1939 Vintage Simplicity Dress

vintage 1939 dress

It’s been a while since I sewed a proper vintage dress and when I spied 5 gorgeous yards of pretty blue and white print fabric in a charity shop for a fiver, it was a sure sign to unwrap one of my favourite patterns. I bought the fabric thinking that if I screwed up, a fiver was worth the risk. But actually I loved the fabric so much I used some other polycotton, from stash mountain, to rehearse a toile for the bodice first.

Very few alterations were needed. I did a slight FBA to add a bit of shape and added an extra inch to the waistline. I think it fair to say that I manage to pack away a few more calories than those svelte 30s women!

simplicity 3302 pattern pieces

The pattern is a vintage original from 1939: Simplicity 3302. And the condition of the pieces was impeccable. Factory folded and clean. Such an honour to be working with such precious pieces that are 75 years old!

The most surprising thing about this dress is that it takes 5 yards of fabric. At 35 inches wide that is. But it really doesn’t look that extravagant. I’m used to 50s style dresses taking up miles of fabric but the skirt section of this one isn’t even a full circle!

vintage dress simplicity 3302

I kept to the instructions, like the good GTS I am, and I created a neck facing instead of lining. I also decided against overlocking the seams. It somehow seemed wrong! The fabric behaved beautifully and frayed very little so I opted for a spot of pinking! Feels far more authentic and it pressed beautifully flat.

I’m not totally sure what the fabric content is. But on doing a burn test, I was left with a very silky white dust. So the consensus is that it is 100% natural fibre and top notch quality I reckon! It has quite a good drape going on and doesn’t crease too much either which makes me wonder if it is cotton or not. I made a decision not to line it. Mostly because of the gorgeously warm weather we’ve been experiencing but also because it always seems a bit mad to line a natural fabric with a synthetic lining. And I wasn’t about to splash out on silk!

sitting pretty in vintage dress

Having said that. I did use a silk organza for the sleeve stiffeners. You didn’t think those puffs stick out like that, unaided did you?! Quite a clever little trick that involves a circular piece of fabric like tafetta or flannel or organza, folded in half and sewn to the sleeve head before the gathering is done.

silk organza sleeve stiffener

vintage_1939_dress_sleeve_headIt looks a bit comical until you press the seam onto the sleeve and not onto the bodice which I did at first. Didn’t get a shot of that but the look on Dan’s face was priceless!

There is also an inverted pleat that is topstitched at the hem of the sleeve. So neat.

pleat on sleeve

I’d like to say it all went swimmingly but I made quite a big boo boo when I inadvertently cut the back as two pieces and not on the fold. Very easily done when patterns of that era are unprinted, but, regardless, I needed a quick solution as it would have come up too small once I’d seamed it and also, I didn’t have a large enough leftover piece to cut another back piece. Quite a big issue when you get your hands on a unique piece of fabric from a charity shop. It’s not like you can go back and bag another metre!

So… This is a bit bodgie… I made an inch wide length of bias tape from a 2 inch strip that I’d rescued from the selvedge, using my trusty Simplicity Bias Tape Maker Machine. And with half inch seam allowance I sewed it on each centre seam of the back. That effectively joined the back pieces together where they would have sat had there had been a fold!

Luckily the seams are disguised by the busy print so I think I got away with it!

back of vintage 1939 dress

I know my hair do isn’t strictly 1930s and the shoes are far from authentic but it needed a little bit of vintage styling to pull it off. Especially as youngest dort decided it was ‘lovely but very 80s!!’

vintage simplicity 3302 dress

I love the sweetheart neckline. So discreet and so pretty. It doesn’t have any added interfacing so I’m surprised it holds so well. I did clip into those curves good and proper though!

vintage sweetheart necklineI wrestled a bit with the zip. I knew I didn’t want an invisible zip. That seemed a bit wrong too so I opted for a lapped style zip insert. But could I get my head around it… No I bloomin’ couldn’t! I can do it with my eyes closed in the back of a pencil skirt but for some reason I just couldn’t pull it off. So I went for a straightforward zip insertion whereby I basted the seam shut, centred the zip and sewed to seam allowance. I did however prick stitch close to the teeth on the right side.

side zipper

I reluctantly wore my new dress a to a party on Sunday. I didn’t know any of the guests and was a bit worried I’d stick out like a sore thumb (in my 80s dress…. thanks dort!). But my assumptions were way off. Such wonderful food and great music and the most amazing people. My ‘wallflower status’ was upheld!

candy from Black Dwarf Designs
With Candy from Black Dwarf Designs

Oh and hats off to my wonderful fella, Daniel Selway who took the photos and who now finally has a site to host his pictures. Right here, in fact!


50 Replies to “1939 Vintage Simplicity Dress”

  1. Eez so pretty! Aksherly, your shoes are very accurate, really. 🙂 And such a pretty print. I suspect it may be rayon as it drapes, doesn’t crease too much, and burned to ash. I love rayon. Also, it’s very accurate to the period, clever you! Now I’m off to check out Daniel’s site! xo

    1. Gee Thanks Mrs C. I think you might be right! Feels so good! Can’t wait for you to come over. Dan would love to do some shots for you! 🙂

    1. Thank you lovely Debi. I totally had you in mind when I was making this dress. You are the queen of all things vintage and lovely, after all! xxx

  2. Gorgeous! From the photos you definitely cannot see anything amiss with the back, well done in concealing it so well! It sounds like you have a viscose fabric there, form the description of the drape etc. Have fun in your new pretty dress.

  3. All round loveliness as ever. Fab sleeves and pleased to see the talented Daniel has a platform to showcase his talents.

  4. This dress is gorgeous! Just the kind of thing I lust over. The sleeve head ‘trick’ is genius – where did you learn that? Did it instruct it in the pattern? I love the shape it gives.

    1. Thank you Jen. I wish I could lay claim! It was all in the instructions! I’ll be employing this trick again though!

  5. Such a special make Janene! I love the trick to get the sleeve head sitting proud, the sweetheart neckline is divine and the overall style looks wonderful on you! I have this pattern too, so I can’t wait to make it up now ;o)

  6. What a great dress! You styled it perfectly, and the photos are fab. Kudos to your “fella” on his marvelous photography! Two artists in the family, wow!

  7. I loved reading about this vintage make – you wear this dress so beautifully, Janene. My guess is that the fabric is rayon – the vintage variety drapes beautifully. Your fix for the back “seam that shouldn’t be there” was brilliant and very effective.
    I have been trying to re-subscribe to your blog (somehow, I dropped off….), but I can’t seem to get my info to go through. Any suggestions?
    Thanks for another inspiring post!

    1. Thank you Karen. I think you might be right about the fabric. Re subscription: I went self-hosted a few months ago so you wont be able to follow by WordPress if that is what you are trying to do. So the best way forward is either via Email (box top right on the blog) or via Bloglovin’. Thank you for following and always for your wonderful and helpful comments x

  8. LOVE the pattern and it looks great on you. The material was most certainly a brilliant find. Lovely post. I have been looking for this pattern. Would you consider making a copy and I would pay you for that?

    1. Thank you veronica. Sorry for late reply. Am doing my best to find out what the copyright details are and once I find out I will happily make you a copy! I’ll get back to you as soon as I know.

  9. Ohhhh, your dress is lovely! Those sleeves! that neckline and that gorgeous twirly skirt! I love your cool hairdo too, you look like you stepped straight out of another era 🙂

  10. Hello. I contacted you before about sharing this pattern but you wanted to look into the copy right. Would you be interested in making a copy for which I would gladly pay for your time and expenses. Thank you again for your consideration

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