vintage starting point

For $2 this dream in an envelope was mine.


I wanted it all: the unforced coolness, the espadrilles, the white shirt. I even pondered the minimalist turban action on the lady on the right.

What I definitely didn’t have was “waist size 24.”

But it really didn’t matter in the case of this wonderfully easy pattern. I was able to improvise based on what my fabric allowed and got a perfectly wearable skirt out of it.

Unfortunately, there was no copyright date on the envelope, so I’m left guesstimating the publication as 1970-something? It’s a single-size pattern that uses the waist circumference (in inches, obvs) as the pattern size. The stitching lines are marked on the pattern, which is kind of nice… but given that it’s easier to mark within 5/8″ all around your pattern than to figure out other sizes from a single size, I’d still say my preference would be for multi-size patterns.

I approached the single-size pattern scientifically, that is, with a ruler and tape measure. The waist and hips were roomy enough, and I was able to finagle an additional inch on each pattern piece so as not to deflate the gathering (plus, plenty more inches on the waistband…).

You might be able to see in the drawings that the skirt panels have a somewhat unusual shape. They have a pronounced extension for the pockets and the pocket pieces are very small. While serging those panels was a bit challenging, I have to say that this design really hides your pockets well. It’s a good design idea that I might use in other patterns.

I gave you a preview in the post about the Burda top, but here’s the skirt again.

I resisted the call of the turban and made Skirt B in a poly-crepe remnant from my stash.

I decided to leave off the ties and, trying the skirt on with the waistband in progress, I also decided to shave some height off there.

undated Butterick 4727.
Fabric: poly crepe remnant left over from this dress.
Notions: thread, 7″ zipper, button for the waistband.
Construction details: topstitching on the waistband, serged seams, lapped zipper, hand-stitched invisible hem.
Fun fact: the pocket design is really clever!

Back waistband in close-up

Pattern verdict: Worth hunting down if you’re into pretty pattern envelopes and easy sewing.

Do you have any tips for sewing with vintage patterns? Or any vintage patterns you’re looking to hunt down?





the unphotographable dress and some thoughts on wardrobe planning


I promised better photos of this dress but this is all I got. Would you believe that one was taken on a sunnier day? The clearest thing I can give you is that title and an overexposed flat shot of the bodice:

burdabutterick_dressThose cuff and neckline bands: I naively hoped the instructions would guide me through the construction but all they offered was one sentence simply telling me to sew them on the outside and topstitch.

Let’s do this in a telegraphic style and with more blurry photographs.

Fitting woes

I’ve written about them in the first post about this dress. In short, the Burda bodice doesn’t fit me. Can’t breathe freely, can’t move my arms. So I swapped it out for the bodice from Butterick 6086, which I had to modify further. I slashed the sleeve to get more width on the biceps and I lowered the sleeve cap; I also made a 3/4″ broad back adjustment (while keeping the shoulders narrow, so lots of fun); plus the usual Big Four navigation between sensible ease at the bust and a realistic width at the waist.

It took ages and three muslins but even these photos tell me it was worth the work. I can flap my arms like a crazy bird and the dress still retains a decent shape.


what passes for arm flapping among existentialists


Lightweight black polyester crepe from and leftovers of a more stable polyester crepe from this dress for the neckline and cuff finish.

This project marks the beginning of my love affair with spray starch. I could not have done it without the stuff. It helped me cut the black crepe without losing my mind and kept it decently stable for sewing.

Construction notes

Bust darts and seam finish: Those were some big darts, since all the intake went into the lone horizontal bust darts. I trimmed them, pressed them upwards as both the Burda pattern and my sewing guru Sheryll advise, and bound them with Hug Snug. I Hug-Snugged all the seams, possibly because I wanted to risk the sanity I had saved thanks to the spray starch. It was not quick, to put it mildly, but turned out okay.

a dramatization of okay, with modest means

Zipper: invisible, sewn under the neckline finish, with a hook and eye on top. I sewed the zipper before sewing the side seams, thus completely putting the order of construction on its head.

That neckline and cuff finish you might be wondering about: I drafted these pieces from the sleeve and bodice pieces (it’s also what I always do with facings because I never sew anything without alterations). I stitched a line between the piece and seam allowance, trimmed the seam allowance to about 3-4 mm, and pressed the seam allowance under the pattern piece carefully. I’d say that’s a better strategy than notching the curves — it makes the curves smoother. And then I edge-stitched very, very slowly.

Pleats on the skirt: I stitched down the first inch of the pleats and on the back I converted the darts into pleats and aligned them with the vertical back darts.

what kind of dance is this even?

Hem: double-turned and hand-stitched.

And that would be all about this dress if not for a special issue of Burda I got as a gift when I started sewing this.

It was an issue devoted to simple sewing projects that make good wardrobe builders. It left me thinking intensively about my own sewing planning, which often gets overambitious in terms of both difficulty of the projects and their potential for getting worn on a daily basis.

Francesca at Atelier Vicolo N. 6 can give you a better insight into that issue with her two gorgeous dresses from it — they do not defy the camera while devouring light.

To cut a long story short, since first leafing through that issue my plan has been, well, not to make all of those Burda patterns but to simplify my sewing plans.

My first steps toward that coming to the blog soon. Flap, flap.

black dress in a snow storm

Friends, I got almost nothing. I’d been waiting for a long time first to finish sewing projects that were stubbornly in progress, then to take photos. I was hoping for at least one ray of sunlight today, but to no avail. No sun. In fact, right now you probably couldn’t see your outstretched arm if you were unlucky enough to be outside. It’s snowing in that scary Great Lakes endless winter kind of way that makes the lands beyond the wall in The Game of Thrones look like the next town over.

So on this gothically gloomy day I snuck in these snapshots right before the world got swept away. This is the Burda/Butterick mashup dress that I spent what felt like ages fitting.

I can’t help being very critical of garments straight off the machine, so I wanted the photos to reflect the things I’ve spent a while agonizing about. In real life, this dress strikes me as a bit, shall we say, convent-esque. I was aiming for simple elegance but I worry I got distilled conservatism instead. But that’s not what I’m getting from these blurry photos.

What I’m getting from the blurry photos is “I like theater and reading philosophy in bed,” which I’m fine with (though I haven’t been to the theater longer than I care to admit and at bedtime I read almost exclusively novels). I also get “The winter weight hides well, no?” and I honestly like that because that’s not what most of my pairs of pants have been communicating.

Maybe I should only wear this on gloomy days and during snow storms for maximum Gothic effect? The truth about the dress will have to wait until next time. And fingers crossed for power lines holding strong.

what’s your process?

Between the election and not having much time to sew, I found myself with very little that I wanted to write about. In fact, I’d been wondering all this time whether it might better not to say anything about the election… But in the end I’m very grateful to those of you who decided to say something — and by “something,” I mean offering insightful commentary and expressing concern about our shared future. I’ve been bouncing between fits of maniacal laughter while watching and reading the news, a sad stupor when realizing the news isn’t fake, and a profound sense of dread that history might be repeating itself and we are entering the 1930s redux in the remaining time.

So a black dress was in order. It was what I wanted to make the most, my actual wardrobe needs notwithstanding. And, you know, that’s what I’m going to write about. The sudden snowapocalypse let me finish it but not photograph it so all I have for you today is this crummy photo:

a baste-fitted dress in progress

I can’t lie: I tend to feel a pang of envy when watching the amazing output of fastsewists. But I think I’m slowly growing to accept my cautious attitude and the resulting glacial pace of projects. I really enjoy having new posts to read about new projects but I also enjoy taking the time to fit and construct clothes for myself.

I had Susan Khalje’s Couture Dress class on in the background during much of the sewing, which helped me along. In case you were wondering whether the class is worth it: Susan Khalje is brilliant and absolutely hypnotic to watch, and I definitely want to follow this class along properly, i.e. with a sewing project.

This dress is not a couture project, let me dispel any doubts (ekhm, polyester; ekhm, no underlining; ekhm, no silk organza in sight). But I muslined, basted to fit, bound seam allowances — so, some jazz, just not all that jazz. It took me three muslins to arrive at a bodice that fits, and each one brought to my attention additional adjustments. I won’t lie, at low points it made me wonder if I’m some kind of a lady Quasimodo with my broad back, narrow and forward shoulders, sway back, etc.

I started out modestly, with one pattern, a Burda pattern I’d been eyeing for a while. I loved the pleated skirt and the neck- and sleeveband detail (the instructions for those were not very helpful though).

Burda 08/2015 #123 (Images from Burda Style)

I had ridiculously high hopes for the fit after reading several bloggers’ comments that the Burda bodice fit them so well they never felt the need to makea fitting shell for themselves. As you can imagine, that was not the case for me. Bat Back out of hell strikes again. It fit me like a straightjacket; I couldn’t move at all. Also, I desperately needed an FBA to be able to breathe in it.

One thing that really impressed me about Burda drafting was the treatment of the central back seam: it curves in at the waist to minimize/eliminate pooling on the low back. Cool fix.

In the interest of keeping it real let me tell you I gave up mid-way through redrafting the bodice, after spending hours studying the muslin, measuring flat pattern pieces, cutting into them, figuring out what to pinch out, what to add, and where.

I figured that the work I’d put into my traumatizing McCall’s shirtdress (The Shirtdress of the Broad Back Revelation) was potentially likely to pay off if I used a McCall’s bodice pattern as my base. McCall’s owns Butterick, so close enough. And on this one, the FBA had already been done for me.

Enter Butterick 6086:

Butterick 6086 (Images from Butterick Patterns)

It’s the ’90s vibe of the floral dress that caught my attention at that fateful pattern sale when I got this pattern. I don’t think I even registered that note about cup sizes back then. Honestly, it should be screaming at you in huge letters because it’s what fitting dreams are made of.

Two muslins later I got where I needed to be in order to finally cut into my fabric. I kept the Burda skirt and drafted the bands for the neckline and sleeves for the Butterick bodice.

I’m glad I remained skeptical about my fitting in muslin because the baste-fitted bodice revealed I needed to shave off a further 1/4″from both the front and back shoulder. That still remains a mystery.

More on the fabric and sewing another time. This dress marks the beginning of my love affair with spray starch, so I need to wash it out now that the dress is finished.

Once again, speedy sewists, I don’t know how you do it. What I’ve written about here took several days, and we haven’t even gotten to the sewing part yet.

Have any speed-sewing secrets to share? Or the opposite, fine finishing tips? Drop me a line.