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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Fun with Vintage Patterns

A while back, a friend of mine who's a little older than my mother gave me the pick of her old patterns. Like most seamstresses (of whatever skill level), she had kept probably all the patterns she had bought over the years. Why would you throw them out after you've spent the money? But there does come a point when you are, realistically, never going to use a given pattern again. Hence getting me to weed out some of hers. She doesn't sew as much anymore.

I got quite a few patterns from the 60s and 70s that I'm rather excited about, though actually using them is dependent on acquiring fabric, so most of them are still just waiting on the shelf in my bedroom. But last week, I finally got to use one. Inspiration struck and matched up this pattern:

with this gorgeous fabric I had been given, but for which I originally had no clear plan:

The fabric is green-shot-blue taffeta with velvet flocking and a glitter design, and the pattern is from the early 60s. It was love at first sight with both of them, but it took some time to realize they should be together.

This pattern is a little odd compared to what I've sewn in the past. One minor oddity is the wrap skirt. It's made in only two pieces and doesn't wrap as far as I expected, so I have to come up with some sort of solution to keep it from pulling open quite so far when I move certain ways. Or I may make a short petticoat to wear under it that's actually intended to be seen a little. I haven't decided yet.

The much greater oddity is the seamlines of the bodice. They are completely different from anything I've made before, and I've made things from a lot of different eras. Guess where the top of the side front piece goes. In that inverted pointy part in the front piece!

So you have to sew this acute angle, which might not be so bad if it were going into a seam. In fact, I've sewed much more acute angles in the process of inserting a triangular piece into a seam to give a skirt flair or make a Viking apron dress, and it was really quite simple. But sewing an acute angle into a solid piece was a pretty big challenge. I found it difficult to get everything to stay in place while I sewed it and to keep the point from puckering. However, like my recent victory over jeans zippers, I got all of these (the back pieces are essentially the same, but with less curve) in correctly with a minimum of re-doing. This is what it looks like sewn together from the inside since the seams are easier to see in my lining than in the pretty fabric.

Once you get the front into one piece and the back into two sections, you sew them together like a T-tunic, i.e. seams across the tops of the shoulders, and seams beginning at the ends of the sleeves, through the armpits, then down the sides of the bodice. I've made plenty of T-tunics since I'm into medieval clothing, but it's very unusual in modern formal (or even semi-formal) wear.

The side seams do not extend down the skirt on this dress because the skirt only has one seam down the back. It has box pleats that line up with the bodice seams, and the two panels simply overlap in the front (though not as far as I wish they did--which is why, if I were a good little seamstress, I would make muslins). The pattern called for self piping at the waist, but I chose to make that with black taffeta instead.

piping and box pleats
Now for where I deviated from the pattern more drastically than the color of the piping. First of all, it's not intended to be lined. I did that for two main reasons. I don't like facings, and I don't like unfinished seam edges. I happen to think it's easier to get a neckline to lay right with with a lining or a bias binding (and bias binding was inappropriate here) than with a facing. Facings have always been notoriously rebellious for me. And look back at the pattern envelope. See that big curve along the front edge of the skirt? They wanted me to face the entire skirt edge as well. That would never have worked for me. Oh, I probably would have gotten it right eventually, but I would have had a strong desire to burn the dress before I was done.

The seam issue is a bit of a different story. I normally zigzag (in lieu of a serger) the edges of my seams together both to finish the edges so they won't fray with wear and washing and to reinforce the seam. However, this was one of few patterns where I actually acknowledge that ironing the seams open was fairly necessary in order to get everything to lay right. And the only way to have the level of garment strength and finished edges that I prefer and iron the seam allowances open is to line the garment. Hence, fully lined dress. Yes, I realize I'm a little crazy.

hand-stitching at the waistline of the lining
The next deviation is partly because of the lining. The pattern called for a stiff interfacing in the whole skirt (with the facings to finish the edges) to give it more fullness. While I like the fullness, I don't like the interfacing, and I was lining the thing anyway. Admittedly, I didn't line it with anything stiff--just with a lightweight cotton, but I didn't like the idea of the extra bulk, so I left it out. Since I have to deal with the front wrap opening as I move anyway, the petticoat I mentioned earlier might give me back some of the fulness as well as being cute instead of embarrassing when the wrap opens. We'll see. I may just sacrifice the fulness and take some blind stitches on the inside to hold it closed enough.

This shows the skirt lining as well as how little the skirt overlaps.
The lining caused another minor deviation. I bought silver embroidery thread and top-stitched the edges of the neckline, sleeves, and skirt. I could have just pressed them into place, but I liked this idea better.

 My final deviation from the pattern was the greatest oddity of all--well, the method from which I deviated is. It had a back zipper, but an unusual one. I have made a few dresses with side zippers. These function, instead of by opening the whole top of the dress, by making the fitted portions (from just under the armpit to around the hip area) widen enough that you can slip it over your head. You don't go in through the zipper; it just loosens the fitted parts while you get in. Well, the pattern for this dress called for a back zipper that functioned like that. It was supposed to be a placket zipper that went from a little higher than bra-strap height to around hip height.

Part of me wanted to do exactly what the pattern said, mainly for the novelty of it. Then sanity set in, and I remembered that I have a very bad relationship with regular zippers and only have a really high success rate with installing invisible zippers. (If you've ever tried to install an invisible zipper with a regular zipper foot, you probably think I'm crazy, but I'm telling you, buy the cheap little Coates & Clark invisible zipper foot that is on the rack of zippers, and put it in with that, exactly according to the instructions in the zipper package, and you will see why I think they are easier to get right.)

I hand-stitched the lining to the zipper tape on the inside, but I made my stitches a little too long and close to the zipper teeth, so the slider would catch my threads a little. It wasn't impossible to zip up my dress, just annoying. I have already remedied that situation because it was just a matter of moving the folded edge of the lining a little farther (about 1/8-inch farther) from the zipper teeth and then taking shorter stitches.

the original stitching
I had a lot of fun making this, but was mildly disappointed that my dress wasn't as pretty as the picture on the pattern envelope until my husband reminded me that 60s patterns have very stylized drawings on the envelopes rather than actual women in actual clothing. Then I felt better, and I really do think it's a pretty dress.

(Sorry I'm not in it. My husband wasn't around to take pictures when I wanted to take them, and my dummy is no good at using a camera.)

1 comment:

  1. Lovely!

    One of the handlers at the dog show today was wearing a gorgeous green dress in a 50s style. My friend asked her about it, and she said she made it herself! She makes all her show clothes...she makes sure to put bait pockets in them! lol