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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Fashion

Marfy Blouse 3 – Final Version and Thoughts

MarfyMake1-7Summer sewing begins!

Last week, I finally made the Marfy blouse in the “good” fabric (a cotton lawn I have been hoarding). I took a little more time on the finishing with this one, and I am glad I did. I’m sure I will wear it so much that it will have to hold up to many washings.

Pattern Modifications

In addition to the changes I worked out while making the toile, I also added to the front and back pieces to raise the level of the underarm. If anyone out there is considering this pattern, I would recommend leaving extra fabric in this area and then figuring out if you want to make the change. Once you cut that armhole, you can’t get the fabric back!

Button, button, who’s got the button?

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Is this the world’s most perfect button?

One of the reasons it took so long to put this together is that I obsessed over getting the right buttons. I really wanted a button to match the darker color in the fabric pattern. It was so much harder than I thought it would be.

Issue 1: What color is it anyway? If you can’t name the color, you can’t really search for it. I can say with certainty that it is not purple, plum, violet, burgundy, or red-violet.

Issue 2: Online vendors that sell buttons have many different ways of listing sizes, colors, and shapes. Some buttons are sized by diameter in inches or millimeters, others use Ligne numbers. Here is a great explainer from Mood fabrics: How to Measure Buttons.

It’s a jungle out there in the button world. If you have access to a store with a good collection, count yourself lucky. The best and easiest way to find exactly what you want is to look at actual samples against your actual material.

I finally found what I was looking for on Etsy from a vendor in Germany.  I did mention I looked everywhere, didn’t I?

Pockets

I didn’t make the pattern’s patch pockets for the toile, but I wanted to add them on the final version. Of course, Marfy assumes that given the general shape, you can figure out how to assemble them on your own. By mistake, I attached the pocket flap to outside if the pocket. But after some mild cursing, I decided to keep it that way. I realized that in practice, I would be more likely to use the pocket if I didn’t have to lift a flap to get to it. So this way, I can have the cute round flap detail, but keep the opening the way I like.

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Wrap the seam allowance around the form.
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Cover holds the fabric against the curve
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Perfect curve after ironing

Since the last time I made patch pockets, I have acquired a template which is used to make consistent curved pocket corners. It was great! Ironing tiny pocket curves is a fiddly task that can be so frustrating. The pocket template helps by holding the seam allowance in place while you iron. It is even designed so that you don’t have to have your fingers close to your work.

After all of that, I pinned the pockets in place, stood back and… hated it. That’s okay. I’ll use them for something else later.

Buttonholes

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Looking for a close-up of the buttonholes? Maybe next time.

After struggling to make machine-made buttonholes on the toile, I spent some time thinking about the best way to do these. My original thought was to make then in a matching purple-ish thread as a design feature. I changed to white thread because it would hide my inevitable mistakes better. Also because like the buttons, I couldn’t find the right color thread.

An online friend mentioned that she always hand-sews her buttonholes because for her, it is easier. I had never considered hand sewing, but since I have been playing around with hand embroidery, I thought I might be up for it. Of course this is covered in the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing, my go-to technique reference. I followed the instructions to the letter and made a totally functional buttonhole. Unfortunately, it took forever and really does not bear close inspection. Back to the machine I went.

Partly because the fabric was more stable, and partly through practice, the machine served me well this time. I breezed through the machine buttonholes. In the future, I will save hand made buttonholes for coats and heirloom sewing.

I can’t wait for the weather to catch up to my creations!

Missed any of the other posts on the Marfy blouse?

Marfy Blouse 1 – The Pattern

Marfy Blouse 2 – The Valentine Toile

 

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

Pinstripe Pantsuit Part 2: the Vest

I haven’t actually owned a vest since the 1980’s. Looking back, that vest probably was not the best in the world. But I loved it. It was a thin, shiny black brocade with pearl buttons, no lining, and made me feel stylish and cool.

I don’t think I’m trying to relive my youth, but if I could restore some of that good feeling by making a new contemporary version, why not?

Maybe I had that in mind when I bought Simplicity 4079. It seems to have been printed in 2006 and is now out of print. However, vests are a classic wardrobe builder, so there is always something similar on the market.

Some promising looking substitutes:

Vests are also a staple in the steampunk and Victorian costume worlds, so that could be another source. Look for “waistcoats” as well as vests in your search.

All of the versions in my pattern are variations on the same lined, princess-seamed bodice. I went with the most classic. View A has four buttons, a V-neckline and comes to points in front.

The instructions were clearly written, which really helped me get through the relatively complex construction. But why is this pattern labelled “Easy-To-Sew?” I think anything with buttonholes and lining should really go into a different category. If I was a beginner and picked this up, I think I might have given up in frustration!

It would be easy enough to eliminate the false front pockets, but I think they really give the vest the menswear vibe I was going for.

Here’s a little slideshow of the pocket flaps coming together:

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Straps assembled and ready to sew

The pattern instructions did not specify whether the outside back and ties should be cut from the main fabric or the lining. I went with my gut and did the back with lining fabric and the ties in the brown stripe. As I noted before, the poly satin lining was tricky to press and really wanted to fray. I took my time with it, used a walking foot for traction and tried to handle it as little as possible. I used a press cloth and lots of steam when pressing was needed. It worked out fine and in the end, I am happy I chose the lining I did. Once enclosed in the garment, fraying is no longer an issue. I made extra sure by trimming off the excess with pinking shears. The heavier weight should pay dividends in extra durability (and of course, appearance). I went with a gold color buckle to secure the ties. The Dritz vest buckle comes in either a silver or gold tone. It’s fine, but I wish there were more options on the market. So far, the Dritz is the only one I could find.

There is surprisingly little interfacing in the vest. It only calls for one small piece under each placket. I guess the seams provide enough shaping on their own, because it seems to stay sharp even after a lot of handling. I used a fusible lightweight non-woven.

Is it just me, or is the process of turning the lining kind of like magic? The garment goes from a project to a real article of clothing in the blink of an eye. The vest was particularly satisfying in this regard, since the inside looks so different from the outside. I’m pretty sure turning linings is the closest I will ever get to making origami.

Putting it together:

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I wanted to wrap up this post with a finished vest, but unfortunately, I forgot to buy buttons. So, I’m hitting pause while I get the last bits together. I’ll wrap up soon with Pinstripe Pantsuit Part 3: Button Up!.

Click here if you haven’t yet read Pinstripe Pantsuit Part 1: the Pants.