Peony buds are so pretty but quite fussy to appreciate in their prime beauty, much like finding the perfect ripeness of an avocado. The peony bushes are one of my favorite spring blossoms in our backyard except they have a very small time frame before they get musky in smell, with wilted petals and droopy stems. It’s as if they are either bashful beauties or merely overwhelmed by their own superfluity. This year though, we not only were able to photograph that ‘sweet spot’ for our peony bushes, but I also matched with their particular color, too! So – small, urban backyard ugliness be darned – I happily sported my newest vintage-style make for the occasion.
This simple dress has all the qualities to be a chic, versatile, comfortable, yet easy-to-sew wardrobe staple item. There is no interfacing and closures needed (no zippers, hooks, snaps, or extra notions) so it’s perfect for these Covid times when sewing supplies and mail deliveries are hard to come by. You pop it over the head and you’re good to go!
Only two yards was enough to work with (no matter what the envelope back says) so it is not good for smaller remnants – unless you use one fabric for the front panel and a different one for the back…just a wild thought! Crazy prints, large scale florals, and hard-to-match designs are all great fabric choices for this pattern as there are basically two very large cuts with nothing to break them up except for two, small, French-style bust darts in the front panel. Unlike many of the other “Jiffy” line of patterns in the 60’s and 70’s which I have tried, this one does have the best shaping and fit out of all of them. As you can tell, I am completely sold on this pattern and wish I had sewn this dress a few years back as I originally intended! I am so glad I finally got around to whipping it together.
The shoes (60’s era), bracelet (80’s from my childhood), and earrings (from my Grandma) to my outfit are true vintage items, but the flower accessory you see along the waist was made by me. It is a trio of airy rosettes composed of lime green chiffon leftover from this retro dress project. It was a quick and relatively easy accent to assemble that I think provides the right contrast to the overwhelming amount of pink in the print. As I used a duckbill clip on the back, I can also wear this in my hair if I please! There is a Threads magazine tutorial which I used as my guide – you need no pattern – and a scrap of heavy muslin or interfacing as a base. It’s all in the article “Coming Up Roses” by Kenneth D. King from the Threads magazine #142.
FABRIC: a sheer polyester crepe print fully lined in a solid light pink sheer cotton batiste
NOTIONS: All I needed was lots of thread!
TIME TO COMPLETE: Making it from start to finish took me about 6 hours. It was finished on May 3, 2020.
TOTAL COST: I really don’t remember. I bought this on deep clearance when the now defunct Hancock Fabrics was closing. Two yards of each fabric probably didn’t cost me much!
Sure, this might be a pattern from 1969, but I think it is quite timeless in design, if a bit unusual. A kind and knowledgeable reader commented on this post on my wrap-on, 70s era, apron-sundress to let me know about Andrea Zittel and her “Smockshop” project of 2006. Andrea Zittel’s basic smock pattern – with her simplified outlook to the basis for creativity – is really no different than this vintage pattern when you look at the basic outline. A little tweak here and a tweak there to Zittel’s basic idea and we have this pattern. I am not saying that either copied off of the other, but I’m just sharing a different way to look at this style of garment. If you Google all the amazing versions artists and creators came up with using Andrea’s smock pattern (A wrap-on evening gown? Yes, please…), I am envisioning all the different ways this vintage 1969 pattern could be tweaked to make something completely different than where it started. This pattern has so much hidden potential. Certain slight details to this dress have won me over. For instance, I am completely enamored by the squared neckline. It is such a subtle feature yet so different and appealing. Something I never expected from making this dress is the way the back wrap half opens up when you walk or when the breeze blows and gives the impression of an overskirt. The front skirt half fully wraps around to the back for full coverage and no fear of a peek-a-boo of thigh, but at the same time this makes the skirt seem more slim fitting than the back half which wraps over it. Yes, the fact that I used a solid contrast color to fully line the inside of this dress emphasizes the impression of an overskirt. But either way, this pattern’s neckline and lovely skirt were two surprises I did not see coming when looking at the tissue pieces as I was cutting it out. Beforehand, I looked at plenty of other reviews on blogs as well as Instagram, with no hint or mention of these features, so perhaps it has to do with the very lightweight fabrics I chose. Yet, I believe it has more to do with the slight changes I made to the pattern.
The most obvious change is the fact I added sleeves. Sleeves to a wrap-on dress are not the norm, and you all know I like a challenge! I traced out the little cap sleeves which are part of this mid-1940s dress because I liked how the ‘hem’ is really a fold so that there is two layers, i.e. self-faced sleeves for a pretty underside. For a wrap dress, pretty undersides are important because fabrics’ wrong sides and any raw edges are easily seen unless the garment is fully lined or has French or bound finishing. I slightly altered the sleeve pattern to have a longer armscye to work with the wrap under the arm and I also added more curving to the shoulder portion so as to match with the dress’ non-40’s style of a sleeve which is set further into the main body. It was really much easier to add on than I expected and completely upgrades the overall appearance to the dress from saying “summer fun” to also “chic” in a really subtle way.
As a side note for clarification, I keep calling the solid light pink cotton side of my dress ‘a lining’ because I do not like polyester against my skin. Because of that, I only intend on wearing this with the floral side out. Technically, this dress is completely reversible, and the pattern intends it to be that way but I just do not really like this solid color when worn on the outside. I look too washed out and think the dress seems more like nightwear that way. I have a few reversible dresses already (here and here) and so I felt I did not really need this particular one to be yet another. The blush pink is pretty enough as a sweet flash of a contrast.
The second major change I made to the dress is how I redrafted the tie closures of the front to be just above my waistline. The pattern design has the front ties end at an empire level, just below the bust. I am not a big fan of the empire waist on myself unless I am wearing a historical Regency clothing, or a style with similar proportions. So I lowered the arching of the front overwrap, which is on the back panel, by just over 2 inches and redrew the curve. I am so glad I did this adjustment but – as I said above – I do think it changed how the overskirt lays. Even if some small intricacies to finished dress’ features came out as a very good surprise to me, I did engineer the rest of the features to be just how I wanted them. Those turned out just as nice as I expected. Every little tweak you do to a pattern has an effect on other parts to the overall design you might not expect. Sewing is so interesting, exciting, and complex, isn’t it?!
The appearance of the dress can be slightly changed up just depending on what you do with the long closure ties. If I want more of a loose and straight A-lined dress I merely tie the front ends in a bow or leave them hang. If I want more of a defined waistline I wrap the long ties around my waist twice and knot in back. I did choose to make my ties half the width as the original pattern. To be clear, one tie cut out according to the original pattern gave me two ties because I cut the width in half. They are just as long still, but I personally like the delicateness of skinnier ties. They are much easier to tie anyway than wide ones, even though skinny ties are miserable things to turn inside out when making them.
The back closures you don’t see and the dress length were the last things to mention that I also changed. I added a whopping 8 inches to the hem. Yes, it might have been overkill, but I am all about midi length dresses at the moment and I like the elegance of it on this dress compared to the very 60s style shorter length of the original. After making this 40’s era wrap top, I knew I didn’t want a repeat of the fussy way it closed behind my back. This 60s pattern called for the same deal – two sets of ties. The ties on that 40’s top tend to come undone on me after some time of wearing and if I make a sloppy bow they are a tad bulky.
Thus, for this dress I made small loops across from oversized buttons for a secure and simplified closing that is super easy to execute blindly behind my back. The top closure to my dress felt better on me with an extra extension so I added a second loop for more than one option of comfort. I was also able to make useful two random, mismatching, oversized buttons, too! I know I said this dress was wonderful because it needed no closures, but then I go and add some so I can sound like a hypocrite. Ah, anyone who has sewn long enough can sympathize with how sometimes a project can take an unexpected turn. However, I suspect I secretly love to overthink things sometimes. That is life. I forget I tend to be a perfectionist.
To talk about trying to think about everything, not only did I come up with a clip-on flower, but I even made a face mask to match my dress! This mask and all the ones I make have several layers for protection (one is polyester, two are cotton, with one extra interfacing layer). I only had enough of my dress’ floral print scraps to make a second copy of this exact mask for my husband’s mother. The pattern I use for all my masks is a free download from here (youtube.com/anjurisa), and I highly recommend it. I slightly altered the pattern to give more room in the nose (many members in my and my husband’s family have a more endowed schnozzle than I) and figured out how to save on elastic by having most of the strap be a fabric tube, except for a little 2 inch stretchy section in the side of the mask. Yes, here I go overthinking again. Yet, my efforts do yield a very good, full coverage, highly filtering mask I do believe!
They are a necessity of the times, and all the other colors besides pink in this particular floral print – the green and purple – help the mask co-ordinate with plenty more outfits besides this one. I personally don’t completely mind matching my mask so exactly to my outfit of the day, yet it brings up my self-consciousness that I am making it way too obvious to viewers I am wearing a self-made outfit. Not that this is a bad thing, because I am proud of what I sew and am personally confident in my creations, it’s just I have been careful not to be overwhelmed by mask making efforts. If you highlight the fact you make masks, there is the chance you can get inundated by peoples’ orders. My stress levels have been high over these last few months and that is causing all sorts of unpleasant side effects to show up on my body by now. Mask making stresses me out further, but I do realize over the past months, it is one of the most important efforts one can perform using a sewing machine. Self-care is also very important in our world today, too, so I limit my mask making and keep up my sewing projects in between everything.
This is so far off from where I started talking about how peony flowers are like avocados, isn’t it?! I’ve covered everything between my inspiration leading up to this outfit, making a flower brooch and a mask, to Andrea Zittel and her ‘Smockshop’. It just goes to show that things are not always what they seem, nor do my ‘simple’ projects always end up so straightforward. It is often the more basic sewing which leaves room for extra creativity, anyway. After all of this, I hope you pick up this 1969 dress pattern and find your own way to personalize it the way I did so you can enjoy this easy but cute wrap frock the way I am!