This Christmas, I celebrated the season in style – handmade vintage style to be exact. My finished dress in one of my #1 best made project, taking into account the high quality fabrics, thread, and details which are involved.
My best 1940’s hat, complete with feathers, rhinestones, and netting, was worn to suit posing in my new fancy dress.
FABRIC: The dress is made using a 100% wool medium weight gabardine, with an excellent soft drape. It is in a deep, royal red color. I believe I bought it at a JoAnn’s store, back in 2011. Wool gabardine is a very rare find in the stores of this town, so when I saw this fabric (the only bolt of its kind, all sad and lonely) I picked up over 3 yards of such a prized find. After my dress, I still have a nice 3/4 yard chunk of this fabric leftover to go towards a future project. The lining for my dress is a basic red cling-free poly lining, bought just before making the dress.
NOTIONS: I had to buy most all of the notions for this dress because I wanted to be very specific with the finished look. I bought matching thread (Mettler Metrosheen and a Dual duty), a side zipper, and buttons for the wrist closures which matched the big buttons I already had for the bodice closure.
PATTERN: “Retro” Butterick #5281, a 1946 reprint. Even though Butterick released this pattern back in 2008, it’s still in circulation.
TIME TO COMPLETE: Oh my! Too long for my taste. I probably spent more than 30 hours to make this dress over the course of 2 weeks. It was finally finished on December 19, 2013. There is a debate in my mind as to whether or not I should unpick the spots I would like to perfect and rework it, but, “done is beautiful” in this case!
FIRST WORN: to my maternal side of the family get-together, the Sunday before Christmas. It is held at a historic German building, now a restaurant, and I think my bright red dress matched the festive, old-world style decorations inside. Boo hoo, it was too dark inside for any pictures.
TOTAL COST: I’m not that sure, but it probably is a bit over $30. That is more than my normal cost, but worth it in the end. Don’t forget, the total cost was mostly spent 3 years ago anyway.
As I usually do, I checked plenty of reviews from other seamstresses who have made this same reprint, and I ended up just getting all around confused. So many others have made this dress and none of them were really consistent with any one problem, but more than one mention of tight sleeves, generous bust ease, and difficult neckline pleats perked my attention. Looking ahead for these traits, I covered my behind (ahem…) by adapting some of the construction while slightly changing just a few of this dress’ details. I wanted my dress to be quite close to the original, and similar to the model on the Butterick web page (at left). I’m hoping my variations to B5281 make it so much more elegant and practical.
I tried to fit this dress better when it was still at the cutting stage by doing my now normal wild grading technique. My front bodice is an 8 graded at waist to a 10, my back bodice is a 10 graded to a 12 at waist, the skirt half is a solid 12, while the sleeves are a 10. Crazy isn’t it…but, hey, it has always worked great so far.
The first big change to the construction process was to sew the lining and the dress together as one. This way if any fitting adjustments are needed, such as to the shoulders or sleeves or darts, I can fix issues without a headache of unpicking. The bodice front, with its lining having a separate fit with darts, and the skirt portion, which is hanging free from the waist down, are the only exceptions. To have the lining fit over the inside of this dress like a separate 2nd glove sounds nice, but I’ve done dresses like that before, and had my share of grief from that design, so I wasn’t ready for that with this dress. Besides, I have my own favorite way of making my handmade clothes look professional – French seams! Every seam is French seams, except for the bottom hem and flat felled seams inside the sleeves. See ‘inside out’ picture at right.
I didn’t have any problems with the side neckline pleats, but I completely understand how easy it could be to totally mess up. Those three little neckline details are awfully close to some seams and are a bit slanted, too. The neckline shape of my dress happily turned into an inverted rectangular shape according to the pattern – a few bloggers complained their versions of B5281 became an exact square neckline, for some reason. Just make sure not to let the gathers at the end of the pleats get bunched into or pull at the neckline seam. I even added seam tape into the whole neckline and shoulders to make sure everything keeps a perfect shape. My very best, red letter recommendation is to PLEASE do all the markings, transfer them precisely, and sew directly on them without any cutting of ANY corners until you’ve made sure it’s alright. Taking your time and being as precise as you can be will basically assure those details turn out the same as the pattern. Be warned, though, the bodice alone did take up about half of my whole working time on this dress.
Now, not that I am against pure decorative purposed items, but why add buttons across the side bodice closure and have them do nothing?! I couldn’t do that. So I cut some bias strips to sew my own tiny tubing to use as loop closure, and added them into the front seam at exactly 1 1/2 inches away from the side seams. Voila! Only one heavy duty snap was needed to be hand sewn to the inside near the neckline to help hold up its shape. Utility and decoration are now married with this configuration, showcasing my prized “La Mode” Vintage line of buttons. I had been keeping these two buttons with my B5281 pattern, since the button card says they’re circa 1920 to 1940. Quite the statement pieces needed here, I think.
On that “purely decorative” vein, I took the next step and made loop plackets at the wrist of my sleeves to match the neckline. The pattern called for two small zippers and I want to do this feature to a dress or top at some point, but not on this project. Matching my neckline buttons made finding some smaller wrist closure buttons a slight challenge which hubby and I conquered together. My wrist closure was sewn in a manner I learned from doing the sleeves of this project, and its something I’m quite proud of how it looks and turned out. You simply do a small hem along the sleeve end and turn the hem up, right sides together, so it’s aligned with the opening. Then, I slipped my loops in the seam of one side and sewed both corners together. Trim seams and turn them right sides out and just like magic I had a perfectly finished hem cuff. I hope my picture reveals some light on my technique.
The zipper here is probably one of my best installations, even with the tricky gathers along the side. Those side gathers are such a small detail, but they perfectly compliment the rest of the dress. (see picture at left)
To be honest, at first I really didn’t like the dress on myself that much. I thought it looks more obviously vintage than many of my other past era patterns. However, in this deep red color and expensive fabric, it does have a very classic, professional, suit-type of aura unlike anything in my closet. Once I wore my new dress, I absolutely loved it. The skirt portion hangs beautifully and the L-panel which goes across the tummy and hangs down is the best compliment ever for a woman’s waistline. The sleeves are on the edge of needing some extra ease to allow for some “reach room”, but as I don’t think I’ll be hanging from a jungle gym in this dress (just going out and sittin’ pretty), this is a minor complaint. One day I might have the gumption to add a professional sleeve gusset, but, until then, I am going to enjoy wearing my 3rd dress from 1946 ( #1 dress here, and #2 dress here). Hmmm…maybe 1946 is a good year to pick patterns from for more upcoming vintage projects.
When I tell people about this 1946 dress, everyone replies that they can’t wear wool because its too itchy of a fabric. Goodness! It’s a shame the general populace has NO idea what quality wool, or wool blends really feel like – otherwise I would not get those sort of replies. I do have sensitive skin and this fine wool gabardine used for my dress is not obviously itchy, just soft and smooth. A recent purchase of a wool/silk blend fabric from Mood N.Y. has further impressed me with the softness wool fabrics can present. My hope is to convince people, when I wear my 1946 red wool dress, to see what they are missing as a consumer by realizing the nice quality fabrics that RTW store clothes are cheating them from enjoying.
P.S. Did you notice in the pictures that I went all out vintage wearing my new Hue brand back seam stockings? See!