A dictionary definition says there are two sides to my title word. It is defined as “bubbles in a liquid; fizz” or “the lively quality of vivacity and enthusiasm”. Well, the word also happens to be the name for my dress’ fabric print…and it is every bit as lively as its name.
I am pleased it is also a play on the two Pantone colors for 2021 – “Ultimate Gray” and “Illuminating” (bright yellow) – in a manner as trippy as a psychedelic Ishihara eye test. This works perfectly for the decade of the 60’s. I had to oblige my inspiration by using a vintage pattern to make this dress a reality soon than later. I need the mood boost this color combo promises! Pantone explains it thus, “”Illuminating” is a bright and cheerful yellow sparkling with vivacity, a warming shade imbued with solar power. “Ultimate Gray” is emblematic of solid and dependable elements which are everlasting and provide a firm foundation.” Such a summary makes my dress sound like a grounded, tangible interpretation of effervescence to me, and I like the sound of that! Add in a dash of turquoise – just about my favorite color – and I am a happy girl.
NOTIONS: Lots of thread, one 22” zipper, and some bias tape
TIME TO COMPLETE: This dress would have been even quicker to sew if I hadn’t had fitting problems…as it was this was a reasonable 5 hours to finish. It was done on June 18, 2021 and ready to go with me for a weekend getaway!
This is yet another experiment with a border print fabric. This time I had the border run up starting from along the bodice waistline. With this layout the border ends with its vertical stripes across the bust line. The remaining overall print is used for the skirt as the border runs along just one selvedge. I have seen this layout in mostly 1950s era dresses, and I feel that a pattern from the very early 60’s wouldn’t be too far of a stretch. The perks to such a use of a border print is that it visually slims down the hips by overly emphasizing the bust and shoulders. Granted, this dress has a full skirt that sort of negates that benefit, yet I did greatly pare down the gathers from the original design in my own version. This was equally due to being short of fabric as it was because I wanted the skirt more manageable. I only bought 1 ½ yards of material because I originally planned on making a blouse. Soon however, a better idea presented itself, as you can see. I’m glad I chose to sew this up as a fun, simple frock.
I think the crazy print and the fact this is above my knee in length, as well as sleeveless, helps this dress has a slight 60’s air. Yet, the classic bodice and the gathered skirt, even if it isn’t very full, helps this dress be a call-back to the 50’s decade. I wanted this to be an example of what the fashion of the early 60’s was…a thorough mix of both decades. Styles didn’t change overnight. What we think of being the stereotype fashion for a decade in the 19-something era is often a fad that came later on at the end of those 10 years. The mod youth fashion of the 60’s wasn’t a widely adopted style until after ‘65. Before then, there were a lot of deceptively 50’s looks.
Let the ‘vintage’ labelling be darned here, nevertheless, because the bodice is pretty close to having design lines of a basic two dart bodice block, also called a sloper, and the skirt is self-drafted by me to accommodate my lack of yardage. Thus, I truly don’t know how 1962 it is on paper at this point. It’s all about the styling here I suppose. I almost always have a vintage influence in my choice of accessories and the way I fix my hair, so there’s that. I do love how versatile this dress is – it can be vintage looking or not as I choose. Either way, it’s a comfortable, sensible dress that will work for several seasons, too. Adding a grey blazer, fun tights, and booties might creatively make this dress work into the cooler temperatures of fall or spring.
For being so basic, though, the bodice of this retro re-issue fits horribly. For me, the torso length was very tall (long), the bust points were high on the chest, the shoulders were generously tall, and the armscye openings were very tight and restrictive. I needed to do lots of tweaking and try-ons, including cutting several inches off of the waistline length, which only made me crabby such a “simple-to-make” dress wasn’t living up to its promise. Yet, if you do the work at the pattern stage to perfect this bodice to your measurements this would be good shortcut to having your own sloper bodice block to use to future self-drafting.
This is a fussy pattern, but once I found the original to the reprint, I feel comfortable surmising the reason why. Simplicity #3782 was originally a teenage and junior’s proportioned design. I’m wondering if in re-sizing it up to adult woman proportions, they drafted it badly and threw the fit completely off. How Simplicity allowed this to be printed this way is disappointing and beyond me. What about standard sizing and quality control? In whatever way it happened, something is wrong with the new #8591, and I might not be coming back to use this re-print again. If you do try it, make sure to be prepared for some fitting frustrations along the way to completion.
In all else, though, I love how this turned out. I achieved a very good zipper insertion despite doing it by machine, bias bindings were much simpler than facings, and self-drafting skirts is such a joy for me. The circumference of my skirt hem is the whole of the 1 ½ yard stretch of material and I took advantage of the other selvedge to avoid having to sew a hem. From the waist down, my skirt is about 22” because the border at the other selvedge edge went towards the bodice. As I my fabric was originally 45” width and I had to use extra inches along the border to match the stripes, this shorter-for-the-50’s-style skirt was all I could eke out…but I like it, after all as I said.
A fully gathered skirt would not work I knew, yet at first I gathered only the sides over the hips. This did not look right – it was much too poufy. I unpicked the gathers and made a few 3” long half inch wide tapered darts on each side to ease out the total at the waist without taking any out of the hips. This way I get a lovely bell shape to the skirt and an appearance of fullness to the small yard plus bonus length around. Ah, isn’t the best part of sewing the way you can make the most out of what little material you may have?!?
I keep surprising myself at the amount of dresses I can make out of just over a yard. This one has a full skirt to boot, though! It was a happy last minute creation that was whipped together so it could have its grand promenade on a trip out of town. Memphis, Tennessee was hot as blazes that day, but I was staying cool and looking good. What is there not to be ecstatic over here? I would say the print is very aptly an energetic word of life and activity the way my dress finally turned out, but then again most all of my handmade wardrobe gives be that happy confidence as well as this one.
Have you specifically tried to wear the two Pantone colors for 2021, separately or together? What do you see in my dress’ print – bubbles in a fizzy drink or a color test for your eyes? Do you believe along with me that there is a special “effervescence” which exudes from someone who wears something handmade?
My avid, life-long research into medieval studies, especially when it comes to manuscripts, is distinctly tied to my fascination for the revival of its tales and artistry through the Pre-Raphaelite movement, which spanned the 1850s to the late 19th century. The term “Pre-Raphaelite” is associated with the much wider and long-lived “Brotherhood” of English painters, poets, and art critics that included both men and women in its ranks and influenced architecture, music, and literature, as well. They developed a particular taste instead for medieval and early Renaissance art made ‘pre’, meaning before, Raphael, focusing on working from direct observation with dazzling, sparkling colors and incredible attention to detail. It is full of romantic idealism, old-style stories, and classically draped damsels in distress…perfect for a princess at heart!
My particular favorites are the pensive, realistically styled images in the latter half of Pre-Raphaelite art, particularly those of medieval characters or fictional fairytale damsels produced by Brotherhood members such as Rossetti and his followers William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, and Evelyn De Morgan. The women in such art always have hair and clothing that are total romantic perfection while the men are yearning, staunch, and heroic…I’ve been entranced since my childhood. In a recent post, my sewing was inspired by the classical, flowing, Grecian style of Disney’s Meg from the 1997 animated film “Hercules”. Here I am continuing that idealism with posting the making of a dreamy, draping 1940s era “Goddess gown” with matching bolero and jewelry, all inspired by the medieval inspiration behind the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood.
How did I link paleographic manuscript studies to both an art form and fashionable clothing? Well, just like Pre-Raphaelite art, my outfit has a blend of the medieval with the elements of other eras tied into one. The floral printed silk of my dress and the canvas print of my bolero are veritable copies of the beautifully scientific style of accurately painting nature as can be seen both on the pages of late medieval illuminated manuscripts as well as a tapestry of Burne-Jones. It was often in the page margins or borders of illuminations that such texts (primarily early 15th century) used flowers and insects so as to heighten and add depth of meaning by their symbolism.
This is no less the case with Pre-Raphaelite artistry where such a lush amount of detailed flora and insect fauna was frequently added in abundance (especially on tapestries). Doing so was not just to add beauty, although that is often the extra benefit. Both this 19th century art form and medieval manuscripts used the visibility of nature to aid and enhance our understanding of ancient stories and the people of the past. Every moth, every fruited berry, and every flower had a symbolism, a meaning that added to the message of the art, sometimes even hinting at whether well-intentioned or full of irony. Our modern times have forgotten much of the rich underlying meanings to such beautiful creations, and I say we need to relearn this knowledge!
So why channel this classical idealism through a 1940s gown? I wanted to emulate Madame Eta Hentz, a designer born in Budapest and educated in Hungary who immigrated to the United States around 1923. She presented her distinctive masterpiece collection of Grecian themed gowns in circa 1943. Please click on over with the provided links to see Ms. Hentz’s “Athena gown”, her black and gold “Clytemnestra gown”, her “Iconica” pleated dress, her “Walls of Troy” butter yellow gown, and her unnamed but strongly classical evening gown, one in ivory and a version in black – all from the same Grecian collection at the MET museum. They are flowing, draping, asymmetric creations resembling either an ancient chlamys, a Roman palla, a column in the Pantheon, or a pleated Fortuny toga. Such a beautifully simplistic style of dressing has been around since the beginnings of civilization, but I love how the late 40’s and 50’s Hollywood puts its own subtle high-fashion spin on such a garment. Yes, there have been many other designers from many other eras who have created according to ancient inspiration. Yet, 1940s gowns are already elegant to begin with, and to combine such a trait with the references to the classical past gives a very winning result I had to try for myself.
Furthermore, the post-WWII (40’s into 50’s) boom of Biblical, early Christianity, and ancient history related films also resulted in the popularity of the sensual, sultry “goddess gown”. In 1949, the year after the pattern I used for my gown, Cecil B. DeMille released Samson and Delilah, a picture that became the biggest hit of that year. This was one of the very first big epic films made using the latest technology that ushered in the height of the Biblical silver screen drama so prevalent thereafter in the 1950’s.
Even before the popular quasi-religious films of the mid-century, however, Grecian style gowns were a go-to choice for either elegant evening wear or a classical themed costume in Hollywood at that time. In 1947, the year before the pattern I used for my gown, the famous Rita Haworth was seen in a sexy, one shouldered goddess gown for playing the part of a Grecian Muse in the popular musical film “Down to Earth”. Also in 1947, for a Christmas dinner party, the actress Gale Storm graced the screen during the movie “It Happened on 5th Avenue” with an asymmetric goddess gown. Next to the works of Eta Hentz, this goddess dress heavily influenced my own version. Similar to the one shoulder strap which mimics a climbing vine on Gale Storm’s evening dress, I incorporated me-made leaf jewelry as a compliment to my outfit. The accessories I crafted to match are a further nod to the sneaky Pre-Raphaelite inspiration of my outfit besides being a very classical touch. More on this further down in the post!
A goddess gown is usually a one-shoulder dress that is made from a quality fabric that drapes gracefully, simple in lines and inspired by the togas of old. It is so effortless, so ageless in style, and it’s wonderfully flattering for all! I went with a sheer floral silk underlined with an opaque rayon for my version to turn my goddess gown dreamily feminine rather than just architectural, after the stylizations of Waterhouse and Rossetti. The bolero is like a condensed minuscule version of the printed silk, and turns the dress into a refined look, with a bit of added interest, while also not disturbing the aesthetic. My bright green jewelry and vintage green suede heels freshen up the tone, saving it from being too dark. However, the black background for both pieces to this outfit keeps it moody and somber, just like a Pre-Raphaelite painting. We happily tuned into that for the photo shoot location. What could be more melodramatic than old building ruins around a pond with giant lily pads (just like John William Waterhouse’s painting “Ophelia by the pond” from 1894) or gliding into a weeping willow tree at dusk?! I’m living a dream.
PATTERN: Butterick #5136, a year 2007 reprint of an original 1948 pattern
NOTIONS: lots of thread and one zipper
TIME TO COMPLETE: The dress took close to 30 hours to make, while the bolero only took 3 hours. Both were finished in October 2019.
THE INSIDES: The bolero is fully lined, so there are no seam allowances showing at all! The entire dress and its rayon lining (which is separate, free flowing) are both finished in French seams.
TOTAL COST: The silk on discount and was ordered direct from Hong Kong through a shop no longer in business. The rayon crepe and the poly lining for the bolero are as good as free as they were leftover from past projects and came out of my stash. The bolero fabric was free, but I had to pay the shipping. So, between the silk, the jewelry I made, and the shipping cost to the bolero fabric, my total cost was about $40.
Of course (knowing me) I slightly adapted the design (of the dress) to accommodate the border print of the silk, but other than that I made this entire outfit as-is out of the envelope…and it is to be highly recommended. Some vintage reprints have strange amounts of ease or finish different than the cover image, but not this one. It was indeed easy to make, as it says, too. It’s only because working with a silk or a rayon crepe is never easy that my version was more challenging. The bolero’s most challenging part was being precise with the stitching (and then trimming) the curvy seams around all the edges.
The one slight change I made to the dress can be seen when I walk away. I think the contrast panel train I added is a beautiful touch! I had to add a gored godet to the center back of my dress’ skirt because working with two yards of border print material wasn’t enough to go around the bottom hem. The one selvedge to the silk had the floral border I used along the hem while its opposite selvedge had a dense line of paisley ‘almonds’. I used this paisley along the other selvedge for the back skirt godet add-in, and drafted its godet point to start where the center back zipper ends and curve out past the hem to be a train.
The bodice was cut out of the material in front of the paisley selvedge where the underlying print is more spread out with only a few random bugs and flowers. I actually had to seam together several smaller pieces of rayon to make my remnants work for lining this dress, but as it is inside underneath the silk, the odd excess seams are unnoticeable. This was such close call of a project!
As it turned out, the heavy rayon lining sort of pulls the dress down on the one open-shouldered side, and I half think that adding boning as well an inner grosgrain ribbon waistband would’ve been a worthwhile idea to improve upon the bodice. It is just fine without such ‘improvements’ too, though. A structured bodice would bring this dress closer to the silhouette of a 1950s era dress and deviate the dress away from the soft, flowing overall appearance I was aiming for originally. It’s often good to leave what’s well enough alone. At least I did made sure to sew seam tape into my stitching along the top neck edge and into the dual skinny shoulder straps so these spots don’t stretch out of shape at all. As I’m my own garments’ maker, I’m naturally going to be hard on myself. I realize this much. Any small ‘faults’ cannot in the least make me love this outfit any less.
The bolero’s fabric was a happy find that just happened to match because, I’ll admit, it was only made as an afterthought. When first creating the dress, I discounted the hope of finishing a complete set as I had no idea what would be a good pairing. Would a solid color bolero overwhelm? Would a black one underwhelm? I was at a loss. What would remotely ‘match’ the printed silk enough to seamlessly blend in with the dress? Upon browsing the “Spool and Spindle” site after receiving my “Designin’ Designer” gift, I was looking through the Rifle Paper Co. fabrics (something nice I would never buy on my own). I happened to see a fabric print so similar to the silk goddess dress already made and jumped out of my seat. Serendipity had decided for me a matching bolero was on the table! Luckily, I only needed half of a yard for the bolero. Rifle Paper Co. fabrics are pricey and my certificate voucher just covered it. Yay! I loved putting my prize fabric towards a very special outfit like this.
Beautiful seams, amazing details, and clever construction are all packed into this little jacket. A backwards closing bolero comes across as very unusual to me, first of all. I added two shiny, faceted black buttons to close this behind my back neck with hand-stitched chain loops. The back opening lets the dress just barely peek from underneath. As if these features aren’t cool enough, there is that slight cowl neck front neckline fold, the front hem curve notch, and those perfectly curved cut-on cap sleeves which all totally vie for my “favorite garment feature ever” title! What makes this little jacket even better (if that’s possible) is the fact that it is slightly longer than most boleros, and actually comes down to the waistline, so it pairs with other things in my wardrobe, such as my black Burda pants (posted here)…among other things! Not that I ever wholly mind a one-way-to-wear-it outfit, but multi-use sewing is such a wonderful payback.
My handmade jewelry includes a full bracelet, earrings, and necklace set. The necklace is the main piece. It was two sets of enameled leaf ‘charms’ from the “Gilded Age Timeline by Bead Treasures”, a Hobby Lobby line of vintage and Steampunk inspired jewelry supplies. They were on deep clearance, probably due to having the date of 2013. Each pack made a chain of 7 inches, and I knew the base of my neck (measuring around tightly) is 15 inches…this would be a close call. The lobster clasp and loop closure, as well as the front ring that combines both leaf chains, added another 1 ½ inches so I ended up with a perfect length for a closely fitting necklace. The two leaf chains fan away from one another yet meet in the middle front and back of my neck, so my necklace ends up looking like a Grecian or Roman coronet.
In medieval imagery, a laurel leaves symbolize peace, tranquility, and the power of a promise. A simple internet search has shown me that 15 inch enameled leaf necklaces were not only existent but also popular, primarily in the 40’s and 50’s, so I was onto something era appropriate anyway, it seems!
As there weren’t any more of the necklace leaves to be had, I improvised to make something similar to complete the jewelry set. I chose green glass teardrop beads in the same deep but bright green color as the enameling on the necklace leaves. I made the bracelet and earrings reference the necklace by interweaving small metal leaf beads above each glass teardrop. I rather love the look of how this jewelry set turned out. There’s nothing quite like an outfit that is all handmade, excepting the shoes (and underwear), of course, ha!
This is a project into which I put a lot of thought and meaning, since not only have medieval subjects been a lifelong interest but I am also much more artistic on paper than I let on through this blog. Perhaps that’s what helped my outfit to be just as dreamy and romantic as the inspiration behind it, though. I could have expounded upon several points in detail but I reigned myself in to keep on topic! I only hope I conveyed some of my thoughts, inspiration, and construction notes in a clear and intriguing manner enough to maybe even interest you in finding a channel for your own goddess gown.
It really does take a lot of effort to come up with a completely me-made outfit and also make it look just like what was dreamed up in one’s own head. That is perhaps the hardest part to sewing up something based off an exciting idea…to have what you end up with be just as you had hoped. It doesn’t always happen that way for me, yet even still, I always make sure to be proud of what I made and even enjoy the surprises along the way. Not here, though – it’s all that and more! You know, the definition of a “reverie” – as used in my title – is “a pleasant state of abstracted meditation or fanciful musing; to be lost in a fantastic, visionary, or impractical idea.” I see that it is said reveries often never come to fruition, being often negatively labeled as only a daydream. Bah. Anyone who believes that has never sewn. To be able to swish and glide around in this 1940s set the same way as I had hoped to be able to as I saw it in my mind’s eye is a fantastic thing. Make that reverie work out in real life for you – it’s worth it!
There is something so relaxing to me about being near where I can hear the movement of water. Of course, as a city dweller I am never really that close to much water. Maybe that why I appreciate it so much whether it’s a local rambling creek, a man-made fountain jumping enticingly in the summertime, the beaches of Florida (of which I’m a big fan), or the one man-made ‘river’ we have traveling through the heart of south city. This ‘river’ was the perfect place to go relax, cool down, enjoy myself, and take a few pictures of my most recent sewing treat – a year 1951 dress with interesting seam lines, sewn using a true vintage rayon border print.
The flowers in the border print remind of some sort of tropical, lush beauties. I like what the color of pink does for my complexion so I wanted this to be on the bodice, which wraps around me in a U-shaped fashion due to the cross-diagonal seaming. Yet, the directional lines to the rest of the print first struck me as very animal-referenced, but maybe it is more like leaves on plant stems when I think differently. The animal/stems lend a very proper post-WWII preferred-silhouette of a slenderizing, long and skinny skirt.
Whatever it is printed there, this slightly tropical dress is my new perfect summer dress, which is very ironic. Usually rayon challis does not hold up well in our hot and steamy summers here – it sucks up too much moisture both from the air and off of me to become limp, wrinkly, and clingy. Thus, my splurging on myself to use a true vintage fabric was one of my best, yet very wary, idea for trying something new for summer. I don’t know what era this is from but it doesn’t wrinkle! It is also a denser weave, and quite tightly stable yet so cool to the touch. This is unlike any other modern rayon challis I have ever found. I prefer past styles over newer ones generally already, but now you mean to tell me that old fabrics are much better too?! I am glad to have this dress in my wardrobe and finally find out the benefits of old-style rayon.
FABRIC: a 100% rayon challis, with a remnant of a modern poly lining for the bodice facing
PATTERN: McCall #8376, year 1951
NOTIONS: I had everything I needed to make this on hand already – interfacing scraps, thread, bias tapes, buttons, and a vintage zipper from my Grandma’s stash.
TIME TO COMPLETE: Making this took me about 15 hours and it was finished on May 11, 2018.
THE INSIDES: This dress has a clean and complimentary interior in pink and blue tiny ¼ inch bias tape along all the raw edges.
TOTAL COST: Two yards cost me only $7…pretty awesome!
I felt extra pressure to be “perfect” with this make because of the vintage fabric I was using. I found it at a reasonable price, and it is in very good shape so I don’t feel as if I have to be more careful wearing my dress. No – the pressure came from my respect for vintage and my knowledge that I had no back-up fabric to buy more of if I messed up. Border prints are a specialty not to be found everywhere as it is, so finding a vintage fabric border print gave me even more of an expectation to find the right match of a pattern, too. I had plenty of inspiration to go on which you can see for yourself as well here at my “Border Prints” Pinterest board. The bodice of this earlier vintage year 1943 McCall’s pattern was my main inspiration, what I was going for with this year 1951 make. Here, as my dress turned out, the floral border was too loose, oversized and not directional enough to make the U-shaped bodice all that obvious, as I wanted. Oh well, it’s still just as pretty either way. On the back, the border print runs along the bottom of the bottom of the bodice where it joins to the skirt.
The sizing on this pattern was weird. Vintage McCall’s patterns are normally always so dependable, well instructed, with fine designs, and can be counted on to turn out great for me, but this one was one of the very few which I have found to run quite small. I even sized up just to have a safety cushion “in case”. Luckily, there were 5/8 inch seam allowances which I let out.
My dress’ pattern overall length also ran long, which I left as-is. I think the longer length is most elegant and very befitting to the transitional 1948 to 1952 period when hemlines were a length they had not been since the early to mid-1930s. A “several inches above the ankles” mid-calf length hemline like this now seems to be labelled as a “midi” dress nowadays. It can be awkward on some garment designs, and it seems especially weird from a wearer’s perspective looking down, but generally I think this length is very flattering. The triple pleats flaring out on each side of the center front skirt give a very gentle hip emphasis to keep the longer skirt from seeming like a straight pencil shape.
I’m guessing the major change I made to the dress pattern is pretty obvious already. I eliminated the full button-up front closing to instead have a bodice only half-button front (with a zipper in the side, as well). It wasn’t just because I was a tad lazy and didn’t want to do all those buttonholes and buttons. I really didn’t want extra busyness to the print and besides – I actually didn’t have enough fabric for a button front! Two yards was cutting it so close for this pattern…most of the tissue pieces were touching one another laid out on the fabric. As much as I LOVE pockets, I also had to leave them out for the same reasons as for adapting the skirt. Luckily I didn’t have to compromise anything else major (especially grainline!).
Eliminating a button placket is pretty easy for being such a visually evident modification to a design. Most patterns have a vertical line that marks out the center front, the ‘middle ground’ where the two sides lap over and under one another. It’s normally where the buttons would line up with the buttonholes. The center front line is the line I placed on the fold, so that I would have one, large continuous front piece. If you would ever like a seam line in place of a button placket instead, the center front would be the stitching line and a seam allowance would have to be added on. Many pattern adapting techniques are a lot easier than they look once they are done, and this change-up is no exception.
The minor alteration I made to the overall dress was to add some slight “sleeves”. Well, technically they’re not full sleeves, the shoulder line was merely extended slightly and the armscye adapted into a rectangle so that my arms would feel a bit more covered. My upper arms are on the larger side and this seemed to be a feminine dress, so since I had the little bit of extra fabric I would need to make the change, I made easy half-cap-sleeves onto the garment. This way I also used up every spare square inch of my lovely fabric, too, he he.
With the nice fabric I was using, I took my time with this dress to do only invisible hand work when top-stitching was needed. This was worth it! Finding the perfect color thread was not working out, and having a harsh, obvious stitching line was I felt not at all proper for this dress. I had stitched all along the neckline and buttoning fronts to tack down the facing underneath. This was the true test of how invisible yet regular I could make my needle do its job! Also, I hand stitched under to the wrong side the skinny bias tape edge finishing along the armholes. This was really quite challenging because there were sharp corners and right angles to the opening for the arms very much like another year 1951 dress I made before.
After all the attention I spent hand working on the bodice, I felt I would have been terribly remiss not to spend the same care on the rest – the bottom hem and the side zipper. I am so ‘sold’ on stitching on hand picked zippers (except when it comes to the ‘invisible’ kind). I discovered this ever since doing all the “labor of love” intensive work put into this 50’s dress. Such zipper installations turn out so much cleaner, and less bumpy than machine finished ones. They are less noticeable so that they blend in with the garment as much as possible (unless it’s an exposed zipper!). One can be so precise with getting a hand-picked zipper to turn out looking every bit as good as it’s intended, it’s worth the extra time every time I finish sewing one. A bonus on the side is that it gives my machine a break, anyways!
This dress is a continuance of a segment of vintage fashion I suddenly feel I don’t have enough of to wear. The early 1950s and late 40’s are my current fashion fascination in my sewing. I love the in-between periods when styles where trying to find the right balance of details and not quite looking like the stereotypical silhouette. One of my favorite ways of understanding history is to sew. As I do have a plethora of killer patterns from this time, look out for more of circa 1951 here on the blog (although I must say this is one of the best I think I have yet made from this time period!). How could I go wrong anyway with a wonderful vintage fabric…in a border print, to boot…sewn with my favorite vintage McCall’s patterns?!
I suppose I’ve been watching Wheel of Fortune, the game show of hidden words and phrases, to come up with this post title! It’s a “Before and After” line. No really, border prints are my newest fascination this year. When I’ve combined such a fabric with a wrap-on vintage dress pattern, my post title somewhat sums up the awesome result.
Of all the dresses I have made yet this year, this is the dress that is hands down my favorite – that’s saying a lot! It doesn’t sit in the closet for very long and gets worn almost every other week. It is the perfect balance for me between fun yet classy, professional yet casual, cheery yet uniquely subtle, and totally easy to dress in yet body complimentary. This dress is made with my ultimate favorite fabric –rayon challis – and although it is a wrap dress with no zipper, sewing it was still a very good challenge (which I love). It fits me so well and is comfy as all get out. I think that about covers all I could possibly want out of a dress!
FABRIC: a 100% rayon challis, with a small scrap of cotton for the neckline facing
PATTERN: Simplicity 5034, year 1963
NOTIONS: Nothing but thread and a little interfacing were needed, which I had on hand
TIME TO COMPLETE: My dress was finished on March 21, 2017, after about 7 hours of time spent on it.
THE INSIDES: I began by making all seams bias bound, but then I saw a few holes in the rayon so I lost heart to make extra effort on the insides and left the skirt seams raw and unfinished.
TOTAL COST: This border print rayon was bought as everything was on clear-out when Hancock Fabrics was going out of business. It was an awesome $2 a yard for about 3 yards – a total of about $6!
The fabric is mostly red, white, and navy blue making this my un-official Independence day dress for the “Colors of the Flag Challenge”, also known as the “4th of July Proud Dress Project”. That’s why I paired my red coral bead necklace (made by me, as well) with my comfy and lovely leather B. Makowsky red patent, 60’s style pointed flats. However, there are also small tinges of turquoise and golden yellow. Also, when you look at it, the print is really three leaved clovers, like the wild and neglected greens which grow in my country’s roadsides, cow-fields, and backyards (in our case). Now a plant that gets eaten, stomped on, and neglected has its time to look beautiful.
The border print was only printed along one selvedge, and it is just about the widest I have seen (about 20 inches deep). So out of all the inspiration images on my Pinterest board for border prints, I went with a basic layout of keeping the border along the hem and the sleeves. I also, went for a longer midi length to this dress just so I could use as much of the full border print as possible.
Now, for being from 1963 this doesn’t look like the conventional 60’s dress does it?! This is a tricky deceiver, again proving to me that the more I look at the early to mid-60’s, the stereotypical hippie style that this era is most known for was certainly not at all around until after the halfway point in the decade. Before 1966, the overall era is still strongly influenced by the 50’s.
This wrap-on dress pattern is also something I have had my eye on for the past two years before now. Finally, I can actually have a wearable garment from my long awaited pattern! It was one of those patterns I know I’m intending on buying, only it carries a price tag I’m not willing to accept. So then I wait and selectively stalk the internet every so often just to find one (finally) find at a steal of a price. I have a number of patterns that I’m doing this same ‘waiting game’ for, and I usually do end up finding an awesome deal eventually.
The actual sewing was quite easy, but the skirt waist pleats more than made up for that! More on that in a minute, because before that the bodice, it’s facing and sleeves, then the full skirt piece with its pockets had to be sewn together. The ‘side seams’ are not really on the side; they are off each side of the center front. A few inches next to those seams, the pockets get set in like somewhat like a cross between a welt and a button placket. With the skirt piece prepped, I now had one gi-normous rectangle to work with taking up my entire kitchen floor.
Now, I have seen a few versions made from this same pattern, and most of them were fails because of the pleats. I totally understand why! The waist pleats tested the limits of my sewing understanding, and were actually blowing my brain. This pattern is so ingeniously designed, but the most amazing details are so low key the dress only has an aura of classy simplicity. To sum things up, a handful of pleats get made first, then another percent of the pleats are made over the ones already made, while rest of the pleats get layered in a opposite direction over only a few of the existing pleats. I needed the skirt pattern laid out just under my fabric skirt so I could mirror the instructions because no amount of marking kept thing straight, and even still I barely made the pleats correctly.
At first, the tailoring seems haphazard with no rhyme or reason but once the skirt was on the dress it suddenly made sense. They were all carefully placed, after all – there are two darts at the skirt were it wraps under to keep things smooth, the biggest pleat layers are at the front hips to ‘hide’ the welt pockets, while the most basic pleating is at the back skirt wrap. What I cannot figure out yet is the pouf of the pleats seen on the cover – perhaps that ‘look’ comes with a petticoat or using a stiffer fabric?
There are a few details worth noting about this pattern, so that if you do snag your own version –and I recommend you do – you will be informed. First of all, the bodice is quite long compared to other 60’s era patterns. I realized that fact only after I was finished with the dress. It is really close enough to not be something causing me to unpick and re-sew or detract from my overall fit. As long as I keep decently good posture (which I should be doing anyway!) the waist is at a pretty good spot, but for my next version (Yes! It will be in cotton, too) I will shorten the bodice at the middle. The center front neckline, for as high as it already is on me, was actually lowered by about ½ inch. As much as I love a beautiful boat neckline, this is again something I am ok with as it is, but will slightly change and re-draft differently next time.
Finally, the V-back neckline does have the tendency to gape open and droop off the shoulders without some sort of small help. My immediate step was to add snap-closed lingerie straps at the tiny shoulder seams to hook onto my underwear. However I wanted another option not including anchoring the dress to my lingerie, so I sewed the tiniest size hook-and-eye that I had to the back neckline edges where they cross. The hook-and-eye was sewn just underneath and at an angle to the very edge to keep a natural, un-recognizably “tacked down” appearance to the back neckline, and they are just enough that I really don’t need to use the lingerie straps. Yay! Fitting crisis averted, style lines kept unaltered, and easy fixes found. Although this wrap dress hasn’t got a zipper, it does end up having a great fit I never thought possible with a garment that just is thrown and tied on!
This is a project that definitely made me ‘work’ in a good way for a final garment that I love and feel proud wearing. I would have never guessed a dressy house frock would have given me such a challenge but that is the awesome beauty of using vintage original patterns. They always have much more than meets the eye…you just have to dive into them to find what good surprises they have to offer.
Speaking of surprises, my dress doesn’t exactly have as much of an overlap to the wrap as I would have liked and it does sort of open up to a ‘surprise’ flash when the wind blows. Sometimes I safety pin the flap down, but most of the time I don’t…and then this can happen. I hope the secret message of this photo tells all!