1970s | Dresses | Vintage Sewing

A-line mod flannel dress – McCalls 2481

March 7, 2014
Vintage McCall's 2481 sewing pattern, sewn in cotton flannel.

I’m always cold in the Bay Area, so instead of wishing the weather to be warmer by wearing lightweight cotton dresses, I have decided to be more practical and start making things in flannel and wool. This dress is a wearable muslin I made from an inexpensive cotton flannel that I had in my fabric stash. After wearing it a few times, I am afraid to wash it since it already has several nicks where the thread has pulled through the other side. I wore it on a chilly night in San Francisco, and I was still cold even in a heavy parka. But cotton flannel is still heading in the right direction, so I think that the next few things I make will be flannel. This wearable muslin has served its purpose of being a practice garment for fitting, and I will certainly wear it again, if it does not disintegrate when I hand wash it.

McCall's 2481 vintage sewing pattern, front
Front, vintage McCall’s 2481 in cotton flannel.

There was a time when the majority of my dresses were A-line and modish, and I am thinking of making more of these. This dress has some of my favorite features: a scooped boat neck and A-line. It is one of the fastest things I have sewn recently, and the simplest pattern. What do you think? Maybe the sleeveless jumper with the cut-out in a solid color flannel, to be worn with a long sleeve high neck shirt under it?  Or two-toned color blocks made by the princess seams, the sides a darker color?

McCall's 2481 vintage sewing pattern
Vintage McCall’s 2481 sewing pattern from 1970.

The Fit

I would fit this dress slightly differently next time, and make it a little larger all around. I made the dress without any alterations to the pattern, since the standard body measurements were correct for me. I didn’t even bother to shorten the back waist length by the usual inch, since the fit looks so tubular. I did this partially since I have made several A-line dresses in the past and they turned out bell-shaped, gigantic and tent-like – see the photos of Style 3070, at the end of this post.

Actually, the fit is pretty good, and if I made McCall’s 2481 again, I would make it slightly bigger all around, especially in the hip and skirt by two or three inches. By adding just a few inches, I’d be careful to maintain the A-line, without going in to a flared skirt. I would also shorten the back waist length by an inch and a half. The center front seam contributes slightly to the bust shaping, which is a nice touch that is visible in the small plaid. When the darts come out of princess seams, it can be a hassle to alter, so I was relieved that they fit right exactly as the pattern had them. Another interesting feature is that when the dress is viewed from the front the skirt appears pretty straight up and down, but view it from the side and the fullness of the skirt is all in the back. I sometimes have to alter patterns for a sway back, but this pattern can easily accommodate a sway back, even as snug as this size is on me.

I’m thinking that my next version of this dress will be two-toned, in one way or another. I’m leaning towards dark blue and green.

McCall's 2481 vintage sewing pattern
Side, vintage McCall’s 2481 in cotton flannel. It was bright, and I’ll try not to squint next time.
Vintage McCall's 2481 sewing pattern, sewn in cotton flannel.
Back, vintage McCall’s 2481 in cotton flannel.

Style 3070

A while back, I made the A-line dress below. I’m showing it here as an example of how illustrations and standard body measurements are often horribly, horribly wrong. This is one of the patterns I mentioned above with sizing so far off that is more of a tent dress than an A-line dress.

Style 3070 vintage sewing pattern, 1970.
Style 3070 vintage sewing pattern, also from 1970.

The sizing runs large – there is at least 3 to 4 inches of ease beyond normal! This is not a slim cut dress. The illustration looks like a slim cut dress, but it is not. My bust measures three inches larger than standard body measurement for the size, and there is still plenty of ease in the bust. If my bust had been the actual measurement quoted for the size, presumably the dress would have been about six or seven inches too big in that area. My waist and hip are the exact measure of the size, but the dress is tent-like in these areas – easily four or five inches too big, if not more. The illustration looks like it has relaxed semi-cap sleeves, but the actual sleeves are certainly not cap sleeves at all, and they bunch up under the arms like t-shirt sleeves. It might not be obvious in the images, but this dress is huge. It could be a maternity dress.

style 3070 vintage sewing pattern, example of bad fit
Aarg! Bad fit and grading problems! Front view, Style 3070 vintage sewing pattern, from 1970.

I’m glad that I made it out of a cloth that I have no problem giving away. I altered it to fit me, wore it a few times, then took it back out to the original pattern sizing so that I could give it to someone who it would fit.

Since I had recently made several A-line dresses similarly oversized like this, I decided not to alter the McCall’s 2481 for the plaid flannel. The sizing looked about right on the standard body measurements and also when I measured the pattern pieces. And it was about right, so next time I’ll just make it slightly larger all around.

Sizing done wrong

Something must have gone wrong in the drafting of Style 3070, or some bad math involved in the pattern grading. Or maybe this pattern company always has this type of fit. For example, Burda sewing patterns are horrifically oversized and misshapen on me, even if the measurements are correct. In fact most contemporary sewing patterns have atrocious fit on me, and they are terrible, horrible nightmares to fix. The biggest problem is the wrong armscye fit, but there is also the too-big shoulders, arms, back and waist. And, hip too small. What is left? The bust measurement is correct, but the fit all wrong, bunching above and below the bust. I’m much better off with vintage patterns or drafting my own.

To see more that I have made, and for more opinion on pattern sizing and grading, please check out my blog, WesternSpinster.

Style 3070. It might not be obvious in these images, but this dress is huge. It could be a maternity dress, there is so much extra cloth in the front.
Back view, Style 3070 vintage sewing pattern, from 1970.
  1. I think your plaid dress looks really nice. I can understand why you would alter the fit slightly next time, but that’s more of a wearing comfort than a look thing, I would say.

    I guess I would agree on the horrors of pattern sizing. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve never looked back since learning how to draft my own patterns.

  2. Thanks! Yes, I have a few slopers that I use for the important things, but I am enticed by the great vintage patterns that I find. They are great puzzles and I enjoy troubleshooting them and refining them (unless the fit is really off.) I made a dress from 1933 recently, and that was a wonderful challenge. I love looking at the pattern shapes and imagining the fit of the final garment. For example, the two A-line dresses above – one had the fullness in the front, and the other had the fullness in the back, and it was difficult to initially see in the patterns, but it was there. 🙂

  3. I believe your Style pattern is a half size pattern it is designed for a shorter more stocky mature figure than a typical Misses. It is an old time size you don’t see much any more.

    1. Gail, Thanks for letting me know! This would make a lot of sense, and it is exactly what I was asking for – specialized sizing for a variety of body types. Very interesting! I’ll look at the body measurements again. I have worked with vintage half sizes before, and I don’t remember having this issue, but maybe they were Miss/Petite plus half size, or some other combination?

  4. It turned out great! The neckline and sleeves are so cute and the A-line has a perfect amount of flare!
    Pattern sizing is always such a tricky thing! So glad you found a well fitting shift pattern.
    I make wearable muslin’s out of less fancy fabric too, so that I can get an idea of the fit of different patterns.
    Recently I have found I would rather keep trying new one patterns (to find the good ones) than make countless muslins of one pattern (to get the fit right).

  5. Was going to mention the half size thing when I saw Gail’s comment. That would explain the bad fit. Once I find a well fitting vintage pattern, I try to find more from the same company and year as they were usually made with the same sloper. I have found that the armholes and shoulder fit is much closer in a 60s pattern. I really like your McCalls dress especially the boat neck and princess line. I always thought the A line silhouette was a youthful one- looks nice on you!

  6. Just noticed on a picture of the pattern pieces for the McCall ‘s pattern that the back piece really dips in at the waist. That would account for the fullness you are getting in the back. If this piece were straighter where it joins the side piece, you would not get the flaring out. The front piece seems to be straighter and you are getting a better line through there. Hope this helps!

  7. Hi Jill, thanks! Yes, I think that these A-line dresses are youthful too, and flattering, and I think that I will be making more of them. I like the snug-waist 50s and early 60s designs, but they are just not as comfortable or practical. Comfort is a high priority for me. I think I’m moving more towards the shift dress style. As for the flare in the skirt back, I actually like it. It is just really interesting to see how 2D turns into 3D. I see what you mean about the skirt back pattern nipping in at the waist/back. 🙂

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