Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Vintage Inspiration

As my mother always tells me, there is something magical and empowering about taking a flat fold of fabric and making a one of a kind garment with your own hands (and trusty sewing machine). This lavender dress was just that kind of sewing project. I didn't need it for a particular event, so I took my time and worked in sections: a night to cut, two afternoons to make the bodice, a couple of hours after dinner to make and attach the skirt, a trip home and consultation with Mom to make sure the fit worked, and then one last afternoon to put in the zipper.

I just love this dress! It has pockets and a collar. What more could you ask for?

How did I pick this pattern? Well, sewing a vintage dress from an original pattern has been a goal of mine for quite a while, so I did some research on the fit and sizing of vintage patterns and found this 1/2 size gem in the Etsy boutique Miss Betty's Attic. This shop has a wonderful collection of vintage patterns, and they provide very precise description of the measurements and pattern conditions. I loved the silhouette, collar, and pockets of this dress, and since most vintage patterns aren't multi-sized, I had to find one that worked with my bust and waist measurements. 

This pattern had wonderfully specific directions. I don't know if that has to do with it being an older pattern or what, but the English major in me appreciates a set of well written directions. 

I almost went a little wild with fabric choice, planning to use a blue and grey retro bicycle print, but I decided on this springtime color instead. A good friend gave me this lovely lavender fabric from her mother's stash of 70s and 80s fabric. It was just the right yardage, too. I finished cutting with less than a 1/4 yard to spare. I hope Hannah and Mama Wilkes approve of my choice for this fabric. And don't worry the bicycle fabric will be making an appearance in dress form by the summer. 

As I said, I worked in stages because I had the time to do so and I was unfamiliar with the pattern. This was also my first attempt at a collar and side invisible zipper. I spent the longest amount of time on the bodice. There are 4 front waist darts, 2 bust darts, and 4 back waist darts, and then the collar. The darts weren't difficult just time consuming because of the measuring and marking necessary to make a precise dart. (Maybe I should write a blog post on my mother's technique for making precise darts.) I learned the most about the fit of vintage garments from these darts. Being a 50s pattern, the bust is shaped for a woman wearing undergarments such as cone shaped bras and waist cinching girdles that we no longer wear today (unless you count Spanx). So the front waist darts come higher and the both the back and front waist darts are deeper. This turned out to not be too much of an issue fit wise for me, but I will adjust the darts, if I make this pattern again. I also learned that I used an iron-on interfacing that was probably too thick for the collar because even after cutting away the seam at an angle, the facing wants peak out from the collar. The very thin mesh type of interfacing would be my pick for a next time. The sleeves are “kimono style,” meaning they are an extension of the bodice and not a different piece, definitely a perk. 

Here's the bodice. Notice the darts. 

The sewing of the skirt and attaching the skirt to the bodice were simple steps. I thought the pockets might be tricky, but they weren’t at all. I basted in one side seam and took the dress home to try on for my mother and get her opinion about fit before I came back and put in the zipper. Now, the dress only lacks a hem, and it'll be ready for Easter Sunday. I only worry about how much I should cut off before I hem it. Any thoughts on the skirt length? 

The belt is a hand-me-down from my aunt, and the shoes are an old Laura Ashley pair. 

Happy sewing, y'all!


  1. i love it longer!!! it definitely gives it the vintage vibe. i am so jealous of your talents! amazing work!

  2. Love! We need to talk more about dressmaking, it's one of my goals for this summer. :)

  3. Lauren, I think I will hem it at this length and see how I like it. Thanks!

    Mallory, We definitely should talk. We could plan a couple time to cut and sew together.

  4. Anne, it's beautiful! I haven't sewn much since I started at UA. Sometimes I miss it. Maybe summer?