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1949 McCall’s Shirtdress Part 1: Sewing with a Vintage Pattern

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My vintage pattern: McCall 7649 from 1949. I made a variation on View B.

This post is about the shirt-dress style and sewing with vintage patterns in general. Those of you who just want to see how I made it, hang in there. That post is coming soon!

Patternreview.com’s Shirtdress contest inspired me to consider making this classic style.

For the contest:

  • The dress must include a front opening that has button closures.
  • The opening must be sufficient to take the dress on and off, but does not have to be the entire length of the front.
  • The dress must be at least mid-thigh.

I have a few shirtdress patterns from the last few years, but a flea market find printed in 1949 seemed a little more special. I love the attitude of the popped collar. The scoop front pockets are big and useful. The back has some interesting tucks and darts that add volume and interest. In my opinion, only two things hold it back from being a modern design: the length and the wide, padded shoulders. I figured those would be easy enough to edit and dove in.

About Vintage Patterns
markle_collar
Style inspiration: popped collar shirt-dress can be worn today too

Everyone has their own idea about what vintage means. If you were born in 1998, something from 1997 might be considered vintage. Others might start much further back. For me, I think I start with patterns made before body/size measurements became standard for the major pattern companies – around the early 1970’s.

Some things have been the same for a long time.

  • Pattern printed on that same brown tissue paper
  • Seam allowance is 5/8″
  • Pattern markings such as triangles and dots are the same and used for the same purposes.
  • The illustrated envelope and included instructions are very similar.

Other things have changed over the years.

Sizing: no multi-size patterns. The pattern is printed for a single size only. This one is a size 12, which is somewhere between a current McCall’s 6 and 10. The vintage pattern’s bust is comparatively smaller than today with the same the waist and hip.

Pattern Tissue: the triangles for matching pieces together are numbered. Why don’t they do this anymore? I was surprised to find that the pattern tissue had French and Spanish wording as well as English.

shirtdress_1_15
My attempt at a View B pose

Instruction Sheet: the pattern came with a single page of instructions, densely printed front and back. It seems like they did their best to utilize every bit of that space, making the text and illustrations tiny. But it’s all there: general sewing instructions, cutting layouts, and numbered step-by-step assembly instructions.

Some of the terminology has changed, but it’s easy enough to follow. Fabric is referred to as goods, waist refers to the top of the garment, slide fastener means zipper.

Common widths for “goods” were evidently different than they are today. Therefore, I had to figure out yardage estimates and layout on my own.

Conclusion

Because the pattern format has remained so similar over the years, anyone comfortable sewing from a “Big 4” pattern should not have any trouble.

Since the pattern is a single size, you may need to work a little harder to get it to match your measurements. You can’t just draw a line between a 12 waist and 14 hip. The instructions do explain how to make common changes, though.

You will want to think about modern techniques and tools that could help with construction such as fusible interfacing, overlocking, automatic buttonholes, fabric markers, and so on. Fabric options are also different today. Synthetics especially have come a long way since the 1940’s.

Read everything carefully and take notes. My pattern did not mention belt buckle and buttons on the pattern envelope’s materials list, but they are part of the written instructions. I don’t know if these kinds of omissions are common or not, but it never hurts to double check.

Sewing a dress using a vintage pattern was akin to making a cake using a vintage recipe. You might find yourself scratching your head as you go, but it’s a fun way to make a connection with the past. I’ll definitely consider vintage patterns again.

Happy Sewing!

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