Cold temperatures are my nemesis. I hate being chilly and get so very easily – even layers don’t help and only are uncomfortable for me. I know, I sound picky, but I seriously think I was meant for warm weather. Yet, clothes that are a combination of tailored, vintage, fashionable, extremely cozy are nonexistent in ready-to-wear…so I make them! The best thing about sewing is the complete independence it gives. You make reality what you want and/or need.
So…recently I opened my big mouth and expressed my excitement with a comment over at Burda Style.com when they recently re-released a “new” vintage 1957-1958 pattern. I don’t have anything like it and I really was struck by the simple slimming design. The comments that followed seemed to challenge me to get right to it and make my own version of the dress pattern sooner rather than later. Here’s that final garment just in time for an extreme cold snap. It was an unexpected project but perfect timing for our forecasted climate. My 1957-1958 wool dress is indeed as heavy as the weather demands, more like a coat dress than anything, yet oh-so-50’s fashionable and complimentary. I really do love it. The dress is cozy, comfy, and classy. Bonus – it has my favorite color purple with a little bit a sparkle!
FABRIC: My fashion fabric is a thick wool blend (70% wool, 25% acrylic, 5% poly and other). It’s a purple and grey hound’s-tooth with some gold metallic strands woven through. The lining is a grey poly cotton blend broadcloth.
NOTIONS: Everything I needed was on hand already – bias and lace tapes, thread, and zipper.
TIME TO COMPLETE: Gosh, this dress took quite a while for me – maybe 30 to 40 or more hours spent over the course of two weeks. It was finished on January 20, 2016.
THE INSIDES: All the inner seams are bound by either bias tape or lace tape, except for the armscye which is left raw on account of the complexity with the underarm gusset.
TOTAL COST: This fabric was bought at Hancock Fabrics on a super clearance for $3.25 a yard. I bought 2 ½ yards but only used about 2 of them for the dress, so I suppose I spent about $6.50 on this dress. I’m counting the notions and lining as free because they were on hand.
When I saw the pattern it immediately struck me as a coat-style dress. This is why I went with such a heavy wool. There were other ideas in my head that someone else might want to try. I was tempted at first to actually turn it into a coat, but now I’m glad I didn’t because I love it how it is. Then, I also had the idea to make the top half and the bottom half in two different colors out of a lighter weight chiffon type fabric, in brown tones, and add pockets to the chest for a kind of “safari” look. The solid color that the Burda model is wearing would look fabulous with some beautiful embroidery down the length of the vertical pleat. So many ideas and so little time. Let me know if you make any of my other ideas for a variation on this pattern!
Burda patterns (for those readers who don’t know) need some assembly and tracing before being ready for layout on your chosen fabric. They can be bought as a downloadable PDF file, to print out, or traced from the leaflet included in a magazine issue (the “Retro Wool Dress” is in the January 2016 edition). A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a pattern prepped. This is the stage where I pick out my size, tracing out only the size I need to use, including any grading and adding on chosen seam allowances.
I don’t mind a challenging project, but during the sewing part, this dress was something I felt like I wrestled with and was confounded and frustrated by it instead. Part of my ‘frustration and wrestling’ was on account of the thick and heavy combination of the fabrics I used. However, the instructions to the pattern did not help make this dress a success at all. They are convoluted and not very clear. Since when do you sew together the side seams and the rest of the general dress and then add in the in-seam pockets?! Talk about making things hard, if not nearly impossible. The pattern piece doesn’t even seem made for this method. If only the paragraph for the pockets had been added in several lines earlier, it is effortless to sew in pockets as part of the side seams like all my sewing books show and as I’ve always done in my sewing. The skirt back pleated flap instructions were basically non-existent too, as it didn’t seem to recognize that the skirt is cut differently (on the fold) so it is unlike the bodice back’s pleated flap. I figured it out on my own and am happy with how it looks, I just wish I hadn’t created some smoking of my mental gears to get it how it is as you see it. As I end up saying with most all reprints of vintage patterns, I would absolutely love to see the original as a comparison. Vintage patterns almost always impress me in some way or another so I wonder if some change was made to the original before this pattern was released.
Speaking of change, I made no more than a few slight changes to the design of the pattern, and all of these were on account of a better look and fit. The only exception to this might be the sleeve pattern piece, where I combined to two separate front and back into a combined one piece sleeve merely for the sake of simplicity.
This pattern seems to run quite small, especially in the sleeves and the skirt bottom, and I don’t think it’s solely because of the thickness of my material. I went with my normal sizes, grading up as normal for my waist and hips, but I technically could have went up a whole size up more than that. I even cut the sleeves on the bias, but they still restricted my arms to the point that I couldn’t reach up to my hair. When I would reach back to put my hands in my pocket I would smash my bust due to lack of room too. I have a feeling that there is too sharp of a curve to the bottom of the sleeve. If this was a ready-to wear item, and fit this restrictively, I would not buy it. So time consuming work and all, I unpicked liberally to get the fit right (as you can read more about later down). For every two steps I made in progress, it truly felt like I made two steps back in unpicking. For most of the evenings spent sewing I would get one spot right only to have to unpick another spot which needed re-sewing and fixing, but after so many nights of this balancing act I eventually worked out all the ill-fitting spots. To me, the garments I make should fit right or the time spent in sewing is worth no more than time roaming a mall for clothes to my liking. A pattern needs to turn out well, too, so others can enjoy it, thus I’m giving an open confession of the problems I ran across.
So many extra little touches were made, that for my benefit (and maybe yours), I’ll quickly list them. Firstly the pockets were sewn into the skirt pieces before doing the side seams for real “in-seam” pockets. I remembered to do the hem (a wide 1 inch hem) before doing the skirts’ pleats and side seams to make things easy and less bulky. The same early pre-hemming was done to the sleeve hems. In order to fit my derrière, I took out the back skirt darts, cutting their length in half. The vertical back pleat was let out for a smaller fold to give my rump and legs slightly more room. I picked out the 5/8 inch seam allowance of the bottom half of the sleeves to a scant 3/8 inch. The self-facing edges for the front were turned under for a clean edge (not mentioned in the instructions but a very good idea I think). A tiny hook and eye is sewn at the top outer edge of the zipper end to hide it under the pleat (works great). Shoulder pads are tacked in as well to nicely fill in and shape the bodice. Finally, to appease my preference, I tacked down the top corners of the front top opening so that it seems as if there are lapels at the neck.
Under the most of the center front pleated lapel is the zipper. It has an interesting lapped sort of insertion which reminds me of a pants zipper fly. It was confusing at first especially sewing it wrong side down (see picture), but it works. When my mom saw the dress on me, she was voicing, “How do you put it on? Oh, there’s a zipper under the flap!” Surprise.
The very best alteration to the fit and look of the “Retro Wool Dress” is my addition of underarm gussets. I don’t mean to pat myself on the back, but the gussets make it more 50’s than it already is and fix my fitting problems. Underarm gussets were a frequent sight on 1950’s era garments. They are also the perfect solution for problems with sleeves which offer limited movement without having to start from scratch again. I drafted my own gusset this time – a pointy oval “cat eye” shape with a 2 inch center width by 4 inch center length, without seam allowances. Two and ¼ inches down the side seams was unpicked open in the bodice and in the sleeve so could insert the one piece gusset. See Gertie’s blog for a great tutorial. Adding the gussets wasn’t really all that hard for me to sew, just awkward and fiddly, but I made it work…and boy does it improve things! Room glorious room!
Pockets flaps are vying for first place with the underarm gussets when it comes to helping the look and fit. As they were, the side pocket openings were slightly puffing out, changing the silhouette, as well as being a little too obvious for my taste. So I made them more “fashionably” obvious by closing them with a self-drafted flap closure. I drafted a 3 inch by 2 inch triangle (before seam allowances) to be sewn on the skirt back pocket edge and closing with a decorative button with a snap closing underneath. I love the little bit of extra class the pocket flaps add. They so clearly remind me of those little fine details that I see with designs (especially on suits) from the 1940’s and 1950’s when class and style and attention to subtlety was a matter of course. Both the gussets and pocket flaps (I think) show how a little extra effort goes a long way.
Burda’s “Retro Wool Dress” has a timeless appeal which is modern yet entirely vintage. It has the hourglass silhouette with the slightly exaggerated blousy hips of a classic 1950’s dress. Yet, its features also remind me of other garments I have seen, such as a spring 2009 Chanel cotton suiting dress which has a similar zip front under a vertical placket. Burda’s “Retro Wool Dress” also makes me think of another vintage pattern from another decade, Butterick’s new re-release #6282 and (what I think) is its original, Butterick #1192 from my collection, both from the year 1941. These two also have a vertical placket down the front, with a pleat hiding underneath and closures down part of it, and the small flap collar lapels (on the old Butterick #1192) like what I did to my version of Burda’s dress.
Thanks Burda Style for another interesting re-release of a vintage pattern. It is a good dress for me and a wonderful addition to my wardrobe, as well as an enjoyable make. Another step forward in my effort towards combating the cold!