A 1958 Happy Ending Horror in Knit

As pretty as this dress might seem at sight, this beast was a nightmare to make.  Luckily there is at least a happy conclusion!  I do love wearing this – it totally feels like the best of a classic dress (in a vintage design no less) which is comfortable, feminine, handy (with the pockets), and oh-so flattering!  This is a faux asymmetric wrap dress reissue, first released by Burda Style in January 1958, very applicable and wearable for today.

I did have a different plan for how I intended this dress to turn out for this project but I felt it was best to listen to the fabric and leave what’s well enough alone!  I’ll admit that a good part of the problems I encountered here were because of my choice of fabric.  I hate the fickleness and frustrating delicacy of an all-cotton knit!  But that can’t take all the blame.  You see, I find Burda Style’s vintage designs to be quite problematic and almost always an exhausting near disaster that requires much fine tuning and the outlook of possible tragedy acceptance to turn into a success.  It’s not so much the fault of the garment design lines…I find the problem is mostly with the patterns’ ill assembly and poor sizing.  This is why I stupidly keep using Burda’s vintage designs – because in the end they do turn out a wonderful vintage garment with a modern, timeless feel!

A 1950s Dior-style flower, made by me as well from fabric leftovers of the lining, was sewn onto a clip and became both my matching accessory and color contrast.  My prized vintage style leather Miz Mooz heels tie in the retro feel and provide a neutral tan.  However, the blooming rhododendron bushes (behind me) at our towns botanical gardens sure made me realize that blue is more of a neutral color than I thought.  It pairs well with all the colors of spring!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  dusty blue 100% cotton knit for the outside, and polyester interlock to line the inside

PATTERN:  Burda Style #122, “Retro Style Dress” a 1958 design from January 2018

NOTIONS:  All I needed was thread and a zipper, both of which were on hand

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My dress took me about 30 hours, which is twice the time it takes me for a “normal” dress.  It was finished on April 20, 2018

THE INSIDES:  All raw edges are completely covered by the second skin interlock lining inside!

TOTAL COST:  Taking into account that the fabrics for my dress have been in my stockpile for maybe up to 15 years now, I’m counting this project as a free, no-cost, stash-busting success!

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 came from the monthly magazine issue, using a roll of sheer medical paper to trace the pieces out from the insert sheet, but if you buy from the online store, you download, print, and assemble the PDF file you receive first.  It’s at this preliminary step that I pick out my chosen size and add in your choice of seam allowance width (I normally add in 5/8 inch allowance), but others do this directly on the fabric as they are cutting out.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide attached helps immensely for adding on the seam allowance easily.  Sorry to repeat something you might already know, but this is just an “FYI” for those that don’t.  Now, prepare yourself for unbridled criticism in the form of a sewist’s horror story.

When I was making this dress, there were so many inconsistencies with the balance marks not fitting quite right and little areas everywhere that needed stretching in the ease just to have everything match up.  I do not necessarily think this was due to faults from my tracing out of the pattern either – I am usually so very precise about being ‘perfect’ at the preliminary stages to a project.  These pattern irregularities make me definitively say that this needs to be made with a knit.  I’m not talking about one with a high spandex content or one that is super drapey.  The model garment is I believe made using a wool jersey.  I can see a quality scuba knit even working out well here.  Either way, I would recommend choosing something with a nice body and a stable give to its stretch for this dress to be a success.  A knit will be more forgiving to the inadequacies of the pattern’s assembly, yet it also needs to be a material that will help this lovely dress keep it wonderful 50’s design.

However, the most glaring and sad shortcoming of the pattern was the way the waist length of the un-pleated asymmetric bodice front was several inches too short to connect to the skirt or even match with the bodice back.  I am mystified at what happened here and want to blame the pattern but at the same time I cannot positively rule out that it was an error on my part.  Either way, I was stuck to adding on a panel swatch to lengthen the waist.  There was no more fabric leftover for another bodice piece to be cut, so an awkward add-on was my only bet to save this dress project.  I do not think it is really that noticeable, although I have called it to your attention now!  It kind of looks like a mock belt to me, anyway, and half of that bodice is tucked under the overlapping one after all.  All I can say is watch out for that spot on this pattern if you try it for yourself.

The mock wrap to the bodice is further unconventional in the way that the left is over the right for my dress.  This is the tricky part about asymmetric fashions there is a very precise right side up to the pattern pieces.  In order for them to specifically be for the left or for the right side they have to be cut with a foresight that justifies the puzzle that asymmetric fashions are.  I traced out the patterns as they were on the insert sheet and assumed they were giving them to me with all the right sides up…not so!  The bodice fronts actually are traced out wrong side up.  Do not put too much faith in a pattern but always think things through for yourself.  That said, I myself am not perfect, and have been struggling with some ill heath lately, so I was not at the top of my game going into this.  Only when I was too far along assembling this dress did I realize how my asymmetric front was oppositely convoluted.  At that point, I felt it was more important to have the pleated half as the top layer of the mock wrap bodice.  I reconciled myself with the fact that this would be a uniquely individual garment, and as long as it turned out I would be happy with the right and left side traditional closing being off.

As if these last problems weren’t enough, I had a mishap with the fabric and was forced to turn my dress into short elbow length sleeves.  I originally intended on the full quarter length as shown, but there was an inkling in the back of my mind that I might not like them.  As traced from the pattern, the sleeves were actually quite longer than quarter length – more of a bracelet length, reaching just a few inches above my wrist.  I felt that such sleeves might overwhelm the dress and make it seem more like a winter garment (it was released in January 1958). However I wanted a transitional cool weather spring dress.  Well, the dress made up my mind for me.

You see, I do not get along with all cotton content knit.  Sure I have several success stories with it in the past (here and here for only two examples).  Yet every single time I use it, I hate it.  I think this blue knit is about the last of its kind in my stash (there’s one more), and when it’s finally gone I should celebrate.  I use the right needles that I should be using (ball tip, for jersey knits), and in the past I have tried every other kind of needle just as a test, and I still get the same sad results.  This fabric for me is a no-mistakes allowed fabric because wherever there is a stitch made, there will be a hole leftover if that stitching is taken out.  It says together decently enough when stitched as long as those stitches are left alone, but even too much stress on a seam and things will get ugly because cotton knit gets runs in it just like pantyhose!  Has anyone else run into these problems with all cotton knit?  Surely I am not unique with this.

Anyway, I had particularly bad hole, leftover from an unpicking attempt, start unravelling the fabric in one of the sleeves a few inches down from where the underarm gussets end.  Well, I had to laugh.  I had been struggling with this dress enough, and still had the entire lining to sew at this point.  I wasn’t sold on the full length sleeves in the first place.  The best fix was to go with my gut and make them short sleeves, like I thought!  I love the length of this sleeve and must say I think it does wonders for the overall shape of the dress.  The sloping shoulders and the gussets are a tad confining, anyway, so the short sleeves make this dress much easier to move your arms in, too!

I did not really make any major or unnecessary changes to the design, except those done to save the dress from ruin.  After all the troubles I had come across, I kept the skirt simple and opted for no back walking vent.  Such a feature would not really work with a knit fabric anyway.  Having a one piece skinny tapered skirt really amps up the curvy silhouette to this dress, after all!  I am not one for popular, stereotypical pin-up styles, but the no-slit skirt is I feel as small nod to those fashions.  I have no trouble walking in it without the leg vent, as the knit is a bit forgiving anyway.  There is a very wide 4 ½ inch hem at the skirt bottom to make as long as you see it on my 5 foot 3 inch frame.

The front skirt details were the most successful and relatively easy part of the whole dress.  Granted the pockets did not fit together very well when I lined up the skirt over the side hip panel.  Big surprise!  But the mismatching pockets actually helped the hip section of the dress to pouf out properly, which in turn disguises how roomy those pockets actually are.  I have already made a dress from the previous decade (one of my Agent Carter 40’s fashions) which had a very similar side front hip pocket style so this must have been a popular feature in the middle 20th century.  I not surprised.  Since when can you have a dressy dress that actually has very useful pockets that are part of the smart design lines?!  Just remember, with this kind of skirt you cannot have a tight fit because not only would that pull open the pockets, but it would ruin the important element of that design feature.  The skirt front is meant to complement the waist by exaggerating the hips (as the 1950s were wont to do) in conjunction with softening the shoulder line by using kimono sleeves and underarm gussets.

One last note that is neither bad nor good – the waist to this dress is quite high.  I didn’t see it on the model until after I realized it on myself.  The high waist on my body is about 2 inches below from the dress’ waist seam, and it looks to be about the same for the model dress from Burda Style, too.  This is kind of odd, and I don’t think that lowering the waistline no more than a few inches would hurt the overall design.  In same breath, I also would like to say that much as I’m not crazy about the higher waist seam, I actually think it does this dress good.  Many 1950s dresses or tops with kimono sleeves have them so deeply cut that they are supposed to taper right into the bodice at a high waist (such as on this dress of mine), thereby shortening and widening the top half of the female body (image wise, granted) and overemphasizing the hips by not just padding, pleats or what not, but also by starting at a high hipline. Even though the 1950s were heavy on the body mage crafting, especially when it came to employing torturous undergarments to achieve that idealized shaping, the general silhouette can still work well today on many body types.  Accepting and embracing our womanly curves and shaping with fashions that delicately, thoughtfully compliment them (such as this dress) is empowerment at its best.  It is the 1950s finding its modern freedom of re-interpretation.

When I was planning out what fabrics to use for this dress I had these grand plans to add cut-out floral designs to the bodice and skirt hem of the dress.  These designs would have been in the style of the amazing Alabama Chanin – see what I mean here.  This is the primary reason why I used my lovely peach remnant of interlock as the lining.  I expected the peach lining to show through when I would cut away the dusty blue top layer.  I do enjoy how the little bit of peach peeks out from the seam edges along the pocket tops and bodice wrap neckline!  It’s like a sneaky peek hint of the time I spent to make the inside just as pretty as the out, besides being a fun and unexpected color combo.

After the dress was done, I sort of like the chic simplicity of the design as it is.  Is has a refreshing appeal that can be made a bit more casual or dressed up with the right accessories, and a clear asymmetric design that would be detracted from with any other added business going on.  Besides – the way the fabric frays and comes apart I was definitely not doing any unnecessary cutting!  My dress was done, it was lovely, it fit me and I saved it from way too many near disasters.  Most importantly my sewing sanity was still intact.  I’m smart enough to know when to stop with the ideas…most of the time!

I do hope I haven’t scared you off from trying this pattern for yourself.  Rather, I would hope this post might be regarded as equipping you to succeed if you try the pattern.  The 1950’s are indeed at decade of lovely fashions, and I think this dress is a really easy way to wear a truly vintage look without appearing to be in a retro style.  It’s like vintage blending in with the modern world, and this is the styles I love to find.  Our fashion of today is often lost and misdirected in the whirl of four seasons a year of new fads, new ideas, and attempts at creativity.  Sometimes we just have to slow down, look around back to where we came from and let those smart fashions been seen right in front of us, where they have been all along…in the past classic styles which have never gone out of season, never needed updating.

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Decked Out In Red, 1946 Style

This Christmas, I celebrated the season in style – handmade vintage style to be exact.  My finished dress in one of my #1 best made project so far, taking into account the high quality fabric and details which are involved.

My best 1940’s hat, complete with pristine condition feathers, rhinestones, and netting, was worn to suit posing in my new fancy dress.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The dress is made using a 100% wool medium weight gabardine, with an excellent soft drape.  It is in a deep, royal red color.  I believe I bought it at a JoAnn’s store, back in 2011.  Wool gabardine is a very rare find in the stores of this town, so when I saw this fabric (the only bolt of its kind, all sad and lonely) I picked up over 3 yards of such a prized find.  After my dress, I still had a nice 3/4 yard chunk of this fabric leftover to go towards cutting some better fitting sleeves.  The lining for my dress is a basic red cling-free poly lining, bought just before making the dress.

NOTIONS:  I had to buy most all of the notions for this dress because I wanted to be very specific with the finished look.  I bought matching thread (Mettler Metrosheen and a Dual duty), a side zipper, and buttons for the wrist closures which matched the big buttons I already had for the bodice closure.B5281

PATTERN:  “Retro” Butterick #5281, a reprint of an original year 1946 no. 3935 pattern.  Even though Butterick released this pattern back in 2008, I believe it’s still in circulation. 

 TIME TO COMPLETE:  Oh my!  Too long for my taste.  I probably spent more than 30 hours to make this dress over the course of 2 weeks.  It was finally finished on December 19, 2013.  Later, In December of 2017 I came back and gave this dress the better fitting and detailing it deserved.

 FIRST WORN:  to my maternal side of the family get-together, the Sunday before Christmas.  It is held at a historic German building, now a restaurant, and I think my bright red dress matched the festive, old-world style decorations inside.  Boo hoo, it was too dark inside for any pictures of the place.

TOTAL COST:  I’m not that sure, but it probably is a bit over $30.  That is more than my normal cost, but worth it in the end.  Don’t forget, the total cost was mostly spent 3 years ago anyway.

B5281-drawing      As I usually do, I checked plenty of reviews from other seamstresses who have made this same reprint, and I ended up just getting all around confused.  So many others have made this dress and none of them were really consistent with any one B5281 modelproblem, but more than one mention of tight sleeves, generous bust ease, and difficult neckline pleats perked my attention.  Looking ahead for these traits, I covered my behind (ahem…) by adapting some of the construction while slightly changing just a few of this dress’ details.  I wanted my dress to be quite close to the original, and similar to the model on the Butterick web page (at left).  I’m hoping my small variations to B5281 make it so much more elegant and practical.

I tried to fit this dress better when it was still at the cutting stage by doing my now normal wild grading technique. My front bodice is an 8 graded at waist to a 10, my back bodice is a 10 graded to a 12 at waist, the skirt half is a solid 12, while the sleeves are a 10.  Crazy isn’t it…but, hey, it has always worked great so far.  However this dress still doesn’t fit quite right, even after coming back and re-adjusting it, so I’m chalking my problems to a very poor reprint of a vintage original.

The first big change to the construction process was to sew the lining and the dress together as one.  This way if any fitting adjustments are needed, such as to the shoulders or sleeves or darts, I can fix issues without a headache of unpicking.  The bodice front, with its lining having a separate fit with darts, and the skirt portion, which is hanging free from the waist down, are the only exceptions.  To have the lining fit over the inside of this dress like a separate 2nd glove sounds nice, but I’ve done dresses like that before, and had my share of grief from that design, so I wasn’t ready for that with this dress.  Besides, I have my own favorite way of making my handmade clothes look professional – French seams!  Every seam is French seams, except for the bottom hem and flat felled seams inside the sleeves.  See ‘inside out’ picture at right.

I didn’t have any problems with the side neckline pleats, but I completely understand how easy it could be to totally mess up. Those three little neckline details are awfully close to some seams and are a bit slanted, too.  The neckline shape of my dress happily turned into an inverted rectangular shape according to the pattern – a few bloggers complained their versions of B5281 became an exact square neckline, for some reason.  Just make sure not to let the gathers at the end of the pleats get bunched into or pull at the neckline seam.  I even added seam tape into the whole neckline and shoulders to make sure everything keeps a perfect shape.  My very best, red letter recommendation is to PLEASE do all the markings, transfer them precisely, and sew directly on them without any cutting of ANY corners until you’ve made sure it’s alright.  Taking your time and being as precise as you can be will basically assure those details turn out the same as the pattern.  Be warned, though, the bodice alone did take up about half of my whole working time on this dress.  Also, the fullness to side shoulder pleats really don’t blend in that well with the rest of the dress as the cover drawing led me to believe.

Now, not that I am against pure decorative purposed items, but why add buttons across the side bodice closure and have them do nothing?!  I couldn’t do that.  So I cut some bias strips to sew my own tiny tubing to use as loop closure, and added them into the front seam at exactly 1 1/2 inches away from the side seams.  Voila!  Only one heavy duty snap was needed to be hand sewn to the inside near the neckline to help hold up its shape.  Utility and decoration are now married with this configuration, showcasing my prized “La Mode” Vintage line of buttons.  I had been keeping these two buttons with my B5281 pattern, since the button card says they’re circa 1920 to 1940.  They’re quite the statement pieces which were needed here, I think.

On that “purely decorative” vein, I took the next step and made loop plackets at the wrist of my sleeves to match the neckline.  The pattern called for two small zippers and I want to do this feature to a dress or top at some point, but not on this project.  Matching my neckline buttons made finding some smaller wrist closure buttons a slight challenge which hubby and I conquered together.  My wrist closure was sewn in a manner I learned from doing the sleeves of this project, and its something I’m quite proud of how it looks and turned out.  You simply do a small hem along the sleeve end and turn the hem up, right sides together, so it’s aligned with the opening.  Then, I slipped my loops in the seam of one side and sewed both corners together.  Trim seams and turn them right sides out and just like magic I had a perfectly finished hem cuff.  I hope my picture reveals some light on my technique.

The sleeves had been on the edge of needing some extra ease to allow for some “reach room”.  After a few wearings, I was tired of being restricted to merely sitting pretty and having trouble even so much as adjusting my hair, so I gained the gumption to add a professional sleeve gusset and adapt the fit.  First, I slashed and spread open the sleeve caps, doing the traditional large arm adjustment.  Then I cut the sleeves out on the bias of the fabric, as this gives them much more ‘give’ merely from the shifting adjustability of cross-grain cuts.  I also made a simple extended triangular gusset to give me some extra added room to move.  These changes made my sleeve look like a 1940s era sleeve I am used to rather than the skinny sleeves on the reprint.  Finally, I made a very simple hem to the wrists of the sleeves. I know, I know…I spent all that time to make the button wrist closures on the original sleeves.  However, I just wanted a sleeve that fit well more than I wanted a fancy sleeve for the second time around.

The zipper here is probably one of my best installations, even with the tricky gathers along the side.  This is probably because I came back to unpick the machine stitching and sew a hand stitched zipper installation.  Hand sewing this tricky area is really the best way for a tight and precise zipper.  Those side gathers are such a small detail to add in there, but they perfectly compliment the rest of the dress.

To be honest, at first I really didn’t like the dress on myself that much.  I thought it looks more obviously vintage than many of my other past era patterns and the bright red is like a punch in the eyes.  However, in this deep red color and expensive fabric, it does have a very classic, professional, suit-type of aura unlike anything in my closet.  Once I wore my new dress, I absolutely loved it.  The skirt portion hangs beautifully and the L-panel which goes across the tummy and hangs down is the best compliment ever for a woman’s waistline.  I am going to enjoy wearing my 3rd dress from 1946 ( #1 dress here, and #2 dress here).  Hmmm…maybe 1946 is a good year to pick patterns from for more upcoming vintage projects.

When I tell people about this 1946 dress, everyone replies that they can’t wear wool because its too itchy of a fabric.  Goodness!  It’s a shame the general populace has NO idea what quality wool, or wool blends really feel like – otherwise I suppose I would not get those sort of replies.  I do have sensitive skin and this fine wool gabardine used for my dress is not obviously itchy, just soft and smooth.  A recent purchase of a wool/silk blend fabric from Mood N.Y. has further impressed me with the softness that quality wool fabrics can present.  My hope is to convince people, when I wear my 1946 red wool dress, to see what they are missing as a consumer by realizing the nice quality fabrics that RTW store clothes are cheating them from enjoying.

By the way (because I can), here’s a parting gratuitous snowball…