A Space Age Fashion Classic for 1968

The year is 1968 – our eyes were aimed towards the sky with an impending trip to the moon, and everything that was formerly deemed out of the question was suddenly a reality.  I have already briefly addressed the history of 1968 that had its impact on fashion styles in a previous post, my tapestry corduroy dress.

I have made a dress that combines two classic styles of the space age: hounds tooth fabric and sleeveless color-blocked shift dresses.  Every woman was expected to look like Twiggy  in the late 60’s and A-line dresses promoted the current ideal – a streamlined, androgynous fashion forward image.  Hounds tooth check has been around since the 1880’s, but had a surge in popularity during the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s for women’s business and suit wear.

100_2682      My dress has a front crossover bodice yoke, with gentle notching at the neckline, a basic A-line shape, and a back zipper.  Simple and classy, this retro dress promises a great style that should make it a wardrobe staple this summer!  I like doing my best modern poses wearing this and pairing it with my favorite knock-off beehive hairstyles.

Our town’s Science Center provided the perfect backdrop to do the photo shoot pictures of my dress.  The giant building behind me is the called the Planetarium, displaying the history of space travel and showing the night sky on the ceiling inside on certain nights.  It is lit up in different colors at night and presents quite a landmark on the south city skyline.  The Planetarium just celebrated its 50th anniversary; it was built in 1963.

100_2672THE FACTS:

F100_2433ABRIC:  My hounds tooth fabric was found around the time of last year’s summer at a Goodwill resale store, bought for only $2.00.  The fabric is a polyester knit (I think) with it’s original ‘Woolsworth’ label on a corner.  It was a 2 yard cut, as the label says, and the price was listed as $2.00 as well.  I am estimating the age of this find to be anywhere between the 60’s to the 80’s.  The brown contrast fabric was also used to line parts of the dress’ inside and is also a polyester double knit.

PATTERN:  McCall’s 9230, year 1968McCall's_9230 envelope cover

NOTIONS:  A zipper, another spool of matching thread, and a pack of sewing machine needles.  For some strange reason, I went through 4 sewing needles to finish this dress.  Some needles broke at the thicker seams while others bent for no apparent reason…quite strange.  It’s not like the fabric was that tight and I’ve sewed with thicker stuff before.  My new tool, a “Jean-a-ma-jig”, was used to stitch the thick seams, and I really can’t praise it enough – I love this notion!  I could do beautifully even stitches up and down the fabric ditches.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finished on March 6, 2014 after only a handful of days’ sewing.  It probably took 8 to 10 hours from start to finish.

THE INSIDES:  They are neatly zig zag stitched…for now.  Read on to hear about what I hope to do to the inside seams in the future. 

FIRST WORN:  My dress was first worn on a busy Sunday, just a day after I was done.  First to Church, then out for lunch, then to a family member’s birthday party for dessert.  Later that evening we went out to take the pictures for this blog post.   

TOTAL COST: $10 or less

This project was easy-peasy to sew up.  I only glanced at the instructions and otherwise did not need to use them as the dress construction is pretty straightforward.  Using the back pattern piece, I drafted my own upper bodice panels to create a matching color-blocked look for the back, so my dress wouldn’t have everything going for it in the front only.  Other than adding the back upper bodice blocking, my only other personalized changes were to eliminate the facings and downsize the dress, as my pattern’s bust was 2 sizes too big for me.  Fitting an A-line dress is easy, though, because it’s just shaping the side seams.

100_2435   It was so weird but funny to see a very big, bold lettered ‘CAUTION!’ across the pattern tissue when I was laying it out on my fabric.  I have never yet seen this before.  The caution advises, “BEFORE YOU CUT, read about your new McCall’s pattern sizing”.  Goodness, is such an alarming tone and bold letters really necessary for a new sizing chart?!  Has anyone seen something like this on a pattern before?

There is a 22 inch center back zipper to make this dress a cinch to get in and out of.  I was tempted to eliminate the zipper completely because my fabrics are knits.  As the fabrics of my dress are stable knits and since I enjoy doing zippers, I opted for the boon of easy dressing and kept the back zipper.

100_2676a    This dress is secretly a fun pun.  Everywhere you see hounds tooth, the inside is lined in brown, and everywhere you see brown, the inside is lined in hounds tooth.  My original reason for doing this was merely a fun one – so I can fold down the crossover front bodice if I want and have the hounds tooth showing.  You can see this in the picture above.  While I was almost halfway into sewing my dress together, my hubby asked if I was making it reversible.  What a good idea!  If I hadn’t been so far along in construction, I would have taken the extra time to make my dress able to be worn inside and right side out.  I still can make the reversible idea work, but I think I will get around to touching up and cleaning up the seams at a future date.  I am considering using self-fabric binding or contrast bias tape to cover and add interest to the inside seams to make this dress reversible.  You can see the inside at the right picture. 100_2686

Taking in the sides of my dress threw off the shaping of the armholes and I’m proud at how well my free-handed cutting is shaped.  I actually trimmed the front armholes only and did it while the dress was on me so I could make sure I was cutting the right shape!  A total of about 1 1/2 inches was taken off the front armholes and curved into the back.

I decided against bulky armhole facings which would then need to be hand-sewn to the lining.  I wanted to keep in things simple.  So, using the brown knit, I made my own skinny bias facing to finish off the raw edges of the armholes.  The look and feel of this finish much better than facings – it was quicker, and more comfortable.  Plus, it’s better if I want my dress to be reversible, and, besides, it was my own personal touch.  As a side note, I was actually considering adding short sleeves to my dress and had even cut out two from both fabrics just to make them reversible, too.  After slipping the sleeves in place under the armhole when my dress was on me I really thought it took a lot away from the rest of the dress.  Besides, I never could decide which side – the hounds tooth or the brown – to have showing.

100_2644a     The back facings were the only real facings that I did on the inside of the dress.  I sewed them in a special way so that when I turned them right side out, they covered the shoulder seams.  When you sew the shoulder seams (the front and back together, with wrong sides out), sew the back facing to the shoulder seam and the neck from the side of the dress front.  I hope you can see what I mean in the picture at left where everything is pinned together.  Just be careful to not catch the inner neck corner, but stay close to the corner, because a little point or bump will result next to the shoulder seam otherwise when the facing gets turned inside.   megans-white-shift-dress1 combo

A Google search of the pattern I used and also ’60’s hounds tooth dresses’ showed me a plethora of vintage items proving to me the era-appropriateness of my new creation.  Among the images I found was this lovely hounds tooth suit MAD-MEN-CHRISTMAS-COMES-BUT-ONCE-A-YEAR-08dress (at far right) worn by the character of Megan Draper from the T.V. show Mad Men.  With my dress, I hope to channel the look and feel of her outfit, but amp it up a bit by making closer to the fresh and bold attitude of a white/orange/green color-blocked dress she wore in another episode (at right).  There is also another hounds tooth dressy suit worn by a blond haired Mad Men secretary in a 2008 episode.

Doin it 60s style pic for McCalls 9230    My Google searching also revealed a another seamstress’ wonderful version of the same dress pattern I used, McCall’s 9230.  She (see her Flickr pics here) seemed to be the first to recognize the fun color blocking potential of McCall’s 9230 as well as it’s similarity to Mad Men styles.  I was also happy to run across an old original ad/flyer for the McCall’s 9230.  Perhaps this picture (below left) came from out of the pattern books we look through inside fabric stores, I can’t seem to find out for sure.  Either way, this dress pattern and fabric design sure have more potential than I first realized.

Technically, this dress isn’t really much, but I sense that it hits a great balance of fabric, styling, historical correctness, and economical cost. It’s easy wearing and easy dressing, and I really enjoy it.  We had a lot of fun taking the pictures, too, and I hope that’s apparent.

Nothin’ like some lunar illumination to link the last 50 years together!

I will post more pictures soon on my Flickr page, Seam Racer.100_2667


“A” Is For “A-Line Dress” and “B” Is For “Bouffant Hairstyle”

This sewing project is my sun-shiny ‘never-give-up’ dress.  I persisted in finishing my yellow retro/modern dress when some unexpected, time consuming correction measures were needed on it.  Now I have a very cool and classic style to get me through the summer.  With the right hairstyle, I can definitely rock the 60’s era in my dress!

100_1391a     There was some great teamwork with my husband in order to repair my dress’ original sizing problems, maybe that’s also part of the reason why wearing it makes me happy.

Really, though, things just fell into place last year when I whipped up my dress.  The week before Sew Weekly had “Yellow Inspiration” my dad “happened” to find this 2 yd. cut of yellow, and I had a newly bought pattern perfect to fit my idea.

I literally cut it close (which I do too much) to make my chosen pattern work for the fabric.  With hardly any scraps leftover I had to cut correctly.  All the finished garment sizes led me to cut my first non-graded pattern, straight bust size only here.  Little did I suspect, there was a mistake waiting to happen.  After all, there are no real mistakes in sewing, merely design opportunities…right?!

So you, the reader can understand what’s going on, I will give you, without further adieu-

Simplicty1878THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  light yellow rayon ‘linen-look’ blend, in a 2 yd. cut (rayon ‘linen-look’ shreds like CRAZY when you sew or cut it, just an F.Y.I. even though it’s carefree to wash and wear)

NOTIONS:  had thread and interfacing; merely bought a zipper and 2 packs of bias tape

PATTERN:   Simplicity 1878, designed by Lisette, year 2012

TIME TO COMPLETE:  finished on August 5, 2012, after at least 8 hours of sewing;  then some more fitting sewing was done this April, 2013

FIRST WORN:  to the license office, to get my official picture taken for the renewal of my driver’s license

Lisette’s pattern is easy to put together and effortless to wear.  I would definitely recommend this pattern, just be ready to do some fitting on it perhaps.  It would probably also look great in a big bold print as the fabric.  I’ll list some of Simplicity 1878’s strong points:

1) The notched neckline adds such charming character to design of the dress.  It wasn’t that hard to do either.  I obsessed a little when I was sewing the front, worried about getting the two notches even with one another and the points sharp, but I am content with how well I met my own strict expectations.

2)  The top stitching detail over the front seams is fun and I think emphasizes the A-line shape.  Besides, it shows off all the extra stitching and seam lines.

Some of the front details can be seen in our close-up.

100_13943)  The sleeves are comfortable, not baggy bell shape nor a tight cap.  The longer sleeve version turned out an awkward bracelet length on me, so I just shortened them to above my elbows.  The sleeves also were a bit snug at first in my armpit and by my back shoulder blade, but sewing a smaller 3/8 seam gave me just enough room to move my arms comfortably.100_1386

4)  It’s so smart to have the dress shaped by two long darts in the back of the dress.  Those darts work better than ties and leave the front looking great with nothing to take away from the design.  Please pardon the wrinkles along the back – I hadn’t given my dress an ironing job across the darts.

Once the dress was done, I tried it on and – Oh no! – from the bottom of my bust-line down to below my hips it fit me like a tight bodysuit.  My punishment for not grading was all the extra seam ripping and re-sewing I had to do to my yellow dress.  I was so ready to bury it in my UFO pile but I actually felt badly doing that, and besides my husband came up with a great idea to extend the sides.

I unpicked both side seams of the dress up to 2 inches below the armhole seam (left that intact), then sewed tan single fold 1 in. bias tape down the whole length of the side seams.  The bias tape is about 3/8 over the dress’ side seams, then I sewed a second strip of bias tape inside so the raw edges aren’t showing and the side seams will be strong.  I hope what I said makes sense.  Either way, hubby’s idea was the perfect fix.  Now I have just enough room together with a not-too-eye-catching but still retro appearance.

Megan's Mad Men yellow dressYellow is a color I have never really liked on myself, however now I’m a convert.  I know many Sew Weekly participants felt the same way (a slight aversion) about yellow.  Personally I love the deep mustard yellow that Megan wears (see left picture) in the 100_1402TV series “Mad Men”.  I have yet to make a peplum skirt, top, or dress, but this project is on my wish list for future projects, as long as I make it out of a golden, mustard yellow fabric (preferably real linen, too).

I will say “see you later” with my favorite photo of my best 60’s look pose and a shot of my bouffant, which, while not my best, I’m proud of how close it is to Joan’s amazing pouf of hair (aka. “Mad Men”).


“Betty’s Style” Border Print 50’s Dress

My floral border print dress makes me feel a part of the “Mad Men” TV series and Audrey Hepburn era, with all the classy fashion that goes with these connotations.  I am especially proud at how I made the most of what I had with this dress.  It is a ‘franken-patterned’  creation so as to make the most of a small amount of border design fabric from my stash.  This pattern combo also makes a more manageable design to wear in our modern times while still remaining true to 1957 dresses.  I am very happy with how all my meticulous work paid off these past two years I’ve been dressmaking to have this project turn out just right – finally!


FABRIC:  a lightweight rayon (super soft with a slight mesh weave),with a stitched on border print, in only 2 yards…it’s been in my stash for so long I’m considering it free;  lavender cotton batiste for the dress’ lining, bought 1 3/4 yards for about $4 – the handful of scraps leftover of the lining fabric went to my “Heart Apron”..click here to see how I used them.

NOTIONS:  I had the thread I needed; only had to buy a 20 inch zipper ($1.50), 6 matte green squared buttons ($3), and 1/4 a yard of light blue cording (25 cents)

PATTERN:  a combo of Vintage Vogue #8789, year 1957, view B, for the bodice;  and Simplicity #2177 (from 2011), view A,  for the dress’ skirt

TIME TO COMPLETE:  first finished on July 28, 2012, after more than 10 hours of work;  then several more hours of alterations and final work was put into this dress in April 2013…yep, a two year project!

The reason why I think this project was chosen next was twofold: the fabric was so pretty and soft I would rather wear it than fold it and put it away, and also because I wanted an adventuresome project to further test my sewing skills.

I made a mistake – but small enough to recover – when I was cutting.  Mistakes are something I rarely do at the cutting stage because I know they waste fabric and can doom a project.  They are avoided at all cost!  I was doing my usual grading between the bust, waist, and hips while busy talking and thinking, when I realized I really only cut the front bodice in my bust size, which is too small for my waist.  Apparently talking and cutting do not intermingle well.  However, hubby thought of cutting the back with the extra width missing from the front piece.  This worked out great, but with only 2 yards to work with, this fix had to work…I didn’t have another fold to cut on!

All the darts in the bodice and the tucks in the skirt’s waist were (as usual for me) the most bother, especially since I was actually making two dresses, one for the lining and one as the ‘good’ dress.  Once I got past that part the rest of the dress went together quickly.  I hand sewed the cording loops for the buttons onto the front shoulder seams, then the lining and the ‘good’ dress were sewn together at the neck and shoulders, and the whole thing turned right sides out.  My neck and shoulder seams were all top-stitched down for reinforcement.  Wow!  Once I reached this point I was really impressed with the way the dress laid down nicely and the darts matched up almost perfectly with the waist tucks.

I had planned my dress with the zipper to be installed between the left side seam, differing from the Simplicity 2177 pattern.  This plan makes for a LOT less wiggling and contortions to get into this vintage dress.  When I sewed in the zipper the first time, I did a so-so job, since the teeth were showing too much with not enough fabric overlapping.  I wanted to fix it then, but this year I had the perfect excuse to unpick the zip and do it right as I needed to take in both sides several inches due to some weight loss.  Now I can say my dress looks professional.

The buttons were an unexpected happy match in the frosted mint green.  Hubby found them for me…two heads are better than one!  Nevertheless, this year I ended up sewing the button loops down, making them more or less non-functional.  I also recently added a hook and eye further in along the neckline just so I could get a straight boat neck (horsehair braid might have worked well, too, in hindsight), thus reducing any ‘showing off’ of my bra straps.

In the picture below, you can see the belt loops I added this week, made out of some leftover scraps of the border print.  This fabric’s border design is just so pretty but so subtle it’s almost a shame it so very hard to pick up true reality in our pictures 🙂

The best part about making this dress was the fact that I didn’t have to do ANY hemming.  You heard right, I cut the skirt bottom pieces on the selvedge so the edges were already nicely sealed, plus the border print was optimally left untouched. I think this occurrence of no need for hemming probably will rarely happen again in my sewing.  Boohoo!

In my photo shoot, I decided to go for the 1960s sleek French Twist hairstyle, complete with ribbon and vintage 60’s T-strap shoes.  This dress IS from ’57 (late in the decade), and besides my hairstyle is merely twisting back in a different direction instead of being piled up into a beehive (‘B-52’ as it was nicknamed) hairstyle.  Just the year before, in 1956, actress Grace Kelly made national headlines with her marriage into Monaco royalty, and the same french twist I did my hair into was popularized by Princess Grace herself right around those same years.

Below are two pictures for the sake of fun and comparison: One is Betty from the TV series ‘Mad Men” and the other is my own ‘brunette Kelly’ imitation.  My dress is her favorite perfect pastel colors, at least!

It’s a funny thing how I seem to get more looks from others with this ensemble than some of my modern dresses.  Everyone I have spoken to recently has said how much they love vintage.  It’s so great to know that while being in style according to history, we seamstresses can also be in style via 2013!  The best part is the fact that I saw a button shoulder top at K-Mart about a month later after I finished the dress last year.  Not that I bought it, but when I see styles in the stores after I have made the same thing, it makes me feel ahead of mass market trends…in vintage.  Ha!

Keep up the vintage sewing and go proudly wear what you make!