1943 “Polka-Stars” Satin Dress and Netted Tilt Hat

This post has been long in coming but is now ironic because McCall Company just re-issued the pattern I used (as McCall #7433), albeit with dramatic changes.  Hopefully this post will show the beauty of this specific dress design and how the re-issue has been altered from the original.  Now, if you buy the reprint, you know how to make it more authentic.

A yearly World War II re-enactment weekend always gives me an excuse to whip up a new 40’s dance dress.  Therefore, I cranked out this pink and black satin year 1943 dress, together with a self-drafted fancy tilt hat!

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I confess, this was one of those stupid/silly sudden-last-minute decisions where a few days ‘til the re-enactment I decided year before’s outfit would not do.  The tiny stars in the fabric made me feel patriotic at the re-enactment dance, without being too much, while the black tempered the sweetness of the pink and the black made me feel dressed up without being too overwhelming (see this article from “Chronically Vintage”).  The tilt hat was directly inspired by the headgear spotted at the wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton in 2011 as well as coming from my newest interest in millinery.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  A thin 100% polyester, buff-finish satin, in a rich but light pink with tiny black stars like polka-dots.  The contrast black satin is semi-thick, but also polyester, and was used for the hat as well.

PATTERN:  McCall #5295, year 1943 (this was a lucky find at only $3); the hat was self-drafted

McCall 5295, year 1943, combo of front n back-MNOTIONS:  I had on hand what I needed – the thread, bias tape, interfacing, and zipper for the dress; tarlatan, elastic, hair combs, and netting for the hat.  The buttons down the front of my dress came from the stash of Hubby’s Grandmother.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  I raced through sewing the dress in about 8 to 10 hours.  It was finished on April 24, 2015.  The hat was made in two hours on September 25, 2015.

THE INSIDES:  I had only a few days to make this dress so unfortunately the insides are all raw and terribly fraying.  I was also afraid adding on some sort of bias tape would stiffen the flowing fabric too much and didn’t have time for what I wanted…French seams. After the dance, I came back to clean up the insides, trimming the seams and covering them in fray check liquid. 

TOTAL COST:  This was bought on clearance at Hancock Fabrics as a store was closing so I bought this fabric at about $3 a yard, and this dress only used just under two yards.  The solid black satin was only a ½ yard cut, and went towards both hat and dress contrast, so this cost very little.  The black hat netting was originally expensive, but was a lucky find on clearance at 50 cents for each yard.  So, I suppose my outfit is about $8 in total. 

100_6256a-compMcCall #5295 was just challenging enough to be satisfying and ingeniously designed.  This is also the first vintage 40’s McCall pattern that seems to run very small.  The pattern size I had was technically a tad too big for me but it ended up fitting a bit snug (nothing some smaller seam allowances couldn’t fix).  After making my 1943 dress I had enough leftovers to make these double layered tops, thanks in part to Wartime rationing and economical pattern pieces.

The whole dress is lovely and interesting, but the bodice definitely takes center stage with the neckline.  The dress bodice is constructed in an unusual two-part creative manner for a dramatic style.  The lower front bodice comes first by facing the entire edge and making three rows of shirring from the shoulder to the end of the neckline notch.  Then the four back bodice waistline tucks are sewn and the shoulder is attached to the upper bodice front so this entire neckline can be faced and finished off as well.  Finally, the bodice’s upper front gets overlapped with the lower portion and both are top stitched together along a line of shirring next to the neckline notch.  I was tempted to not add the contrast insert underneath at this point, but I’ll save this idea for next version of the pattern (which will be a winter dress in long sleeves).  The new re-issued version of this pattern sadly leaves out the shirring next to the front neck notch as well as weirdly turning the back into a shirt-look, with its shoulder yoke and tucks.  I can’t wait to see if the new version also faces and constructs the neckline in the same manner.

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Now the contrast under the neckline is such a simple little piece to make such a difference…more or less an odd shaped rectangle folded over with interfacing inside.  The contrast piece only extends from the end of the back neckline to flush with the edge of the button front.  The new re-issue seems to have the contrast wrap all around the neckline and plummet to nothing before the edge of the button front.  Adding in the contrast does nicely support and shape the neckline as well as making it pop on account of both the extra top-stitching involved and the contrast color.

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You will never guess what interesting little tidbit is lurking about this dress in regards to the top front buttonhole.  In order to be authentic, I used my late 30’s/early 40’s Kenmore sewing machine for some of the construction of the dress, especially the buttonholes.  I followed the instructions on the pattern where it said to put in the trio of buttonholes in the dress before adding on the contrast.  O.k., did that, but the end of the contrast piece also receives its own single buttonhole before getting sewn under.  You know what?  The double 100_6293-compbuttonholes align up perfectly together and work as good as a single buttonhole.  On a basic level, I’m supposing the instructions said to do it this way because 4 layers of fabric with interfacing is too thick and bulky, but think about it.  Having separate buttonholes for both the contrast piece and the dress a very smart move and so very “1940’s versatile”.  Depending on the color and print of the dress you could make more than one contrast piece or even leave it off to change up the appearance of your dress!  I’m telling you, vintage patterns do things right.  I hope the new re-issue sticks to this same ingenuity with the contrast piece but my hopes are not high.

The short sleeves were a bit of a surprise to me – what…no gathered, puffed top caps!?  No, the sleeve caps are instructed to be smoothly eased in without any gathers, darts, and such normally found on forties women’s fashion.  They are still quite easy to move in due in part (no doubt) to the fact I cut them on the bias grain just to be on the safe side.  The contrast piece for the sleeves is not a cuff, but something which gets placed under an already finished hem and top-stitched down, similar to the neckline.  The sleeve hem contrast is only offered to match with the short view in the old pattern, but if I was going to make the three-fourths version I was planning on adapting a piece for the end as well, and the long sleeve plackets could be in contrast, too (though not removable).  The new reissue seems to offer similar short and long sleeves, only without the ¾ darted sleeve option.  The long sleeve cuffs on the original are not buttoned, only turned back and buttoned on the overlap, which I don’t see on the re-print, though they seem to have added basic notched cuffs, instead.

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My dress’s skirt makes this so perfect for swing dancing.  I’m so glad I made it for the event (it has seen other wearings since then, too)!  In the original pattern, there is the “traditional 40’s” three paneled back to the skirt, but the front has two side panels with four skinny center panels which dramatically flare out. (See also McCall #5302 from ’43.)  This way, with just the fullness controlled in the front center of the skirt (from the hips down, mostly), the skirt still keeps that slender A-line silhouette, but has extra beauty, fun, and ease of movement.  I love it!  I believe the re-issue to have ‘miss-read’ the intent of those four flared front panels on the original and added in an all-around pleated skirt instead for some uber-fullness that is not as 40’s a silhouette.  Swing dancing in a skirt like what the re-print has might call for some tap panties.

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Here is the reason of the distaste (more like a love/hate relationship) that I have for many modern reprints, especially Butterick and Simplicity.  If you please, let me vent.  They are re-issuing past patterns just well enough to make them tantalizing but at same action frustratingly altering them.  It is wonderful to make these old, hard-to-find, and not-easily-available patterns available to everyone again, yet they have to instead “taint” (in my mind) rather than preserve the past.  Modern is not the past, and modern will change as quickly as one can keep up with.  Thus, sticking to the past should be a bit of a better “tried-and-true” benchmark, I would think.  They could make sure patterns don’t disappear forever by faithfully re-printing them.  However, by changing them, these old patterns are partially “lost” to me.  Leave these vintage patterns  complete with all the individuality that makes a 40’s pattern from the forties, and so on for each decade, giving people a chance to learn and discover.  But they don’t, and so many will miss out on the awesome things that sewing true vintage will teach to one who makes it.  Shame on McCall’s Company…don’t mess with what’s already great.  A modern tweaking won’t make it better for me and many others, I am sure.  McCall’s, if you want the original of a pattern reach out better to us bloggers and sewists and collectors.  If you want to offer a modern version of vintage, don’t call it an archive pattern.  Vintage is awesome and authentic…leave it that way, that’s why we want it.  Let those of us that sew put our own tweaks, touches, and changes into our clothes if we so please, thank you…that’s what makes sewing beautifully individual.  Please join with me in the discussion – input and conversation is welcomed on this topic so I’m not just “getting on my high horse”.

In the next few days I will go into a short but further detailed post on the hat I made.  Stay tuned!

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15 thoughts on “1943 “Polka-Stars” Satin Dress and Netted Tilt Hat

  1. I completely agree with you about patern re-issues! I’m not a vintage sewer, my interest is more academic. I am interested in how people at different times and in different places constructed clothing to fit the (let’s face it) decidedly odd shape of the human body and to allow its necessary movement. Your mention of swing dancing is a great example. Your dress was designed for a particular type of movement typical of its time. These re-issue patterns are designed for a modern lifestyle. They may look historic on the surface but they don’t function in the same way. I suppose there is a place for that for people who just want to imitate the historic style, but the effect is that some information about the original time period is lost – as well as the ingenious solution to the “problem” of the dance movement in the original skirt design!

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    • Robin, you make such well explained points. The vintage of these re-issues is like a facade, but good research and knowledge is always the way to see through it! Even a modern lifestyle can still benefit from the smart styling of past fashion…Thank you for your comment!

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  2. Such a timely post! I’ve been eagerly waiting for the new pattern collections to come out to see if there were any vintage offerings. I was excited about M7433, but when I took a closer look at it, something just seemed off. The skirt was just a bit too full for 1943 (War years!). Your run down was excellent, and I would love to compare the two patterns some time!
    I am really frustrated at pattern companies changing and modernizing their vintage patterns! I buy vintage patterns for a vintage look, not a modern one. Sometimes it makes sense, like updating notions that are now hard to find, but other things are just unacceptable! Like putting in invisible zippers into what are supposed to be drapey blouses! (Looking at you Simplicity.) This pattern is another example. Your version uses beautifully shaped panels that give an effect while conserving fabric, while the new version takes the easy way out. I might get this pattern just to see how they ended up doing the collar and contrast band.
    Great rundown! Looking forward to your hat post!

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    • Thank you, Elizabeth, for letting me know I did a decent comparison! So you’re another exasperated customer of these re-issues, but they do make them darn good looking, don’t they? Sometimes I feel like we’re getting fed gruel when we want some good meat…un-altered awesome old patterns!

      Yes, you are right about some modernizing, but there is so much to learn from old patterns’ construction and style. I too will probably purchase the pattern just for comparison, though it might make me gag a little.

      P.S. Lately I’ve resorted to doing more snap plackets and hook-and-eyes to make drapey blouses and dress’ side seams work without a called for zipper.

      Thanks for joining in the discussion!

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  3. I love this dress, the neckline details are just beautiful! I agree with you on the re-issued patterns designed by these big companies. I really enjoy seeing how a vintage pattern is constructed and so many skills and techniques can be learnt by sewing them up. Your earrings match perfectly too!

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  4. Pingback: Netted Satin Tilt Hat | Seam Racer

  5. Your dress is beautiful! I was iffy on the reissue, but after seeing this, now I know why I wasn’t fully sold on it. I’ll be buying it, and modifying the problem areas, including the length. Just going from pictures of my great-grandma, her sisters and sister-in-laws from that time, the skirt on the model was a bit short.
    But your dress is just so lovely, and looks like what I wanted for anniversary pictures this winter. Thank you for posting!

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  6. Ahhh!!! This dress is so beautiful!!!!! The fabric is perfect for the style, and the style is perfect for you!! I love how you have the originals of some of these retro patterns! To me it looks like the original had a higher neckline – I haven’t looked at the pieces yet on the repro, but from the pattern illustration it looks like they have lowered it a lot, which is crummy.
    Thanks for sharing this lovely make!! I just love it!
    Also, newest follower here! 🙂 I don’t know how I missed following you until now, but I can’t wait to go back and look at your previous posts.

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    • Thank you for both the compliments and especially the comment! I’m glad you enjoy my blog and happy to have you as my new follower – you are such a talented and creative seamstress yourself!

      I do have an extensive collection of patterns at this point, and I am always tickled to see when, every so often, a modern re-print is something from my stash. When that happens, I especially love sharing about it on my blog. And yes, I overlooked the neckline but I think you are right – my original McCall 5295 does have a higher neckline, boo hoo.

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