This post was originally titled, "HOLY MONKEY BUTTS! I MADE A 50s DRESS!!"
Let me explain...
My sister-in-law Sarah is constantly lusting after 50s style dresses. As I lust after pretty much ANY period style dress predating the 1960s (what a gross time for fashion), she usually shares her love of 50s fashion with me whenever she comes across a stellar example.
Consequently, I periodically receive emails like this:
I. NEED. THIS. DRESS.
I might die without it.
Obviously, this is a dress worth dying for. Just look at that skirt!
So, when it came time to pick out Christmas presents this year, I knew just what to get Sarah. A 50s dress. It was perfect! I can't have her dying on me, after all. Who else am I supposed to get tipsy with on the dock at Myrtle Beach this summer?
That being said... Have you ever looked at vintage dresses on Etsy?? They run anywhere from $100 to $400. INSANE. I love Sarah, but I also like paying my mortgage on time. Vintage dress patterns, on the other hand, are about $10 on Etsy. Can you guess which option I chose? No brainer. If you are ever looking for a vintage clothing pattern, you should check Etsy. Treasure trove!
I have no sewing skills or experience. I've only ever sewn one other dress in my life and that dress was straight out the Regency era (1811-1837). Think Pride and Prejudice. I wore it to a period Dolly Madison ball, drank punch, and danced the quadrille. Hey! I'm a history teacher, what did you expect?? Laugh if you want, but it was super fun. Hmph! My Elizabeth Bennett-esque dress was a bit loose, but it looked like a dress. So, it only stood to reason that I could sew something straight out of the 1950s. Right?? That's what I told myself, anyways.
But how to get Sarah's measurements without giving away my plans... Tricky. Maybe if I email her husband and ask him? Which led to the following email draft:
To Agent Rob 007. STOP.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to measure every part of Sarah's body without her knowing. STOP. It is imperative that this mission be completed with the utmost discretion. STOP. I recommend giving her an Ambien and measuring her in a drugged sleep. STOP. It's not at all creepy. STOP. Guard these measurements at all costs. STOP. Even with your life. STOP. Trust me, they are more important than you. STOP.
This telegram will self destruct in 10 seconds.Hmm. On second thought, I'm not sure he'll agree to something like this. Discard draft.
I'll just have to measure her myself at Thanksgiving. And tell her to mind her own business. She has no right to know what I'm doing with measurements of her body. Besides, do you see those measurements? What a ho. She's so tiny! The first two times I took her measurements, I lost them, hence the "DO NOT LOSE" written across the top. And Sarah made me redraw her "model" a few times. She seemed to object to my Boobless Sarah Snowman. I can't imagine why. Picky, picky.
To put off any suspicions she might have, I informed her that she might be receiving a portable pole dancing platform for Christmas and that she should probably start practicing dipping at the waste and then flinging her hair back provocatively. Just in case. She was ecstatic because she'd always wanted a portable pole dancing platform to set up in Mantown. I told you she was a ho.
I found this gorgeous turquoise linen fabric in Walmart's clearance section for $1.50 a yard. SCORE! I purchased 5 yards of it, some fabric button kits and matching thread. That's right. Between the materials and the pattern, I spent (Sarah, shield your eyes) a whopping $20 on this dress. Booyah!
The pattern itself was a vintage size 18 1954 Vogue dress pattern. FYI, vintage sizes are roughly double your modern size. The pattern itself was "Oh my gosh, if I touch this it will turn to dust!" tissue paper old. I loved it. It was awesome. Except for the directions. Not so awesome. Very, very confusing.
Notice the lack of directions on this pattern? Just a bunch of dots and squares and triangles and Vs. Gotta love vintage. The pattern assumes that you are a good little 50s lady who took real home economics classes and know what the heck you are doing. Yeah, not so much.
As for the wrinkles in the tissue, I highly recommend ironing all of the pattern pieces. It makes it easier to pin them to the fabric and cut everything out correctly.
Pin, pin, pin. Expect the tissue to tear. Trace EVERYTHING with a chalk pencil. Every little dot, v, and square. Make sure you've pinned your pattern in the right direction and to the right side of your folded fabric. Words like "bias" are involved, but I really can't explain what the heck that means. I just know that it has to do with the weave of the fabric and your dress won't hang correctly if you get it wrong.
So BE VERY CAREFUL and follow the directions closely! Double check if your pattern piece is supposed to be on the fold or on the selvage (edge). The tracing and cutting of the fabric is very time consuming and probably took about 5 hours. So be forewarned if you decide to take on a project like this.
After all of the cutting, finally getting to the sewing is a relief. This is one of the sleeves. It requires "easing."
Meaning, it's too big for the hole that it attaches to on the bodice, so you have to baste stitch (loosely stitch), pull, and make it fit without causing any wrinkles or tucks. Keep the iron on at all times. It's crucial to keeping all of your seams neat and tidy. Oh, and did you know that the lines on the dress that go up your back to your shoulder blades and up your front to your boobs are called "darts"? I learned sooo much making this dress.
The most important lesson: Pins are your friends. Become one with the pins. Love the pins. Worship the pins. Even when they stab you in the finger, bow down before the Pin God and thank him for his minions.
For me, the satisfying part of making clothing is sewing everything inside out, then removing the pins, and seeing what it looks like on the outside. But the best part of this whole project? Covering the buttons! It's so much fun!
Easy, too. You simply layer all of the pieces together and push down on them until the button back holds everything in place. Aren't they adorable?
Yes, they are. My sewing machine has a special foot attachment for buttonholes. It makes holes the perfect size for your chosen button. It only took me about an hour and a half to figure out how to work it...
I heart buttons.
I actually somewhat changed the pattern of the dress by adding in two extra skirt panels to ensure proper twirlage and skirt fluffiness. I had to incorporate extra gathering in the back to adjust for the panels, but Sarah really digs fluffiness, so it was worth it! You might say she has a minor obsession with fluffy poufyness. From her wedding dress to her curtains. It kind of makes me wonder if she was raised by baby chicks and clouds. Probably.
If you want a proper, even hem, you have to make your model wear the dress and measure the same distance up from the floor all around. Mark it with pins or chalk to sew it up later. This keeps the dress from rising higher in the back because of one's butt. You are also supposed to use a blind hem stitch on the hem so that you can't see the stitching. My machine does this for me, but I added in iron-up tape just to be safe.
For the belt, I simply found an old belt in my closet and covered it. The buckle part comes apart and gets covered in the same manner as the buttons.
Dude. I made a dress!
So, without further ado, I'd like to introduce my sister-in-law Sarah. THE Domestic Goddess.
Reigning supreme in her beautiful kitchen. Except for the part where she doesn't cook... But she sure is purty! ;)