Blue 50s dress (with lots of details for the sewing people)

Making clothes properly is no easy task. It’s time consuming and quite difficult – at least when it involves re-fitting a pattern to someone else’s body. Making things for me isn’t so bad, but making for other people is a challenge and a half. But I do love it.
Helen asked me to make her a dress to wear for her brother’s wedding. She wanted something really special and was more than happy to pay for it (yay!). She chose the pattern and the fabrics and came to me for fitting and sewing.
The pattern is a Vintage Vogue (2902) and really pretty. Big circular skirt and closely fitted bodice – just perfect for Helen’s slim but curvy figure. She chose applique tulle for the skirt which was wonderful fun – but really heavy and slightly stretchy which was a sewing challenge! The bodice is in heavy weight silk satin which was a dream to work with but also shows every pin hole and snags really easily. ARGH.

The whole thing is lined in silk taffeta which gives it good body and supports the weight of the skirt – before I attached the bodice lining to the skirt lining, the weight of the skirt completely distorted the bodice. Somewhat alarming! I think the taffeta is a bit stiff for the bodice lining but hopefully it will sit smooth. If I’d been with her buying the fabrics, I would have gone for a lightweight satin or heavyweight habotai silk like I used in my (not-so-little) black dress.

Theoretically this is a fairly simple dress to make. The only fiddly thing in the pattern is the neck bands and shoulder straps which are made in one piece, turned and hand stitched to the dress. This isn’t particularly difficult, just time consuming and hard to make it look neat. The challenge came in getting it to fit. I did 2 toiles for the bodice and still had a bit more tweaking to do after the second fitting – hence terror that it wouldn’t actually fit. I had to change all the bodice darts, particularly the side upper bust one, and ended up completely revising the neckline and shoulder straps too. Half way through I realised it would have been easier to draft a pattern from scratch. Hindsight is great.

But otherwise, it all went together well and Helen is going to look STUNNING in this dress.

Technical details:

  • Fabrics from Cloth House and MacCulloch and Wallis
  • Invisible zip inserted into side seam (getting it neat and not catching in the tulle = faff). I also decided to extend the zip right to the underarm to be absolutely sure she would be able to get it on over her shoulders. Not the neatest solution, but practical.  I like that 50s patterns expect side seam zips, not ugly up the back ones. Putting in an invisible zip was easier than a normal one and looks 100 times better. Well worth it.
  • Neckline decoration – this is just tacked as I expect Helen will change it herself, but it’s just made from gathered scraps of the skirt fabric.
  • Skirt back is cut with a seam to save fabric. Bodice used barely half a metre. I think there were 3m of lining, which was all used.
  • No interfacing required in the pattern which was good. I was all prepared to use silk organza but none was necessary. I faced the shoulder straps / neckbands with the silk taffetta for strength which worked really well, although a bit of the blue kept peeping over the edge of the silk at the neckline. That is the one major peeve that I was annoyed I didn’t get quite right. 
  • All the pressing done with tailor’s hams to keep the curves and always covered the fabric with a silk organza pressing cloth and used steam more than pressure. 
  • Skirt tulle isn’t hemmed – it didn’t seem worth the hassle and hangs beautifully without it. I could have used the bias-cut strips of organza method, but really, I think it is better without. The skirt lining just has a zig zag stitch hem which isn’t beautiful but saves times and it won’t show.
Detail of the skirt tulle
Inside out showing taffeta lining and waist stay
Weird photo showing side zip, waistband of net petticoat 
(made for me when I was 11! (it needed new elastic..) and waist stay. 

I’m now pondering what to make for myself and wondering where on earth I will find  the time (as per usual). I want a new dress too, even if I don’t have any weddings to go to.

4 thoughts on “Blue 50s dress (with lots of details for the sewing people)

  1. Wow, this is so gorgeous! The colour and that tulle are wonderful. I've been eyeing up this pattern for a while and now I've seen it made up I might have to make it. Thanks a lot for sharing all the details 🙂

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