-seam pockets?! Talk about making things hard, if not nearly impossible. The pattern piece doesn’t even seem made for this method. If only the paragraph for the pockets had been added in several lines earlier, it is effortless to sew in pockets as part of the side seams like all my sewing books show and as I’ve always done in my sewing. The skirt back pleated flap instructions were basically non-existent too, as it didn’t seem to recognize that the skirt is cut differently (on the fold) so it is unlike the bodice back’s pleated flap. I figured it out on my own and am happy with how it looks, I just wish I hadn’t created some smoking of my mental gears to get it how it is as you see it. As I end up saying with most all reprints of vintage patterns, I would absolutely love to see the original as a comparison. Vintage patterns almost always impress me in some way or another so I wonder if some change was made to the original before this pattern was released.

100_6828a-compSpeaking of change, I made no more than a few slight changes to the design of the pattern, and all of these were on account of a better look and fit. The only exception to this might be the sleeve pattern piece, where I combined to two separate front and back into a combined one piece sleeve merely for the sake of simplicity.

This pattern seems to run quite small, especially in the sleeves and the skirt bottom, and I don’t think it’s solely because of the thickness of my material. I went with my normal sizes, grading up as normal for my waist and hips, but I technically could have went up a whole size up more than that. I even cut the sleeves on the bias, but they still restricted my arms to the point that I couldn’t reach up to my hair. When I would reach back to put my hands in my pocket I would smash my bust due to lack of room too. I have a feeling that there is too sharp of a curve to the bottom of the sleeve. If this was a ready-to wear item, and fit this restrictively, I would not buy it. So time consuming work and all, I unpicked liberally to get the fit right (as you can read more about later down). For every two steps I made in progress, it truly felt like I made two steps back in unpicking. For most of the evenings spent sewing I would get one spot right only to have to unpick another spot which needed re-sewing and fixing, but after so many nights of this balancing act I eventually worked out all the ill-fitting spots. To me, the garments I make should fit right or the time spent in sewing is worth no more than time roaming a mall for clothes to my liking. A pattern needs to turn out well, too, so others can enjoy it, thus I’m giving an open confession of the problems I ran across.


So many extra little touches were made, that for my benefit (and maybe yours), I’ll quickly list them. Firstly the pockets were sewn into the skirt pieces before doing the side seams for real “in-seam” pockets. I remembered to do the hem (a wide 1 inch hem) before doing the skirts’ pleats and side seams to make things easy and less bulky. The same early pre-hemming was done to the sleeve hems. In order to fit my derrière, I took out the back skirt darts, cutting their length in half. The vertical back pleat was let out for a smaller fold to give my rump and legs slightly more room. I picked out the 5/8 inch seam allowance of the bottom half of the sleeves to a scant 3/8 inch. The self-facing edges for the front were turned under for a clean edge (not mentioned in the instructions but a very good idea I think). A tiny hook and eye is sewn at the top outer edge of the zipper end to hide it under the pleat (works great). Shoulder pads are tacked in as well to nicely fill in and shape the bodice. Finally, to appease my preference, I tacked down the top corners of the front top opening so that it seems as if there are lapels at the neck. 100_6862a-comp

Under the most of the center front pleated lapel is the zipper. It has an interesting lapped sort of insertion which reminds me of a pants zipper fly. It was confusing at first especially sewing it wrong side down (see picture), but it works. When my mom saw the dress on me, she was voicing, “How do you put it on? Oh, there’s a zipper under the flap!” Surprise.

The very best alteration to the fit and look of the “Retro Wool Dress” is my addition of underarm gussets. I don’t mean to pat myself on the back, but the gussets make it more 50’s than it already is and fix my fitting problems. Underarm gussets were a frequent sight on 1950’s era garments. They are also the perfect solution for problems with sleeves which offer limited movement without having to start from scratch again. I drafted my own gusset this time – a pointy oval “cat eye” shape with a 2 inch center width by 4 inch center length, without seam allowances. Two and ¼ inches down the side seams was unpicked open in the bodice and in the sleeve so could insert the one piece gusset. See Gertie’s blog for a great tutorial.  Adding the gussets wasn’t really all that hard for me to sew, just awkward and fiddly, but I made it work…and boy does it improve things! Room glorious room!


“Do I really have to highlight something at my armpit? There’s the gusset. Awkward!”

100_6880-compPockets flaps are vying for first place with the underarm gussets when it comes to helping the look and fit. As they were, the side pocket openings were slightly puffing out, changing the silhouette, as well as being a little too obvious for my taste. So I made them more “fashionably” obvious by closing them with a self-drafted flap closure. I drafted a 3 inch by 2 inch triangle (before seam allowances) to be sewn on the skirt back pocket edge and closing with a decorative button with a snap closing underneath. I love the little bit of extra class the pocket flaps add. They so clearly remind me of those little fine details that I see with designs (especially on suits) from the 1940’s and 1950’s when class and style and attention to subtlety was a matter of course. Both the gussets and pocket flaps (I think) show how a little extra effort goes a long way.

Burda’s “Retro Wool Dress” has a timeless appeal which is modern yet entirely vintage. It has the hourglass silhouette with the slightly exaggerated blousy hips of a classic 1950’s dress. Yet, its features also remind me of other garments I have Chanel Tan and Blue Cotton Tweed Sleeveless Zip Front Sheath Dress, spring of 2009seen, such as a spring 2009 Chanel cotton suiting dress which has a simiButterick #1192, year 1941 pattern cover-complar zip front under a vertical placket. Burda’s “Retro Wool Dress” also makes me think of another vintage pattern from another decade, Butterick’s new re-release #6282 and (what I think) is its original, Butterick #1192 from my collection, both from the year 1941. These two also have a vertical placket down the front, with a pleat hiding underneath and closures down part of it, and the small flap collar lapels (on the old Butterick #1192) like what I did to my version of Burda’s dress.

Thanks Burda Style for another interesting re-release of a vintage pattern. It is a good dress for me and a wonderful addition to my wardrobe, as well as an enjoyable make.  Another step forward in my effort towards combating the cold!



Wearing O’ the Green…1941 Military Style

As the perfect example of the modern opportunity to mash things up as one desires, I used a recent holiday – St. Patrick’s day on March 17 – as an excuse to wear a military-green 1941 vintage suit blouse I recently made to complete a set.  ThereAgent Carter badge.80 was a famous WWII B-17 G bomber called “Bit O’ Lace”…well, here I’m wearing a little bit o’ green, and a whole lot of cheer.

This is another post part of my “Agent Carter” sew along.

100_4793-comp     A good part of the decade of the 1940’s was consumed by the effects, and after-effects, of World War II.  It comes as a simple matter of fact that a good part of the fashions of the 40’s also took on a bit of a war-time influenced appearance.  I’m supposing adopting a military-influenced style was part patriotic, part necessity for the 40’s, but what’s to explain the prevailing popularity of combat style fashion even ’til today?!  Whatever the reason, those who have served, or are serving, to protect the country they call home should be flattered by the way that a military fashion style is persistently trendy.  Imitation is the best form of flattery, so the saying goes.

100_4783a-b-comp     My military 1941 blouse is an ironic mix of the bitter and the sweet, from a sewing point of view and from a historical tribute point of view.  From a sewer’s viewpoint, all quality materials went into this suit blouse, wool and rayon, with vintage notions and silk as the lining, making it like butter on the skin – all the very sweet part.  I also thought that this blouse’s high quality would come easier than if making a full out jacket…but, no, it didn’t.  This is the first half of the bitter part to my blouse.  I finally assumed that the styling would be incredibly slimming and easy to wear.  Not that it doesn’t fit me very well, because it does, indeed!  The blouse is just hard for me to feel like it, well, “suits” me (pun intended) and compliments my figure as much as I expected.  However, making one’s own clothes does have the advantage of trying new styles, and I have indeed worn other styles much stranger (such as this one or even this one).  So, my final happy resolution is that as long as I fits and feels good to wear, what do I really have to crab about?  I’ll just wear it and be happy, and let the Irish “cheery and positive” part of me shine!

100_4784-comp     Taking the historical tribute point of view, my military 1941 blouse is a quiet tribute to the bravery of “Our Soldier Dead”, as is said above the building in my background.  On a beautifully warm morning, my family and I visited our town’s Soldiers’ Memorial building, an Art Deco masterpiece built in 1938, and soaked up knowledge in the inner museum.  It is amazing to see all the bravery of our country’s soldiers remembered in one spot from 1860’s on to today.  Furthermore, my dad and my hubby are both entirely sucked in with interest to a shared gift of the book on tape of the story “Unbroken”.  The great “Liberator” B-24 bomber planes were key to the story of Louis Zamperini, hero of “Unbroken”, and so I wore an enameled pin of a B-24, a gift from my dad years ago, on my blouse as a quiet military/WWII remembrance.  It is sweet but sad at the same time to recount and remember such history.

100_4807-compTHE FACTS:

FABRIC:  My suit blouse fabric that you see is a fine half wool, half viscose rayon blend, in a deeply dark forest green color.  It is a wonderfully smooth (meaning non-itchy), textured twill with a medium weight, a fluid drape, and a slight stretch.  As the lining, I chose a bright apple green 100% silk, “China silk”100_2851 yr 1941 suit set habotai

NOTIONS:  All my notions (except for thread, zippers, and shoulder pads) are authentically vintage.  100% rayon hem and bias tapes were given to me by my friends at a retro shop.   Thank you for that kindness!  The buttons are also vintage but from my inherited stash of notions from hubby’s Grandmother.

PATTERN:  Simplicity 3961, year 1941

TIME TO COMPLETE:  I’ve lost track of how much time was spent on this suit blouse…it seemed like the project that would never end.  I do believe it took more than 20 hours, but could have even took more than 30 hours for all I know.  My blouse was worked on every day over the course of a week and a half, which seems like a very long time to me, as I’m used to a project or two in a week.  It was finally finished on March 13, 2015.  (Much shorter completion time compared to my first suit set!)

THE INSIDES:  Very nice indeed!  The side seams and the sleeve seams are done in French finishing, while the sleeve and blouse hems and center front are covered in vintage dark green hem tape.  The inner neckline and armhole seams are covered up by vintage bright green bias tape.

100_4816-compTOTAL COST:  The wool/rayon twill was bought at Hancock Fabrics as an end of season clearance at only $2.25 a yard.  I bought two yards but actually used less than that (only 1 1/3 yd.), so the wool/rayon was less than $4.50.  The silk was ordered from Fashion Fabrics Club at about $22 for two yards.  I bought the thread and zippers from Hancock, to add on about $4.00.  So, my total cost is probably more or less $30.

All my preaching and facts aside the construction of my 1941 suit blouse was really easy, just time consuming.  The skirt of the suit has already been made and posted about (it can be seen here).  That bottom half was easy to make and fit well, so I felt assured of the fit to the top half and cut it out as is with no changes.  The sizes of this pattern are a size bigger than I technically need for my measurements, but I think this pattern runs a tad small.  There were only three adaptations I did make.  The first was to cut the sleeves out on the bias, for a non-confining fit which moves with my moves, rather than on the straight grain as instructed.  The second small adjustment was to snip off only 1/4 inch, starting from the underarm down to nothing at the waist, from the sides of the bodice front, to decrease the bust size to fit me better.   Thirdly, I eliminated the center fifth button/buttonhole in the middle of the front band.

100_4633-comp     My blouse seemed like some tiny thread monster with a giant appetite.  For such a little project, I went through so much thread!  My total spool count was just about three, and I still wonder where it all went, or if it weighs the blouse down.  Using up a lot of thread makes sense, as I had to baste the silk to all the pieces individually, make old-fashioned “windowpane” button holes, sew around seam allowances, and top-stitch the front piece in two double stitched rows.

100_4812-comp     Let me briefly highlight some of the blouse’s interesting features.  There are the traditional early to mid-1940’s style sleeve top darts, to create a very squared off, wide shoulder look, which I filled in with shoulder pads.  My long sleeves are very tapered and skinny at the wrist, having a trio of elbow darts, with a snap wrist closure, very similar to the sleeves of my red 1946 dress.  The bust darts are long French darts,100_4802a-comp which go across the bias of the fabric and start at the waistline from the side seams.  I have not yet seen French darts on a 40’s garment before (I see most of this feature on clothes between the 50’s to 70’s), but, nevertheless, it does always create amazing shaping in a very comfy manner.  A back neck zipper aids in slipping the suit blouse over one’s head, since there is a rather high V-neckline to the front.

100_4800-comp     My blouse has a side zipper, too, which incredibly amazes me.  What’s so amazing about a side zipper, you might wonder?  Well, the side seams have an incredible curve, with the height of the dip at the waistline, where the French darts come in.  If you’ve never sewn a closure into a curve…believe me you don’t want to unless you would like a big anvil to fall on you.  If you have done one, you’ll understand with me that installing a zipper into a curved seam is fully possible, just one big frustration.  I have done zippers like this before, but never with a curve so steep, and – for the first time in my sewing – I actually got quite foul, angry, and worked up into an exasperated sweat.  In disbelief, I read the pattern’s instructions and stared at the instructions, but yes…they said to insert a “slide fastener”, meaning a zipper, or snap tape.  As things turned out, I had to try four whole times both sewing down and unpicking to finally come out with a decently perfect zipper installation.  I was bull-headed enough to stick to getting it right, and boy did I learn from this experience!

The back neck zipper was no problem at all in comparison.  The instructions said to draft your own strip of facing, 3 1/2 inches by 7 inches, and sew this on, snip the slit, and turn inside like any other faced opening, then add in the zipper.

100_4810a-comp     The front panel band is THE piece that truly makes the suit jacket, I think.  After all, making that piece took up about one-third of the total time spent on my suit blouse as a whole.  The big irony of the front is all that time and effort goes into something purely decorative – even the windowpane buttonholes, darn it!  I like a challenge and test my skills, as well as constantly do things a bit differently, so I feel the extra effort was entirely worth it, in the end, especially since the panel band is on display in the front.  I do enjoy making this style of buttonhole, and, as this is the second time using them on a project, I am even happier with how they turned out than the first time (which can be seen here).

100_4814-comp     An interesting unexpected trick is involved in lapping on the front panel band onto the front of the suit blouse.  I was directed by the instructions to first completely finish the blouse (hem and all), and next work on the band making the button holes then turning under the seam allowance (1/2 inch), keeping a straight un-notched bottom.  The band gets sewn to the inside of the top, wrong side to right side, just stitching a small V around the center bottom (see picture).  You snip out the fabric from under/in between the triangle stitched at the bottom, so you can turn the front band to the right side.  This was a hard step because that spot is about the bulkiest spot on the blouse, as the center front seam ends there as well as the hem being turned up, too.  I was afraid the pressure I had to put into snipping through all those layers would get carried away, and snip too far to ruin my blouse just as it was almost done.  It worked out fine, as you can see, and with a little “Fray-Check” liquid on the inside points, the front panel band was lapped onto the front and top-stitched down in double rows (one 100_4803-compon the very edge and one 1/4 away from edge).

The lack of neck facing was a sort of relief.  It’s nice to have things done differently…it keeps one interest piqued.  Besides, I really didn’t feel like doing the hand sewing that would have been necessary to keep the facing down.  I used my vintage rayon bias tape, which matched perfectly with the silk lining, as a simple, skinny, bias facing.

We had the hardest time ever picturing the colors true to reality.  The sun was bright and overwhelmed the exposure.  Cloudy days are almost always the best time to get the real colors to show up in our pictures with our camera.  The best explanation I can give for the color of my wool blend twill is that it is the same color as my late 1930’s Kenmore Rotary sewing machine (see this picture).  It is not grey!  As for the true color of my silk lining just think of the color of some “green apple” flavored hard candy, and you should see the shade close to correctly.

100_4785a-comp     My hat is actually a mid-1940’s era piece.  I think the brown tone matches well enough, and the styling is close enough to work.  I love the interesting design of the fold-over pleats!Peggy and the Howling Commandos-cropped

Agent Carter took on a good amount of military clothes, with similar beautiful complex details, for “The Iron Ceiling” episode, fighting in Russia, as well as in the “Time and Tide” episode, where she explores the underground.  Check out my links and see how Peggy Carter uses items in her wardrobe already, to mix and match for a complete change up of appearance as needed.  (See my blog on the skirt of my suit for a different way to change up the look of one piece.)

Do you possess any military themed vintage notions, jewelry, or fabric?  Have you seen any of those “buttons looking like planes or studs that look like bullets” which I have read about in Chapter 4, “Independence and Limitations” of the book “Forties Fashion” by Jonathan Walford .  Make your own tough-and-feminine mix and share it here with me!