Monday, November 28, 2011

The Blonde Phantom

Life's been overwhelming these past months and it doesn't look like it's going to be any less overwhelming the next couple of months, as my days as a student are numbered. On November 19th, however, I had a belated Halloween party to go to. It's been ages since I last went to a Halloween party, so I just had to make my costume myself. Add to that my rekindled love for sewing and my love of all things mid-century, I picked something that was fitting for my prefered fashion eras, my nerd factor and my ever-growing stash of vintage sewing patterns. What I ended up with was the 1940s crimefighting superheroine the Blonde Phantom:


The Blonde Phantom, whose real name was Louise Grant, was one of many female super heros introduced in the 1940s to get girls more interested in comics. Introduced in 1946, she wasn't superhuman, she was just athletic and a skilled markswoman. She worked as a secretary for a private detective named Mark Mason, whom she wanted to aid on his cases and thus created her alter ego of the Blonde Phantom. As is often the case in the world of comics, Mark Mason had only eyes for the Blonde Phantom and no interest whatsoever in Louise Grant, the secretary, but he eventually learned that they were one and the same, so he married Louise and they started a family.
The Blonde Phantom always carried a .45 caliber pistol and being the nerd that I am, I of course had to get hold of something that was not only a .45 caliber pistol, but also appropriate for the time period. I quickly decided on getting a softgun version of a Colt M1911:


As the name implies, this pistol was first made available in 1911, where it was adopted by the US Army. It was subsequently adopted by the Navy and Marine Corps in 1913. Due to its service history, it's probably one of the most easily recognizable handguns in existence.

Getting my main accessory was easy enough, but then I had to find a 1940s dress pattern I could use for her highly impractical crimefighting outfit. I eventually settled on frankensteining two 1940s patterns; Simplicity 4657 from this seller on Ebay and a mail order pattern from Midvale Cottage on Etsy from an unknown company, but numbered 2167:



So I'd found the patterns I needed, now I just needed to make them work together and that mainly meant transfering the armscye of the Simplicity pattern to the mail order pattern, so that I could use the sleeves from the Simplicity pattern. I'm a pretty low-tech kinda gal, so I just traced off the mail order pattern first and then placed the tracing paper over the relevant piece of the Simplicity pattern and matched it to the shoulder of the mail order pattern. My frankensteining of one of the armscyes ended up looking like this:


Both patterns are unprinted, so the Simplicity pattern has a seam allowance of ½" everywhere, except for the armscye and sleeves, which have a ¾" seam allowance. The mail order pattern, however, has a ½" seam allowance on all edges, including the armscye and sleeve. Seeing as I was in a bit of hurry, I added to the seam allowances of both patterns so I ended up with a 1" seam allowance on all edges in case of any fitting issues.

Please do excuse the puckering around the armscye! I was in a hurry and figured I'd be able to live with it as the dress was a bit of a prototype and was just gonna be worn for this one event. The sleeves have a great design detail with the fabric being gathered:


It was very easy to do and I'm guessing it can be easily transferred to other patterns, so for your consideration, the instructions for how to do this sleeve:


The original neckline of the mail order pattern wasn't wide enough to match the one the Blonde Phantom sports, so I had to alter that as well:


While I'm happy enough with the depth I achieved from the alteration, I'd like to make the neckline wider if I make a deluxe version at some point:


For the bare midriff, I first sewed the side fronts to the front. Then I figured out how wide and how high I wanted the cut-out to be. I then folded the front of the dress down the middle and used the waist markers from the pattern to figure out the position of the cut-out. Using a tailor's crayon, I marked the key spots and then drew the shape of the cut-out by hand. After cutting into the dress, I took the piece I'd now removed from it and used it as a base for a facing that I reinforced with heavy duty fusible interfacing, which I then sewed onto the dress. I also did a topstitch around the cut-out to further help it keep its shape:


My model for the close-ups is a teenage dressform, so the fit on myself was actually much more snug, which you should be able to see from the last picture in this post.
I think my makeshift cut-out technique worked quite well, so if you'd like to use this nifty 1940s design detail for a pattern that doesn't already feature it, just get your ruler, tape measure and tailor's crayon out and play around with it. Of course, you should make a muslin, which I would've made if I had had more time and if my fabric actually had been expenssive; the fabric I used was a very cheap nylon, so I figured I' d be able to live with myself if I ruined it completely :P

As you can tell from the pattern illustration of the mail order pattern, I needed to add some length to the pattern pieces. I figured out the desired length of the gown and simply added the missing inches to the tracing paper, making sure that the flaring of the skirt also increased and was in keeping with the angle of the original flaring.

Finally, I added the Blonde Phantom's trademark sun symbols, which I bought from this seller on Ebay , to the dress. Here is the one placed atop the slit ending just above the knee:


Here's how it looked on me:


I wish I'd had time to do my hair a little and I also wish I'd gotten hold of some latex paint to make a custom domino mask. The fabric was also much too lightweight and I spent no time whatsoever doing any nice finishing to the seams. Oh well, there's always room for improvement, I guess ;)
I did get a lot of lovely compliments mized with puzzled looks from people, since they had no idea who I was supposed to be; the only one who came even remotely close to guessing it was a fellow golden age comics fan. I wasn't exactly surprised, though, as I knew it was a very nerdy costume, so I had promised people cookies if they were able to guess it, but claiming I was Zorro's girlfriend and, worse yet, Wonder Woman (seriously?! That's a whole lot of disrespect towards Wonder Woman right there, comparing her to the Blonde Phantom, a mere human!) will not make me get my recipe book out for you >:P
When I was younger, I'd often make my own costumes, but I never knew much about the construction of garments and I think it was a great experience to be able to apply my sewing skills to this nerdy project; it's fun to make an approximation of a superhero outfit like this and be able to make it with costruction and design details appropriate for the era the character wearing it belongs to :)

5 comments:

  1. You rock!! I read comics as a girl (well that was in the 50s and 60s), and superheros were my favorites! I mean, I read Little Lulu and Archie, but they were such tame stuff. ;P Give me a Wonder Woman or Spiderman anytime! I think your Blonde Phantom costume is amazing and totally inspired!! :D

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  2. This is AMAZING! I've just been invited to a themed birthday party and almost immediately determined I wanted to go as The Blonde Phantom. Of course, it's so obscure there are no costumes to purchase (homemade is so much better anyway) but I don't sew! Hm...guess it's either time to learn fast or shell out some dough so I can look even half as fab as you do! Well done.

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