Contest · Fashion · Vintage

1949 McCall’s Shirtdress Part 2: Making the Dress

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Art from the pattern envelope. I made View B.

See Part 1 here for general impressions on sewing with a vintage pattern.

For Patternreview.com’s Shirtdress contest, I made a vintage shirtwaist with lots of modifications.

I started out with a McCall Pattern Co. pattern 7649 printed in 1949.

The dress features:

  • Open collar
  • Dolman sleeve
  • Button front opening
  • Scoop front pockets
  • Unusual layered skirt back with many tucks and darts
  • Side zip
  • Belt
  • Shoulder pads
  • 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!

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Taking the padded shoulder away affected the fit of the back and the dolman sleeves, but eventually I got it sorted.

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.

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Skirt muslin back view: so many tucks and darts!

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.

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Sure, that makes sense. Practically sews itself!

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.

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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.

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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!

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Finally figuring out how to do buttonholes!

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!

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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!

Until then,

Happy Sewing!

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Check out all of the shirtdress contest entries here.

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Contest · Fashion · Vintage

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
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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.

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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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General · Home Dec · Vintage · Whimsy

Hand Embroidered Dishtowels

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I’ve taken a small break from fashion sewing to work on a few just-for-fun embroidery projects. Over the holidays I had rediscovered how much I love old hand-embroidered things for the home when my Mom showed me some items she had embroidered when she was a girl. They were so charming and sweet.

I thought about the trend for adult coloring books. Coloring as an adult is supposed to be a relaxing activity that relieves stress and restores calm. I think working on simple embroidery projects can do the same. You choose the colors you like and the designs you like. It’s easy and something you can do just for pure enjoyment.

One of the easiest ways to get started is with dishtowels. I love using flour sack towels to dry my dishes.  As a child, my mother embroidered many of these and I was eager to make some of my own.

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A scrap I saved from one of Mom’s well-worn towels. They were always machine washed in hot with bleach! The embroidery outlasted the towels.

My first effort was the kitten in the knitting basket. I found the design on a google images search and just printed it onto regular paper. I already had a stack of plain unembellished towels in my drawer, so I grabbed one of those. Using my favorite sewing notion, blue painter’s tape, I taped the printout to my table. Then I positioned my towel above it and taped it down as well. Since my towel had such an open weave, I was able to trace the design onto the towel with a soft lead pencil. I had a 6-inch embroidery hoop, embroidery needles and needle threader already, so all I needed was some thread. I bought a variety pack of good quality embroidery floss and was good to go.

Once I got started, I had a lot of fun playing with different colors and types of stitches. Some of them I knew already. Others I found in my Reader’s Digest Complete Book of Needlework or in one of the many online resources out there. The kitten uses back stitch, french knots, lazy daisy (my favorite), stem stitch and satin stitch. I consider the final embroidery a success although I would have used a more tightly woven dish towel if I had thought about how much the reverse side would show through.

Now that I knew a little bit, I was ready for more. I researched dishtowels and landed on Mary’s Kitchen as my choice. They are large, hemmed, on-grain (!), tightly woven bright white cotton towels. For patterns, I decided to go the tried and true iron-on transfer route. People have been buying iron-on designs since the late 1800’s and they are still a great option. The Aunt Martha’s brand seems fairly easy to find in retail stores and online. I bought a selection of patterns that I thought I might like – they were less than $2.00 each, so why not? I also got a little more organized with my materials by adding a floss box, plastic floss bobbins, winder and ring. My total investment so far was about $35. This is one inexpensive hobby!

Supplies in hand and fully committed, I stamped 7 flour sack towels with a days of the week birdhouse series. It was a fun project to work on whenever I wanted something small and portable. It went surprisingly fast and I love the results! I will definitely have one or two hand embroidery projects ready to go from now on.

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Project 2: Days of the Week Birdhouses on Flour Sack Towels

If you would like to give embroidery a try, here are a few resources to get started:

Patterns and Transferring
  • Iron-on transfers: I found Aunt Martha and a variety of others on EtsyCreateforLessAmazon and EBay
  • How to transfer designs – Here’s a nice overview of various methods from Mary’s Kitchen
Skills
Materials
Contest · Fashion · Vintage

2018 Match Your Shoes Contest Entry

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Simplicity 1012 View C

I spent way more time than I expected working on the Marfy blouse in January, which didn’t leave me much time to put together my entry for PatternReview.com’s 2018 Match Your Shoes Contest.

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.

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!

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Checking the position of the flowers before cutting.

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.

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One of the midriff pieces serge-basted

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.

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!

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That’s better!

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.

Here is the finished look for my contest entry.

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Missed the first part of this post? Check it out here: 2018 Match Your Shoes Contest Begins.

 

 

Contest · Fashion · Vintage

2018 Match Your Shoes Contest Begins

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I’ll be reviewing this pattern for the contest and making View C.

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. Entitled The 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?

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The Cloud Footwear Janna Tall Bootie, from Nordstrom (2017)

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.

I admit I puzzled over this one longer than usual. But inspiration struck when I came across this vintage pattern re-release from Simplicity.

Here was an easy, loose dress with color blocking possibilities that could showcase different textures in the same tone.

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Oh, the possibilities!

Usually I can find something in my stash that will work, but not this time. I spent a fun time shopping for fabric and finally came up with a really neat combination.

The main color will be black and the side pieces will be gray with a lace overlay. All of the fabrics are either 100% cotton or cotton/poly blend, so they can be washed by machine.

Watch this space for more updates as the project progresses.

 

 

 

Fashion · Vintage

Pinstripe Pantsuit Part 3: Button Up!

pinstripe31My fear of buttonholes has been holding me back, but I finally worked through it and finished! I don’t suffer from Koumpounophobia, but I was perversely amused to learn that fear of buttons is a thing. Apparently, Steve Jobs had it. My reluctance had more to do with a long history of messing up sewing projects on the very last step.

I chose simple dark brown buttons and brown all-purpose thread. Before starting, I needed to do a little trial and error. I haven’t used my machine to sew buttonholes in years, and I never did it often enough for it to become automatic. Rather than ruin my work, I set up a trial swatch to match the fabric and interfacing in the garment. Boy, was I glad I did!

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My “Easy to Sew” pattern gave these instructions:

Transfer buttonhole markings to garment.

Make buttonholes at markings.

So….  that helped a lot.

Next step – read my sewing machine‘s manual. The machine’s instructions were also basic, but at least gave me enough to start experimenting.

I made a swatch with the same interfacing, lining and pinstripe fabric that I would be sewing.

After much experimentation, I was finally able to consistently stitch the buttonhole I wanted. I actually had to make a second test swatch because I ran out of room on the first one.

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Here’s a full list of adjustments and additions I used.

  1. Place tear-away stabilizer under the buttonhole area.
  2. Use a walking foot.
  3. Set the stitch width to the maximum (in my case, 5mm).
  4. Run the bobbin thread through the eye of the bobbin case’s hook. This increases the tension on the bobbin thread.
  5. Increase the stitch density by adjusting the machine’s balance.
  6. Increase the presser foot pressure.
  7. Mark the vertical boundary of the buttonholes with two strips of blue tape.
  8. Insert a strip of wash-away stabilizer between the lines of tape. Use wash-away marker on the stabilizer to mark the buttonhole placement. Bonus – the lines are highly visible against the bright white wash-away.
  9. I still had problems with the long side of the buttonhole rectangle staying straight. Solution: set up the seam guide and use more blue tape to give it a “track” to follow.
  10. Make several buttonholes on the test swatch. I did not work with the actual vest until I could get three in a row exactly right.
  11. Open the holes in the test swatch sample and make sure the button fits. I used a very sharp seam ripper to cut the slots.
  12. Apply Fray Check to the buttonhole stitching.
  13. Before cutting the holes open, remove the stabilizer and place pins just inside the holes’ bartacks. The pins prevent over-cutting.

I checked and double checked my markings. Yes, I psyched myself out a little. One more triple check and I was ready to go.

Overkill? Maybe. You could make a case. But it worked!

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Why yes, those stripes do line up! So kind of you to notice.

I decided to hand-sew the buttons rather than machine-sew. The reason is that I wanted to make sure they were not attached too tightly. A too-tight button can pull through the fabric or distort the nice flat plane of the button placket.

I can’t believe it, but it’s really done!

I am so pleased with the finished outfit.

Do you have any tips for making buttonholes? Write a comment below – I would love to hear them.

In case you missed it, here is the rest of the series.

Pinstripe Pantsuit Part 1: the Pants

Pinstripe Pantsuit Part 2: the Vest

I have lots of great things planned for 2018. I can’t wait to share them with you!

Fashion · Vintage

Pinstripe Pantsuit Part 1: the Pants

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Fabric swatch close-up: Brown Pinstripe Polyester

Last month, I made these awesome high-waist pants. In the process, I made a good copy of the pattern including all of my personal alterations. I have been looking forward to using it again ever since.

With that in mind, I took a look through my fabric stash and drew out this pretty pinstripe polyester. The plain chocolate brown is brightened up by alternating pinstripes of gold and bronze. It seems to have a little spandex as well. I had always intended this fabric to be used for pants, and with fall finally beginning, the timing seemed right.

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Wrong side of pant facing using both knit and non-woven interfacing due to poor planning. I think it will work…

I’m not sure where the fabric came from. It was probably a remnant or some kind of irresistible bargain. That would certainly explain why, after pre-washing, I found dozens of flaws. I had five yards to work with (also a good sign it was an irresistible bargain), so there was still plenty even when I avoided the snags and pulls.

Before jumping in, I thought through some style possibilities. While I love the high-waist look, I know that there are some situations where the style would make me feel out of place. Because they fit so well (that is, comfy!), I can see using them as the base for casual looks with fitted pullover tops. But what really appealed to me was the idea of wearing it with a matching vest. Something about a feminine version of menswear basics always seems to look so chic. Making a vest is something I have never done, so it would also be an interesting challenge.

But first the pants. I am once again making view E from Butterick 5859. Because I took the extra time with the first pair, these went together quickly. That’s not to say that I didn’t manage to sew not just one, but two seams on the wrong side. That happened. But the seam ripper and a good night’s sleep took care of the problem.

I have to say, it felt really great to put on my new pants and have them fit on the very first try!

In the meantime, I also cut out the pieces for the vest (Out of Print Simplicity 4079 View A). I found that I had a lot of lining left over when I was done, so I decided to make it into bias tape. I thought it would be nice to bind the waistband facing with it. The lining fabric from Mood is a polyester satin, which is heavy enough for a jacket or coat lining. I really love the way the bound facing turned out, but I am not sure if I would try to make bias tape with the same kind of fabric again. The material did not want to take a crease, so it was really slow going. Still, I have at least 2 1/2 yards left, so I don’t think I’ll need to make any more.

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Right side of facing
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Inside pants (zipper is in back)
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Lots of binding left over

And here are the finished pants:

Next in this series, follow along as I tackle my first vest!