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!

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!

One “Smartt” 1940’s Outfit: my Bow-Neck Satin Dance Dress

Fun and flirty, fancy and feminine, my new vintage 40’s dress is made using Simplicity’s new Fall 2013 pattern release (#1587), and it turned out to be wonderful in all its satin beauty. I had the perfect reason to get to making this dress sooner than later, for hubby and I had a 40’s dance to attend.  I (well, both of us) received many compliments on our outfits. I could proudly say, “Thanks, I made my dress myself!”  Thank you Simplicity for another great vintage pattern!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA     Aren’t we cute together?  The hangar dance was held at the historic St. Charles County Smartt Airfield, which began seeing use in January 1941 as a Navy student pilot base for WWII.  This was the perfect opportunity for hubby to wear a Navy uniform from my dad’s stash of historic clothes.  My dress was specifically made to be a complimenting contrast to my husband’s Navy uniform while sticking as close as possible to the pattern envelope.


FABRIC:  I bought a 100% polyester silky print at JoAnn’s Fabric store.  The fabric was on a super discount for their Anniversary Sale – I’m talking about a few dollars a yard- and I was excited to find a print so close to Simplicity’s version of this dress.   A black peach skin ponge lining was bought at Hancock Fabrics for lining the body of the dress

PATTERN:  Simplicity 1587  (see pic at right)Simplicity1587

NOTIONS:  I always have interfacing and black thread on hand, so the only notion I needed to buy was the side zipper, 1/4 inch black elastic, some extra bias tape and some hem tape.  The button I used for the back closure is a vintage oldie, coming from my family’s stash, and is a pretty, frosted, clear ball type.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  It took me 22 to 25 hours of sewing time, spread out over 5 days, with a few added hours for cutting, to complete my satin 40’s dress.  I finished it on September 20, 2013.

THE INSIDES:  All the seams are finished in black bias binding, and the hem is covered with hem tape.  The armhole sleeves are the only “unfinished” part (with a zig zag edge finish) on account of the small 3/8 in. seam and not wanting to restrict the satin’s give.

TOTAL COST:  around $10

It’s a shame how the finished dress hides all the cool details, and time consuming work put into doing such fine points.  The envelope’s line drawing, however, offers some easy clarity: this 40’s dress has a front bodice with pleated (gathered) yoke, a bow at the neckline or just a decorated loop, a back button and loop closure, a wide skirt yoke that comes to an inverted point, gathers on the sleeves and also at the skirt center.

Simp1587 envelope drawing   According to the “finished garment” measurements, the ease did not seem too overly generous, but, just to make sure this dress wasn’t going to be as loose as my “Lake Girl” 40’s blouse, I did some graduated sizing for every different area (similar to the sizing for my 1936 Puff-sleeve blouse).  My Simplicity 1587 dress has a size 8 bodice front, size 10 bodice back, the skirt yokes graduate from a 10 to a 12, the skirt is a 12, and the sleeves are 10.  Altogether, I think my satin 40’s dress fits well, but even doing my right sizes, the skirt yokes turned out quite snug (but it’s probably supposed to…it would look funny baggy).  The finished sleeves were also snug and a bit confining across the front and back of the bodice (not at the top shoulder seam), but I took out the 5/8 seam and re-sewed a smaller 3/8 inch seam to make a satisfying fix.  For someone who often needs sleeve room, a large upper arm adjustment might be a good idea to do to the sleeve pattern piece.

100_1993     There were several tricky points to making this Simplicity 40’s dress, and the instruction sheets did not really help that well nor clear up some confusion, so I will list them here to help sewing this dress easier for anyone else.

1.)  The front bodice yoke (neckline) gathers are actually pleats.  I found out the hard way by trial and error that there is only one way to sew the neckline pleats as instructed: you have to start with the bottom pleat closest to the center front and work up.  The middle pleat gets its bottom corner folded over to form the pleat next to the center front seam, so, for this to work,  you have to sew in this direction.  I wish the instructions had clarified this point.

I did hand stitch the facings down to the lining, but, just a word of warning, it doesn’t really work if you tack the front facings down any more than an inch or two below the shoulder seams.  The neckline pleats need freedom.

100_20072.)  The pattern piece for the back closure loop really could have been made longer lengthwise.  I made mine according to the pattern (no changes).  It was SO small it was hard to sew and work with, also too small as a loop once it is sewn in to the dress.  Loops that are too small make it hard to close on yourself behind your neck, and even harder to find a good button to match or fit.

3.)  The yoke sections for both the skirt and the bodice were a sort of fine work to get finished nicely, but there was a better way that the instructions could have mentioned.  For example, the front skirt yoke comes up into an inverted V over the stomach and the skirt gets gathered in under that V.  Now, deep curves like that can be tricky, not to mention adding the gathers and a sharp corner to the equation.  My gut told me I should ditch the instructions…I would have had an easier time had I listened.  I am convinced, the absolute best way to do the front yoke /skirt inverted V section is to do a lapped seam method.  Any other way is just frustration, believe me!  I did succeed in doing those tricky spot quite well (unintentional bragging).  Ironing and lightly steaming my satin down helped immensely towards making the yokes and gathers look good, lie flat, and not pouf out.

100_2005a     This satin 40’s dress has some details (see picture above) that are firsts for both my wardrobe and my sewing skills.  Sewing in a small piece of elastic while stretching it out onto the sleeves was fun to do and makes a very cute and unusual detail.  I love it – but not as much as I love the bow neck front.  The bow at the neckline was the very last thing I added to my finished dress because, at first, I wasn’t sure if I would like it.  However, I think the bow really makes this dress, and puts it together nicely.  Plus…it’s just plain fun!

Even if the rest of my recommendations for sewing up this dress are disregarded, the best single piece of advice I will say is to please do all the markings as the pattern directs, and your version of Simplicity 1587 will go together fine.  This vintage pattern reprint might be a little tricky in some parts and take a bit extra time, but it is seriously worth it in the end – believe me!  As dressy as my 40’s bow-neck dress looks, it is very comfy.  The skirt has some great swing in it for dancing, too.100_2003a

The dance we attended was held in the hangar which houses two old planes (a B-25 Mitchell and a TBM Avenger) so it was dark in there and I ended up accessorizing my dress with the longer length, shiny red gloves you see in the picture at right.  I wish I would have remembered to get it in a picture, but I even used a makeup pencil to draw a faux stocking line up the back of my legs.  Yeah, I went pretty authentic that night.

This last picture was taken in the Smartt airport museum.  It is added just for the fun of it…I hope it gets a laugh.  This dress is da bomb!

Visit my Flickr ‘Seam Racer’ page for more pictures (especially a view of my hair-do – a half “toilet bowl” style).


“In the Mood” to Swing in My 1940 Floral Bed Sheet Dress

Who doesn’t love an all-around good deal, especially when it is chock full of value, quality, and practicality?  Well, I hit the jackpot here, spending less than five dollars with this dress, which is a 1940 Vintage Vogue reprint.  Who would have guessed that some vintage bed linens could turn out something great like this!

100_1453THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a vintage, super soft, poly/cotton blend bed sheet.  I forget if it was a Twin or a Queen size, but it was bought at a resale store on discount for $1.25.  At that same resale store, I also bought a bed skirt for $1.99.  The part of the bed skirt that goes under your mattress was a soft white polyester; this was used as the lining for the bottom skirt half of my dress.  (Just an FYI…rest of the bed skirt will be re-sewn in a skirt for me – instead of the bed – to wear!)V8811

NOTIONS:  I had every thing I needed on hand, except for the zipper, which I bought on sale for about $1.50.  I had extra bias tape for the sleeve hems and plenty of tan thread as well.  The back closure button came from my inherited stash.  Oh- almost forgot- I bought a few inches of brown cording for only 20 cents.

PATTERN:  Vintage Vogue 8811, a 1940 reprint

TIME TO COMPLETE:  this dress was finished on April 25, 2013, after only 4 hours or less of time to put together – easy as pie!

THE INSIDES:  all nicely covered and hidden by the linings of the dress or bias tape; see picture

100_1468           This V8811 dress was an absolute joy to make, and I cannot recommend it enough.  It is THE easiest Vintage Vogue I have made yet.  It definitely can be a one or two day project for someone, as it was for me. The full bias cut circular skirt, combined with a bodice shape that’s complimentary to the waist, creates an amazing 40’s silhouette just perfect for swinging, dancing, twirling, or plain having fun!

Most of the 4 hours or less I spent on this dress went towards working on the hem.  There is so much length at the bottom to hem it seemed like I just kept going.  A circular hem is a must for this dress.  The hemline’s curve necessitates the practice of doing long stitches and pulling them up for a soft gather to ease in a flat hem.  I had to do this same thing for my ‘Star-Spangled Red, White, and Blue’ dress, with it’s full circle skirt.

100_1458     If you have made V8811 or know this pattern, you might be wondering, “Where are the facings?” looking at the picture above of my dress inside out.  Well, I greatly simplified the pattern by eliminating the bodice facings and merely lining the dress instead.  (It makes up for the time spent on the hem.)  Simply cut two of each bodice piece – 1 fabric front, 1 fabric back, 1 lining front, 1 lining back.  I lined my bodice in the same fabric as my dress to make it more opaque, but lining could be used instead.  Then I sewed the four shoulder seams of both the fabric and the lining. Don’t forget to add the loop for the button!  Next, match up the fabric and the lining (right sides together) and sew in one continuous stitch all along the entire neckline and following around the back slit for the neckline opening.  Slash the slit, turn right sides of the fabric out, and – voila!  All you need to do is top-stitch the neckline down and you have an easy and clean finish so you can quickly assemble the rest of the bodice (and dress). 100_1460

At right is a close-up of the back bodice so you can see how nicely my adaptation turned out.  The vintage button I used can be seen well, too.  Some of the buttons in my stash go back to my Grandmother’s collection, so I know this button is not new.  It is clear (plastic probably), with cool facets or grooves that give it character.

100_1463     I was SO impressed with how true the sizing was on this pattern.  V8811 is one of the handful of patterns (not counting knits) which fit like it was made for me by exactly following the sizing chart, and needing no adjustments.  Even the darts matched up perfectly along the side seams.100_1470

This dress has been one of my “go-to” 40’s clothing item for this spring/ summer. I’d like to prove this by showing you some of the different ways and places where I have worn my bed sheet dress.

100_1444     When I finished sewing my dress in April, it was done just a few days before a WWII Canteen Dance at our town’s military barracks.  There I had my hair in a snood net with pin curls.  Several people (veterans) told me I reminded them of an aunt or a sister when they were growing up in the 40’s.  I was flattered!  However, when I told people I made my dress, and made it  from bed linens, and it cost only $5…well, they looked at me like I was nuts.  Oh well!  Here’s we are above – hubby 100_1646forgot his hat in this picture.

I also wore my bed sheet 1940 dress to a Big Band/Swing concert at our Botanical Gardens.  This time I accessorized with modern shell jewelry I made myself, and fixed my hair in the “Veda” style (my new favorite) from the book “Vintage Hairstyling” by Lauren Rennells.  There some one said how nice it was to see a young family dressed up nice.  I was disappointed I couldn’t find anyone else dressed up, much less in vintage.

100_1651100_1649     Speaking of swing, that reminds me of a coincidence that makes my V8811 dress even more appropriate to dance in at events.  Glenn Miller’s #1 Big Band hit “In the Mood” topped the charts in the year 1940.  Miller’s 1939 recording on RCA Bluebird  of “In the Mood” is in the Grammy Hall of Fame. National Public Radio (NPR) included the 1939 Glenn Miller recording on the NPR 100, the list of “The 100 most important American musical works of the 20th century”.  Who can resist the urge to get up and dance when hearing other famous hit songs from 1940, such as Artie Shaw’s “Frenesi”, Tommy’ Dorsey’s “I’ll Never Smile Again”, and Glenn Miller’s “Tuxedo Junction”.

Try making a V8811 dress for yourself; I believe the results will also leave you dancing!