“Retro Forward” Burda Style: Ruffled Halter Neck Sundress

I must confess, a sundress is something I very much enjoy making, especially when it comes to patterns with interesting details that challenge my sewing skills.

Fun, feminine, and perfect for scorching weather, the perfect sundress for me also lets my skin enjoy some air and sun…which is good for my spirits because I am by nature a warm weather-loving girl. My newest magazine from Burda Style, as well as a contest on their blog site and a “Sundress Sew-a-long”, enticed me to sew up one of their designs – a ruffled, halter neck, vintage inspired sundress.

100_5663a-compExcellent construction method laid out in the instructions, as well as a wonderful design, made sewing this sundress turn out as a satisfying success. The predominant details showing off are the ruffled and gathered elastic halter strap, the cut out and pleated bodice, and a full gathered skirt. The full lining of the inside makes for a clean and professional looking garment, not to mention being comfy on the skin. I’m very happy with my finished dress.


FABRIC:  The floral fabric for my dress is a very lightweight and sheer printed 100% cotton gauze. It is hard to see unless I am in the outside light, but the print has a dark navy background with white flowers and a very faint pink center spot in the flowers. My dress’ lining fabric for the entire upper bodice half is a basic but soft white bleached 100% cotton muslin. The skirt portion of the lining is a 100% polyester pongee cling-free fabric.

Burda Style Ruffled Halter Dress 4-2015 #111A line drawingNOTIONS:  All I needed was plenty of thread, some stay tape mesh ribbon, and a zipper. The interfacing was omitted. The zipper was the only notion bought.

PATTERN:  Burda Style Halter dress with Ruffles 04/2015, numbers 111B and 111A. The difference I can see between A and B are one is shorter, one is longer. I chose a skirt length between A and B for my dress.

THE INSIDES:  Almost all inside seams are covered by the lining. The only slight change I made to the original instructions was to cover the waist seam in bias tape instead of keeping it under the skirt lining.100_5540-compTIME TO COMPLETE:  In total, I spent 10 to 15 hours of “enjoyment” on my dress. It was finished on June 20, 2015.

TOTAL COST:  I got by with 1 5/8 yard of floral gauze fabric for my dress, and the muslin and pongee linings came from my stash. The floral gauze had been bought at a Hancock Fabrics store a month before intended for another different project, so it was kind of on hand as well. Anyway, in total my dress probably cost (for floral gauze fabric and a zipper) a total of $15 to $20.

My pattern had come from the April 2015 magazine issue (cover image at right below), but a downloadable version ofApril 2015 Burda Style magazine cover the halter neck sundress is also available on the Burda Style website. Either way, the Burda patterns (for those readers who don’t know) need some assembly and tracing before being ready for layout on your chosen fabric. A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a finished pattern prepped. This is the stage where I pick out my size, tracing out only the size I need to use, including any grading and adding seam allowances.

For this pattern, I actually went down a size in everything from the normal size I choose for myself from Burda Style. Looking at the model’s version, I noticed it looked a tad roomy on her. I wanted mine to be tailored more tightly as I am generally on the small size when it comes to fit. Going down in size really gave me the perfect fit, I believe. Take note – the pattern is also sized for petites. I did not change this but made it “as is” since I am right on the high end of the height limit for that category. In my mind, see this pattern as decently easy to grade out of a petite size, nevertheless. Whether wrong or right, I would have added the necessary height into two spots: the lower bodice bands and the upper bodice just under the bust. I am happy with the height proportions of the finished dress on myself and think anyone about 5 foot and 3 to 5 inches can get away with it being petite.

100_5681a-compThere were just a few slight things that I personalized to make my dress. I wanted to go with the feel of the soft cotton gauze fabric and have a dress that has an overall softer and easy theme to the way it wears on myself. Thus, as I briefly mentioned above, I eliminated the interfacing called for in the entire bodice. My sundress still holds its designed silhouette, but it just makes it more of what I exactly wanted to make. There is stay tape in the seams to keep the cotton in its original shape since I didn’t use interfacing. I also 100_5541-compadded a small self-drafted bias tape to support and finish off the left side edges where the zipper gets inserted. The self-fabric edge tape blends right into the rest of the dress and is barely noticeable, but gives me a tad more comfort by providing a little more room as well a peace of mind that the zipper seam will not tear the thin fabrics of my dress. Also, as I was working with half the amount of fabric as the pattern called for, I was able to cut all the other pattern pieces out correctly by cutting out the halter ruffle piece on the straight grain (vertically to the selvedge) rather than the bias. The ruffle gets gathered anyway, so I figured correctly that changing the grain line wouldn’t affect all that much. Finally, as there is so much gathering at the waistband, I do have an exposed seam there but it is nicely covered in bias tape. No major design changes or alterations to the style was done otherwise.

100_5660a-compBurda Style’s Ruffled Halter neck dress pattern is challenging enough to be good to sew without being hard enough to be frustrating or impossible. The bodice and ruffled strap just came together before my very eyes after just doing the first few parts (1, 2, and 3), as you can see in my pictures. I did get lost as the how the exactly finish off the ruffles’ edge, so I decided to just make a ¼ inch hem. Having the strap be a bias strip with a ruffle, and then adding elastic and gathering it too is very intriguing and creative to me. At first, I was afraid the strap was going to be uncomfortable, tight, or confining to wear, but – no, it’s not at all! Burda Style’s measurements for the elastic length in the strap is perfect to be taut but still comfy in my opinion.

Combo pic of the first few construction stepsThere are two looks to the halter neck sundress. If I have the elastic in the halter strap lay flat along my neck at the top of the shoulders, then the ruffle lays down, nice and tame. If I roll the elastic up so the halter strap lays up against the back of my neck, then the ruffle is frilly and perky, like a modern Elizabethan ruff.

100_5691-compOn the Burda Style page for the pattern, there is this summary, “This dress will turn heads when you walk into the room. It has a close fitting bustier with a full skirt with wide waistband, like the iconic Fifties silhouette. The most eye-catching trait is the wide riffled RetroForward badgehalter strap that hugs the neck.” This summary obviously fits this sundress into my “Retro Forward” blog post series. To me (and hubby), this sundress seems like a mix of several decades of vintage touched with a slight futuristic appeal. I have not been able to find a clear past trend for ruffled neckline that wrap around the neck, except for some briefly recurring fashions of this style in the 1960’s and 1970’s (see this dress and this pattern). The trend of summer swimsuits and sundresses with an under bust cutout can be found through the 1940’s and 1950’s. There is a modern counterpart pattern which reflects the design of my Burda ruffled halter sundress – see Simplicity 1371. It seems that the “midriff ventilation” trend was most popular and widely seen between the mid to post-war 1940’s into early to mid-1950 decade. See my inspiration collage of patterns and old advertisements below for examples. The full skirt trend was also popular in the 40’s (and 50’s too, as an option to the “wiggle” slim skirts of the era), as was the wide close fitting waistband and pleated bustier center front detail.

1947 Peck and Peck striped summer playsuit fashions advert & 1948 Pedigree Bathing Suits vintage catalog adHollywood 1778 yr1946 playsuit with cutout in front & Hollywood 1353 Pinafore dress yr1944

My new Burda Style sundress is ready and waiting for warmer days and special occasions. I did get to wear my dress so far to some uneventful occasions in our first heat of the summer. Behind me in the pictures of our photo shoot, you can see some beautiful pink/peach Italian Travertine rock that is part of a distinguishing building in our town, the Lindell bank. So often it has the nickname of being the “Art Bank” because of its beautiful and obviously large statues flanking the sides of the building. I love how the muted calming colors of the building and the peaceful, nature-themed statues offer a moment of calm to what is one of the busiest trafficked intersection in our area.100_5666a-comp

Come to think of it now, the “Art Bank” reminds me of my new halter neck sundress. In the way the “Art Bank” behind me in my pictures is a thing a beauty that calms in the midst of chaos, so my dress instantly brightens up my mood when I put it on, besides making me cool in the heat and proud to be wearing a style you don’t see elsewhere. I love being an individual and my sewing helps me silently proclaim this statement. What do your clothes say for you about you?

“Water for Elephants” Imitation Knot-Neck Halter Dress

elephant+vintage+GraphicsFairy006b     The thrill of the circus was a welcome distraction to lift the spirits of people of the 1930’s, who were so busy trying to eke out a living.  Television wasn’t around yet, and radio broadcasts were not a common mode of entertainment, either.  This is why so many stars and performers of big (and not so big) traveling circuses were real celebrities.  Oftentimes, a city would turn into a ghost town when a circus would visit since everyone flocked to see glamorous and strange sights, buy special candy treats, and watch exotic animals do unimaginable stunts.  The world was brought to their doorsteps.

However, all the glitz and mystery of a circus trying to survive in the year 1931 can also hide a dark reality, as addressed in Sara Gruen’s book “Water for Elephants”.  There was an adaptation of the book onto film in 2011, and, as I haven’t read the book, I know nothing of how close it is to it’s original story, but the movie was done well in my opinion.  Reese Witherspoon’s character wears the most fabulous early 30’s fashions, which inspired me to make my own version of one dress and plan on a few more.

100_1812THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  3 1/2 yards of crepe back satin from JoAnn’s, and 2 1/2 yards of black Pongee matte finish lining from Hancock Fabrics

NOTIONS:  I only had  to buy a matching spool of Mettler PolySheen thread and a zipper.  I already had on hand black thread (for the lining), black snaps, a hook and eye, and purple ribbon.  Almost forgot to mention that I bought the belt clasp/closure from the jewelry section at JoAnn’s

PANTONE CHALLENGE COLOR:  Acai puWater-For-Elephants-whitedressrple


PATTERN:  Simplicity 2580,  year 2009, view E done to look like year 1931, with this picture at far right being my inspiration

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Somewhere between 12 to 15 hours; it was finished on August 27, 2013

FIRST WORN:  out to take pictures for blog, then out to eat in the old waterfront area of downtown

WEAR AGAIN?  Definitely!  I can’t wait to find another reason to wear this elegant dress!

TOTAL COST:  about $25

In case you’re wondering, the color of my imitation dress was changed for some personal preference reasons: 1.)  I would never wear a white version, 2.)  it would be hard for us to take pictures of a satin dress in white, 3.) I love purple…all hues…it’s the color I go for without thinking, as hubby rolls his eyes and thinks, “purple again?”

100_1832     The major addition/change to the dress pattern are the large triangular godets that I added into the side seams to replicate the fullness and shape of the original movie dress.  I used the pattern piece for the godets from my precious Simplicity 75th anniversary #5876, made already last year (click here for pics and link). 5876 I made sure the godet points hit right at/under the hip line, but I wanted them low enough to give room for me to add a zipper (which you can kind of see in the picture above).  Measuring 3 1/2 inches down from the side tabs of the skirt pieces was the perfect meeting spot for the godet points, and boy did those tricky corners turn out well!  I know the movie dress actually has side godets that are shaped like an upside down U, probably so they hug the hips while pulling the dress in.   Figuring how to adapt for those U-shaped godets wasn’t worth wasting time not working on getting it done.  I LOVE how the side godets make my dress sweep out and flow around me when I walk.  It is the most feminine and fun feeling!

100_1817     Other than the godets, I really did no other changes to the design of Simplicity 2580; however, I did think outside the box in a few ways.  First of all, notice that Simplicity 2580 is dresses “designed for stretch knits only”.  Oh, whatever!  I simply went up a size to accommodate for the ‘no-stretch’ satin, and made some small fitting adjustments near the finishing point.  That’s why I added a zipper along the left side.  For the knot, I took both tie ends that are supposed lay down across the chest, and tied them both in a nice knot, as low to the bodice as I could, with the ties in pleats to create nice folds.  THEN I could tie the ties around my neck and look just like Marlena in “Water for Elephants”.images-close-up

The original movie dress has much better drape than my version – but I really believe she must have used fashion tape to keep from showing off a side peek of a little something.  I was willing to dip the back lower to get closer to the movie, but I was unwilling to deal with a dress that did not want to cover the front of my chest.  Just can’t win ’em all!

Simplicity 2580 was a great pattern to work with and surprisingly simple.  View E, the one I used, only had 4 pattern pieces.  If I do make this pattern again, and I hope to soon, it might not be made out of a knit.  I will give you my word of warning – it is an unsupported dress.  When 3/4 of the fabric of the dress is not part of the bodice you are set out for a possible problem.  I’m glad I discovered this on a woven.  Make sure to add seam web or interfacing or something along the edges and seams if this pattern is ever made out of a knit.

100_1854    The back of the dress has elastic sewn into the top (although it didn’t do too much gathering as it’s not a knit).  One of these days I might go ahead and have a cut at refashioning the back of this dress, reshaping it and taking out the unnecessary elastic.

You would be impressed looking at the insides and details of my dress (pic below).  The bodice has a self- fabric facing that lines and doubles up the bodice, covering up all of those seams especially the skirt/under bust seam.  Then I went to the trouble of a separate lining for the entire skirt.  Hand stitching tacks down the inside zipper edges to the lining.  I steamed and ironed the entire bodice -ties and everything- to avoid having to top stitch anywhere and ruin the smooth finished look.  This is the first garment I have made which I can be proud is finished well AND lacking in top-stitching, excepting the bodice seam where I stitched “in the ditch”.  I did so100_1915 much ironing on this dress in between sewing…I finally got hubby to iron the hem.

A good idea came to me when I added the hangar loops into to the sides.  The ribbon loops have snaps sewn on them, snapping down where the lining starts so they wrap around the sides of my strapless bra. Thus the ribbon loops have the dual duty of hanging and keeping my dress from drooping, while staying tucked away out of sight.

100_1913a     Ahh, don’t forget my belt!  I am proud of how I made things work in this case.  Selection is almost zero when it came to looking for a vintage or even Deco style belt/clasp style for my belt in a gold color.  Then, I happened to be looking for beads and ran across this beautiful, detailed clasp for bracelets.  It has a hinge type system that utilizes a strong magnet – very cool!

100_1796   The bracelet clasp only had 3 holes along the edges, so I treated it as a bracelet and strung clear stretchy cord through and around the 2 outer holes a few times, then tied it off, sealing it with nail polish.  Whatever pattern was upstairs nearby was the one I used to make my belt – it happened to come from a vintage Butterick #5281.  I sewed wide seam allowances so I would end up with a skinny belt.  Here, again, I ironed the belt in lieu of top stitching.  The belt ends were folded in, pulled through the stretchy elastic cord loops at the ends of the clasp, then both ends were tucked under and hand stitched in place.  Using the stretchy cord is the best thing ever, and I plan on doing a belt like this again – the way it gives when needed makes for a comfy and never confining belt.

My dress is hemmed so that, with heels on, the bottom back barely sweeps the ground.  The front skirt panel was hemmed up 6 inches, the back skirt panel was hemmed 3 inches, and the side godets slope in between the different lengths.  This dress didn’t seem formal enough for a train to follow behind me and pull the bodice down.

100_1884     Most of our photos were taken outside along an old railroad bridge.  I think it seems a bit connected to the movie;  their circus train was the only ‘home’ they had when they were always on the move, never able to settle down.  WATER FOR ELEPHANTS

Now that I have bored you with enough sewing construction chatter,  I will share with you a few really neat and thorough web links if you want to read some real, first-hand history of the circus in the 30’s.  You can even see pictures of the real Rosie the elephant, and read how she was the golf caddy for President Harding.  Here is “The Struggling Circus”, which focuses on Missouri facts, and here is “Awesome Stories”, which seems very documented.

There is a brief glimpse of the knot-neck halter dress in the “Water for Elephants” movie trailer, click here if you want to see it for yourself.

There are more pictures of the details of my dress on my Flickr site, Seam Racer, link here.  Since this is the kind of dress I hated to take off at the end of the night, we had fun taking plenty of pictures.  Look for more fashions from the movie coming soon to my blog!