There is something so relaxing to me about being near where I can hear the movement of water. Of course, as a city dweller I am never really that close to much water. Maybe that why I appreciate it so much whether it’s a local rambling creek, a man-made fountain jumping enticingly in the summertime, the beaches of Florida (of which I’m a big fan), or the one man-made ‘river’ we have traveling through the heart of south city. This ‘river’ was the perfect place to go relax, cool down, enjoy myself, and take a few pictures of my most recent sewing treat – a year 1951 dress with interesting seam lines, sewn using a true vintage rayon border print.
The flowers in the border print remind of some sort of tropical, lush beauties. I like what the color of pink does for my complexion so I wanted this to be on the bodice, which wraps around me in a U-shaped fashion due to the cross-diagonal seaming. Yet, the directional lines to the rest of the print first struck me as very animal-referenced, but maybe it is more like leaves on plant stems when I think differently. The animal/stems lend a very proper post-WWII preferred-silhouette of a slenderizing, long and skinny skirt.
Whatever it is printed there, this slightly tropical dress is my new perfect summer dress, which is very ironic. Usually rayon challis does not hold up well in our hot and steamy summers here – it sucks up too much moisture both from the air and off of me to become limp, wrinkly, and clingy. Thus, my splurging on myself to use a true vintage fabric was one of my best, yet very wary, idea for trying something new for summer. I don’t know what era this is from but it doesn’t wrinkle! It is also a denser weave, and quite tightly stable yet so cool to the touch. This is unlike any other modern rayon challis I have ever found. I prefer past styles over newer ones generally already, but now you mean to tell me that old fabrics are much better too?! I am glad to have this dress in my wardrobe and finally find out the benefits of old-style rayon.
FABRIC: a 100% rayon challis, with a remnant of a modern poly lining for the bodice facing
NOTIONS: I had everything I needed to make this on hand already – interfacing scraps, thread, bias tapes, buttons, and a vintage zipper from my Grandma’s stash.
TIME TO COMPLETE: Making this took me about 15 hours and it was finished on May 11, 2018.
THE INSIDES: This dress has a clean and complimentary interior in pink and blue tiny ¼ inch bias tape along all the raw edges.
TOTAL COST: Two yards cost me only $7…pretty awesome!
I felt extra pressure to be “perfect” with this make because of the vintage fabric I was using. I found it at a reasonable price, and it is in very good shape so I don’t feel as if I have to be more careful wearing my dress. No – the pressure came from my respect for vintage and my knowledge that I had no back-up fabric to buy more of if I messed up. Border prints are a specialty not to be found everywhere as it is, so finding a vintage fabric border print gave me even more of an expectation to find the right match of a pattern, too. I had plenty of inspiration to go on which you can see for yourself as well here at my “Border Prints” Pinterest board. The bodice of this earlier vintage year 1943 McCall’s pattern was my main inspiration, what I was going for with this year 1951 make. Here, as my dress turned out, the floral border was too loose, oversized and not directional enough to make the U-shaped bodice all that obvious, as I wanted. Oh well, it’s still just as pretty either way. On the back, the border print runs along the bottom of the bottom of the bodice where it joins to the skirt.
The sizing on this pattern was weird. Vintage McCall’s patterns are normally always so dependable, well instructed, with fine designs, and can be counted on to turn out great for me, but this one was one of the very few which I have found to run quite small. I even sized up just to have a safety cushion “in case”. Luckily, there were 5/8 inch seam allowances which I let out.
My dress’ pattern overall length also ran long, which I left as-is. I think the longer length is most elegant and very befitting to the transitional 1948 to 1952 period when hemlines were a length they had not been since the early to mid-1930s. A “several inches above the ankles” mid-calf length hemline like this now seems to be labelled as a “midi” dress nowadays. It can be awkward on some garment designs, and it seems especially weird from a wearer’s perspective looking down, but generally I think this length is very flattering. The triple pleats flaring out on each side of the center front skirt give a very gentle hip emphasis to keep the longer skirt from seeming like a straight pencil shape.
I’m guessing the major change I made to the dress pattern is pretty obvious already. I eliminated the full button-up front closing to instead have a bodice only half-button front (with a zipper in the side, as well). It wasn’t just because I was a tad lazy and didn’t want to do all those buttonholes and buttons. I really didn’t want extra busyness to the print and besides – I actually didn’t have enough fabric for a button front! Two yards was cutting it so close for this pattern…most of the tissue pieces were touching one another laid out on the fabric. As much as I LOVE pockets, I also had to leave them out for the same reasons as for adapting the skirt. Luckily I didn’t have to compromise anything else major (especially grainline!).
Eliminating a button placket is pretty easy for being such a visually evident modification to a design. Most patterns have a vertical line that marks out the center front, the ‘middle ground’ where the two sides lap over and under one another. It’s normally where the buttons would line up with the buttonholes. The center front line is the line I placed on the fold, so that I would have one, large continuous front piece. If you would ever like a seam line in place of a button placket instead, the center front would be the stitching line and a seam allowance would have to be added on. Many pattern adapting techniques are a lot easier than they look once they are done, and this change-up is no exception.
The minor alteration I made to the overall dress was to add some slight “sleeves”. Well, technically they’re not full sleeves, the shoulder line was merely extended slightly and the armscye adapted into a rectangle so that my arms would feel a bit more covered. My upper arms are on the larger side and this seemed to be a feminine dress, so since I had the little bit of extra fabric I would need to make the change, I made easy half-cap-sleeves onto the garment. This way I also used up every spare square inch of my lovely fabric, too, he he.
With the nice fabric I was using, I took my time with this dress to do only invisible hand work when top-stitching was needed. This was worth it! Finding the perfect color thread was not working out, and having a harsh, obvious stitching line was I felt not at all proper for this dress. I had stitched all along the neckline and buttoning fronts to tack down the facing underneath. This was the true test of how invisible yet regular I could make my needle do its job! Also, I hand stitched under to the wrong side the skinny bias tape edge finishing along the armholes. This was really quite challenging because there were sharp corners and right angles to the opening for the arms very much like another year 1951 dress I made before.
After all the attention I spent hand working on the bodice, I felt I would have been terribly remiss not to spend the same care on the rest – the bottom hem and the side zipper. I am so ‘sold’ on stitching on hand picked zippers (except when it comes to the ‘invisible’ kind). I discovered this ever since doing all the “labor of love” intensive work put into this 50’s dress. Such zipper installations turn out so much cleaner, and less bumpy than machine finished ones. They are less noticeable so that they blend in with the garment as much as possible (unless it’s an exposed zipper!). One can be so precise with getting a hand-picked zipper to turn out looking every bit as good as it’s intended, it’s worth the extra time every time I finish sewing one. A bonus on the side is that it gives my machine a break, anyways!
This dress is a continuance of a segment of vintage fashion I suddenly feel I don’t have enough of to wear. The early 1950s and late 40’s are my current fashion fascination in my sewing. I love the in-between periods when styles where trying to find the right balance of details and not quite looking like the stereotypical silhouette. One of my favorite ways of understanding history is to sew. As I do have a plethora of killer patterns from this time, look out for more of circa 1951 here on the blog (although I must say this is one of the best I think I have yet made from this time period!). How could I go wrong anyway with a wonderful vintage fabric…in a border print, to boot…sewn with my favorite vintage McCall’s patterns?!