A Bold Upgrade to Your Modern T-Shirt Dress

Vintage styles are my preferred ‘look’, even for a comfy everyday outfit, but yet I do enjoy getting out of my comfort zone to sew up boldly individual fashions for myself in the styles of today.  I want to make sure I am in touch with today sufficiently to still enjoy modern designs here and there.  After all, although I do not follow ‘fads’, sometimes I can’t decide what decade I want to wear for the day and just want something that might remotely “fit in” for the 21st century!   Burda Style patterns are my preferred resource for my modern sewing.

This year I might just have a dress-down Mother’s Day in my newest Burda Style creation!  It is such a bright and fun version of the American favorite – the t-shirt dress – made in deluxe rayon jersey.  This is perfect for these quarantine times when I want to be put together without a lot of effort but still just as comfy as if I was still wearing pajamas.

THE FABRIC:

FABRIC:  100% rayon jersey knit, partially lined in poly power mesh

PATTERN:  Burda Style “Dress with Waist Yoke” #110 from December 2015

NOTIONS:  I just needed lots of thread and a small bit on interfacing.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was finished on May 6, 2020 and took me about 8 to 10 hours to make.

TOTAL COST:  I have no idea when or where or how long I’ve had this fabric, so let’s count this as a stash-busting winner and completely free, shall we?!

I have had my eye on this dress pattern ever since it came out, but had not yet come up with a way to highlight the fantastic seaming until now.  It was really a sudden revelation kind of idea.  You see, I have been going through my fabric and notions stash lately – taking account of what I have, what I might run low on, what I should put away, and what I will tackle.  All this is because of Covid-19 shortages of sewing supplies and the resulting impossibilities to shop in stores in person, but also a bit of “spring cleaning” is in my blood.  I am being as smart, sensible, and thrifty as I can lately!

So, in continual process of that organizational effort, I ran across this bright fuchsia rayon jersey and the navy striped rayon jersey both paired up together on the same bolt.  I didn’t realize they had been sitting out of my storage bins for so long.  Then, I suddenly thought of this Burda pattern, long forgotten in the back burner to my mind.  These two fabrics would be an unusual, experimental, and certainly eye-catching combo!  Never one to shy away from a risky project, as you can see, I just went with it.  Yes, I need crazy sewing projects to entertain me right now.

I do think this dress turned out quite well, much better than I expected.  However, I am not totally won over to a t-shirt dress, even when it’s this good.  I suppose I just need some time for this project to grow on me.  The jersey knit is so super soft and slinky – I am not used to how luxurious it feels.  Something this lightweight and weightless on my skin makes me forget what I have on…and that feels kinda wrong to a girl like me totally used to vintage fashions like the 1920s, 50’s, or even 40’s that demand a certain silhouette with the corresponding lingerie and dress padding for shaping that said silhouette.

To help me feel better about wearing this t-shirt dress and also use up my extra fabric, I did take some extra steps to make this both opaque and easier to sew.  I doubled up on the layers of all the dress pieces which have the fuchsia knit.  Rayon jersey is a super fine material and harder to sew than any silk, in my opinion.  It so very easily catches on even a small fray of my fingernails.  My first wearing of the dress created a few new snags.  This is just going to have to be part of the dress, but at least I didn’t mess up the fabric while sewing it.  One layer of jersey is quite sheer and hard to sew without creating holes (yes, even with a ball point needle).  Two layers of rayon jersey knit makes for a heavier weight dress but is much more manageable to turn into a design, more opaque to wear, and easier to place through my sewing machine.

I lined the navy striped knit panels in a nude colored power mesh.  Doubling up on this contrast fabric would only make the second ghost layer of stripes underneath appear weird.  The power mesh does an awesome job at helping to shape the most important, detailed sections – the bodice front and the left skirt flare.  There is an interesting panel under the top half of the side skirt flare to keep the skirt in its slim shape and prevent the pleated section from getting too overwhelming.  I really like the lining panel especially because it keeps the skirt from wrapping into between my legs (which can happen with any knit skirt which is full).

There is one piece that is not like the others, though.  The left waist panel I heavily supported with iron-on interfacing to keep all those gathers in check to the seams above and below it!  Luckily, this was just a small pattern piece because interfacing is almost impossible to come by today, right?!  However, I am very glad I chose to make this one piece stable.  Doing so helps define the design.  I am not exactly sure if a curved corner was what I was supposed to do instead of my very angled finishing but at least it matched up precisely to the other fuchsia skirt section over the center front (not an easy feat here!).   I rather like the angled corners because they match with the lines of the stripes.

I made the necklace myself, too! However, this is just one part to a full jewelry set I have made for a different outfit to be posted soon!

The pros and the cons of sewing this were about equal on the scales, I suppose.  Firstly, don’t forget – this was originally drafted in tall women’s sizing!  On the pattern tracing, I had to take out a horizontal swatch of two inches through the bust to make this work for me, but the jersey knit pulls the whole dress down with its weight so I could have taken out more still.  I did trace out the tall woman’s equivalent to my “normal” Burda size but ended up taking it in along the side seams by an inch or so because of the jersey knit super stretch as well.  The dress length I chose was originally in between the longest length option and the ‘short’ knee length option.  Again, the knit stretches and makes the dress longer than was expected, but I rather like the way it swishes around when I walk, so the length it is will be staying.  I left out the back zipper and opted for no closures as the knit is so stretchy.  There is no need for any hemming to the sleeves and the bottom skirt because this kind of knit does not fray.  Thus, in summary, choosing a knit for this design made certain parts easy (no zipper, no hemming) and other parts harder than necessary (cutting double pieces, adjusting the sizing).  You win some, you lose some, but as long as I have something so cute and wearable for my efforts my time was worth it.

The list of things I want to find time to make is already quite long and Burda Style just keeps coming out with super tempting releases lately to add to my list of sewing projects.  Their vintage reprints are especially enticing and in almost every issue recently.  I’m not complaining, but it does present a bit of a problem.  Anybody out there have ideas for an easy way to keep track of what patterns are in individual sewing magazines?  I have enough Burda magazines now that I need to figure out a way to organize the designs in them which I intend to sew.  I wish it was as easy to file them by garment category as it is my individual patterns in envelopes!   Any insight would be helpful.  In the meantime, I’ll just get back to my crazy quarantine sewing and cooped up cleaning efforts.  I may even do some of that in this post’s dress.  We’ll see.

Under Surveillance

I am never one to pass up an opportunity for what I sew to convey some understated irony.  The opposite of wrinkly is irony, after all (in case you haven’t heard that joke)!  In all seriousness, though – this post’s dress was perfect for a day traveling out in the middle of nowhere, on the edge of Death Valley.  I blend right in with my setting’s colors and am ‘under surveillance’ amidst the open scrub land in my boldly patterned knit version of a Rachel Comey designer piece.  My dress is paired with a casual, relaxed twist on the classic moto jacket for an outfit that accommodates the temperature swings of the desert in spring.

In 2014, Vogue Pattern Company released the pattern to her popular RTW item called the “Surveillance” dress.  It’s always so exciting when Vogue gives a home seamstress the ability to make her own ‘copy’ of a New York fashion item which sells for about $700 normally!!  Granted, I am in no way ‘up to date’ with things by finally getting around to sewing this six years later, but hey – better late to the game than never when it comes to personal fashion.  SO many times it is best to let my fabric and my patterns be paired up naturally as the inspiration strikes or as the setting feels right.  Forcing projects is often a recipe for later being unhappy with the outcome.

Making a jacket out of this lovely burgundy knit has been a long time coming as well, so everything about this outfit is something to be excited over.  As the wardrobe I chose for my travels out west was everything which would pair well with such a rich color, I finally dove into finding the right pattern for the burgundy knit and now have a new favorite versatile piece I dreamed of for years.  There never seems to be enough time in life for all the ideas and aspirations in my head and heart!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  For the dress – a cotton, rayon, and poly blend knit; For the jacket – a rayon and poly blend tiny ribbed knit, fully lined in a lightweight black poly interlock

PATTERNS:  Vogue #1406, a Rachel Comey dress pattern from 2014 together with Burda Style #105 jacket from March 2015

NOTIONS:  Just lots of thread, some cuts of interfacing, a few vintage buttons out of the stash I inherited from my Grandmother, and scraps of bias tape went into this ensemble!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The jacket took about 10 to 12 hours to make, and was finished on February 7, 2020; the dress was made in about 5 hours on January 30, 2020.

TOTAL COST:  As the fabrics for this whole outfit have been sitting in my stash for almost 10 years now (bought years ago at the now defunct Hancock Fabrics), I am counting these pieces as equal to free by this time!  Either way, I only needed 1 ½ yards for the jacket, and almost 3 yards for the dress (because I was working with a large scale repeated print) so I could not have paid all that much because I always found the best prices at Hancock!  My guess is no more than $30 in total.

Here’s how I cut out my pieces (single layer of fabric).

Now, for a designer pattern, Comey’s Surveillance dress has really simple but smart design lines.  The listings describe it as having an “asymmetrical neckline, hugging the body in just the right places, this fitted dress features a tailored bodice with clever tugs at the waist sides (gathers) for a flattering fit.”  I noticed that all the models in the RTW versions had no significant weight or body curves, so I surmised a close-fitting dress for their body type would not fit the same on me.  I made sure to go up one whole size than what the chart showed I needed, and I am glad I did so.  My sleeves were shortened because I like the versatility of ¾ length, and it made the sleeves easier to match with the striping on the dress, but otherwise no other changes were made to the design you see on the line drawing.

The original instructions call for very nice finishing techniques, such as cutting your own bias binding to finish the inner raw edges for the armscye and a fully lined body.  The detailed instructions are great because it gives a glimpse into how the expensive designer dresses are made.  Also, though, after you exhaust yourself doing such details, you may just realize that high end price is rather appropriate for the time, effort, and quality (RTW Surveillance dresses are silk) that goes into them…and they are made in the USA!

Now, I am not one to shy away from (or lack appreciation for) time-consuming ways of sewing high quality garments – goodness, I absolutely love spending ungodly amounts of hours to hand-sew suit coats!  However, my chosen fabric for this design was loose and much too relaxed to be highly tailored, so I stripped construction down to the bare bones here.  I eliminated the full body lining, facings, interfacing, and seam edge finishing (the knit does not ravel).  This made my dress only a 5 hour, ‘one-afternoon-sewing-binge’ kind of project.  As I had went up a size, and my material was stretchy knit, I left out the back zipper as the pattern called for, making this a pop-over dress for effortless dressing.  The center back skirt godet panel was also left out in my version and I merely drafted directly onto the dress itself.  This way the oversized print does not get broken up.

Even with the dress being simplified I had to think out of the box to accommodate supporting certain sections.  The one side of the neckline has a defined shoulder seam, which I supported with seam tape in with the stitching.  However the other shoulder – the one that wraps around from the back to come into the front at the neckline side that dips down – is one piece that drooped off my body.  To fix that I hand stitched down a strip of double fold, ½ inch wide bias tape to the inside across where the shoulder seam would have been.  Bias tape has just a tiny bit of give when it is double folded, but it is a pretty stable – yet simple – way for me to steady the one side of the upper neckline.  I also used double fold bias tape (the red is 1/4 inch wide) to stabilize the side seam and center back waistline gathers.

Can this dress still be in the shadow of New York’s high fashion or considered a designer knock-off when I have reduced it down to such a simple thing to make?  I almost feel badly, but hey – sewing my own clothes makes me a designer too, in my own right, so I am tickled deep down for finding my own unusual way of interpreting Comey’s design.  Even still, I do think that I stuck to her aesthetic, which is described as “combining thoughtful materials, bold prints, and modern silhouettes.”  That is the case with my knit which is a soft as a baby blanket, yet definitely bold, and certainly made into a modern body skimming fit. “Comey’s collections blend function, fashion, and form.  You will find designs that are sophisticated and cool, smart yet playful.”  I find that I made her Surveillance dress much more versatile with no closures needed in an easy-care knit.  My ‘downsizing’ of the details in no way brings this dress away from her trend of classy work-to-dinner-date wear so I’m happy to have a multi-purpose garment done my way!  With modern heels and chandelier earrings this would look so different.

My blazer is the opposite of the dress – it took more time, has finer details, and is not named designer pattern.  It is still a mix of casual and dressy.  It is fitted loosely, almost boxy, so there were none but two tiny bust darts to sew.  With the full body lining and soft knit this jacket feels as cozy as a sweatshirt but appears so much nicer!  The asymmetric closing has many differing ‘looks’ depending on how many (or if any) buttons I close, so it is closer to suiting in this respect, and a nice variant on the traditional moto jacket.

It does have suit jacket style, two-part sleeves for great mobility that doesn’t solely rely on the stretch of the knit.  I played upon the opportunity the seaming and moto style offered to use the other side of the fabric – the side with more of a black overtone and less of a twill finish as what is seen on the main body – for the underarm sleeve panels, collar, and insides of the revers.  For as bold as the dress is, I love the subtlety I added to the details of the jacket.  Choosing vintage leather buttons might not be the best in wash ability, but I liked how they standout without being too obnoxiously different.  As I said above, this is a set full of irony – yes, black, burgundy, and brown can complement one another and a moto jacket doesn’t always have to be in a stark biker style.

My outfit only has me chuffed to go along these lines even further.  As my second Rachel Comey dress, it is quite different from my first – this 40’s inspired Vogue #1209 pattern from 2010.  It will certainly not be my last, either.  I have several more patterns of her’s from Vogue in my cabinet, with fabric in my stash already picked out for them.  Also, I am itching to try another twist on the moto style jacket.  Burda Style has been really killing me with their amazing moto jacket designs over this past year.  Each one they release (and it has been many) has great features, so it will be hard to pick, but I will let the fabric “speak to me” to help decide things for next time.  One thing I do know is how easy it is to determine whether or not I am open to returning to the desert…the answer is a hearty YES!

“Minted Lime” Midi Flapper Dress

A modern Burda Style pattern has come through again to give me a great 1920’s style for everyday summer fun in the sun!  For some reason, this pattern company seems to have the best modern recreations of the flapper era (this bias cut beauty and this mock wrap dress are just two examples).  They are interesting designs that are practical and modern yet still so very similar to true vintage 1920s style.  I have not seen them popping up as much lately, but there are plenty yet to hit up over the years since I started sewing from Burda back in 2012.  So – let’s dive into a post about this oldie-but-goodie midi dress that I had made several years back but never remembered to post.

This is wonderful modern sundress has such a sneaky vintage twist.  An untrained eye could miss it.  The swirl-appropriate full gores on the side of the skirt makes this fun and easy to move in, contrasting to the straight overall lines which visually deceive the eye into hiding my hourglass figure.  Together with the longer length, here is a strong reference to late 20’s or early 30’s style that makes me feel so much taller and slimmer.  I can sense the carefree freedom and reckless spirit of the pre-Depression era wearing this!  However, better than a true vintage design, this one has pockets!!!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a cotton and rayon blend knit with a gold foil butterfly print

PATTERN:  Burda Style Burda Style “Midi Flapper Dress” #105A, from April 2015 (my ultimate favorite monthly pattern magazine issue ever!)

NOTIONS:  Nothing but thread and a bit of bias tape was needed – so simple!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This came together pretty quickly – about 3 hours.  It was finished on May 19, 2015.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound

TOTAL COST:  This did cost a bit because it calls for several yards, but I bought this on a good discount when the now defunct Hancock Fabrics, so I’m guessing $25 or under.

This dress was an interesting mix of opposites.  It seems so simple looking at the design lines yet was still tricky to make.  It was also an unexpected fabric hog for just a few odd shaped pattern pieces, and with most of all the over 3 yards disproportionately below the hips.  As I was using a knit fabric there was no need for closures and using bias tape instead of any facings made this much simpler than it could have been.  I did not have any problems with the construction or instructions, though, and it finished just as pictured, so I am quite pleased.  There is just one caveat to my being fully happy with how this turned out.

According to the Burda size chart, it was not a tall size but it sure seemed to be proportioned for someone with a longer torso.  I noticed the low waistline (compared to my body) and didn’t really think too much of it because of the 1920s influence to the style.  I mean, ‘waistlines’ at hip length were the trend back then.  Only by the time it was sewn up, the hips were not as loose as I expected, and even though I still love to wear my dress no less, I wish I would’ve raised the waistline now.  The front pockets do seem to be at a very handy height, so I don’t know…maybe everything is where it’s supposed to be.  I didn’t bother to let out the side seams to give myself more room because I liked the perfect points I achieved where the gores come in at the sides, and the straight seams in the body of the dress have more points (and pockets) so get this dress right the first time.

I love a good challenge and all the points were enjoyable details for me, yet I could see these being a pain for other people.  Just remember, every point needs good stabilizing before sewing, especially in a knit.  The squared off corners at the bottom of the sleeveless armholes are my favorite.  My runner up is the tricky corner at the bottom of the front pockets where the godets come into the front panel with a pleat.  1920s fashion was all about expert and creative mathematics in design lines, and this modern Burda dress stays true to the Art Deco era.

This dress post continues the series I began 9 months ago in our early fall season, the “Indian Summer of the Sundress”.  In 2018, we had a warm summer that extended longer than normal so took it as a reason to binge on sundress sewing.  Since that first post in the series I have begun showing a sundress from almost every decade of the 20th century (30’s here, 50’s here, and 60’s inspired here).  This modern Burda dress fills in for the 1920s decade plenty well enough.  The 40’s and 70’s are yet to come!

Revamp

It’s a new year, and there are another 360-something days to come of fresh memories, novel occasions, unexpected changes, and general happenings to be made for 2019.  In my experience, where we begin the year is normally quite interesting and different as compared to when it ends.  Thus, I thought it would be appropriate to start a new year of posting with a project similar to the way the world rolls from one year to the next…a refashion.  Every refashion is a new beginning for something from the past which is remembered in a different manner by the time it is reworked.  A refashion is a fresh start.

This particular refashion is quite basic and fancy at the same time.  It has been – and now continues to be – my basic “little black dress”, which now takes a very classic vintage spin from the basic modern piece it had been!  This is my fanciest refashion yet, I believe, as well as my most used.  It is comfier than it ever has been thanks to my re-vamp, and it is versatile enough for a funeral, wedding, night out, or fancy party (such as this!).  You name it, and in all probability this dress can step up for the occasion.  To think…all I did was use something I already had on hand!

Of course, the happenstance of finding matching material was the only reason this refashion was possible.  What I needed practically fell into my lap.  This good luck does not come around often!  When such an event does pop my life, I listen and act.  It’s these good chances that help let me know I’m on the right track, especially when they come without my trying too hard to make things happen.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  some sort is polyester knit, thick like a Ponte with limited stretch and more of an open mesh finish at close inspection

PATTERN:  the few skirt pieces I added were based off of a year 1948 vintage McCall’s #7226

TIME TO COMPLETE:  several hours were spent on one afternoon in the summer of 2017 to do this refashion

THE INSIDES:  The original dress was serged stitched (overlocked)…but even my new additional seams were finished to match

TOTAL COST:  $5 for one yard of new knit – the dress I’m counting as free!

The original dress was something that my mom had bought for me through a ready-to-wear catalog when I was in late teens.  I appreciated the fancy neckline and the dressy but forgiving fabric that washes, wears, and packs like a breeze.  She correctly figured that a “little black dress” was something I would find indispensable going into young adulthood.  Now that I am a full-fledged adult (and mother to boot!), these last few years I realized my favorite dress now longer fit me as well as I remembered, but I loved it nonetheless.  Thus, after coming across the perfect material, I took the ‘cue’ given me but still hesitantly cut it open and put it under my sewing machine to make it work for the “me” I am today.

Luckily, the bodice still fit so it was the only part of the dress (besides the armscye) that I left alone for my refashion.  It is an awesome, well-designed upper half, anyway, for being an affordable RTW item!  The square neckline was made with the pleated front middle that I have not seen the likes of again.  The whole bodice was double layered, fully lined in the same fabric as the rest of the dress, and ends at an empire height.  The skirt portion was an incredibly basic two piece skinny and short style which fit like a second skin, probably at least two sizes smaller than the bodice proportions.  I suppose having kids really makes ones hips fill out – I remember the dress fitting like a nice pencil skirt when I first had the dress!  The sleeves were also very basic and extremely small fitting for a ¾ length.

Firstly, the original skirt was cut off (keeping the bodice seam).  I needed – wanted – a skirt that actually sits at a waistline for my idea to work.  Thus, I drafted my own midsection panel to be the in-between connection to the bodice and skirt.  This way there is a defined middle which is more complimentary and classic than an empire dress.  The midsection is double thickness like the bodice, because it has to support a lot…this is a pull-on garment.  The dress is all knit so a zipper would only mess up the fabric, anyway.  I stitched everything in a zig-zag “lightening” stitch so everything wouldn’t pop – only stretch – putting this on.

Next, I cut a whole new skirt back half using my newly bought fabric from the most available vintage pattern…McCall’s #7226 happened to be out at the time so I used it.  It has the basic, common 1940s three-piece skirt rear which I wanted for my dress’ refashion because such a design provides wonderful booty room and hip shaping.  I re-used the original front half cut off of the dress and, after sewing the sides and hem, the new skirt was sewn to the bottom of the midsection.  Now the hem falls at my favorite just-below-the-knee length.  The skirt is the same length as on the original garment but between the better fit and added middle panel, it suddenly hangs better and has more swish in it.  Perhaps this can be a swing dance dress, too!

Finally, the sleeves were shortened.  The original ¾ sleeves were uncomfortably confining around the elbows and the length seemed weird compared to the rest of the dress in its partial refashioned stage.  However, to match the little bias edging along the pleated neck front, I added the same detail to finish the sleeve edges.  The sleeves were cut to end at the horizontal middle between the top of the midsection and the pleated front neck detail.  It’s my mathematical geekiness coming out, sorry!  The short sleeves really make this an all-season dress.

Accessories worn with this dress change literally every time I wear this, but for this picture I chose items I have from some of the people dearest to my heart.  My husband had given me the amazing vintage hat you see on my head last Christmas.  He picked it out from my very favorite vintage shop in town, which happens to be the same place my vintage Cordé handbag is from, as well.  My hat has the label of the esteemed Henri Bendel brand, a women’s accessories store based in New York City which was open between 1895 and 2018.  There is an amazing quality and design to this hat, but it also happily happens to be in pristine condition.  The rich red velvet wraps around, over, under, and through the hat so that it looks different but still lovely from each and every angle.  The thick, black wool is a wonderful contrast to the velvet, lending a richness to the whole hat.  Of course, I did a twisted, complex, fancy hair up-do to match the hat and help keep it on my head!  My necklace and silk scarf (filling in as my bracelet) are from my dearest Grandmother on my dad’s side.  My mom had bought me my earrings (black jet in the middle of a twisted gold rope) as a Christmas years back to match with this black dress.

I have had plans on my backburner of sewing projects to make Marvel’s Agent Carter’s Season Two deep purple dress.  It’s the one with the lattice detail at the neckline and sleeve hems that she wears to meet Dr. Wilkes at the nightclub for some dancing and a little undercover information.  The way this refashion has turned out, however, secretly yet strongly reminds me of that dress, and although it is not the same, just might fulfill my frequent “need” for yet another Agent Carter look-alike.  Do you see the similarity, too?

A refashion holds a memory of the past yet starts off with a fresh face and another beginning. A refashion makes the most of what we have and presents a challenge which is only an opportunity for us to shine.  I hope all of you have a fantastic year ahead, with good wishes for some awesome sewing, fun fashion, and creative enjoyment as well.  I have some exciting projects lined up for the next few months, not just for myself either, so I have a feeling my sewing skills and personal style will be taking an interesting turn this year.  You might not see it on my blog just yet, but I wanted to let you know that it’s there and I’m excited.  What are some of your inspirations and motivations for 2019?