1970s | Dresses

Barbara Dress

October 5, 2013

After taking my time to make this, I have finaly finished my Barbara Hulanicki inspired dress 

I actually finished this last weekend, but never got to take photos! Cheeky me, but finally this lovely lady is complete and I love it! Its soft and feminine and even if it’s really more 70s than 60s, I must argue – for its inspiration comes from one of the great ladies of the 60s – Barbara Hulanicki

The idea for this dress came when I saw the fabric itself – a black polyester chiffon with tiny gold foil print. The colours reminded me of Big Biba and the fabric design reminded me of the more 60s Biba dresses like the one below


I was initially looking for a pattern that would replicate the above photo, but when I found this beauty at the op shop for 50 cents, I decided that this would be perfect and it suited the dress well.

This pattern is from 1975 – ironically the same year Big Biba closed, but the elements of Barbara’s style is there with the slight nod to 30s glamour. I really love this pattern – if you made it long in satin cut on the bias, you could have a gorgeous dress worthy of Carol Lombard

My version is black chiffon, lined with black crepe – here was the original idea; 

Dress with fitted bodice, a-line skirt, gathered shoulders with bishop sleeves and buttoned cuffs. 

Bodice underlined with black crepe, with sleeves to remain unlined. Cuffs to be lined in organza to keep the lightness

Zippered back, hem just above knee length

All of these elements were achieved apart from the puffed shoulders. The sleeve pattern piece I used was for a set-in sleeve and I assumed I could just push all the gathering to the top of the shoulder, but because the sleeve is actually the same size as the arm-hole no gathering was needed! So I settled for set in sleeves and I’m ok with that.


Sleeve shoulder detail









The lining was also used as the facing for the neck line. I ended up attempting something I really didn’t know how to do! The bodice was fine but I forgot to do the darts separately – you can only see them on the inside anyway.

Then I attached the skirt to the bodice and inserted the zipper in the back before joining it all together. I may have done it in the wrong order trying to be fancy and sewing the bodice as one piece. The French seams also threw me off – trying to do that, while inserting the zipper on two layers of fabric. Oh my head! At least black fabric is forgiving and you cant see the random open seams!

The sleeves are a little too short and make bending my arms a little tricky – just like the original Biba dresses which stopped their wearers from reaching and bending, ha!

But this was unintentional – The too small cuffs stop the sleeves from moving up and down my arm easily so I have to kind of change the way I move my arm for that day when I wear it

I lined the cuffs with black organza instead of interfacing. It gives a lightness to the cuff and keeps its transparency with the chiffon. You simply sew the organza onto the fabric piece before you construct it. Exactly the same as sew-in interfacing but you’re not restricted by the lack of colours and opaqueness

These are the interior French seams – the bodice seam runs across and the skirt front is the one going up. Their very comfortable and they make everything look nice and neat!

The hems were finished with rolled hems, also called narrow hems. I used this technique because the length of the skirt was perfect and I didn’t want to loose too many cm. Its also another good seam for chiffon and light fabrics as it doesn’t affect the hang.

Most sewing machines come with a special foot to achieve this, but mastering it takes some practice. These seams look neat – but you should see the start of the hem stitch – its not so neat… 

Well there you have it! I’d love to make some more Biba style dress and I’ll be sure to use this pattern again one day. 

Cat xo

  1. Oooo,so rad! I got to go to Biba right before it closed when I was little and it was absolutely as fabulous as you could ever imagine. I was lucky enough to buy a dress,sage green cotton maxi with flutter sleeves and it swished with every step! Luckily because it was cotton it grew with me but became a mid calf length( Ha!).Still rockin.All the clothing you make remind me of Biba and my Moms wardrobe at the time. I wish I had all her old clothes. You are just adorable and a vision of 60s 70s London…I just loooove your posts. XO!

  2. What a great dress!
    As far as I know, you captured the Biba and Barbara Hulanicki look very well here.
    And chiffon is such a difficult fabric to work with. Especially when trying to make tiny rolled hems. I tend to opt out of making those even on more stable fabrics like taffeta or satin, mostly because I hate how the starting point looks. And any place where you have to cross a seam.

    1. Why thank you! Chiffon is such a pain, and i recently bought more to make blouses! eek have i just signed my own sewing death warrant? hopefully not! But the rolled seams are ok after the first few inches!

  3. Love it! Congrats on dealing with the chiffon, too. That stuff is so hard to work with! I made a dance costume with some poly chiffon once and I’m not in a hurry to make another one. But this looks great!

  4. Simply amazing, I would have never guessed that it was handmade! The pairing of chiffon with crepe make the outfit look so delicate! The fabric choices gives the dress pattern a whole new look! Great job!

    1. Thanks! Im actually considering more chiffon projects! a glutton for punishment i have! The crepe kinda stabilized the chiffon when i was assembling the bodice so that is a good tip sorta…

  5. Stunning, my favourite of all your posts so far. Great fabric find, can imagine how difficult it must of been to sew. Well done.

    1. Oh thank you! I was such a surpise fabric to find in Lincraft – which is kind like our Jo-anns. You don’t always get nice special fabrics there. But i was pretty ok to sew with in the end

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