Dresses | Vintage Sewing

Re-making a vintage dress

March 22, 2012

Hi everyone! I have a re-sewing project to tackle, and I’m looking for a little advice. It’s not sewing from scratch, but hopefully it won’t be out of place here since it is definitely vintage!

I like to admire vintage dresses, but I don’t often consider purchasing or wearing them. But while wandering around thrift stores and antique malls in Indianapolis last week, I happened upon this beautiful dress…

it came from Broad Ripple Vintage, if anyone’s curious

I love the cool colors, love the flowers, love the piping at the neckline, love that it is cotton, love that it looks so wearable! And when I was able to actually zip it up in the dressing room – well, it sealed the deal and I made my first vintage purchase ever. I was ready to wear it right away out to dinner that night, until I noticed that it smelled badly of smoke. A careful hand-washing did the trick, however. You should have seen the color of the water before the first rinse. Yuck!

Aside from the smoke, there are a few other things I would like to change. Please don’t cringe, vintage-lovers! I’m going to try to protect the integrity of the dress as much as possible. But I would like to alter it slightly (the fit is just a little tight) and also strengthen it so that it will last for many more years. The dress construction looks very simple, aside from the zillion little pleats in the skirt. There is no lining, just facings.

Overall, the dress is in very good condition. No holes or worn spots really – just some fraying of the seam allowances. So I’d like to ask anyone who is interested, how would you go about altering this dress? The cotton is very lightweight, so my current thought is to take the bodice apart carefully, underline it, and try to let out the side seams a little. That leaves the question of what to do about facings – try to reuse them? Make new ones? Use bias tape to bind the armholes and neckline instead? And what can I do about the double row of piping on the neckline (which I love!)? I would really like to try to enlarge the neckline just a little, so I may have to replace the piping with new.

What would you do? I’m so smitten with this dress that I’m ready to put some real effort into it, so all thoughts and suggestions are welcome!

  1. Agree with Jill, but would also do a few more exercises! Perhaps I’d also try to re-set that zipper a little & take advantage of what appears to be a wide seam allowance. But wouldn’t do that all the way up, so neckline trim is untouched. Definitely reinforce bodice side seams & re-do the waist seam.

    Has the fabric been worn anywhere along those side seams; i.e., have stitch holes been strained/enlarged? If so, I’d worry about that showing if I opened side seams. Also would worry about any colour difference as enclosed-in- seam fabric might have stronger colour that fabric. Which reminds me…

    If fabric continues to run as you wash it, try a little white vinegar in the rinse water. That should set the dyes. (You can do another cold water rinse to rinse out the vinegar!)

    Above all, have fun with the dress! When the bodice does begin to look its’ age, consider taking what looks like a lotta fabric in that skirt and using it for maybe a sheath, blouse, or skirt!

  2. What a lovely find! I myself have a habit of finding myself ‘project dresses’ I buy gems that need fixing, seams sewn shut, things that are on the big side for me, and I do a lot of mending by hand, but I love bringing things back to life. I would see if there is enough seam allowance to zigzag the edges (my new favorite trick) And let it out. As for widening the neckline…would it help if you opened the shoulder seams and added width there? Or is that too finicky with the facing? Its a little hard to work on vintage dresses, but once you get confident in it and know what you want to do with it, its really satisfying to be able to wear it in all its glory, and nobody will probably ever tell that its been surgically saved/modified.

    Good luck my dear and make sure you post after pics of whatever brilliant fixin you do!

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