The votes are in and the winner of PatternReview.com’s Shirtdress Contest is…. not me. I did come in a respectable second place (out of 43) with 273 votes, just 7 shy of the winner. Congratulations IvorySew on your win with this lovely late 1950’s number.
And thanks to everyone who voted. Oh well, there’s always next time!
I started out with a McCall Pattern Co. pattern 7649 printed in 1949.
The dress features:
Button front opening
Scoop front pockets
Unusual layered skirt back with many tucks and darts
Darts at waist front and back
I left the basic shape of the dress alone, but knew I would need to shorten it and modify the padded shoulder to make it wearable. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice this contest rule when I chose the pattern:
The opening must be sufficient to take the dress on and off, but does not have to be the entire length of the front.
With that fitted waist, there was no way my dress was going to qualify. My solution: extend the button opening all the way down the front and eliminate the side zipper.
I had my work cut out for me!
First order of business: unpad the shoulder. To get the shape of the bodice right, I made a muslin. I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t need to change the length, waist, or bust. But those shoulders were awful! While still wearing the muslin, I pinched the bagginess out and pinned a new shoulder seam in place, constantly checking the back and front in the mirror. I ripped out the old shoulder seam and sewed the new one in place. Back to the mirror, I saw that it would need more adjustment. It took three tries, but I finally got it. Once I made a new pattern piece with the changes, I was ready to cut my good fabric.
Speaking of fabric… I used an Amy Butler design entitled “Cotton Blossom.” I found the cotton woven on sale at Moona Fabrics on Etsy, but I would have paid full price. It’s really good quality material and I love that color combination! Here’s some more Amy Butler on fabric.com.
I didn’t have any problems putting the top half together. The only other change I made was to add fusible interfacing to the facings and inside the collar. Since the original didn’t call for any interfacing at all, I chose Pellon SF101, which is on the lighter side for a collar. I suppose in 1949 they would have used starch to stiffen the collar. I’m grateful for the modern materials that make starch unnecessary. I finished everything but the buttons and buttonholes and set it aside.
Next – the skirt. I didn’t think I would need to make a muslin for the skirt, but when I started looking at how it went together, I was baffled. To get that cute shape in the back, there are 5 darts and 6 tucks! I felt like it would take less time to test it with a muslin than it would ripping out the inevitable mistakes.
It wasn’t difficult once I ran through it once, but it was time consuming. There was a lot more time spent marking and ironing than usual.
For the pockets, I tried to eliminate some bulk by using a lightweight woven on the inside (which does not show). The pockets turned out to be roomy and useful. Finally, I can wear a dress and not have to have a separate bag for my phone!
Here’s a little slideshow of the pockets going together.
I have to admit the next part made me nervous. I carefully cut the skirt front down the middle. I drafted a new pattern piece for the facings behind the opening. I used that to cut out two facing pieces and two more lengths of interfacing. Using the top half as a guide, I mirrored the steps I used to assemble the facings. Finally, it was time to sew the back to the front and the top to the skirt. By some kind of miracle, my math and obsessiveness worked. and everything fit!
I don’t want to do that again, but at least now I know I can.
As regular readers know, buttonholes are not my favorite thing to do. But I think I have finally turned a corner. Not flawless, but not bad!
The dress also called for a 1″ belt. I’ve never made a belt before. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was pretty easy. I stiffened the fabric (there was a pattern piece for this) with a one inch strip of Pellon ShirTailor fusible interfacing. Then I fused a strip of heat-n-bond ultra-hold tape right on top of the Pellon. I folded over the seam allowances and just fused them to the back. Finishing was just a matter of sewing on the buckle. It was so easy that I will consider doing belts a lot more!
I finished it with a simple invisible hem. I’ll definitely be wearing this dress a lot. It looks good on its own, but can also work under a sweater or other layers. I am really happy with the result, but I think I am ready for something quick and easy next time!
Check out all of the shirtdress contest entries here.
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
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.
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.
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.
Fortunately, I already had a plan in place, so I hit the ground running when I finally started.
The black stretch fabric I used for the main color was challenging to cut. To get the best result, I used my sharpest scissors and put a fresh blade in my rotary cutter. When cutting stretch fabrics with a rotary, it is especially important to apply pressure from directly above where you want to cut. If you apply pressure at an angle, the fabric will stretch away from you as you cut. The greater the angle, the greater the distortion.
Main fabric: stretch poly twill
Lace: Cotton embroidered on nylon mesh
To make sure that the lace pieces would come together in a pleasing way, I first laid the lace over the pattern piece. Then I identified where the “X” stitching lines would fall. I shifted the piece until I was happy, then marked the placement with a couple of pins. I put the pattern piece on top, then cut it out. I used this process for all four lace sections. After all that, cutting the gray background fabric was a breeze!
Before getting to the directions in the pattern envelope, I basted the lace and lining pieces to each other. Because my serger was ready to go, I used an overlock stitch (with the knife up) to put them together.
The next part was assembling the four pieces making up the front into a single piece. I have never done any quilting, but I imagine that the process is very similar. First, I sewed the top section to the right side triangle. Then I sewed the bottom section to the left side triangle. I pressed the seams open. Then I carefully pinned the two pieces so the “X” met exactly in the center. I measured twice. Then I stitched the third and final seam, pausing a few times to check and re-check my alignment. Success!
The only problem was the fabric itself. I once again needed to help the machine along by adding strips of wash-away stabilizer.
The back was made of two pieces, joined by a 22 inch zipper. So assembling the back did not require matching an “X.” Sewing those pieces was much less nerve wracking.
From this point, putting the dress together goes the same as any other back zip dress. I changed the neckline from using a facing to using bias tape, but everything else was the same as the pattern.
I put it on ready to be amazed at its awesomeness. After all, it looked great on the hanger. Alas, the fit was far from amazing. Although the fitted part of the dress (bustline and up) looked good, the loose fitting lower half was boxy and unflattering. It did not have the gentle waist curve and drape I expected from looking at the pattern illustration. Part of that was because the heavy black stretch fabric did not drape well. But I felt that the dress would be more flattering if I took in the sides a bit below the bust.
New size seam to go where pins are placed.
New seam-line marked with white pencil.
Fabric needs to be reduced between the pins.
New back darts marked with white pencil
So, it was back to the sewing machine, the seam ripper and the iron. Still not happy, I added a few small darts in the back, between the waist and hip. A little while later, I had my modified style.
I trimmed the seam allowances, it hung a lot better…. but….
I still had more fitting to do. I took the sides in some more and took the darts out. Finally, it looked like I had imagined.
A quick hemming session, a final press and it was done!
I think if I make this pattern again, I might try doing it in a mid to heavy weight knit omitting the zipper. It would be really flattering in complementary colors with topstitching. Maybe in a long sleeve version? It would also be nice in a lighter weight woven in the sleeveless view for spring and summer.
Hey – why don’t you vote for me? The voting period is from the 17th to the 22nd.
Even if you don’t vote, it’s worth taking a look at the other contest entries on patternreview.com. I’m really impressed and also have serious shoe envy.
One of the resources everyone who sews should check out is patternreview.com. There you will find a huge database of user-submitted reviews for just about every pattern out there. It’s a great place to check out what others think of a pattern before you shop – or when you get stuck.
Pattern Review runs a bunch of contests and challenges over the course of the year. I’ve never done one before, but 2018’s first challenge sparked my imagination. EntitledThe 2018 Match Your Shoes Contest, the idea is that entrants use a pair of shoes as inspiration for building an entire outfit. Everything except foundations and accessories has to be sewn by the entrant (although not necessarily for themself).
Oh boy! Who among us doesn’t have a pair of shoes they couldn’t resist, but then never wears?
Last year I bought these calf-height boots so that I could be stylish in the cold weather. That has happened exactly once. I still love the boots, but I just don’t know what to wear with them. So they became my inspiration piece.
Now I have until February 15 to pull together my shoe-inspired outfit.
The boots have an interesting combination of simple black leather topped with a black snakeskin-textured band. They have an easy sensibility. These are walking-around shoes – not night at the opera shoes. So my ideal outfit would be a little special, but easy to wear strolling around town. I would also like it to reflect the boots’ interesting monochrome textural differences.