1943 “Polka-Stars” Satin Dress and Netted Tilt Hat

This post has been long in coming but is now ironic because McCall Company just re-issued the pattern I used (as McCall #7433), albeit with dramatic changes.  Hopefully this post will show the beauty of this specific dress design and how the re-issue has been altered from the original.  Now, if you buy the reprint, you know how to make it more authentic.

A yearly World War II re-enactment weekend that takes place in town always gives me an excuse to whip up a new 1940s dress for the dance evening.  Therefore, I cranked out this pink and black satin year 1943 dress, together with a self-drafted fancy tilt hat! (The hat is posted separately here!)

I confess, this was one of those stupid/silly sudden-last-minute decisions where a few days ‘til the re-enactment, I decided that the outfit from the year before just would not do.  Admittedly, the tiny stars in the fabric made me feel patriotic at the re-enactment dance, without being too obvious, while the black tempered the sweetness of the pink.  The touches of black made me feel quite dressed up without being too overwhelming (see this article from “Chronically Vintage”).  The tilt hat was directly inspired by the headgear spotted at the wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton in 2011, as well as coming from my newest interest in millinery.


FABRIC:  A thin 100% polyester, buff-finish satin, in a rich but light pink with tiny black stars like polka-dots.  The contrast black satin is semi-thick, but also polyester, and was used for the hat as well.

PATTERN:  McCall #5295, year 1943 (this was a lucky find at only $3); the hat was self-drafted

NOTIONS:  I had on hand what I needed – the thread, bias tape, interfacing, and zipper for the dress; tarlatan, elastic, hair combs, and netting for the hat.  The buttons down the front of my dress came from the stash of Hubby’s Grandmother.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  I raced through sewing the dress in about 8 to 10 hours.  It was finished on April 24, 2015.  The hat was made in two hours on September 25, 2015.

THE INSIDES:  I had only a few days to make this dress so unfortunately the insides are all raw and terribly fraying.  I was also afraid adding on some sort of bias tape would stiffen the flowing fabric too much and didn’t have time for what I wanted…French seams. After the dance, I came back to clean up the insides, trimming the seams and covering them in fray check liquid. 

TOTAL COST:  This was bought on clearance at Hancock Fabrics as a store was closing so I bought this fabric at about $3 a yard, and this dress only used just under two yards.  The solid black satin was only a ½ yard cut, and went towards both hat and dress contrast, so this cost very little.  The black hat netting was originally expensive, but was a lucky find on clearance at 50 cents for each yard.  So, I suppose my outfit is about $8 in total. 

McCall #5295 was just challenging enough to be satisfying – it is ingeniously designed.  This is also the first vintage 40’s McCall pattern that seems to run very small.  The pattern size I had was technically a tad too big for me but it ended up fitting a bit snug (nothing that letting out the seam allowances couldn’t fix).  After making my 1943 dress I had enough leftovers to make these double layered tops, thanks in part to Wartime rationing which gives pattern pieces which are very economical on space.

The whole dress is lovely and interesting, but the bodice definitely takes center stage with the neckline.  The dress bodice is constructed in an unusual two-part creative manner for a dramatic style.  The lower front bodice comes first by facing the entire edge and making three rows of shirring from the shoulder to the end of the neckline notch.  Then the four back bodice waistline tucks are sewn and the shoulder is attached to the upper bodice front so this entire neckline can be faced and finished off as well.  Finally, the bodice’s upper front gets overlapped with the lower portion and both are top stitched together along a line of shirring next to the neckline notch.  I was tempted to not add the contrast insert underneath at this point, but I’ll save this idea for next version of the pattern (which will be a winter dress in long sleeves).  The new re-issued version of this pattern sadly leaves out the shirring next to the front neck notch as well as weirdly turning the back into a shirt-look, with its shoulder yoke and tucks.  I can’t wait to see if the new version also faces and constructs the neckline in the same manner.

Now the contrast under the neckline is such a simple little piece to make such a difference…more or less an odd shaped rectangle folded over with interfacing inside.  The contrast piece only extends from the end of the back neckline to flush with the edge of the button front.  The new re-issue seems to have the contrast wrap all around the neckline and plummet to nothing before the edge of the button front.  Adding in the contrast does nicely support and shape the neckline as well as making it pop on account of both the extra top-stitching involved and the contrast color.

You will never guess what interesting little tidbit is lurking about this dress in regards to the top front buttonhole.  In order to be authentic, I used my late 30’s/early 40’s Kenmore sewing machine for some of the construction of the dress, especially the buttonholes.  I followed the instructions on the pattern where it said to put in the trio of buttonholes in the dress before adding on the contrast.  O.k., did that, but the end of the contrast piece also receives its own single buttonhole before getting sewn under.  You know what?  The double buttonholes align up perfectly together and work as good as a single buttonhole.  On a basic level, I’m supposing the instructions said to do it this way because 4 layers of fabric with interfacing is too thick and bulky, but think about it.  Having separate buttonholes for both the contrast piece and the dress a very smart move and so very “1940’s versatile”.  Depending on the color and print of the dress you could make more than one contrast piece or even leave it off to change up the appearance of your dress!  I’m telling you, vintage patterns do things right.  I hope the new re-issue sticks to this same ingenuity with the contrast piece but my hopes are not high.

The short sleeves were a bit of a surprise to me – what…no gathered, puffed top caps!?  No, the sleeve caps are instructed to be smoothly eased in without any gathers, darts, and such normally found on forties women’s fashion.  They are still quite easy to move in due in part (no doubt) to the fact I cut them on the bias grain just to be on the safe side.  The contrast piece for the sleeves is not a cuff, but something which gets placed under an already finished hem and top-stitched down, similar to the neckline.  The sleeve hem contrast is only offered to match with the short view in the old pattern, but if I was going to make the three-fourths version I was planning on adapting a piece for the end as well, and 100_5006M-compthe long sleeve plackets could be in contrast, too (though not removable).  The new reissue seems to offer similar short and long sleeves, only without the ¾ darted sleeve option.  The long sleeve cuffs on the original are not buttoned, only turned back and buttoned on the overlap, which I don’t see on the re-print, though they seem to have added basic notched cuffs, instead.

My dress’s skirt makes this so perfect for swing dancing.  I’m so glad I made it for the event (it has seen other wearings since then, too)!  In the original pattern, there is the “traditional 40’s” three paneled back to the skirt, but the front has two side panels with four skinny center panels which dramatically flare out. (See also McCall #5302 from ’43.)  This way, with just the fullness controlled in the front center of the skirt (from the hips down, mostly), the skirt still keeps that slender A-line silhouette, but has extra beauty, fun, and ease of movement.  I love it!  I believe the re-issue to have ‘miss-read’ the intent of those four flared front panels on the original and added in an all-around pleated skirt instead for some uber-fullness that is not as 40’s a silhouette.  Swing dancing in a skirt like what the re-print has might call for some tap panties.

Here is the reason of the distaste (more like a love/hate relationship) that I have for many modern reprints, especially Butterick and Simplicity.  If you please, let me vent.  They are re-issuing past patterns just well enough to make them tantalizing but at same action frustratingly altering them.  It is wonderful to make these old, hard-to-find, and not-easily-available patterns available to everyone again, yet they have to instead “taint” (in my mind) rather than preserve the past.  Modern is not the past, and modern will change as quickly as one can keep up with.  Thus, sticking to the past should be a bit of a better “tried-and-true” benchmark, I would think.  They could make sure patterns don’t disappear forever by faithfully re-printing them.  However, by changing them, these old patterns are partially “lost” to me.  Leave these vintage patterns  complete with all the individuality that makes a 40’s pattern from the forties, and so on for each decade, giving people a chance to learn and discover.  But they don’t, and so many will miss out on the awesome things that sewing true vintage will teach to one who makes it.  Shame on McCall’s Company…don’t mess with what’s already great.  A modern tweaking won’t make it better for me and many others, I am sure.

McCall’s, if you want the original of a pattern reach out better to us bloggers and sewists and collectors.  If you want to offer a modern version of vintage, don’t call it an archive pattern.  Vintage is awesome and authentic…leave it that way, that’s why we want it.  Let those of us that sew put our own tweaks, touches, and changes into our clothes if we so please, thank you…that’s what makes sewing beautifully individual.  Please join with me in the discussion – input and conversation is welcomed on this topic so I’m not just “getting on my high horse”.

In the next few days I will go into a short but further detailed post on the hat I made.  Stay tuned!  (Update – in case you missed the link at the beginning of the page, the separate post about making my hat can be found here!)

Hats Off to a Star-Spangled Red (White) and Blue Dress

It’s that time of year to see all sorts of things proudly showing off our country’s colors, and I will be no exception.

A new dress can’t get any more fun than going all out  in a full circle skirt, contrast lining to highlight my “burnout” designed knit, and bold red color to boot.

100_1599 THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  1 1/2 yards of lightweight 100% cotton knit with a allover “burnout” (see through) design of different sized stars, bought on clearance for around $5 (more or less) when we had a local craft store close;  navy blue polyester knit to go under the red knit, bought for around the same $ as the red knit

NOTIONS:  none bought;  I had all the thread that was needed  and just enough V8766hem tape

PATTERN:  Vogue “Easy Options” 8766

THE INSIDES:  all seams, excepting the armhole seams and bottom hem, are finished in French seams.  The French seams got a little bulky, especially around the waist seam, but some top stitching (done sparingly) helped matters.  Hem tape was used on the back half of the bottom hem, merely because I cut that piece an inch shorter from the front…I always find a way to fix any of my boo-boos!  In the picture below you can see my hem tape/normal hem.  My skirt is so full, hopefully my hem is all that I’m showing off!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  I finished this dress on June 5, 2013, after an estimated 6 hours of sewing.  I first wore my dress out to a beauty salon for a haircut and style, and really felt GOOD that evening all spiffed up!

I definitely thought outside the box for making this project, but my mind seems to naturally think of ways to stretch boundaries.  Vogue 8766’s recommended fabrics only mention lace and everything else I consider “nice wear”.  Not that I don’t like fancy fabrics – I really love them, but wanted to enjoy this pattern’s designs out at a barbecue or casual affair as well.  Why shouldn’t I be able to accommodate for a knit using V8766, by going down a size?  My idea was correct, as it has been before for other patterns, such as my Vintage Vogue 2859.

I was set on using this pattern for my red fabric because the star print is so busy I wanted it to ‘shine’ by having styling that would be both simple and beautifully fun.  Besides, after all the sewing I have done I was dying for my first full, mega twirl circle skirt dress.  Looking at the envelope back compared to the amount of fabric I had showed a100_1513n intimidating discrepancy.  I am proud to say my stubbornness paid off here and, after shortening the skirt pieces and the sleeves, I squeezed in every pattern piece without skimping on grain line or sizes.  There were literally four or so small 3 inch pieces left over as scrap.  I know MY limits, but don’t recommend this ‘tight squeeze’ practice for anyone.

The red burnout knit is lined in the lightest weight knit I could find.  I think it is actually an “sport/active wear” knit with little perforations in the one side.  I bought several extra yards for lining a sweater knit dress I hope to make in winter.

I love my neckline alteration of sewing on a smooth bias band to cover and finish off the entire neckline.  The pattern’s way of doing the neckline was just as fine but I find myself really prefering the invisible stitches of my own self-fabric bias facing.

Another major change to the construction of the dress was eliminating the zipper.  Using a knit really made a zipper unnecessary, so I sewed up all the center back seams.  Just in case I should have any trouble getting the dress on, I was planning on leaving the top of the seam open about 6 inches and merely doing a button & loop closure to add utility as well as visual interest.

100_1604      Hubby improved upon my button opening idea when he saw me try on the finished dress (I saved sewing the buttons for last).  The back looked like it does in the picture above of me making some of my home cooking.  “I like it just like that…leave it as it is” he told me.  Looking at the back from a different point of view, I liked it too, and tacked the corners down.  I have received the most comments and compliments regarding the open back of my dress.v2241

The lay-open collar style back feature I added to my red dress actually reminds me of a style trend from the early 1930’s.  As seen in the Vintage Vogue at left, which I sadly do not have in my own pattern stash, the 1931 evening gown has the exact same open collar back, and it’s in red too!  My gut reaction says that I am linking a 30’s design feature to my modern dress because of how I love sewing so much vintage items.  However, I also love noting the history of fashion and design, so I enjoy helping people see that vintage never really goes out of style.  All past ideas are built upon and re-used to create the fashion we have today.  Look around in a RTW store and you are probably seeing some design features, however small, ranging from the past 90 years.

In honor of my 30’s open-collared back, I wore a 20’s/30’s “lariat/lasso” style gold necklace.  I even made my own earrings to match the stars in my dress – there had been two gold jewel studded star charms I found in my beading/jewelry containers.  I hope you can see my accessories in the picture below.

100_1615     For some reason, I just did not like the look of the plain short sleeves, but I knew sleeveless would not look good either.  Luckily my small leftover scraps were still big enough to cut out and made two cords for pulling up the short sleeves.  There is a fancy swirled button at the top were the cords were sewn down.

As the final touch, I picked one of the stars on the left side of my upper chest and outlined it by sewing navy thread around it.  If you look hard in the picture, you might be able to see it.

My star-spangled red dress was the easiest sewing I have done in a while, and that was a welcome treat and pick-me-up that I needed at the time.  Everything about my red dress came together effortlessly while fitting well.  If this dress was any easier it would make itself (not really, but almost).  I will definitely be making this again, in lace or a brocade.  Both my dress and its pattern are easy favorites for a gal’s wardrobe.

I have to show a twirling photo – it’s a fun necessity here!  The one side is my ‘regular’ look, skirt at rest (and a root beer in hand).  The other side is my ‘in action’ look, in full twirl, maybe with music rolling in my head.  Taylor Swift’s song “Red” might be appropriate.


     Enjoy your summer sewing!