The year is 1968 – our eyes were aimed towards the sky with an impending trip to the moon, and everything that was formerly deemed out of the question was suddenly a reality. I have already briefly addressed the history of 1968 that had its impact on fashion styles in a previous post, my tapestry corduroy dress.
I have made a dress that combines two classic styles of the space age: hounds tooth fabric and sleeveless color-blocked shift dresses. Every woman was expected to look like Twiggy in the late 60’s and A-line dresses promoted the current ideal – a streamlined, androgynous fashion forward image. Hounds tooth check has been around since the 1880’s, but had a surge in popularity during the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s for women’s business and suit wear.
My dress has a front crossover bodice yoke, with gentle notching at the neckline, a basic A-line shape, and a back zipper. Simple and classy, this retro dress promises a great style that should make it a wardrobe staple this summer! I like doing my best modern poses wearing this and pairing it with my favorite knock-off beehive hairstyles.
Our town’s Science Center provided the perfect backdrop to do the photo shoot pictures of my dress. The giant building behind me is the called the Planetarium, displaying the history of space travel and showing the night sky on the ceiling inside on certain nights. It is lit up in different colors at night and presents quite a landmark on the south city skyline. The Planetarium just celebrated its 50th anniversary; it was built in 1963.
FABRIC: My hounds tooth fabric was found around the time of last year’s summer at a Goodwill resale store, bought for only $2.00. The fabric is a polyester knit (I think) with it’s original ‘Woolsworth’ label on a corner. It was a 2 yard cut, as the label says, and the price was listed as $2.00 as well. I am estimating the age of this find to be anywhere between the 60’s to the 80’s. The brown contrast fabric was also used to line parts of the dress’ inside and is also a polyester double knit.
NOTIONS: A zipper, another spool of matching thread, and a pack of sewing machine needles. For some strange reason, I went through 4 sewing needles to finish this dress. Some needles broke at the thicker seams while others bent for no apparent reason…quite strange. It’s not like the fabric was that tight and I’ve sewed with thicker stuff before. My new tool, a “Jean-a-ma-jig”, was used to stitch the thick seams, and I really can’t praise it enough – I love this notion! I could do beautifully even stitches up and down the fabric ditches.
TIME TO COMPLETE: This dress was finished on March 6, 2014 after only a handful of days’ sewing. It probably took 8 to 10 hours from start to finish.
THE INSIDES: They are neatly zig zag stitched…for now. Read on to hear about what I hope to do to the inside seams in the future.
FIRST WORN: My dress was first worn on a busy Sunday, just a day after I was done. First to Church, then out for lunch, then to a family member’s birthday party for dessert. Later that evening we went out to take the pictures for this blog post.
TOTAL COST: $10 or less
This project was easy-peasy to sew up. I only glanced at the instructions and otherwise did not need to use them as the dress construction is pretty straightforward. Using the back pattern piece, I drafted my own upper bodice panels to create a matching color-blocked look for the back, so my dress wouldn’t have everything going for it in the front only. Other than adding the back upper bodice blocking, my only other personalized changes were to eliminate the facings and downsize the dress, as my pattern’s bust was 2 sizes too big for me. Fitting an A-line dress is easy, though, because it’s just shaping the side seams.
It was so weird but funny to see a very big, bold lettered ‘CAUTION!’ across the pattern tissue when I was laying it out on my fabric. I have never yet seen this before. The caution advises, “BEFORE YOU CUT, read about your new McCall’s pattern sizing”. Goodness, is such an alarming tone and bold letters really necessary for a new sizing chart?! Has anyone seen something like this on a pattern before?
There is a 22 inch center back zipper to make this dress a cinch to get in and out of. I was tempted to eliminate the zipper completely because my fabrics are knits. As the fabrics of my dress are stable knits and since I enjoy doing zippers, I opted for the boon of easy dressing and kept the back zipper.
This dress is secretly a fun pun. Everywhere you see hounds tooth, the inside is lined in brown, and everywhere you see brown, the inside is lined in hounds tooth. My original reason for doing this was merely a fun one – so I can fold down the crossover front bodice if I want and have the hounds tooth showing. You can see this in the picture above. While I was almost halfway into sewing my dress together, my hubby asked if I was making it reversible. What a good idea! If I hadn’t been so far along in construction, I would have taken the extra time to make my dress able to be worn inside and right side out. I still can make the reversible idea work, but I think I will get around to touching up and cleaning up the seams at a future date. I am considering using self-fabric binding or contrast bias tape to cover and add interest to the inside seams to make this dress reversible. You can see the inside at the right picture.
Taking in the sides of my dress threw off the shaping of the armholes and I’m proud at how well my free-handed cutting is shaped. I actually trimmed the front armholes only and did it while the dress was on me so I could make sure I was cutting the right shape! A total of about 1 1/2 inches was taken off the front armholes and curved into the back.
I decided against bulky armhole facings which would then need to be hand-sewn to the lining. I wanted to keep in things simple. So, using the brown knit, I made my own skinny bias facing to finish off the raw edges of the armholes. The look and feel of this finish much better than facings – it was quicker, and more comfortable. Plus, it’s better if I want my dress to be reversible, and, besides, it was my own personal touch. As a side note, I was actually considering adding short sleeves to my dress and had even cut out two from both fabrics just to make them reversible, too. After slipping the sleeves in place under the armhole when my dress was on me I really thought it took a lot away from the rest of the dress. Besides, I never could decide which side – the hounds tooth or the brown – to have showing.
The back facings were the only real facings that I did on the inside of the dress. I sewed them in a special way so that when I turned them right side out, they covered the shoulder seams. When you sew the shoulder seams (the front and back together, with wrong sides out), sew the back facing to the shoulder seam and the neck from the side of the dress front. I hope you can see what I mean in the picture at left where everything is pinned together. Just be careful to not catch the inner neck corner, but stay close to the corner, because a little point or bump will result next to the shoulder seam otherwise when the facing gets turned inside.
A Google search of the pattern I used and also ’60’s hounds tooth dresses’ showed me a plethora of vintage items proving to me the era-appropriateness of my new creation. Among the images I found was this lovely hounds tooth suit dress (at far right) worn by the character of Megan Draper from the T.V. show Mad Men. With my dress, I hope to channel the look and feel of her outfit, but amp it up a bit by making closer to the fresh and bold attitude of a white/orange/green color-blocked dress she wore in another episode (at right). There is also another hounds tooth dressy suit worn by a blond haired Mad Men secretary in a 2008 episode.
My Google searching also revealed a another seamstress’ wonderful version of the same dress pattern I used, McCall’s 9230. She (see her Flickr pics here) seemed to be the first to recognize the fun color blocking potential of McCall’s 9230 as well as it’s similarity to Mad Men styles. I was also happy to run across an old original ad/flyer for the McCall’s 9230. Perhaps this picture (below left) came from out of the pattern books we look through inside fabric stores, I can’t seem to find out for sure. Either way, this dress pattern and fabric design sure have more potential than I first realized.
Technically, this dress isn’t really much, but I sense that it hits a great balance of fabric, styling, historical correctness, and economical cost. It’s easy wearing and easy dressing, and I really enjoy it. We had a lot of fun taking the pictures, too, and I hope that’s apparent.
Nothin’ like some lunar illumination to link the last 50 years together!
I will post more pictures soon on my Flickr page, Seam Racer.