A 1958 Happy Ending Horror in Knit

As pretty as this dress might seem at sight, this beast was a nightmare to make.  Luckily there is at least a happy conclusion!  I do love wearing this – it totally feels like the best of a classic dress (in a vintage design no less) which is comfortable, feminine, handy (with the pockets), and oh-so flattering!  This is a faux asymmetric wrap dress reissue, first released by Burda Style in January 1958, very applicable and wearable for today.

I did have a different plan for how I intended this dress to turn out for this project but I felt it was best to listen to the fabric and leave what’s well enough alone!  I’ll admit that a good part of the problems I encountered here were because of my choice of fabric.  I hate the fickleness and frustrating delicacy of an all-cotton knit!  But that can’t take all the blame.  You see, I find Burda Style’s vintage designs to be quite problematic and almost always an exhausting near disaster that requires much fine tuning and the outlook of possible tragedy acceptance to turn into a success.  It’s not so much the fault of the garment design lines…I find the problem is mostly with the patterns’ ill assembly and poor sizing.  This is why I stupidly keep using Burda’s vintage designs – because in the end they do turn out a wonderful vintage garment with a modern, timeless feel!

A 1950s Dior-style flower, made by me as well from fabric leftovers of the lining, was sewn onto a clip and became both my matching accessory and color contrast.  My prized vintage style leather Miz Mooz heels tie in the retro feel and provide a neutral tan.  However, the blooming rhododendron bushes (behind me) at our towns botanical gardens sure made me realize that blue is more of a neutral color than I thought.  It pairs well with all the colors of spring!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  dusty blue 100% cotton knit for the outside, and polyester interlock to line the inside

PATTERN:  Burda Style #122, “Retro Style Dress” a 1958 design from January 2018

NOTIONS:  All I needed was thread and a zipper, both of which were on hand

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My dress took me about 30 hours, which is twice the time it takes me for a “normal” dress.  It was finished on April 20, 2018

THE INSIDES:  All raw edges are completely covered by the second skin interlock lining inside!

TOTAL COST:  Taking into account that the fabrics for my dress have been in my stockpile for maybe up to 15 years now, I’m counting this project as a free, no-cost, stash-busting success!

Now, as for any Burda Style pattern, printing and/or tracing is necessary to have a usable pattern to lay on your desired fabric.  My pattern was came from the monthly magazine issue, using a roll of sheer medical paper to trace the pieces out from the insert sheet, but if you buy from the online store, you download, print, and assemble the PDF file you receive first.  It’s at this preliminary step that I pick out my chosen size and add in your choice of seam allowance width (I normally add in 5/8 inch allowance), but others do this directly on the fabric as they are cutting out.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide attached helps immensely for adding on the seam allowance easily.  Sorry to repeat something you might already know, but this is just an “FYI” for those that don’t.  Now, prepare yourself for unbridled criticism in the form of a sewist’s horror story.

When I was making this dress, there were so many inconsistencies with the balance marks not fitting quite right and little areas everywhere that needed stretching in the ease just to have everything match up.  I do not necessarily think this was due to faults from my tracing out of the pattern either – I am usually so very precise about being ‘perfect’ at the preliminary stages to a project.  These pattern irregularities make me definitively say that this needs to be made with a knit.  I’m not talking about one with a high spandex content or one that is super drapey.  The model garment is I believe made using a wool jersey.  I can see a quality scuba knit even working out well here.  Either way, I would recommend choosing something with a nice body and a stable give to its stretch for this dress to be a success.  A knit will be more forgiving to the inadequacies of the pattern’s assembly, yet it also needs to be a material that will help this lovely dress keep it wonderful 50’s design.

However, the most glaring and sad shortcoming of the pattern was the way the waist length of the un-pleated asymmetric bodice front was several inches too short to connect to the skirt or even match with the bodice back.  I am mystified at what happened here and want to blame the pattern but at the same time I cannot positively rule out that it was an error on my part.  Either way, I was stuck to adding on a panel swatch to lengthen the waist.  There was no more fabric leftover for another bodice piece to be cut, so an awkward add-on was my only bet to save this dress project.  I do not think it is really that noticeable, although I have called it to your attention now!  It kind of looks like a mock belt to me, anyway, and half of that bodice is tucked under the overlapping one after all.  All I can say is watch out for that spot on this pattern if you try it for yourself.

The mock wrap to the bodice is further unconventional in the way that the left is over the right for my dress.  This is the tricky part about asymmetric fashions there is a very precise right side up to the pattern pieces.  In order for them to specifically be for the left or for the right side they have to be cut with a foresight that justifies the puzzle that asymmetric fashions are.  I traced out the patterns as they were on the insert sheet and assumed they were giving them to me with all the right sides up…not so!  The bodice fronts actually are traced out wrong side up.  Do not put too much faith in a pattern but always think things through for yourself.  That said, I myself am not perfect, and have been struggling with some ill heath lately, so I was not at the top of my game going into this.  Only when I was too far along assembling this dress did I realize how my asymmetric front was oppositely convoluted.  At that point, I felt it was more important to have the pleated half as the top layer of the mock wrap bodice.  I reconciled myself with the fact that this would be a uniquely individual garment, and as long as it turned out I would be happy with the right and left side traditional closing being off.

As if these last problems weren’t enough, I had a mishap with the fabric and was forced to turn my dress into short elbow length sleeves.  I originally intended on the full quarter length as shown, but there was an inkling in the back of my mind that I might not like them.  As traced from the pattern, the sleeves were actually quite longer than quarter length – more of a bracelet length, reaching just a few inches above my wrist.  I felt that such sleeves might overwhelm the dress and make it seem more like a winter garment (it was released in January 1958). However I wanted a transitional cool weather spring dress.  Well, the dress made up my mind for me.

You see, I do not get along with all cotton content knit.  Sure I have several success stories with it in the past (here and here for only two examples).  Yet every single time I use it, I hate it.  I think this blue knit is about the last of its kind in my stash (there’s one more), and when it’s finally gone I should celebrate.  I use the right needles that I should be using (ball tip, for jersey knits), and in the past I have tried every other kind of needle just as a test, and I still get the same sad results.  This fabric for me is a no-mistakes allowed fabric because wherever there is a stitch made, there will be a hole leftover if that stitching is taken out.  It says together decently enough when stitched as long as those stitches are left alone, but even too much stress on a seam and things will get ugly because cotton knit gets runs in it just like pantyhose!  Has anyone else run into these problems with all cotton knit?  Surely I am not unique with this.

Anyway, I had particularly bad hole, leftover from an unpicking attempt, start unravelling the fabric in one of the sleeves a few inches down from where the underarm gussets end.  Well, I had to laugh.  I had been struggling with this dress enough, and still had the entire lining to sew at this point.  I wasn’t sold on the full length sleeves in the first place.  The best fix was to go with my gut and make them short sleeves, like I thought!  I love the length of this sleeve and must say I think it does wonders for the overall shape of the dress.  The sloping shoulders and the gussets are a tad confining, anyway, so the short sleeves make this dress much easier to move your arms in, too!

I did not really make any major or unnecessary changes to the design, except those done to save the dress from ruin.  After all the troubles I had come across, I kept the skirt simple and opted for no back walking vent.  Such a feature would not really work with a knit fabric anyway.  Having a one piece skinny tapered skirt really amps up the curvy silhouette to this dress, after all!  I am not one for popular, stereotypical pin-up styles, but the no-slit skirt is I feel as small nod to those fashions.  I have no trouble walking in it without the leg vent, as the knit is a bit forgiving anyway.  There is a very wide 4 ½ inch hem at the skirt bottom to make as long as you see it on my 5 foot 3 inch frame.

The front skirt details were the most successful and relatively easy part of the whole dress.  Granted the pockets did not fit together very well when I lined up the skirt over the side hip panel.  Big surprise!  But the mismatching pockets actually helped the hip section of the dress to pouf out properly, which in turn disguises how roomy those pockets actually are.  I have already made a dress from the previous decade (one of my Agent Carter 40’s fashions) which had a very similar side front hip pocket style so this must have been a popular feature in the middle 20th century.  I not surprised.  Since when can you have a dressy dress that actually has very useful pockets that are part of the smart design lines?!  Just remember, with this kind of skirt you cannot have a tight fit because not only would that pull open the pockets, but it would ruin the important element of that design feature.  The skirt front is meant to complement the waist by exaggerating the hips (as the 1950s were wont to do) in conjunction with softening the shoulder line by using kimono sleeves and underarm gussets.

One last note that is neither bad nor good – the waist to this dress is quite high.  I didn’t see it on the model until after I realized it on myself.  The high waist on my body is about 2 inches below from the dress’ waist seam, and it looks to be about the same for the model dress from Burda Style, too.  This is kind of odd, and I don’t think that lowering the waistline no more than a few inches would hurt the overall design.  In same breath, I also would like to say that much as I’m not crazy about the higher waist seam, I actually think it does this dress good.  Many 1950s dresses or tops with kimono sleeves have them so deeply cut that they are supposed to taper right into the bodice at a high waist (such as on this dress of mine), thereby shortening and widening the top half of the female body (image wise, granted) and overemphasizing the hips by not just padding, pleats or what not, but also by starting at a high hipline. Even though the 1950s were heavy on the body mage crafting, especially when it came to employing torturous undergarments to achieve that idealized shaping, the general silhouette can still work well today on many body types.  Accepting and embracing our womanly curves and shaping with fashions that delicately, thoughtfully compliment them (such as this dress) is empowerment at its best.  It is the 1950s finding its modern freedom of re-interpretation.

When I was planning out what fabrics to use for this dress I had these grand plans to add cut-out floral designs to the bodice and skirt hem of the dress.  These designs would have been in the style of the amazing Alabama Chanin – see what I mean here.  This is the primary reason why I used my lovely peach remnant of interlock as the lining.  I expected the peach lining to show through when I would cut away the dusty blue top layer.  I do enjoy how the little bit of peach peeks out from the seam edges along the pocket tops and bodice wrap neckline!  It’s like a sneaky peek hint of the time I spent to make the inside just as pretty as the out, besides being a fun and unexpected color combo.

After the dress was done, I sort of like the chic simplicity of the design as it is.  Is has a refreshing appeal that can be made a bit more casual or dressed up with the right accessories, and a clear asymmetric design that would be detracted from with any other added business going on.  Besides – the way the fabric frays and comes apart I was definitely not doing any unnecessary cutting!  My dress was done, it was lovely, it fit me and I saved it from way too many near disasters.  Most importantly my sewing sanity was still intact.  I’m smart enough to know when to stop with the ideas…most of the time!

I do hope I haven’t scared you off from trying this pattern for yourself.  Rather, I would hope this post might be regarded as equipping you to succeed if you try the pattern.  The 1950’s are indeed at decade of lovely fashions, and I think this dress is a really easy way to wear a truly vintage look without appearing to be in a retro style.  It’s like vintage blending in with the modern world, and this is the styles I love to find.  Our fashion of today is often lost and misdirected in the whirl of four seasons a year of new fads, new ideas, and attempts at creativity.  Sometimes we just have to slow down, look around back to where we came from and let those smart fashions been seen right in front of us, where they have been all along…in the past classic styles which have never gone out of season, never needed updating.

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