“Retro Forward” Burda Style – a Vintage Inspired Novelty Knit Dress

Waffles aren’t just for breakfast anymore!  Silly me, you probably knew that.  However, I’ll bet you didn’t know there was such a thing as a waffle knit fabric.  Plain, flat surface knit isn’t the only option in my mind anymore, and this opens up a whole new world of fashion ideas to me.

This dress, made from a novelty, reversible (yes!) textured knit, is sewn using a modern Burda Style pattern with strong features of 1960s and 70’s fashion.  Thus it is part of my ongoing blog series, “Retro Forward with Burda Style”.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a polyester blend knit bought from my local JoAnn’s Fabric store

PATTERN:  Burda Style #116, from February 2014, “Dress with Buttoned Back” view B, or “Jackie Dress” view A.  (Both views look the same to me, by the way!)

NOTIONS:  Nothing but thread, some cotton scraps, and some buttons and snaps were needed and I had all of that on hand already.  Yay!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was made in about 8 hours and finished on October 15, 2015.

THE INSIDES:  As this knit is a polyester and it is a dense weave, it does not fray so the innards are left raw.  Hey – even the dress hem is left raw and unfinished!

TOTAL COST:  I don’t clearly remember, but I believe it was between $15 to $20.

When you look around at it, novelty knit fabric is ah-mazing, especially this waffle version, which is totally reversible, too (in a “photo film negative” sort of way), making it all the more open to crazy fun possibilities.  Novelty knits hold a certain balance that amazes me about modern fabrics – they keep their surface quality while still having a forgiving stretch which still acts like a normal knit, with a “memory” to go back to its original texture.  From what I have seen in my research, I have realized modern knitwear has been around since the 1920’s, but it seems as if novelty manufactured knits exploded into the designer fashion scene beginning with the end of rationing after WWII (in the 1950s), and have been out there ever since.  Look at this 1950 “blistered” textured knit dress from the great Claire McCardell, or this 50’s puckered knit wiggle dress for two examples of how a solid color becomes so interesting with this kind of fabric.  Then, after the 50’s, avant-garde fabrics (made of plastics, paper, and metal, to name just a few) were popular in the late 60’s and in the 70’s, so I feel this unusual fabric especially suits a design of that era.  After all, the pattern is called a “Jackie” dress, and as Burda calls it a “classic” design (which I really don’t agree with), I would like to think they are referring to the Presidential fashion inspiration for the 1960’s, Jackie Kennedy-Onassis.

This was really an easy-to-make dress that is so versatile and comfortable.  I found the sizing right on, and the instructions very good. Now, as for any Burda Style pattern, printing and/or tracing is necessary to have a usable pattern to lay on your desired fabric.  My pattern was traced from the downloaded and assembled PDF bought at the online store but if you have a magazine issue, use a roll of medical paper to trace your pieces from the insert sheet.  It’s at this preliminary step that you pick out your proper size and add in your choice of seam allowance width.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a finished pattern prepped.  Sorry to repeat something you might already know, but this is just an “FYI” for those that don’t.

I did not make any changes to the design, but I did take advantage of it by using both sides of the reversible fabric.  The main body of the dress is in the side that has more grey than white undertones, while the belt which is sew-in to the front shaping tucks was made from the side which is mostly white.  I love how using the other side of the fabric for the belt helps it blend into the dress without getting lost over it at the same time.  I kept the dress a little on the shorter side, and I think it looks better that way…it also gives me a reason to wear fun colored tights in the winter!  Looking back on it, however, I now wish I would have left out the center back, between-the-shoulders, vertical closing because when this dress is sewn out of a knit it is not necessary.  I could have sewn a basic center back seam rather than making a proper placket with fake, sewn on, non-working buttons as I have.  It looks good in the end, so I shouldn’t complain.

I am proud and happy with the way I figured out how to interface the back placket and back belt after all.  I have seen but never tried the interfacing fabric stores sell that is labeled for knits – it is a lightweight tricot mesh with an iron on adhesive back.  I do not see how this would help much or even really work well.  A good knit dress needs certain areas to be non-stretchy, and this is what true interfacing should do.  However, anything iron-on can rip off a knit if stretched too much, and a thick facing would not look good.  Thus, I used a basic 100% cotton broadcloth and basted it in place of the interfacing with some stitching, and have it inside the waist belt straps.  This works wonders to let the back facing and belt be pliable without stretching and be stabilized without undue bulky thickness, besides being an easy, on-hand solution to something that could have been more complicated.  Basic cotton bias tape was used to finish off the neckline edge, as well.  The cotton tape, though on the bias, is not all that forgiving – it is primarily stable in character – which is what I needed to keep the wide V-neckline from losing its shape.  Cotton woven fabric used as interfacing or a stabilizer for stretchy knit fabrics is a match made in heaven and one of the best tips I have discovered!

I’d say the trickiest part to the whole dress was the back belting.  Now, it wasn’t hard to do.  It was just fiddly and required my being precise with matching up the alignment of where the belt straps came into the bodice tucks.  I did lower the belt pieces slightly by about 5/8 inch so they would land just above my natural high waist rather than be at a true empire waistline.  Even still, I was and sort of still am self-conscious about the style and how it compliments (or doesn’t compliment) the tummy and hips.  I do receive tons of compliments by people when I wear this, so it must look alright.  I fudged with the closures of the back straps and sewed on fake buttons to hide the oversized snaps underneath…so much easier to do on myself blindly reaching behind.  Thread loops at the sides and center back keep the belt in place.

This “almost-mini-dress with a back waist band that comes from the side front seaming” is something I see a plethora of when it comes to sewing patterns in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  I see variations of it in patterns from every single year from 1967 to circa 1972, even with many designer names attached, so this must be good style for it to persist for at least 5 years straight in the Disco era!

Simple, straightforward and uncomplicated fashion is needed and has its place.  Solid colors and basic fabrics are staples that many times become a most-reached-for item to wear.  However, stretching the limits of what is conventionally available (the boon of sewing) can be such a likeable refreshing change for both yourself and others to see.  Doing so also stretches one’s habits of dressing and provides fun to an everyday need and unique personal expressiveness.  Novelty fabrics and creative uses for patterns can do all this!  Don’t be afraid to go find that odd fabric that speaks to your wild side and whip something up with it!  I have thoroughly enjoyed my trial with a newly discovered fabric, and a newly found vintage-does-modern fashion style only helped me like it all the more.