1950s | Dresses | Vintage Sewing

My First Vintage Pattern… and Some Advice Needed!

March 22, 2014

This dress was actually intended as a wearable muslin (after two non-wearable muslins) for a dress I’m making for my high school graduation, but I’m quite happy with how it turned out!

The pattern is Vogue S-4727 from 1956, which I borrowed from a friend who has the most amazing vintage pattern collection. I sized it down using a photocopier (you can see my post on that here), and I was surprised to find that it fit me perfectly with very minor alterations!

Since there’s lots in the pattern that I’d never done before (underarm gussets, godets, a zipper inserted into a godet, hemming such a full skirt), I wanted to make a wearable muslin. That way, I would have a better idea how it was put together when I make the real thing (in a gorgeous turquoise silk dupioni).

Here’s where I need your advice! I’m not happy at all with my zipper or my hem, and I need to figure out better ways to do both.

The zipper starts in the side seam, then curves into the godet, but where it curves, the lap puckers and flips forward! I think I would have the same problem with a centered zipper, so I’m considering an invisible one, but I don’t really trust invisible zippers after having many of them break (once before I even finished the dress). Help!

Also, this skirt is full because of the godets, but is as full as a circle skirt. Before now, I had never hemmed a circle skirt, and I’m not really happy with the hem on this. It looks fine in the photos because I had just ironed it, but after a while it doesn’t hang very nicely. I would like to do the hem by hand when I make my grad dress, but I don’t really know the best way to do it. I’m considering using horsehair braid, just for fun, but any suggestions would be appreciated!

For more pictures, and for more construction details (including my problems with the zipper and hem), see my blog post.

Also, if you’re interested in following my progress on my grad dress, I’ll be doing a series of posts on the construction at my blog, Adventures of a Young Seamstress. Thanks for reading!

  1. Hi Shannon,

    This is an amazing dress. It looks brilliantly constructed and suits you really well.

    I’m not the best person to ask about zips because I struggle with them too…more than anything else in sewing!!

    For the hem, if you want it invisible you could try hemming with bias tape. I like using a contrasting colour for a bit of a “flash” when walking. If you intend to machine stitch your hem you could try machine basting your hem at 1/4 inch, press along the stitch line then fold over another 14″ and press. Then stitch in place. This method has never failed me. And you can adjust how much you turn up to suit yourself.

    I hope this helps.

    Eliza x

    1. Thank you! I like the idea of hemming with bias tape. If I wanted to do it by machine, I would do the method where you fold up 1/4″ twice (in fact, I really wish I had done that with this dress), but I’d prefer to do it by hand. Thanks for the tips!

  2. I have found the best way to do a zipper is to sew your seam up just like you would if there were no zipper there. Then, center and pin your zipper along this seam where you need it, and sew it on, using a zipper foot. I always sew on the top side, that is going to show, so your seam is nice and even. Then just rip out the seam stitches over the zipper, and it is beautiful! And for a circle hem, hand sewn or machine, make a baste stitch at whatever seam allowance you want (half of finished seam), then fold and iron at this stitching. You can then ease in some of the fullness if you need by gathering that stitch a little, and it gives you a nice clean line to follow. Good luck, it is beautiful, would love to have a go at that pattern!

    1. I did use this method for my zipper… it’s just the curve that makes it really awkward! I might try some samples with both types of zippers to practice and see what works best. Thanks for the advice on the hem, this sounds like a good method!

  3. This dress is looking amazing! In regards to the invisible zipper.. DON’T DO IT!! I think the shape of the front is definitely going to put too much strain on the teeth and we all know how dodgy they can be at the best of times! Could you just use hook and eyes and possibly not use a zip at all? Or just use one to stop the lap from flipping? From a construction point of view- I find it strange that there is that much shape from the front pieces? Congratulations on graduating High School!!

  4. This is lovely. For the hem, if any of it is cut on the bias you may need to let the finished dress hang for 24 hrs then level the hem and sew it up. I think Jolene has good zipper advice.

    1. Thanks! I did let this one hang but it didn’t appear to stretch out. The edges of the godets are on the bias, but I think since there’s a seam along the edges it doesn’t stretch much. I will still hang the real dress, just to be sure!

  5. Gorgeous pattern! I’d definitely consider a waist stay if you haven’t already, as that takes some of the strain off the zip and shoulder seams when the skirt is very full. Petersham is best if you can find it – it moves well with the body. I’ve used horsehair braid on one skirt and really liked the effect. It’s actually pretty easy to insert, and I found that it gave a nice clean edge. I used Gertie’s tutorial and a 2.5 inch braid. Your final fabric sounds lovely – looking forward to seeing it!

    1. Thanks! I thought about a waist stay back when I was planning this dress but forgot about it as a method of solving the zipper issue. I think it would probably help! I’ll try to find some petersham, but I think the best I’ll be able to do is grosgrain without ordering online. I’m leaning towards using horsehair braid – I’ll definitely have a look at Gertie’s tutorial!

      1. A waist stay will definitely help with the strain on the zipper. Also, would you consider doing a hand-picked zipper? It’s a very vintage/couture technique to use and allows you to use a regular zipper (thus stronger than an invisible zip) but with a lot more control than doing it by machine, either centred or lapped. It is a little bit fiddly, but not hard at all. It’s become my favourite zipper application for stuff I want to be really nice.

        1. Ha, I just saw someone below already suggested hand-picked zipper, and that you already responded, lol. So I’ll just add that it sounds like this is going to be one stunner of a dress! So looking forward to seeing it all done!

  6. Hello Shannon,

    you look lovely in your dress! My tip for the zipper: if possible, move it to the center back. Because the back is considerably less curved than the side of the body, the zipper and the lap can lie flat this way.

    Good luck with your grad dress

    1. Thank you! I had considered that, and I know it would probably be the easiest solution, but I just can’t bring myself to break up the back pieces. My back is very hard to fit, but this pattern fits me quite well so I don’t really want to put a zipper down the back and break up the back pieces. I know, I’m being stubborn… but thanks anyways for the suggestion!

  7. That dress does look beautiful! Could you do a shorter zipper that doesn’t go into the godet? Or put in a “picked zipper” by hand (Susan Khalje demonstrates how to do it in the Couture Dress course on craftsy.com, http://www.craftsy.com/class/The-Couture-Dress/53 ). As for the hem, I saw in a Sandra Betzina course that if you use Steam-a-seam on a bias hem it can stabilize it without puckers, though I think horsehair is a good idea for a big skirt like this. Susan Khalje does a long section on different types of hems in the Couture Dress course as well. It’s full of good tips, so you may want to buy the course and scan through it.

    1. Thanks! Unfortunately, there’s no way to end the zipper early… I have a hard enough time getting in and out of this as is! If I do a lapped zipper, I will definitely hand pick it – I usually do, I was just being lazy with this dress. Thanks for the suggestion of the course! It sounds like it has lots of good information.

  8. Hello Shannon
    What a gorgeous dress! You’ve done a great job! The hem looks fine in the photos and those side zips are at least quite hidden! Zips are my nemesis too. I used to be able to put them in but I seem to have become worse and worse at it, so these days I tack them in and then hand sew them, so then it looks like I’ve done it just because a hand-sewn zip looks so nice, not because I can’t do it with a machine any more! Always hard to do a circle hem. Did you have someone else help you to pin it while you slowly turned around? That’s the only way I know to get it right. Fantastic to see such a young and talented sewist here! I look forward to seeing more of your creations. fiona x

    1. Thanks! I will hand-pick the zip if I do a lapped one. I also love the way it looks! I just knew that it wouldn’t be very visible in this print so I did this one by machine. As for the hem, it wasn’t getting it even that was the problem, it was easing in the fullness. I think the problem will be solved if I use horsehair braid, though, which is the method I’ll probably use.

  9. what a beautiful pattern – can’t wait to see the silk version.

    I use invisible zips in everything (funny story I actually had issues putting a normal zip into a childs dress just the other night because I am so used to the invisible zip).

    I think it gives a more polished finish but I do know what you mean about them breaking. I have found its trial and error until you find a brand that is sturdy. my most common breaks were the tab being pulled out of the mechanism which I just fix by sewing a loop of material through it by hand if it happens.

    Either way good luck.

    1. Thanks! Today, I sewed up some samples, and I think it looks like the invisible might work. I’ll put it in the actual dress tomorrow and hope for the best! Although to play it safe, I’m putting in a waist stay to take the strain off the zipper.

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