Hello lovelies! I’ve missed you! I have miraculously managed to sew something in the last month, and I’m so keen to share it with you.
This is Vogue 8811, in the rayon I bought in Bali.
Description: Pullover dress has shoulder pads, semi-fitted bodice, French darts, bias, flared skirt, back keyhole closure with button/thread loop, side snap/extension or zipper closing, cap sleeves, and belt. A: Purchased trim. B: Bust pocket. Circa 1940
Recommended fabrics: Linen, Crepe de Chine, Lightweight Broadcloth
This one was a bit of a journey. I thought up this pattern and fabric combo while lying in bed desperately trying to stop thinking about work long enough that I could go to sleep (it’s been a BUSY month. I don’t usually think about work outside of work hours – one of the perks of my job is it stays at work). It was prompted by how much I love my Dorothy Lara dresses. I needed another dress that was weather appropriate for the late summer, and given how busy and stressful things have been I needed it to be easy to wear. I love those 50s and 60s silhouettes but it’s hard to beat the comfortable, functional ease of a ’40s dress. When I know I’ve got a rough day ahead and I want to feel and look good without having to put any thought into what I’m wearing throughout the day, I reach for my two DLs every time. I wanted more of that in my wardrobe!
I also wanted to use this fabric soon. It’s very on-trend, and I love it, but I was worried that if I left it in the stash too long it would look and feel dated and I wouldn’t want to sew it any more. So I wanted to figure out what to do with it soon.
I’ve had this pattern in my stash for some time, but I’d bought the wrong size. I had the size 4-12 size nest not the 12-18. Going by my measurements I would normally sew the size 14 , grading to a size 12 at the shoulders, with a 2″ FBA. I didn’t realise my size snafu until I was partway through cutting out the tissue pattern pieces. I figured it was a pretty simple shape, given that I would normally cut size 12 shoulders anyway perhaps I could just add on some width to the sides and do that FBA and call it good.
This sort of worked. The trouble is it has this cool waist dart – it’s angled and one side is curved and you ease it together to create extra shape. It’s REALLY interesting, and makes the bodice sit really nicely, and it’s also quite hard to do an FBA on! I’m not at all sure I did it right and I probably should have sewn it up without the FBA first so I knew what it was meant to be like. However, after the FBA and cheaters grading up, I had a muslined bodice that looked pretty good and sat right, so I cut out the fashion fabric.
The ‘grading’ involved adding 1″ to the front and 3/4″ to the back of both bodice and skirt. I also lowered the front neckline by 1″ at the neck tapering to nothing at the shoulder seam.
By the way, my lovely blue wall now has a bed in front of it so I’m auditioning new photo locations. The best options were this boring grey-blue wall in my craft room with one million powerpoints on it, or outside. Outside worked well but I think it would have been better if I’d waited an hour because I had trouble finding a good spot in regards to the sun and so I only got a few good photos. I’ll work on it.
Anyhow. The dress. So I sewed it all up and tried it on and it was HORRID.
The FBA had added length in a weird way, and the rayon was quite droopy and the waist was totally uneven and also way lower than it should be and dipped drastically at the front. Ack! I unpicked it and laid out the bodice and just hacked it off even at the bottom. I’d say there was about 4″ extra at the centre front! Then there was some back and forth of basting and unpicking of seams in a totally unscientific way that will come back to bite me if I ever make it again because I didn’t really write down what I was doing because I did it in bits and pieces over a couple of weeks in a period where I was very stressed and frazzled.
What I ended up with was a dress where (after said hacking off evenly) I took about 1″ off the waist seam – I just sewed that seam at a larger width so it ended up taking the skirt up too. I also took almost all of the width I’d added in at the side seams back out again although I did keep most of it in the seam allowances so that I can let it out if the rayon shrinks up. I think in a firmer fabric I might still need the width, but in the rayon and with such a busy print, it just looked frumpy and saggy. The pattern had instructions for either a hand picked zipper or an extension with snaps, but I found that I could just pull it over my head quite comfortably so I just sewed up the sides. Again, probably wouldn’t be possible in a firmer fabric but works really well for this.
I was going to add pockets in but with all the adjusting I ended up serging one of the skirt side seams shut and I couldn’t be bothered unpicking it. I really would like pockets because the neck is so high I can’t access my alterna-pocket (aka my bra). But then pockets in rayon are a bit less functional anyway, so dunno.
The waist seam is still a bit wonky, and I’m not sure if it’s my terrible hacking of the pattern, or just the way the rayon is hanging. The bra I’m wearing also really changes how this hangs – I guess because it’s such full coverage, the position of my bust point totally changes the drape of the bodice. Yet another lesson in wearing my good bras to sew in.
Those issues are lost in the busy print though so I’m not too fussed. Also I’ll probably always wear this with a belt anyway which covers some sins, although it would benefit from some belt carries to keep it in place. The pattern has pattern pieces for a belt and I was going to make a black one but I don’t have an appropriate buckle so for now it’s this white one or nothing. I like the way the white lightens it up though.
The sleeves have facings and I HATE them. Hate. They’re flippy and chunky and terrible. I also think I need to take 1cm off the top of the sleeves and that would reduce the amount they stick up. If/when I make this again I’ll either line it like Tanya did, or bias bind them. The pattern includes pieces for shoulderpads, so perhaps that would change the angle of the sleeves? I chose not to make them although I would like to have a go some time just to see how it’s done.
This pattern has a bunch of nice vintage touches that I really appreciated – it’s one of the reasons that I rarely buy newly drafted patterns. I have or can hack most things from my existing pattern stash, but I always learn a lot about technique or elegant drafting from vintage (repro) patterns. That said, the instructions did have you press down the seam allowance on the waist and then top stitch it to the bodice from the right side, which I tried but found totally bizarre and almost impossible to keep straight. Is there a reason for doing it this way? When I was making my adjustments I unpicked it and did it the regular way.
The neck facing I like though. It’s really neat and well drafted, even if I did also have to hand tack it down.
If I make this again I’ll take an extra 1/2″ off the neck all the way round (but not at the back neck). I like how it sits at the back of my neck but it’s sitting too high up otherwise, and in a stiffer fabric would be uncomfortable. It’s ok in this but it does bunch a little and in wearing it sits away from my collarbone a little bit.
I also sewed the side seam/armholes up higher, because they were pretty gapey under my arms. I probably should adjust the pattern to take them up even higher next time, I think. I liked that the pattern had quite an angular curve for the sleeve – a mod I usually have to make myself for cut on sleeves. The sides do pull a little but that’s the tradeoff you make for a cut on sleeve.
The sides pulling make the back hem look like it’s hanging too low in a lot of these photos. It’s even on the hanger – I hung it for a week and the hem didn’t seem to grow but then once I hemmed it it was way lower front and back. I liked the length though so I went back and hemmed the sides shorter so it is now even. However when i move around it pulls up an inch or so on the sides, making the back in particular look low.
I think I’ll give it some time to see if it grows any more and then take it up again at the back. Even if it is technically even when I’m standing totally still, the reality is that it will always hike up, so I may as well account for that from the get go.
The back neckline has a button and loop. I did a thread loop using this method, although it’s a little thin and hard to loop behind my head, next time I would use a double thickness. The button is from my stash and you can sort of almost kind of see it below. I do forget to unhook the button before trying to take it off 100% of the time. Because I am a fast learner…
I am so totally thrilled with this dress. I debuted it at work on Monday and it was so comfortable all day, and I felt so elegant and put together. I had several compliments and one person asked if I had ‘had it made’ and was blown away when I said I’d made it myself! (Side note, I am starting to feel more comfortable telling people I make all my own clothes. It feels nice, and I’ve never had anything but a positive reaction, and very little of the sort of bewildered or condescending praise I have been used to. Just people genuinely interested and impressed. It’s so lovely.)
I will definitely be making this pattern again. I’d love to find a good plaid to play with the grainlines – and the skirt is cut on the cross grain which means that even though it’s quite full you can cut it out of a narrow piece of fabric.
TL;DR What I made:
- Vogue 8811 in size 12
- 2″ FBA
- went back and chopped the bodice to be even (ish)
- Added 1″ to side seams of front bodice and skirt, 3/4″ to side seams of back bodice and skirt (most of which was taken out again but which I would keep for a firmer fabric)
- Took up waist about 1″, losing a total of 2″ length from both the bodice and skirt
- Lowered neckline 1″ at front neck tapering to nothing at front shoulders
What I would do next time:
- Line the bodice to eliminate sleeve facings
- drop neckline a further 1/2″ all round tapering to nothing at the back neck
- Would probably be worthwhile muslining the bodice with no mods so I could see how the waist seam is supposed to look and what the curve should be so I can adjust my pattern and not have to keep fiddling with it to get it right.
I also thought a lot about the ‘dress like your grandma‘ challenge while sewing this. I won’t claim this for the challenge because this dress wasn’t inspired by the challenge so that would feel like cheating. But I couldn’t help thinking that probably the reason I like the fabric so much is that it’s very similar to the curtains in the ‘back room’ at my grandma’s house – the room which was a playroom and where we all slept when we slept over there. Lots of fond memories of that room, although I can’t seem to find a photo of the curtains.
In fact I don’t have a lot of photos of my grandma. There’s a family album somewhere but it never seems to be brought out even when I ask. In the last decade my grandma has lost her husband, two children and all her siblings so I get the impression she’s not keen to reminisce, so I haven’t pushed it. But all the photos I have of her she is wearing a dress in a similar cut to this – cut on sleeves, high neck, circle skirt, some kind of botanical print, and which she would have made herself.
Here she is with all her kids (if you include the youngest who she was pregnant with at the time so does that count?). She would have made her own dress and almost certainly all the clothes in this photo. My dad is the one in the front in the overalls with the excellent pout. He and his sister next to him on Grandma’s lap are both dead now. Judging by the ages this would be late ’60s.
And here is my grandma with my cousin (the daughter of my aunt to the left of my Gma in the above pic) and I in about 1984.
I’m the one awkwardly sliding off my cousin’s lap… I just realised that less time passed between those two photos than between the latest one and now. Wild!
As she and I get older I’m starting to have a deeper but also more complicated relationship with my grandma – I’m realising the ways in which she and I are very different, have different values and priorities. Not in a bad way, but in a way that complicates what has always been a relatively simple relationship for me. I get the impression she never really ‘got’ either my father or myself. But she didn’t have to to love us, and love us she did. I dunno, I’ve typed out and erased various comments several times, I don’t know that I can articulate what my grandma means to me as a person and as a relation. I do know it’s important.
I think a lot of (although not all) that draws me to vintage shapes and patterns is my association of them with her, with her elegance and class and sewing skills and love. Sometimes it feels very retrograde to like these clothes, and I worry about it and what it says about me, and what the world sees when they see me in these outfits which happen to be what I feel emotionally comfortable in. Especially in the recent political climate. And why IS it that I happen to be comfortable in them? I fluctuate between feeling tired of my own navel gazing and feeling it’s important to interrogate these things even if there’s never a final conclusion because it’s complex.
“All this could be perceived as nostalgia for an age of innocent exuberance. Indeed, this may be part of the story, but there is also the natural process of reappraising past etas, searching for inspiration, tracing social patterns and making sense of our origins” – Peter Cuffley ‘Australian Houses of the Forties & Fifties’