Anyone who remotely knows me or pops into my blog has probably realized in have an undying fascination for border prints. They are the siren call for me. I know I’ve said as much before, but this time around I have sewn with a silk crepe original pre-WWII border printed fabric! Believe me, I was terrified to use this treasure, but it was in perfect condition, and too very pretty to sit, hidden and forgotten, away in storage. This had to be enjoyed and seen, it is just too good. However, just what pattern to choose to make the most of this precious find was the tough question I faced. I have no regrets and am only absolutely thrilled with the fantastic dress I now have…so I guess I chose the right pattern?!?
The funny thing is, I really appreciate the fact I chose a relaxed and nonchalant “Hostess gown” rather than something as fancy as the fabric. This way what I’ve made has the greatest opportunity to be worn and enjoyed, I figured. “The Vintage Fashion Guild” defines a Hostess Gown as a dressy garment, popular from the 1930s to 1970s, worn by the lady of the house for entertaining at home, full length but not as formal as evening wear, whose lines still followed current street fashion. Vogue calls it “somewhere between loungewear and partywear”, while Melissa, over on the blog “Well Appointed House”, notes that they were loosely sized with “a forgiving waistline”. Often, I see them as easy to put on, in either a wrap-style or zipper front closing, with conservative body coverage. I love this way of thinking towards what is worn at home – practical but elegant, pretty but nonchalant, all so a lady can feel as ravishing as a Hollywood celebrity with all the comforts of wearing pajamas. It’s the ultimate statement piece showing that the lady of the house is queen of her abode in more ways than one…as this “New York Times” article says, a Hostess gown both commands but respects a domestic occasion.
The pattern I used has been adapted by me to accommodate both my chosen border print layout and a full front zipper. Otherwise, it stays true to the original design lines and perfectly checks off all the boxes for a hostess gown – adjustable tie waist, breezy fit, elegance in style…all in an impressive fabric print. Even still, I do not exactly plan on keeping this just for indoors, or wait until I do home entertaining. It is almost ‘too nice’ for preparing or serving food and drink, being mostly ivory (which doesn’t bode well for stains or spills) besides being a special vintage silk after all. I happily wear it out and about! It’s perfect when I want be dressed in vintage style, especially my go-to 1940s decade, but don’t feel like going all out and be confined into the traditional fitted looks.
The way the silk is whisper weight and flowing awes me, as does the print which gives me an illusion of delicate lace…hinting (to me) of either lingerie, an arachnid, or something spooky and mysterious. This is partly why I waited to take this post’s photos until Halloween, when the trees can create a colorful backdrop with their fallen foliage while the somber shadows of the earlier evenings adds a melancholic tone. Trying some late springtime pictures (where I am standing with a Chinese dogwood) lightened and washed out the beautiful, rich, creamy ivory that is the fabric’s true tone. Either way is still lovely nonetheless, but I am too much of a perfectionist…and I like realistically showing my creations to their greatest effect! I will take any excuse in any season to be able to wear this dress – I absolutely love it!
Speaking of things that I really enjoy lately, keep your eyes open for a new kind of outfit accessory – a temporary tattoo from Inkbox. It stays on my skin for a few weeks before fading away. I chose a spider and a rose theme because I felt it paired with the mysterious web-like effect the border print has on the solid, light color of the silk. My other accessories are earrings, a scarf, and a chenille butterfly brooch, all vintage items from my paternal Grandmother. My snazzy triple buckle shoes are actually all suede and meant for dancing, a 1940 reproduction style coming from Aris Allen Company.
FABRIC: 100% silk crepe
PATTERN: Butterick #6485, a year 1944 pattern reprinted in 2017. See more on this down later in my post!
NOTIONS NEEDED: lots of thread, a bit of interfacing for the collar, and one 22” long vintage invisible zipper
TIME TO COMPLETE: This dress was made in about 6 to 8 hours, and finished on September 16, 2020
THE INSIDES: all French seamed
TOTAL COST: 3 yards and 14” of this vintage fabric cost me a reasonable $40
How do I know it is truly vintage fabric? First of all, the width of the selvedge gives it away. This is a 39” width, which means it either 1930s or 1940s. This size selvedge did last into the 1950s, but the rest of my clues point to decades earlier before WWII. The black lace-like design is printed all the way through, too, there is no real “wrong” side. I often see this bleed-through on 1940s and older fabric prints. Furthermore, once you have the opportunity to feel (as I have) what a vintage 40’s or earlier cold rayon, polished cotton, or silk material feels like in comparison to modern fabric the difference is clear and beautifully unmistakable. They just don’t make fabric (that I know of) the same way as they used to.
I did pre-wash it, which was scary in itself, because I had no idea how it would react or if the black border print would bleed into the ivory background color. Happily, a gentle hand wash bath made no change to the fabric texture or condition, only brightened up the ivory color and faded a few tiny rust spots which are scattered across the material. If these minute rust spots are all this fabric shows for its age, than that is fabulous! It cleaned up beautifully and still seemed quite strong, which gave me further confidence to make a something for myself using it.
First of all, I wanted yet another different layout of a border print that I have not yet tried. I wanted the design element to radiate out from the center front seam, running vertically from the shoulders to the hem. I have seen this kind of a layout for border print fabrics in other 1930s dresses, zip front robes, and hostess dresses. The border of my fabric was about 13” wide and ran along the length of only one selvedge edge. With such a print, I had one strip of the border to work with which was 3 yards and 14 inches long, the length of my cut of material. Dividing that length in half helped me figure out that my fabric amount would not work for anything longer than a mid-length dress, as long as it would have the front all one panel piece (more on this later). This meant the dress I chose would need to be shaped primarily by darts or tucks (to keep the border design intact). Keeping all these ‘needs’ in mind as part of the planning process, all the while wanting a hostess gown, rather overwhelmed me. I was only searching through my stash of 1930’s and 40’s patterns to make things more challenging! I ultimately – and happily – found everything I was looking for in Butterick #6465 pattern re-issue from 1944.
Of all the vintage pattern reprints, those from Butterick are always the hardest line from which to track down the original design. After much online searching, I found a cover image that is highly likely to be the source for the new #6465. I’m strongly convinced this “reprint” is a tweaked version of what was originally Butterick 9154, from the summer of 1944. I realize it doesn’t have the front shoulder panels that the new re-issue has, yet I personally have a few original Butterick patterns that have been reissued and their details had been significantly re-worked for their re-release. During my online browsing, I did see an early 1940s “House Dress with zipper closing at center front” from the “New York Pattern Company” #230 that is also very similar to my Butterick. Apparently this combination of details/design lines must have been popular enough to span more than one brand of sewing patterns!
My first step before approaching any “vintage” reissued pattern is to read every review and post that is out there to find because I am very wary of the resizing that is done to them. For this Butterick pattern, I saw a consistent trend of comments saying they adore the style but it runs oversized and offers limited reach room when sewn together with no prior tweaks. What I did then, at the pattern stage, was ‘slash and spread’ the sleeve piece open for more room in the upper arms and redraft the armscye to come up higher into the armpit for reach room that doesn’t tug at the dress. I also went a whole size down from what the chart showed I should be choosing. All of this worked out perfectly! Even so, the collar still is a bit sloppy around my neck, and I did add some extra front waistline vertical tucks (for both a better fit and to match the old original pattern). This pattern needs a few tweaks to be good, but, beyond these ‘failings’ in the re-print, I can heartily recommend it!
As I alluded to a few paragraphs above, to accommodate the border design the front of the dress had to be a duo of one-piece panels. The pattern is designed to have the front princess seamed with four individual pieces. To amend this, I overlapped both two front panel pieces along the seam lines to ‘create’ one single front piece. This was not a perfect match up by any means – I only matched up the seam lines from the shoulder down through the bust because the two fronts were so curvy. Thus my dress’ skirt is a bit fuller than the reprint pattern is designed for, and much more generous in swing than a normal mid-1940s pattern would ever allow for. It was important to at least match up the shoulders and bust, and (as I said above, as well) the rest of the fitting was accomplished by more tucks across the middle. In lieu of having the fabric belt be attached in the princess seam, as the reprint called for, I merely added the belt into the front tuck furthest from the waistline, just like what was done on the old pattern which I think was the original.
The easiest adaptation to the pattern reprint was by far adding in a front zipper. There was going to be a seam down the front center anyway, so I merely didn’t sew the collar facings together but kept them separate and added my zipper in there instead. As the fabric is so special, I pulled out a very special zipper for occasion, as well. I used an old vintage invisible zipper. It has the metal teeth still that we all know and respect old zippers by for their reliability and sturdiness. However, this has special twill tape ‘covering’ rolled over the metal teeth so it becomes comparable to an invisible zipper. It also has a fancy decorative zipper pull that looks almost Art Deco in design (very hard to pick up in pictures). I am guessing by the packaging that the zipper I used is 1950s, or no later than 1960s era. I only have a few of these treasured notions in my stash, yet it is the same mindset as what led me to sewing something out of this old fabric in the first place that gave me the guts to use this treasured zipper, too. I appreciate it better by having it be usable on my wonderful dress creation far better than sitting in my stash.
I suppose it is obvious by this point that I did also squeeze out two sleeves and two waist ties out of the border print. I wanted to incorporate more of the fabric’s detailing into pieces of the garment which would show off the border print from a back view as well…not just for the front. No ‘party in the front, business in the back’ for me here, please! I didn’t want the look of a bare ivory dress from behind. Besides, fancy sleeves highlights the plain front shoulder placket. For the tie ends and the interior collar facings, I was able to grab half of the border that was leftover from between cutting the dress’ bodice fronts. Every little bit was used and every detail paid attention to! There are minimal scraps left, and I am tempted to use them for something luxurious that calls for small pattern pieces – such as a brassiere…he he.
It should be noted that the dress body is single layered and only the front shoulder panels and the upper neckline were lined (in more of the silk fabric) because they were interfaced. I suspect the pebbled crepe texture somewhat keeps this ivory silk from being as see-through as would be expected. I do like to spurge and wear my prettiest vintage silk slips under this dress as a sort of treat to myself – but also an experiment in historical accuracy. Guess what? My old silk slips with their muted pink color and beige lace are more invisible under my dress than my more modern all nude-toned ones. Fashion from way back when never ceases to amaze me with how smart they were engineered.
Time to finish up with some honesty – there is an element of awe that I myself have for this dress. I felt it was an honor to be working with such a special vintage fabric, and now when I put on my finished dress I have the same special sense which I get when I wear true vintage clothing. It is as if I forget I made it, and the dress has become its own “new” vintage. I haven’t really had something I’ve made which has done this for me to such a degree. (My 1949 pleated peplum dress, sewn with a true vintage rayon gabardine, does seems like true vintage to me, as well, though not to the level of my Hostess gown.) Thus, I still am surprised I was able to pull off something better than any ideas in my head. Have you ever made anything that you felt you were struggling to fulfill then end up crushing it after all? My hostess dress is all of that.
This is a bit of a mix of 3 decades – 30’s for the fabric, 40’s in design, and 50’s for the zipper – that all comes together into a fashion anomaly called a “Hostess Gown”. I was working with a vintage reproduction pattern drafted with a tendency to give an ill fit. There was the stress of feeling I couldn’t mess up, besides a lingering guilt for even ‘destroying’ my amazing vintage material in the first place. I believed I had everything going against my success. Yet, working through these issues has given me one of this dress, probably one of the best things I’ve made…and after a lifetime of sewing, saying that is a big deal, quite satisfying. I hate to brag, so this is all the more about touting an accomplishment for me. It’s not the flashiest or most obvious testament of a successful project, but an understated one that boosts a personal confidence in my skills more than anything else. I am my own worst critic, so a project like this dress is a great reminder to be gentler on myself, and temper my drive for perfectionism…although sometimes – like here – it does pay off!
This was my only vintage border print currently in my stash, so I may have found my “lightning in a bottle”. I do still have some bordered design material on hand, though – two in modern rayon knits and a new Indian sari. I now realize my next border print project, vintage fabric or not, will be very hard to work with coming off of the heels of this one. My Hostess gown will be hard to top, but that’s okay – even though I wholeheartedly like each and every thing I create, not all can be on the top list, as this is. Hopefully it will just as esteemed by my succeeding generations.