Vintage Sewing

Saga of woe. A dress disaster.

September 28, 2008
Today’s saga begins with this 1954 Australian Home Journal pattern I borrowed from Moggy’s formidable collection of all things ancient and patterny. The jaunty red striped version caught my eye and I thusly invested in metreage of a vaguely striped thing to replicate it. I don’t know what I was thinking because I really don’t like the fabric I bought. First obstacle.

So I made a muslin, which looked nothing like the pic above, so I redrafted the bodice. Twice. That neat little straight line under the model’s bust? That, no matter how much adjusting and resewing I did, does not lie straight. It did an ugly upturned U-shape that was most unimpressive. So I abandoned plan A and launched into the other version pictured because I could use some of the bits I had already cut.


I felt like such a Mildred in this but it did teach me something – set-in sleeves, on me, are most frump-making. I pulled the darts in to sassify, I played with different sleeve lengths but ick, it just sucked. Like I’d just been been removed from a polygamous compound in the desert.

So it festered in the Pile Of Shame for months.

Then I picked up this wee pattern:

I’m really getting into the 70s patterns at the moment. Some of them are just so simple and sassy.

But my ill-luck continued. I cut out a piece, then accidentally cut another piece out of it. Ooops. Then had to do some wily patching up (see bodice below). Sewed bits on backwards. Tore another piece. Ran out of purple thread. More patching. I swear, this was the most acursed sewing saga ever. I blame the fabric.

Anyhoo, here’s the nearly-done result. Those pockets are just pinned on because frankly, I still think the fabric is a world of BLAH, and am tempted not to invest another moment on the thing. I’m giving the frock one last chance at redemption if the good burghers of Sew Retro think it’s worth it. But be harsh. If you think it’s a dud, lemme know and I’ll chuck every scrap of this purple stripe into a bag and donate to some quilty type. Or burn it. And start over with something I actually like.

  1. the fabric would really suit a nice 40’s dress, maybe? i think it didn’t work with dress #1, cos that pattern seems like a really summery, bright dress. And the 70’s dress i think almost works, but again the fabric is a tad too dark. the trim you’ve put on works really well though. maybe you could do contrast pockets, hem band and a belt to brighten it?
    just my 2c anyway.
    i love the 1st pattern in the red/white stripes btw. maybe just try agina in a summer fabric?

  2. I like the second one too. The fit is fabulous.

    As much as I like pockets, those are so big that they draw the eye away from the awesome bodice. Maybe flat ones?

  3. The fabric is gorgeous, the seocnd dress is lovely. Dump the pockets though. 😉
    I reckon the first dress didn’t work because you need a desperately uncomfortable 1950’s undergarment to make it sit right. Hehehe!

  4. I really love the fabric, and the second dress really is very flattering, but I’d ditch those awkward pockets, the just do it for me…

  5. I think the second dress fits very well. Love the drape of the skirt. I really don’t think the pockets add anything special. If that were my dress (ha! as if I had the actual talent to make a dress that fit!) I would leave off the pockets and add a hem similar to the detail above your bust. Accessorise with a wonderful yellow clutch and drop earings.

  6. Whenever I want to make a dress or outfit from a pattern – esp. the old ones, I have to go in realizing that it wont look like the cover picture.

    So when I want it to look like the illustration, I have to make a mock-up (which we all should do – but its hard to not dig into the fabric first sometimes)and then I nine times out of ten, have to add width to the skirt, lengthen the bodice, re pattern the sleeves and bodice.

    I learned to just use most patterns as a base pattern. If you dont, it could very well look homemade and ill fitting.

    I dont think the fabric that you used was so bad, the first pattern just needed to be customized. Plus it was designed for undergarments and petticoats of the day. I think if you put a little crinoline under it, the dress would “pop” a bit better.

    I think you made the 70’s dress look better than on the cover!

  7. Your post was so entertaining, because this kind of thing happens to me all the time. I have a fondness for plaids, but it has led me down some dark paths that inevitably end in a scrap-bin full of Mildred dresses.
    But it’s because we keep trying that we get our successes! I like your second dress, but it only works for you if you will wear it in the end.

  8. I adore the second dress if only for the fabulous fabric blocking you did. The great fit and lines are just bonus after that. 🙂 One more vote against the pockets though – if it’s not too late and you just HAVE to have pockets then either smaller ones (preferably with more bias-blocked fabric) or even invisible ones in the side seams. Which have a technical name that I can’t remember at the moment. Sigh. Anyway, I really love that second dress though I understand not wanting to see the fabric any more. Maybe let it sit for a while in your magic closet before fiddling with it any more?

  9. I really like the 70’s dress! The way you have the asymetrical thing going on and such is great! And it fits! Pockets I think smaller and flatter but still on the bias as they are. Love it! It’s not a Mildred!

  10. I love the second one too! I love the cross crossing material, the gold trims, the pockets – I think it’s a winner!

    Don’t be too disheartened by your dud. They happen! And it’s easy to forget we don’t have the angular figures of those retro illustrations!

  11. I like it. With the pockets. If you trim the pockets in some manner (as you’ve done at the neckline) they could really break up the general blahness of the fabric. I think they add interest, as well as being functional. Otherwise, given that fabric, it’s a nice but boring dress.

  12. I’m voting for dumping the pockets; but I think the ‘patching’ on the bodice works really well. It adds movement and it’s nicely balanced by the trim.

    Possibly place some trim on the hem but you would have to consider the impact of such a strong horizontal line at the bottom.

    Full points for persisting!

  13. i agree with those saying the fabric is gorgeous & that the second dress is lovely. i also agree that you should scale down the pockets or scrap them entirely. i really dig the break up of the line in the bodice. frankly, i would wear it– and i'm picky. 🙂

  14. Do you need just one more opinion?! lol BEAUTIFUL. LOVE the bodice, fits you fabulously. You definitely made a “silk purse from a sow’s ear”! It’s a miracle! lol

  15. I completely know what you mean about set-in sleeves and the frump factor. I too have learned the hard way that set-in sleeves make me look about 2 feet wider and ten years older. But hurray, sleeveless dresses are much easier to make. I like the 70s one too.

  16. I really like the finished product. As someone who was named Mildred at birth, after a Grandma I really loved, I have to wonder how that expression came to be. It is an old-fashioned name, so I do go by Millie!

  17. urk. If you’re this on the fence about the fabric, you’re not likely to wear it. Who cares–I can’t wait til the next time you have a sewing befunglement. Your post made me laugh hard.

  18. Livebird I think it is a fantastic dress. But if you are that put out by the fabric, more than likely you won’t wear it. Maybe make the pockets on it out of a contracting color to spice it up.

  19. I realize this is like a month late, but you said be harsh, so….

    I really hate that fabric. From far away in the pic it looks cute, but up close the yellow splotches on the purple just don’t work. And the bust pulls quite a bit, which I always find annoying. I do like the neat effect on the bodice of the stripy splotches going in diagonals, and I lvoe the overall shape, but yeah the fabric is ugh.

  20. The first one with the set-in sleeves is ok for a ‘nifty-fifties’ type who wears cat-eyed glasses, a black Dutch-boy bob with bangs, really red liptick, and goes by the name of Maybelle Kitty Louise. The 70’s pattern is really nice and a find, so please get some pretty, soft, mod fabric and make another one fast, but that purple fabric????? IT’S HAUNTED!!! Ghosts live in it and will never leave the unfortunate wearer in peace. Drive a wooden stake through and bury it in a graveyard at midnight…

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