Big thanks to Marie @stitchoddyssey and Kerry @kestrelmakes for their great insta challenge, #sewvintageseptember, without which this dress would still be in tissue form, in its little envelope, nestled with the other hopefuls! The challenge encouraged us to sew up our neglected vintage patterns, something I’ve been meaning to do for such a long time. Plus it presented so many inspiring posts as everyone uploaded their gorgeous creations. I’m late to the finishing post but I’m so jolly glad I got there!
I used to sew so many more vintage dresses than I do of late. When I first began sewing I inherited (read stole) a few from my mum’s collection – just basic skirts and tops. And then my love for them grew so much that years later I found myself bidding silly money for 40s and 50s patterns online. I loved the cover art, the pre-cut pieces, the prompts to hand finish and the unfailing elegance of the times. I learned how to style the finished garment without conforming to an entire vintage look (totally ignoring the wails of the purists!) and made them my own. I’ve included links to some of my faves at the end of this post.
So what happened? Why don’t I sew vintage so much any more? Well basically, I discovered indie patterns. And later learned to draft patterns myself. And those vintage pattern boxes have since remained closed owing to the rip-off number of hours in a day! That said, I have left a couple of patterns, loose on the top of the pattern box tower, just in case I get a miracle few hours spare to schedule them in!
The pattern I used for this dress is Butterick 5880. A retro reproduction from 1951. I love the sarong-style side drape and the neckline with its little fang-like indents!
It screamed leopard-print at me from the off. But I can never find the perfect scale print in a perfect colour way, let alone the actual perfect fabric weight.
I asked in pretty much all the stores along the Goldhawk Road with not an ounce of success. A block colour probs would have worked fine and that was my next plan and was just deciding on red or black (of course) until I spotted this red, black and grey print in Classic Textiles. It was definitely an Hallellujah moment!
So my vision of Rockabilly chic was restored and off I skipped with some cheaper poly for the toile – I always try to mock up in as close a fabric as poss to get best fit – and some anti-static fabric from the little shop next to A-One (never can remember it’s name but the owner is always so friendly and kind). I paid £6.50 a metre for the lining. Pretty much the same as the main fabric because I didn’t want cling or spiky static stuff going on. It ironed like a dream and feels so silky to the touch – red of course!
I only mocked up the bodice. Knowing exactly what the issue was going to be – pooling at the back! The back piece is cut on the fold so to get round this I traced and cut the piece in two, adding seam allowance and taking 2 inches of ease out but cutting and slashing on a line drawn from a third of the way up from the bottom of the armhole, across to the centre back.
I sewed out a dart on the mock up to check it worked before cutting out my main pieces.
And here is where the fun started. That wrap piece is huge and because I wanted to keep the entire length of the skirt (I know right… where has Janene gone!) I had no chance of cutting out on my tiny kitchen table. I remember thinking laminate flooring would be a great idea in the living room so I could cut larger pieces. And it is mostly. But wiggling crepe and shiny scissors meant I was crawling around on the floor for aeons! Getting up and straightening up afterwards was an insight into being a hundred years old!
And just as I’d finished I had to cut the lining, too. All the moaning and groaning that day – you’d never have guessed it was my favourite thing to do!
The bodice came together pretty swiftly. I’m always a bit scared to clip so close to the point of a ‘V’. And you can see a smidge of the lining as a result. But I’d rather that, knowing its stronger as there will be some stress on those points at times. But kudos to the Vilene G710 Light Woven Iron On Fusible Interfacing I got from Minerva Crafts. It was such good quality and it was definitely key for providing just enough structure so that neckline doesn’t roll out.
I pinked the seam edges and the lining edges. Mostly so there would be no additional bulk on pressing. But also because it’s fun!
The main skirt pieces are dead simple to assemble too though I did overlock those seams. The bodice seams are enclosed and it felt safe to pink but when this dress ultimately gets tossed around with a wash load of other stuff, I worried the skirt seams would be more vulnerable and susceptible to fraying. And I didn’t want that after all the effort invested.
Now let’s talk wrap! All I can say is that I’m jolly grateful for that QR code bottom left of the pattern cover, that links to a very good tutorial by Professor Pincushion. I read the instructions included with the pattern about 50 times over and still couldn’t work it out. But the video was instrumental in working out those pleats.
I had assumed the wrap was a singular piece. And it would probably work just as well assuming ones fabric is double sided. But I like how much neater it’s finished by being faced. It adds a fair bit of weight though, and there’s quite a bit of stress where that pleated section joins the waist seam so will have to keep an eye on that. The full lining adds even more weight to this dress but its not a bad thing. It slides on with ease, helps the dress to hang better, prevents any show through and feels so special to wear.
Following the marathon hand finishing session (shoulder seams of lining, joining bodice lining at waist, hemming, French tacks) I almost forgot about the belt! That was pretty simple to whip up though. It’s basically an interfaced tube, sewn, trimmed and turned. Though the turning was not fun at all! Once pressed, the flat end is folded over the central bar of the buckle and hand stitched down. Luckily I had a small collection of vintage buckles to choose from – the asymmetric red one was a clear winner.
Although this is clearly a 50s dress design, it could so easily pass as 80s and be dressed down with Doc Martens and a denim jacket but for the purposes of our shoot on Sunday, I felt the need for glam – heels, care of Shelter Charity shop, Long velvet gloves from British Heart Foundation charity shop and Sunglasses, a lucky find in Cancer Research charity shop. Stockings bought from What Katie Did.
And yes, actual stockings! I’m so out of practice and really nervous of them pinging loose and ending up round my ankles. But they felt so good to wear with a dress of an ‘appropriate’ length and added to the feel good factor.
The weather wasn’t the least bit inspiring at the weekend but Dan was so keen to shoot with his new camera insisting that there’s no such thing as bad weather as far as photography is concerned. He’s mostly right of course, especially looking back at these photos, and I’m so pleased his eagerness helped me to meet the challenge deadline, but I might argue that wind is the exception to his rule!
Some of my other favourite vintage makes:
Photography by Daniel Selway