Hello everyone! Here is my version of the Dorothy Lara dress from decades of style. I’ve been eyeing off this pattern since seeing Tanya’s many wonderful versions – this is the one that tipped me over into wanting to sew this pattern. I started thinking about it more when we started planning another trip to Bali. My teal rayon dress was kaput by this time and I knew I wanted something to take to Bali that would replicate the things I liked about it – short sleeves that covered the shoulders, blousy bodice but this time with a loose skirt, easy to wear fabric. I knew the DL dress would fit the bill but with the conversion rate and postage it would have cost something like AUD$50 to get the pattern! That’s too much for me.
I posted on the CSC asking for recommendations for similar patterns and as a result picked up a Vogue pattern that wasn’t quite what I wanted but is lovely so will definitely be made at some point (thanks to all who helped me out in that thread!). I also started drafting something similar myself, but slowly because – well for one because it’s freezing and I find it hard to sew very unseasonably, and for another because I really wanted to sew the DL dress. I guess it was good because I was only halfway through drafting something myself when Tanya let me know that DoS had released the DL dress as a pdf! I immediately downloaded it, despite being on a bit of a pattern buying freeze until I actually sew up some of the ones in my queue.
The fabric is some I bought last month when I was in Melbourne for the weekend for my sister’s birthday and to see a show with my cousin. It’s from Unique fabrics on Sydney road which is my new favourite place to fabric shop. I initially intended it for pyjamas but then I thought about how good that border print would look as a dress and I couldn’t get the thought out of my mind. It’s a little bit out of my usual wheelhouse in terms of colours and design but I really love it. They had it in several colourways including hot pink and orange, and I wish I’d bought some of the others.
It really does feel and drape like satin. Glorious. I bought three metres intending to pattern match my pjs, which meant I had not quite the amount recommended by the pattern. I managed it just fine although wanting to place the pattern in specific ways meant I had to do the layout and cutting all at once – which meant on the living room floor, which I always find a pain.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First was muslining. I traced out the size 44″ bust which is the second to largest size. I have a high bust of 41″ and a full bust of 46″ but I figured there’d be plenty of ease in that bodice. I was going to trace a size down for the shoulders and neck but when I looked at the pattern, there wasn’t that much difference there so I just traced the straight size 44″. Here’s that first muslin:
It was VERY baggy. I could probably fit a couch cushion down there! When I pinched out the neckline it sat much nicer so I took a 1.5″ wedge out of the front neck – losing 3″ in all. This meant taking the width from the bodice piece, the neckline stay and the bias neckline strip. There wouldn’t be much difference in the amount of room between sizes, that part of the pattern piece is a very similar size for all sizes. It says on the pattern that the higher sizes are C cup (if I’m reading correctly?) but I’m an E and there was lots of ease for me, I think this would adapt very easily to various bust sizes.
Anyway here’s the second muslin:
Much better. When I’m making just one change like this I only cut out the one new pattern piece. I only baste my muslins together with a long stitch so it’s easy to take them apart and sub in the new piece. I don’t just muslin for fit – I like the way a muslin lets you figure out how a pattern goes together before sewing up the real thing. I also always tuck or pin a bodice muslin in to a skirt, because I find the weight of the skirt makes a huge difference to fit. Without it this bodice looked pouffy still but with the skirt pulling it down it’s perfect.
I also decided the waist was a bit tight for such a casual blousy pattern. It technically fit but only just, so I added and extra 1″ to just the front waistband. I didn’t change the amount of gathers at the bottom of the bodice, but I brought the gathering area in further to distribute them a bit better, because they looked a bit odd all bunched up with a bigger gap between them. I know that’s the design but I didn’t like how it looked on me. Next time I think I will gather across the whole bottom of the bodice, not just those two spots under the bust – it looks like I did a bad job gathering rather than being deliberate.
I did that for the back bodice – the bottom of the bodice is designed to gather to two points on either side but with my swayback it meant that all the extra fabric was exactly where I didn’t need it, so I simply gathered across the whole. I also didn’t sew down the gathers on the bottom of the bodice, just as a style choice. Where I did sew down I didn’t pull the thread to the back and tie as the pattern says, I merely backstitched at the end of the row of stitching as I would when sewing a seam.
Gosh I love how crisply this fabric gathers. I also left a little gap right at the centre of the neckline where it’s barely gathered at all. In my muslins, when I gathered evenly I got a big ridge of gathers in between my boobs which I didn’t like. When I finished sewing it I was worried it was going to look strange with that gap, it’s really obvious on the hangar. But on me, it has exactly the effect I was hoping of the blousiness falling evenly, so it’s not noticeable – in fact so unnoticeable that I can’t find a photo that shows it!
I’m not sure about the front skirt gathering. I debated distributing it over the whole front skirt, or perhaps moving it just to the hips and leaving the front flat. I really don’t need the extra bulk at the front of my stomach, and it has ended up looking a bit apron-like. But one of the beautiful things about this pattern is that it is assembled as a full front and a full back, and then sewn together at the sides. This makes taking in and letting out easy, and I didn’t want to compromise on that, so I left it as is. I think it’s a bit more pronounced in real life than in these photos but also I am coming to the conclusion that I am not too fussed by it. It’s fine, and it’s clearly in line with the style of the dress. I think there’s about a 50/50 chance that next time I’d gather the whole front, as well as whether I’d sew the gathers down or leave them free.
I like the just-over-the-butt gathers on the back, though. I feel fine about extra floof there 😛 The back neckline goes up a bit high but again, I’m not fussed by it. I could maybe pinch a small wedge out or take bigger darts next time. Or not stand with my hands on my hips so much… I wasn’t sure about how I cut the waistbands – I was running low on fabric and so the front has the dots and the back is plain. I wasn’t sure about the dots because they mirror the dots on the bodice rather than being offset, but now I’ve decided I like it.
I was really sick last week and spent most of it home from work, in bed. I sewed this dress when I started to get a bit better, I was just desperate to DO something. So the finishing on this is not what I’d like. The waistbands don’t quite meet on the sides, for instance, and they are not quite even in width because I was sewing wonky. It’s a bit of a shame because this fabric and pattern deserve more.
That said, it’s an incredibly forgiving pattern that I think would be a good beginner pattern, because there’s a lot of wriggle room. However, I found the instructions pretty bare bones. Specifically I don’t know if I missed it or if it’s never said which way up the sleeves go. I eventually worked out that they go with the triple notch pointing up, since that’s the notch for the shoulder join, but it took me quite a while. Again, perhaps that was just my fever-addled brain but if you’re a beginner sewing this you might need someone helping you interpret it.
I wasn’t going to put the zip in – I can technically get it on without it, although it takes some… manipulation. In the end I did though, and I’m glad of it. I want this dress to be something I wear a lot so making it easy is good. I switched the side and put the zip on the right side. I have a bung shoulder – and big boobs! – so reaching around to the left is sometimes tricky. This meant I left off the pocket because I don’t know that I would use just the left pocket. I did cut them out so I can always go back and add them in after. I should work out how to add a pocket in a side seam with a zip, maybe.
Btw there’s no cat involved in this photo shoot. This is what he was doing while I was taking these photos
The neckline, bodice and waist and skirt seams are all enclosed so I left those raw, for better gathers. I serged the sleeves and the sleeve seam of the bodice before attaching them, and once everything else was attached I serged from armpit to skirt and back up to the other armpit, before sewing the front to the back. The waistband hypothetically catches itself in when you topstitch but that’s something I’m bad at so I hand stitched the bits I missed.
the neckline and sleeves go together so cleverly. It’s a really neat design – and it’s the place where I feel the worst about my dodgy finishing, but i am refusing to feel too bad about it because it’s fine and done is better than perfect. But next time, when I’m not sick, it would be easy to take just a little extra time and make this neat and beautiful.
I really liked the length when I tried it on so I did the teeniest hem. it had to wait until I went and bought more thread though because I didn’t have any purple thread! I just topstitched the hem. A piece of the selvedge art shows at the front but I don’t care.
I am so thrilled with everything about this dress. I can see myself living in it in summer – it’s so easy and pretty and neat. In person it’s hard to miss the retro lines – I feel like it looks a lot more modern in photos somehow. It still looks modern in person, too but somehow the 1940s-ness is more obvious – maybe it would be less so if I changed the gathers on the front skirt. I loved the way the construction hinted at the time of design in its conservative use of fabric and the pieces clearly intended to be easily mended and replaced – or to fit a person as they gained and lost weight, or to be the perfect handmedown as well as the perfect dress to throw on with little notice to go to your office or factory job… or a dance hall. Plenty of room for movement while still looking fresh and cool. Which makes it absolutely perfect for modern women today!
In fact I love this one so much that I have already cut out another one! This one only took a few hours to throw together so it should be long before the next one is hanging up in my wardrobe.