World War Two Weekend 2018

Last weekend was the annual WWII reenactment that we attended and I thought I would share with you some pictures of the event.  This weekend event has been going on in the spring at the historic Jefferson Barracks for over 30 years now, and it was especially perfect weather to make it even more enjoyable this year.  Almost every one out of 6 years is terribly cold, muddy and rainy!  This time it was balmy with a clear sky.  We met some new, wonderful people and there was a good turnout.  My 5 year old had a blast.

I had two different outfits for the two days, each of them half me-made, and both definitely worth sharing.  These outfits are something you don’t see every day!  To have a change of pace from my ‘normal’ posts, this one will be picture heavy with the traditional history nuggets.

For Saturday I was a British Women’s Land Army girl and my hubby was an Army 2nd Lieutenant Engineer.  Both of our jackets are true vintage.  My pants are the ones I blog about here (from 1943), tucked into the reproduction “Rosie” boots from Royal Vintage shoe company.  By me wearing these military style “Double Buckles” boots, I am reenacting a Land Girl which would be doing other chores than farming, such as at a “Lumber Jill” part of the forestry division called the “Timber corps”.  The girls who worked in the fields often had tall black rubber “Wellington” boots (galoshes).

The British Women’s Land Army (WLA) was a British civilian organization created during the First and Second World Wars so women could work in agriculture, replacing men called up to the military. Women who worked for the WLA were commonly known as Land Girls.  Even though the word “army” is in the title designation, it was actually a civilian organization. Before the Second World War, Britain had imported much of its food. When war broke out and U-boats were destroying many merchant ships bringing supplies to Britain from America, it was necessary to grow more food at home and increase the amount of land in cultivation.  Since many active and healthy men were joining the military, women were needed to fill their shoes and more. The WLA continued in existence even after the war had ended, as food rationing continued until 1950 when it was disbanded. During the time of its work, the WLA had provided 90,000 women to work on the land and had kept Britain in food for the duration of the war. Though Britain had rationing, no-one actually starved during this time – a testament to the work done by the WLA.  (Info from here, here, and here.)

DSC_0104-comp,,three part combo

However, the details to this original jacket share their own interesting story.  It is quite the sturdy garment, made of a heavy cotton twill, but it was obviously made in a hurry.  Many of the seams are not flat felled properly, the way the raw edges hang out in random spots.  The top stitching is a bit wonky, and some of the bobbin thread to the machine sewing did not catch properly.  Now, I am not criticizing, just seeing all of this as a sign that probably resources were low, time was short, and these garments were sorely needed!  The hem is surprisingly interlock stitched…yes, just like modern serging.  My jacket is quite shorter than what I see on women in old pictures of WLA work, so I’m supposing that my jacket might have been hemmed at a more modern date – I’m not sure.  I do love how old extant garments have so much to teach and to tell.  There’s a story in every stitch.

One of the most practical details to this jacket that I love is the removable buttons.  They are very basic buttons indeed.  They seem to be formed plastic, in a military olive color, with a pin through the middle which has a loop at the back.  This way a round jump ring can keep the buttons’ pin backs in the tiny button holes down the left front of the jacket.  The cuffs have the same removable buttons, too.  For all the practicality that these show, I am sort of surprised that the belt is not made to be removable.  It is sewn down at the center back.  I must admit, this way I suppose the belt will not get lost or shift around on the garment.  What she is wearing should be the last concern for a Land Girl to get her jobs done!

For the second day of the event – Sunday – I wore a Women’s Army uniform that is admittedly not perfect, as it is still a work-in-progress, but decent enough for the day.  My skirt is a lovely cotton twill straight skirt made by me from a 1946 pattern for a suit set that I have made, just not yet blogged about.  However the jacket has not so authentic roots.  This began as a basic, cheap reproduction that fit me decently well, and was close enough to the real thing in style lines that I figured I could just use the matching skirt to cut up and refashion more jacket details such as pocket flaps, an extra back bodice panel, and shoulder epaulettes.  I even added shoulder pads.  The details of a real women’s Army jacket are all there, as I believe.

My left shoulder badge is for the Army Ground Forces – a unit established with a mission to provide units properly trained for combat operations, especially organizing of task forces for special operations.  Army Ground Force personnel made over 40 major landings on enemy shore and accounted for nearly 80 percent of the Army’s battle casualties, while capturing over 3 million prisoners.  Women were part of the Army Ground Forces (AGF) – frequently assigned to Armor and Cavalry schools as radio mechanics, they took care of requisitions involving radio equipment, repaired and installed radios in tanks or other vehicles, and even trained men in code sending and receiving (info from here).

At some point, if I do more reenacting or if a women’s Army jacket in my size happens to cross my path at a good price, well – I plan on ditching this repro version for the real thing and using this imitation as an Agent Peggy Carter uniform, like what she wore in the “Captain America: The First Avenger” movie.  I can totally see Peggy being a part of the Army Ground Forces, anyway, especially since she was excellent at code breaking.  Until I find a real-deal uniform, I realize I need some more pocket buttons, and some appropriate lapel pins (I left Peggy Carter’s SSR pins on, sorry I’m not sorry!) to be at a WWII event.

Trying to do dedicated, full out authentic reenacting on a budget can be hard and time consuming.  It is worth doing right, though, because this is more than fun…it’s sharing history and retelling what happened to others by putting yourself in a place back in time.  By either participating or attending a re-enactment is a very special way to learn history that makes what is read in books come to life!

A copy of the “Schlüsselmaschine Enigma” (Enigma Machine) the hardware invented by a German and used by Britain’s codebreakers as a way of deciphering German signals traffic during World War Two.

If you want to see pictures from the other years’ WWII weekend, see this post for 2015, and this picture and this post, or even this one, for 2016!

1943 “Polka-Stars” Satin Dress and Netted Tilt Hat

This post has been long in coming but is now ironic because McCall Company just re-issued the pattern I used (as McCall #7433), albeit with dramatic changes.  Hopefully this post will show the beauty of this specific dress design and how the re-issue has been altered from the original.  Now, if you buy the reprint, you know how to make it more authentic.

A yearly World War II re-enactment weekend always gives me an excuse to whip up a new 40’s dance dress.  Therefore, I cranked out this pink and black satin year 1943 dress, together with a self-drafted fancy tilt hat!

100_6254a-comp

I confess, this was one of those stupid/silly sudden-last-minute decisions where a few days ‘til the re-enactment I decided year before’s outfit would not do.  The tiny stars in the fabric made me feel patriotic at the re-enactment dance, without being too much, while the black tempered the sweetness of the pink and the black made me feel dressed up without being too overwhelming (see this article from “Chronically Vintage”).  The tilt hat was directly inspired by the headgear spotted at the wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton in 2011 as well as coming from my newest interest in millinery.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  A thin 100% polyester, buff-finish satin, in a rich but light pink with tiny black stars like polka-dots.  The contrast black satin is semi-thick, but also polyester, and was used for the hat as well.

PATTERN:  McCall #5295, year 1943 (this was a lucky find at only $3); the hat was self-drafted

McCall 5295, year 1943, combo of front n back-MNOTIONS:  I had on hand what I needed – the thread, bias tape, interfacing, and zipper for the dress; tarlatan, elastic, hair combs, and netting for the hat.  The buttons down the front of my dress came from the stash of Hubby’s Grandmother.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  I raced through sewing the dress in about 8 to 10 hours.  It was finished on April 24, 2015.  The hat was made in two hours on September 25, 2015.

THE INSIDES:  I had only a few days to make this dress so unfortunately the insides are all raw and terribly fraying.  I was also afraid adding on some sort of bias tape would stiffen the flowing fabric too much and didn’t have time for what I wanted…French seams. After the dance, I came back to clean up the insides, trimming the seams and covering them in fray check liquid. 

TOTAL COST:  This was bought on clearance at Hancock Fabrics as a store was closing so I bought this fabric at about $3 a yard, and this dress only used just under two yards.  The solid black satin was only a ½ yard cut, and went towards both hat and dress contrast, so this cost very little.  The black hat netting was originally expensive, but was a lucky find on clearance at 50 cents for each yard.  So, I suppose my outfit is about $8 in total. 

100_6256a-compMcCall #5295 was just challenging enough to be satisfying and ingeniously designed.  This is also the first vintage 40’s McCall pattern that seems to run very small.  The pattern size I had was technically a tad too big for me but it ended up fitting a bit snug (nothing some smaller seam allowances couldn’t fix).  After making my 1943 dress I had enough leftovers to make these double layered tops, thanks in part to Wartime rationing and economical pattern pieces.

The whole dress is lovely and interesting, but the bodice definitely takes center stage with the neckline.  The dress bodice is constructed in an unusual two-part creative manner for a dramatic style.  The lower front bodice comes first by facing the entire edge and making three rows of shirring from the shoulder to the end of the neckline notch.  Then the four back bodice waistline tucks are sewn and the shoulder is attached to the upper bodice front so this entire neckline can be faced and finished off as well.  Finally, the bodice’s upper front gets overlapped with the lower portion and both are top stitched together along a line of shirring next to the neckline notch.  I was tempted to not add the contrast insert underneath at this point, but I’ll save this idea for next version of the pattern (which will be a winter dress in long sleeves).  The new re-issued version of this pattern sadly leaves out the shirring next to the front neck notch as well as weirdly turning the back into a shirt-look, with its shoulder yoke and tucks.  I can’t wait to see if the new version also faces and constructs the neckline in the same manner.

100_6273a-comp

Now the contrast under the neckline is such a simple little piece to make such a difference…more or less an odd shaped rectangle folded over with interfacing inside.  The contrast piece only extends from the end of the back neckline to flush with the edge of the button front.  The new re-issue seems to have the contrast wrap all around the neckline and plummet to nothing before the edge of the button front.  Adding in the contrast does nicely support and shape the neckline as well as making it pop on account of both the extra top-stitching involved and the contrast color.

100_6291-comp

You will never guess what interesting little tidbit is lurking about this dress in regards to the top front buttonhole.  In order to be authentic, I used my late 30’s/early 40’s Kenmore sewing machine for some of the construction of the dress, especially the buttonholes.  I followed the instructions on the pattern where it said to put in the trio of buttonholes in the dress before adding on the contrast.  O.k., did that, but the end of the contrast piece also receives its own single buttonhole before getting sewn under.  You know what?  The double 100_6293-compbuttonholes align up perfectly together and work as good as a single buttonhole.  On a basic level, I’m supposing the instructions said to do it this way because 4 layers of fabric with interfacing is too thick and bulky, but think about it.  Having separate buttonholes for both the contrast piece and the dress a very smart move and so very “1940’s versatile”.  Depending on the color and print of the dress you could make more than one contrast piece or even leave it off to change up the appearance of your dress!  I’m telling you, vintage patterns do things right.  I hope the new re-issue sticks to this same ingenuity with the contrast piece but my hopes are not high.

The short sleeves were a bit of a surprise to me – what…no gathered, puffed top caps!?  No, the sleeve caps are instructed to be smoothly eased in without any gathers, darts, and such normally found on forties women’s fashion.  They are still quite easy to move in due in part (no doubt) to the fact I cut them on the bias grain just to be on the safe side.  The contrast piece for the sleeves is not a cuff, but something which gets placed under an already finished hem and top-stitched down, similar to the neckline.  The sleeve hem contrast is only offered to match with the short view in the old pattern, but if I was going to make the three-fourths version I was planning on adapting a piece for the end as well, and the long sleeve plackets could be in contrast, too (though not removable).  The new reissue seems to offer similar short and long sleeves, only without the ¾ darted sleeve option.  The long sleeve cuffs on the original are not buttoned, only turned back and buttoned on the overlap, which I don’t see on the re-print, though they seem to have added basic notched cuffs, instead.

100_5006M-comp

My dress’s skirt makes this so perfect for swing dancing.  I’m so glad I made it for the event (it has seen other wearings since then, too)!  In the original pattern, there is the “traditional 40’s” three paneled back to the skirt, but the front has two side panels with four skinny center panels which dramatically flare out. (See also McCall #5302 from ’43.)  This way, with just the fullness controlled in the front center of the skirt (from the hips down, mostly), the skirt still keeps that slender A-line silhouette, but has extra beauty, fun, and ease of movement.  I love it!  I believe the re-issue to have ‘miss-read’ the intent of those four flared front panels on the original and added in an all-around pleated skirt instead for some uber-fullness that is not as 40’s a silhouette.  Swing dancing in a skirt like what the re-print has might call for some tap panties.

100_6276-comp

Here is the reason of the distaste (more like a love/hate relationship) that I have for many modern reprints, especially Butterick and Simplicity.  If you please, let me vent.  They are re-issuing past patterns just well enough to make them tantalizing but at same action frustratingly altering them.  It is wonderful to make these old, hard-to-find, and not-easily-available patterns available to everyone again, yet they have to instead “taint” (in my mind) rather than preserve the past.  Modern is not the past, and modern will change as quickly as one can keep up with.  Thus, sticking to the past should be a bit of a better “tried-and-true” benchmark, I would think.  They could make sure patterns don’t disappear forever by faithfully re-printing them.  However, by changing them, these old patterns are partially “lost” to me.  Leave these vintage patterns  complete with all the individuality that makes a 40’s pattern from the forties, and so on for each decade, giving people a chance to learn and discover.  But they don’t, and so many will miss out on the awesome things that sewing true vintage will teach to one who makes it.  Shame on McCall’s Company…don’t mess with what’s already great.  A modern tweaking won’t make it better for me and many others, I am sure.  McCall’s, if you want the original of a pattern reach out better to us bloggers and sewists and collectors.  If you want to offer a modern version of vintage, don’t call it an archive pattern.  Vintage is awesome and authentic…leave it that way, that’s why we want it.  Let those of us that sew put our own tweaks, touches, and changes into our clothes if we so please, thank you…that’s what makes sewing beautifully individual.  Please join with me in the discussion – input and conversation is welcomed on this topic so I’m not just “getting on my high horse”.

In the next few days I will go into a short but further detailed post on the hat I made.  Stay tuned!

100_6259ab-comp

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!