Saturday, August 8, 2020

A Black and White Polka Dotted Vintage Dress

 After my first experience using a vintage un-printed pattern to make a dress, I was hooked. The pattern was ridiculously easy to use (The perforated markings on these un-printed patterns make transferring pattern markings super simple, unlike modern printed patterns!), and the finished dress was beautiful! Making up another one of these patterns was in order!

Thus, within a week or two of making that first dress, I was cutting out another one.

Last year I altered a black and white polka-dotted dress for a friend, and was struck by the fact I wanted a black and white polka-dotted dress. There's something both fun and classic about this combination, and I wanted it in my wardrobe. After that dress alteration, I was casually keeping my eyes open for the right black and white dotted fabric, but nothing I came across seemed worth buying when I knew I already had a very full fabric stash at home. As much and I wanted a black and white dress, I would have to find a very special fabric to be tempted into buying it.

Before I found this illusive temptress fabric in a store, I was given it. Over the past 8 years or so I have received quite a bit of fabric and lots of sewing notions from my best friend's grandma as she narrowed down her belongings. Early this year I was shown her last two boxes of sewing stuff and told to take whatever I could use. My friend's grandma's health was very much in decline and she hadn't sewn anything in several years.

In one of those boxes, there was a bundle of black and white polka-dotted fabric - just what I'd been looking for! This fabric was in several pieces, but it looked like there would be enough for a dress if I put it all together. My polka-dotted dress was going to happen!

As per my usual, even with the materials acquired, I didn't get to the dress right away. This dress was on the "I will get to it eventually" list. Then, this spring, with everything shut down due to the coronavirus, my best friend's grandma passed away. As I was remembering her, praying for her family, wishing I could give my best friend and her mom a hug, and attend the funeral to support them (impossible things due to social distancing rules), I cut out this dress. Working on a black dress, from fabric given to me by my friend's grandma, seemed a very fitting way to grieve while my heart went out to her family.

I knew I wanted to use a vintage pattern for this dress, so I pulled out my vintage pattern box to pick one.

I picked what appears to be a 1940's mail order pattern.

It was a relatively simple style with some nice details - a v-neck, cut on sleeves, gathers at the shoulders, and tucks at the waist. The pattern was close to my size, but a couple inches too small in the bust.

I fixed that issue not with any "proper" pattern alterations, but by angling the bodice pattern pieces away from the fold at the top to give me a little more room in the bust and shoulders. The finished bodice fits pretty darned well, so, while not necessarily an advisable technique, it worked!

I didn't like how my bodice looked when I tried gathering the shoulders into the yoke, so I chose to use pleats instead.

They're not immediately obvious when you look at the dress, but I love this little subtle detail.

None of my fabric pieces were quite large enough to cut the flared skirt panels from, so I improvised. I used the top of the skirt pattern pieces to cut a 6" wide skirt yoke, then took several narrow rectangles of my fabric and seamed them together to make a gathered skirt to attach to that.

There are, of course, pockets in the side seams.

The only other pattern alteration I made, was a mistake.

You see, I cut this dress out in the spring, but it was June before I actually got it sewn together. And by then I may have forgotten a thing or two.

I cut out two belt pieces, as the pattern required. These were meant to be sewn end to end and folded over to make one long skinny belt. Well, not thinking when I finally did sew this dress, I sewed the two belt pieces right sides together, all the way around, then turned them right sides out to make a short wide belt. Whoops.

The belt was long enough to wrap around my waist - just barely. It was not long enough to fasten with a buckle however, so I improvised. The belt fastens in the back, with two plain white buttons.

A slide buckle is slid onto the belt and centered in the front for aesthetic purposes. While not what I intended, I do appreciate that I can easily change out the buckle when ever I want to. Rhinestones, metal, wood, mother-of-pearl - I can pair whatever sort of buckle I could want with this dress!

For these pictures I chose an ornate metal buckle, found in the jewelry section at Hobby Lobby.

My polka-dotted dress fabric is a synthetic of some sort in fiber content and ever so slightly sheer.

This slight see-throughness meant I either needed to line my dress or wear another layer beneath it. 

Lining this particular dress didn't appeal to me, so I opted for the "extra layer" option.

I made myself a black bias-cut slip from some rayon crepe I found at Joann's.

I used the slip pattern from Vogue 9168 (the pattern I used for my bridesmaids dress), shortened it to knee length and re-shaped the neckline. Rather than the annoying facing included in the pattern, I opted to finish my neckline with fold-over elastic in the same manner as the slip in the Scroop Wonder-Unders pattern.

My only issue with slip is I should have cut the neckline lower as it likes to peek out from underneath the dress. 

Other than that minor detail, this slip works beautifully! I now have a basic black slip which can be worn under a variety of dresses in the future.

I haven't worn this dress much since I finished it, as due to the sleeves and synthetic fabric it's not really a summer-y dress, but I do really like it and I'm sure I'll wear it plenty once fall comes around!

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Finishing up the "Little Things" on my Stays and Shift

I’m making myself a new pair of stays. Why? There’s nothing wrong with my current pair of stays made last spring - in fact, they’re my most comfortable corset-like garment ever! They just have a very straight front, perfect for 1760’s (the era I made them for), but a little too flat for later in the century. Thus, I’m making myself a pair of 1780’s, more shapely stays. Yes, I started questioning my sanity in deciding to make another pair of stays the second I started marking boning channels.

So, since I’m now starting a new pair of stays, I figured I’d better finish blogging about my current pair of stays. Last time I mentioned them, they were in need of binding and straps. Well, I actually got those things done!

I bound my stays in chamois leather - a very soft, easy to work with, and easily obtainable material. (Found in the automotive section of Wal-Mart!)

I cut 1" strips of leather, folded them over the edges of my stays, and sewed them on with a running stitch.

As I was in the middle of binding my stays this way, I discovered I was doing it wrong. You're supposed to fold your leather like double-fold bias tape, stitch it to the outside of the stays with a back stitch, then fold it around and stitch it to the inside with a whip stitch.

The above described correct method is absolutely stronger than what I did. That said, I couldn't be bothered to un-do all the inferior binding I'd already done, so I finished binding my stays in the same way I started.

There is a chance that my improper binding will wear out quicker than binding done the proper way would. If that happens to be the case, I'll re-bind my stays the way I should have bound them to begin with. For now, however, the binding I have works. No complaints!

Binding done, there was just one more thing these stays needed to be finished - Straps! (Ok, technically they should get a lining too, but the reality is I'll probably never bother.)

Rather than the standard 18th century stay straps, which are sewn onto the back of the stays and tie onto the front, the pattern I was using (Simplicity 8579, by American Duchess) recommended twill tape straps. These are sewn onto the top of the front of the stays, go over the shoulders where they criss-cross across the back, and wrap around to the front again where they are secured in place at the bottom of the stays.

Straps of this style are accurate to the era, help pull the shoulders back for proper 18th century posture. As an added benefit, since they criss-cross over the back, they won’t slip off your shoulders the way the other style of straps might. 

At one point in time prior to making my stays, I watched a video by American Duchess about this pattern and why they choose this style of straps. (I'm sorry, I can't find the video to link to now. It may have been a Facebook live.) It was very informative and kept me from being confused as to how these straps worked. The Simplicity pattern instructions recommend tying the straps in the front when the stays are worn, but the ladies at

I used a 1” wide cotton twill tape with a fun chevron pattern for my straps. It was at Joann’s. It was pretty. It was 100% cotton. And it was on clearance. So I bought a full bolt of it! In the era, linen tape most likely would have been used, but cotton works just fine!

Having worn my stays with and without straps, I can definitely say it’s better to have straps! Due to the shape, Victorian Corsets don’t really need straps, but 18th century stays fit better with straps.

So, straps and binding - these stays are done!


After I finally completed hand sewing my shift, I received a suggestion in a Facebook group I’m a part of that my shift would be more historically accurate if I added cuffs to the sleeves. I thanked the commenter for the info, but after hand sewing that whole danged thing, I had no intention of going back and adding cuffs.

Until I was

So I took the sleeve hems out, undid the bottom couple of inches of flat-felled seam on each sleeve, hemmed the new slit, and then added the cuffs.

I cut narrow cuffs from a linen scrap leftover from making my shift. I followed the directions from

My stroked gathers are very far from perfect, but I got the sleeves gathered into the cuffs, sewed the cuffs on, and made a buttonhole at each end of the cuffs.

My cuffs fasten with two linen covered buttons (harvested from a thrifted dress), which I sewed together to make cuff-link-type things. I can’t say these buttons are historically accurate, but they do the job!

Now, was it worth adding the cuffs?

Yes! Absolutely! The cuffs secure the shift sleeve below my elbow so they don't bunch up under gown sleeves. Way more comfortable than not having cuffs. Now I barely notice that my shift has sleeves at all when I'm wearing a gown!

So the little finishing details? 

Yeah, those are usually worth doing - even if it takes a while to get around to them!