The “80’s Secretary” Color Pop Dress

Usually when a modern pattern is made, one doesn’t sew it so it can look dated.  In this case, I think doing so does this pattern and my chosen fabric better justice.  Besides, it’s the perfect opportunity to make the most of a frizzy, uber-curly hair day for a total 80’s look!


I used my shoes to help the highlight color in my fabric “pop” – is it coral, or is it an orange tone or just something in between?  Whatever it is, it’s fun!  This was a project that was such a totally good surprise, one I didn’t see coming until it was finished.  You see, I was on the fence about this fabric when I bought it, hubby was plain out negative, but the fiber content won me over to buying it because it’s my favorite blend.  The blend of pima and modal in a knit is so soft and luxurious.   I was doubtful about the pattern, too, but somehow the combo of the design and the fabric, or maybe just the way I laid it out, turned out a winning dress in the end.  This is my favorite go-to winter dress…not only do I feel awesome in this but it is also so cozy warm!

THE FACTS:                                                                                             

FABRIC:  A pima cotton and a rayon modal half and half percent knit.  The lining knit is a sheer lightweight polyester leftover from this 1940 suit set meant to add warmth and prevent the fashion fabric from clinging too much.Simplicity #1716, line drawing, year 2012,combo

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed – thread, seam tape, and elastic

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1716, year 2012

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was finished on February 15, 2016, after about 8 hours to make.

THE INSIDES:  Neither the cotton/rayon fashion knit nor the poly lining fray, so the raw edges are left basic and, well, raw.

TOTAL COST:  This cost just under $15

Ever since sewing my first knit top with a twisted neckline detail, my 1935 blouse, I’ve been on a quest to find the right design that I am perfectly pleased with.  Then, I tried Simplicity #1613, but that turned out o.k., not fabulous like I’d hoped.  Now, this Simplicity #1716 rocks my boat and is my perfect twisted neckline detail top, even if I did go and turn it into a dress.  Third times a charm, I guess.


I am very happy with the pattern.  The design is great and turned out exactly as shown.  The clear, concise instructions made a tricky and semi-complicated detail easy to accomplish.  The neckline was just enough of a challenge to be satisfying, too.  It is so very important to be precise here, I think, for this neckline to turn out well.  All those markings are important in the end, and even though it was hard to find and sew in certain spots, by exercising patience (with some venting of non-child appropriate words) I was able to somehow gather and stitch in certain seemingly non-stitchable spots.  My double layered fabric was the limit of what this neckline design can handle, and I think thinner, non-bulky fabrics are ideal to make this easiest to sew, I think.

For the rest of the dress, I went up a size.  I’m glad I did for I think this pattern runs small and I didn’t want a body suit sort of fit.  To turn a tunic into a dress, I added about 12 inches to the bottom.  I kept that extra foot of skirt rather straight and slim, just how I wanted it.


The longest sleeves are a weird bracelet length – in between ¾ length and a full long sleeve.  I added on plenty of extra inches to end up with a long, long sleeve, much like the sleeves on this Burda dress.  My sleeves reach down to my knuckles.  This was on purpose because I like how the draping fabric bunches up around my wrist, but the sleeves are skinny so the extra fabric does look bulky.  The fabric is stretchy enough that I can still push them up to ¾ length easily.  My only complaint is that the shoulder seam is very short and doesn’t reach to where it should.  I didn’t think to check this ahead of time because the shoulder seam is a spot that I rarely have issues with for fit.  However, the generous upper sleeves and stretchy fabric makes the shoulder tops still fit and the busy print hides the ‘fault’.  Add on an extra inch or two to the length of the shoulder seam coming from the neck if you make this…just an f.y.i!


The print, to me, is like a hybrid cross between a hounds tooth and stripes.  It’s like somebody was either scatterbrained, or went psychedelic, or perhaps was just plain inspired when they designed the fabric print.  It changes design slightly every 12 inches or so in a rectangular block.  Something in the back of my head led me to line up those design changes in the print at the main body points – bust, hips, and knees.  I think this is what made this outfit work!  It was my way to make this tube-style dress body be even more complimentary!

Speaking on complimentary, I cut the semi-diagonal chest/neckline panels on the cross-grain direction to highlight this feature, otherwise it would have been lost in the print.  I think this touch makes it look like more of a wrap-and-pulled down sort of neckline.  You sort of make an open cowl neck turtle, and then the diagonal panels coming DSC_0013,p-comp,wout of the front armholes extend out and over the cowl neck, get tucked in, gathered and stitched down.  This neckline keeps my neck and chest warm without being completely covered up.

My post’s title comes from hubby’s summary of the overall “look” that strikes him with this dress.  He said it reminds him of 1980’s era business attire.  I took it to the next level and thought “secretary” in my mind.  There is the traditional winter’s black in the print after all, with enough ‘pop’ to break the ‘boring’ category and keep it on trend.  To match as our background, we chose a late Mid-Century Modern office building that is a landmark in our town (which unfortunately needs rescuing).

This dress is another one of those projects that reminds me why I sew.  I can make exactly what I want to wear as well as something that caters to my needs.  The ultimate perk is DSC_0030a-comp,wthat this dress, and most of what I make, makes me feel like the best kind of me when I wear it.  Not that I need this dress or any specific clothing to be myself, but many people who only have ready-to-wear hate the way the way they look and feel about themselves in what they have on.  It seems to affect how often they go out and what their persona is out in public.  This is why there are “makeover” programs like the newest one I’ve seen, “What Not to Wear”.  A half of an episode was all I could stand to watch…I was yelling at the television.  The people on the show just don’t get it.  There is nothing more empowering than being self-sufficient, capable, and creative enough to sew, choose, and make what you or others wear.  It’s like artwork you can put on, and have others see the real you!  Sewing rocks!

Putting a Vintage Wiggle into a “New Look”

New Look 6045 cover photo     I have owned the New Look #6045 pattern since it came out three years ago, and I have always adored it, waiting for the right circumstances and fabric to come along.  This past year’s Fall season provided me with the time and opportunity to finally whip up my fun and versatile version of the pattern.

We chose a modern outdoor sculpture in front of The Marianist Art Gallery as the photo shoot location.  I enjoy seeing how the modern art brings out the fashion forward vintage appeal which I intended to combine in my draped neck dress.

My dress has already seen much wear, and that is always a good sign!  The luxurious feel of the fabrics used, the ease of care, and the perfect weight of my dress make this my go to frock when I want to look nice and get dressed up easily during the transition weather of Spring and Fall.  I’ll add a nice sweater if it’s chilly out and I’m ready to go!  Another big bonus with this dress is all the color matching opportunities…they provide endless possibilities.  Every time I wear my dress, I seem to find some more items (shoes, tights, jewelry, sweaters) to co-ordinate together with my dress.  Please notice the necklace I’m wearing…I made it myself of sterling silver findings and Garnet gemstone chips.



FABRIC:  My dress’ fabric is a super-soft brushed 100% polyester, which has the look and feel of being a rayon challis (that tricky imitation poly!).  I or my hubby found it in the “Spot the Dot” super clearance section of Hancock Fabrics store.  It has a beautiful blend of colors: a mustard golden yellow, peacock turquoise, burgundy red, light aqua, dark brown, and a grey taupe.  For the lining, I chose a fine 100% Bemberg rayon, in a dark dusty blue color.  The Bemberg rayon was something I happened to find when searching for a matching lining at Hancock, too.

6045line drawingPATTERN:  New Look #6045, year 2011, View B dress except with the longer elbow length sleeves of View A

NOTIONS:  I needed the normal notion, a long 20-something inch zipper for the center back, but this time I also bought matching thread and a washer from the hardware store (I’ll explain later in my post).  I had just enough bias tape on hand, as well.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finished on October 8, 2013, after 10 to 12 hours of work (enjoyment) time.

THE INSIDES:  Every seam, except the armhole/shoulder seams, are covered in either matching bias tape or nice seams.  The armhole/shoulder seam was left raw with only zig zag stitching along the edges, to keep this area pliable and willing to give a little…making it more comfy.  I did this same thing to the shoulder /armhole seams of my 1940’s Bow-Neck Satin Dance dress (link here); raw edges, stabilized with some stitching, make for a more comfy seam when I can’t do French seams.

TOTAL COST:  I really don’t remember any more;  I do think the total was under $15.

For this pattern, aside from adding length to the hem, I actually did everything as-is without any personal touches or changes to the design. Quite unusual for me, but I figured, why mess with a good thing?  That was reason number one for making no personal changes. Besides, reason number two was a pretty strong reason as well.  My sewing machine, a wonderful Singer older than me, went into “intensive care surgery” at the repair shop right after I started putting my New Look dress together.  I really wanted to finish my dress project and not be stuck with no sewing to do (a seamstress’ nightmare!) so used my backup sewing machine.  I wasn’t sure of what it was capable of and it seems rather picky, needing a more delicate treatment than what my Singer receives.  Thus, having a nice straightforward pattern was perfect for my needs at that time.  I made lemonade out of lemons, though, by focusing on what things my backup machine could do differently from my normal machine.  I always try to use every sewing project as an opportunity to try and learn something new.


The draped neck is no doubt the highlight of this dress – it was my favorite part to sew as well.  The upper front bodice pattern has the drape as being one piece with the neckline, so it made for an interesting shaped piece.  Looking at many dresses from the 1930’s, when the draped neck styles were a big thing, it seems like the drape has always been the same design: an extension of the neckline so it is a sort of self-facing by falling inside.   Some other patterns have a very big drape with an inner cowl facing sewn on as a separate piece.  With further research I discovered that there are several different shapes that can create a draped neckline, and there are even a few Threads magazine articles (such as in the January 2014 issue, page 22) which shows you how to transform any pattern into a draped neck design.  The pattern of this New Look 6045 dress is designed to involve pleats at the sides (where the shoulder seams are – see picture above) to manipulate the fabric at the neck.  This way it does not solely rely on the “true” drape of one solid piece of fabric or a certain bias of the fabric.  No matter how the draped look is achieved, regardless, that name still applies.  I hope to create more draped neck fashions now that I know how much I enjoyed sewing and wearing such a style.

100_2154     There was a trick of the trade, so to speak, which helped immensely to create a wonderfully successful draped neckline – an inner weight!  (See the picture at right of my dress turned inside out.)  I first saw this method used on a 1930’s evening gown which was highlighted on the back cover as the “Up Close” feature of the March 2013, issue #165, Threads magazine.  Page 28 and 29 inside show the details of the dress, highlighting the different bias cuts of the dress and showing pictures of a small weight, covered in matching fabric, to keep to cowl drape hanging well and in place.  Have you seen Vogue 1374?  It is a 1930’s style gown, designed by Badgley Mischka, with a giant draped cowl on the back of the dress.  Anyway, this pattern calls for a nickel (yes, money) to be sewn into a tiny tab at the inner center on the back drape, so it gets gently weighted 100_2156down in place.  For my dress, I went to the hardware store an picked out a washer, cut out a circle of the flowered fabric twice the size of the washer, did a running stitch around it, then pulled it in to gather it around the washer.  I tucked the raw edges in and stitched the center closed through the center of the washer.  However, as the washer would no doubt rust if it went through the wash with my dress, I merely used a safety pin to keep the washer in place at the center inside of my draped neck.  (see the left picture)  I am so very happy with this technique!  Every time I see a draped neck item in a store, I always check and say, “I thought so!  No drape weight.  People don’t know what they’re missing.”

The fit of the sizes given for the dress seem to me to be pretty much right on.  You wouldn’t want this dress to be too baggy or roomy at all, anyway, because then the neckline wouldn’t look like a drape as much and the overall effect of the style would not be achieved.  The model on the cover of the envelope has her dress with a little more ease than the way my version fits, and I intended on making mine with a bit more extra room.  I’m o.k. with how mine fits…it makes it more appealing to my husband…but I can’t eat a very large filling meal when I’m wearing this wiggle-style dress.


The sleeves are the one thing that I knew for sure would fit me exactly since I already used them (in a shortened length) on a creation I made a while back, my Green Plaid Cotton Dress.  New Look 6045 is one of the rare patterns which I found for me to NOT have restricted reach room or skimpy sizing when it comes to making a sleeve which is actually easy to move in while wearing.  The sleeve pattern is actually very nicely roomy and well shaped (I think), especially for someone like me that has thicker upper arms.  Has anyone noticed any other additional New Look patterns having roomier sleeves than what “The Big 4” patterns seem to offer? 100_2159

Ah yes, I saved the best for almost last!  This dress has on it my first, and so far my only, blind hem.  Since I was using my backup machine, it only meant reading the manual and adjusting the dials for me to have access to doing a blind hem.  Now that I am sewing on my standby Singer, I get…’lazy’, as I call it…and never feel like dragging out my backup machine and setting it up just for that reason even though I have thought of adding a blind hem to more garments than this one dress.  As beautiful as the blind hem turned out at the bottom of my New Look wiggle dress I should get the gumption to do this sewing method again.  With this dress, I figured it would be easy (and it was) to try out the blind hem mostly because the bottom hem is not full, thus the length of what I sewed was not over-much.  The majority of the work was the measuring and pinning of the hem differently than the normal ways to which I’ve become accustomed.  Whoever thought of this type of stitch and hem was a genius – or maybe just an engineer.  Either way, I found it so cool how the stitches just disappear discreetly into the fabric when the hem gets pulled into place.  I love to add special touches to everything I make.


Just a few more details on the dress deserve mentioning.  My back zip was sewn in a different, more conventional, industry-type of style.  I usually install my zippers in my very own distinct personal style, which is more tight, sturdy, and invisible.  Again, however, as I am sewing with a different machine, I went ahead and used the zipper foot that was available and made the zipper with a large, more open fold just like you see in store bought clothes.  I like the finished look of the zipper placket, and it certainly is different among my creations, but I don’t expect to do a zipper like this again. (I might, but I’m just sayin’…)  The bottom hem of the sleeves also have some special, but tiny, detail – a tiny notch at the inside seam point.  I don’t see a strong utilitarian need for this tiny vent, and i was slightly miffed at the extra time and trouble it took to finish.  Doing those notches did indeed teach me an excellent method for clean finished cuff ends with a slit; I used my knowledge learned to do the sleeve ends of my 1946 Red Wool Suit Dress in a better way.  Finally, notice the kick pleat slit at the back.  If the pattern hadn’t had this type of slit in the design I probably would’ve added it myself because kick pleat slits are so much more decent while providing no less ease of movement.  This dress is hot enough (he, he), I don’t need it to have a racy view all the way up my thighs.

My strong suspicion that the New Look pattern had a definite vintage flair was finally verified just a week after I completed my dress.  I was so surprised to see an almost exactly designed dress worn on a young girl friend of the handsome Ronnie Burns during a Burns and Allen T.V. show.  It can be seen on “The June Wedding” episode, aired on June 16, 1958.  Again, as always, the Burns and Allen T.V. Show has given me Jane & Roger cropsome inspiring fashion ideas and style validations for the decade of the 50’s.  It says something about the dress design for it to be good enough to be worn on screen to one of the top rated T.V. shows of the 50’s, and worn by a pretty and “modern” University of California young woman.

Interestingly enough, after some further Google image browsing for 50’s/60’s draped neck dresses, I noticed yet another similar outfit worn by the character of Jane in the T.V. series Mad Men.  I love how her dress (see picture below) has a similar groovy, swirling type of modern floral as the fabric’s pattern.  Her dress, though, has a draped cowl neck going on in the front and the back – so cool!

Butterick 8307 50s draped cowl back cocktail dress          Just prior to this post I found a pattern for sale that also reminded me of my dress, as well as the two other dresses referred to in Mad Men and The Burns and Allen T.V. show.  The pattern I saw (the  picture at right) is a vintage 1957 Butterick 8307 with a wiggle cocktail shape and a draped cowl neck along the back.  (See this pattern’s wiki page here)  There are so many more versions of this style of neckline than I had realized before!

I wonder how ‘original’ the dress can be for 2011, as is supposed to be a “Project Runway” creation.  Hmmm.  Whether or not the design idea was borrowed from sources such as what I’ve pointed out, I love the finished result.  I see it as an overlooked vintage style dress that makes me feel so fashionable and good looking, if I must say so myself!

Find more hidden vintage-inspired details in modern fashion for yourself and help bring back those classic styles with your own sewing!


Be Ever Green!

What is red without green for the Christmas holiday?  It sounds like a really good duo all broken up.  I made sure the two colors of the holidays were brought together by my current sewing.

My previous post, my 1946 dress, documented a red wool dress for wearing to my holiday functions, but actually I made a deep green knit dress a few weeks beforehand.  This green knit cowl neck dress became my actual Christmas day party dress.  I was the girl in green, with green legs, too, and gold sparkle shoes and necklace.  Making a little bit of a modern look to match my red vintage dress gave me one more good reason to anticipate getting snazzed up!

This dress pattern is a definite winner, with some interesting details and different shaping.  Just pick a solid color that you love and find a fabric that drapes nicely, and you can’t go wrong with Butterick #5523 for wintertime sewing.


FABRIC:  a 100% cotton double knit fabric in a deep ‘forest’ green jewel tone, having a cut of just over 2 yards (60 inch width);  my lining fabric was a polyester “active” jersey knit, in a deep navy blue, leftover from lining my burnout knit 4th of July dress (link here)

NOTIONS:  none needed; I had the buttons, elastic, and necessary thread

PATTERN:  Butterick 5523, year 2010

TIME TO COMPLETE:  somewhere between 10 to 12 hours is my estimate;  it was finished on December 6, 2013 

THE INSIDES:  as the ends don’t fray and were quite thick with the lining, I merely zig zagged the ends.  Not the best finish, I know, but o.k. enough to make me happy

TOTAL COST: around $12;  the green knit, the lining knit, and the buttons were bought about 3 years ago, with the knit being divided between 2 projects (so far).  It’s hard to estimate price at this point, so let’s consider it almost free.

As I just mentioned,  this dress project is a 3 year UFO that is finally finished, after languishing uncut and in the “idea” stage on my shelf.  Even two different cards of buttons, just to let me make up my mind as it was done, were kept with the pattern and fabrics. Another project off a long list of things I’ve been wanting to make is always very relieving!

This dress was relatively easy to put together, with the many pleats across the waist of the skirt and the pleats on the sleeve caps taking up a fair amount of time and skill.  The sizing was pretty much right on as well.  There is an elastic casing made from sewing down the seam allowance at the empire waist (something I haven’t done before).  As a winter dress, it has an interesting cowl-type neckline, which can be changed to twist up the look, but needs some hand stitching time to be finished.  I will explain more about these design elements later.  Firstly, however, I was on the lookout for B5523’s “personality flaws”, mentioned by many others who have also blogged about making their own version of this dress.  I wanted to make sure to fix several quirks while my dress was still at the pattern stage.

One big tricky feature of this pattern is the bracelet length sleeves (i.e. like a slightly high water long sleeve), which are cleverly hidden by the envelope cover model.  She has her sleeves pushed up, like they are long wrist length originally, and even the pattern envelope back sadly lies and mentions ‘long sleeves’.  If you are making this dress and that sleeve length is o.k. for you, then leave this pattern piece as is.  Otherwise, be forewarned you will have to do what I did – use the pattern piece from a sleeve that you like so you can cut B5523 according to a length that you want: long, short or 3/4th.  I opted for a long sleeve, and sewed it in tighter because I thought the appearance of a skinny sleeve matched well with the rest of the dress.

The combination of my personal taste and large upper arms dictates the fact that I like nicely fitting shoulder seams in garments I wear, whether made by me or not.  Sometimes I fail a bit in reaching this area of fitting perfection, but drooping shoulders are something I (and others as well, I’m sure) cannot stand.  This dress pattern has a very droopy shoulder seam, especially at the top where the shoulder seam joins the sleeve cap. The droopy shoulder can be seen looking very closely at the envelope picture and a few finished dresses seen on Google Images, as well as read about on a few bloggers’ reviews.

My easy fix to remedy such a problem, was to first put the bodice front pattern piece up against myself and estimate how much needs to be taken off (considering in seam allowances, of course) so the sleeve ends up fitting naturally around my arm/shoulder joint.  I folded in the top shoulder corner facing the sleeve on the bodice front pattern piece, smoothing it into a straight line down to the triangular tab (see my picture).  The shoulder area of the sleeve was left alone since several bloggers complained of too much poufiness around the sleeve top below the box pleat.  Sure enough, my configurations worked out great – the shoulder seam ends at the right spot around my arm.  The sleeve cap pleat also is looking great from being pulled in farther across the point of my shoulder so the fullness opens up right at my biceps’ width.  Knits make fitting so much easier, but I regard this dress as one of my project that reached a sleeve/shoulder fitting perfection.

Check out my picture above closely and you should be able to see how I raised the neckline at the center so it doesn’t dip quite so low to be revealing.  My neckline became more of a U, instead of a curved V, and just this new shape, raising the center up 1 1/2 inches, made a BIG (but good) difference.

I wished I had bought a bit more fabric than the pattern calls for to accommodate all my changes listed so far.  As I didn’t have this advantage, some changes I wanted to make had to get “cut short”, literally.  The overall length (neck down to hem) of this dress was a bit short for my preference and for many others, from what I have read by other bloggers.  My dress’ hem could only be extended 1 extra inch, on account of my fabric amount.  Other ladies lengthened their versions 3 or so inches, and I almost wish I could have done that, too.  I sewed on 1/2 inch bias tape, in a matching green, along the bottom raw edge, then turned this inside so I would not loose much length as compared to a regular 2 times sewn under hem.  Anyway, a shorter hem on this cowl neck dress seems to go well with the flare of all the darts in the skirt portion – I think this dress’ design can look a bit frumpy with the wrong fabric drape or length.

Speaking of length, the bodice portion of this B5523 doesn’t seem to give much room for women who are, let’s say, ‘well endowed’.  So, if that phrase includes you, or if you simply do not like empire waists, remember to add length to the bottom of the front bodice and extend the top half down lower.

I don’t know how much of a difference it makes, but some ladies recommended doing box pleats (link here) for all the pleats.  The pattern only calls for box pleats for the two center front and two center back pleats, along with the one at the top of the sleeve cap.  It seems this dress pattern has been used to make some very nice looking maternity wear, and I was afraid the pleats were indeed a possible root cause to this appearance.  However, I did follow the pattern’s instructions, and, apart from being a bit paranoid this dress makes me look fat, I really don’t think the pleats are all that bad.

Doing the cowl neck was fun and interesting.  Several others who also made this dress had some really good ideas of how to customize the cowl neck.  What I basically understood is that if one wants the large, oversized funnel-neck type of style that can be folded down, than hand sew the inside of the cowl neck evenly matched up with all neckline darts.  Otherwise, if you want your cowl neck to look more like a scarf, fashionably draped around the neckline of this dress, then slightly twist the inside seam so that the darts and center back seam do not match and are off in one direction or the other.  My finished dress is done in the first “oversized funnel-neck” method I mentioned, with all the seams matched up.  I always fuss with the neckline too much, and am not completely happy with how it lays, making me wish I had done the “twisted up” method instead.  However, I think the problem is really me…I don’t have and don’t wear cowl neck clothes and this design is just something new to me.  In the end, I really do like the neckline of my dress because it not only presents a nice frame for the face, but it also keeps my neck warm!

If you noticed a darker green color at the darts, back tab, and cowl neck, I can explain.  (If you didn’t notice before, I guess you do now.)  My dress had gone to a trip through the wash, and dryer as well, but the opportunity for a photo shoot arose before the fabric was completely dry.  So the dark spots are the damp parts, and with the several inches of snow that were on the ground outside, I was feeling the cold breeze, to be sure.  You’d never guess it, though, right? 

The part of this dress that really makes it all the more green is something other than the color.  My buttons chosen to be sewn down to the back tab are actually 100% recycled plastic.  Yes – great isn’t it!?!  Who knew!  The buttons look like a sort of stone or marble, and are a beautiful, creamy, off-white color.

By the way, is it just me or is the mention of cutting interfacing for the back tab completely missing until you get to the middle of the assembly instruction?  I think it is missing, at least early enough to help.  I didn’t bother with interfacing…I do all my cutting at one time and that’s that, except for special reasons.  The tab is fine without interfacing, and I very much like what it adds to the back of the dress as far as style and interest.  About half of other peoples’ finished versions of this dress were lacking the back tab, and also the waistband elastic.  “To each his own” as the phrase goes; they can make their clothes how they like.  For myself, I found the waistband elastic gathering complimentary, while the back tab gave me the opportunity to show of my love for buttons and all things green.

See – being green is not just for the holiday season.  It’s always in season!  Be ever green.