Monday, March 21, 2016

WWI Nurse's Dress

It's crazy the amount of attention my purple plaid wool dress draws, even at historical events where there are lots of people in period clothing.  Last fall at an event, one gentleman was so impressed with my dress that he insisted I had to go talk to his friend, a World War 1 nurse who needed a dress. So, I went over to the WWI encampment to talk to the nurse. She did indeed need a dress and was looking for a seamstress. We spent nearly half an hour discussing exactly what she was wanting and looking at period photographs of nurses.

I gave her my name and contact information and went on, hoping for the best and already mentally planning this dress. Then, in January she contacted me, saying she was ready to have a dress made, and was I still interested in sewing a dress for her? Of course! I was excited!

I looked at picture after picture of WWI nurse's outfits, figured out my pattern, bought the fabric, set my dress form to her measurements, and got to work. I used Butterick B6229 as my base pattern, and picked out a 100% cotton broadcloth in light grey to make the dress out of.

I started by sewing the bodice. I flat-lined it in white muslin, added a white collar (thank you 80's pattern from my stash for supplying the perfect collar pattern), and made some slight changes to the cuffs. On the skirt I wanted to get rid of the center front seam and buttons, so I moved the button placket and seam to the left-hand side. This adjustment made a so-called dog-leg closure, a common feature in dresses from that era.

I measured the skirt, hemming it to the exact length my client requested, then emailed her a picture to say the dress was done and held my breath. What if the dress wasn't perfect enough? What if it didn't fit just right? What if she didn't like it? Well, as is often the case, all my worry was for naught. The dress was picked up yesterday and my client loved it! It (somehow) fit her perfectly! No alterations needed! She paid for her dress with a smile on her face, and thanked me several times!

I was a little afraid that making this dress for someone else would take away some of my enjoyment in sewing a historical dress, since I had to worry if it would live up to someone else's expectations, rather than just mine. In reality though, I enjoyed the researching, planning, and sewing just as much as I've enjoyed the processes with my own historical clothing. It's fun to figure out how clothing was made back then, and to reproduce it (to the best of my abilities) now. I enjoyed researching a period I've never ventured into before. 

My other fear was getting the perfect fit, without being able to do multiple fittings along the way. My client lives several hours away so coming every week for fittings wasn't really an option. Thankfully, this dress style could be somewhat forgiving in terms of "perfect fit" thanks to the gathered bodice, but I was still worried. I set my dress form to her measurements and measured each individual piece as I was sewing. It worked! The dress fit her perfectly!

I'm so happy that my first attempt at making a historical dress for someone other than myself was a success! I'm hoping to see the dress in action at some events this year!


  1. Hurray for success!!! I know the feeling, I rarely sew for anyone outside of my family. I was just recently commissioned to sew something for my jeweler. I was so particular over it being PERFECT! :O)

    1. Yes! I can find so many more flaws with my sewing when it's for someone else, just little things that typically wouldn't bother me seem like a bigger deal!