Thursday, October 29, 2020

Wrap around the back, Wrap around the front - The Wearing History 1939 Sundress

It actually snowed here on Monday, yet here I am, blogging about a summer dress. It's safe to say summer is well and truly over, but I like this dress too much to not get around to sharing it this year. And hey, if I throw on a jean jacket with this particular dress, it becomes rather fall appropriate. So perhaps I'm not too far out of season here?

 Anyway, it's no secret my very favorite sundress pattern is Simplicity 8085, a wrap dress which wraps across the back rather than the front. I fell in love with this design when I first made the pattern over 4 years ago, and since then I've kept my eyes open for other patterns which wrap across the back.

A couple years ago, Wearing History released just such a pattern - a 1939 sundress which wraps across the back to tie in the front, and has a fun cross-over front bodice as well!

The pattern was first released about 2 years ago as a single size, 34" bust, digitized re-print of an original 1939 pattern. This bust measurement was a bit too small for me, but I loved the design, so I went ahead and bought the pattern anyway at some point in the next few months when Wearing History had a sale.

I printed out the pattern, meaning to make it right away, and that's as far as a got. For over a year, the pattern sat on my book shelf, printed out, ready to assemble and use

This summer, Wearing History re-released this fabulous sundress as a multi-sized, graded, pattern, making it a whole lot more user-friendly for the average sewist. Suddenly my Instagram feed was full of different versions of the dress as people excitedly tried out the new pattern. It was fun to see this pattern being made! That was just the kick I needed to pull out my already printed pattern and make this dress I'd been planning to make for over a year.

As I mentioned, I'd bought the single size, 34" bust version of this pattern when it first came out. According to the size chart, this pattern was the right size for me in the waist and hips, but a bit small in the bust. Since I already had this pattern printed out, I decided I would just alter this pattern to be the correct size by doing a full bust adjustment, rather than getting the new multi-sized pattern. 

I picked out my fabric, a 3 yard cut of cotton batik, gifted to me by a friend of a friend who was de-stashing, and that is exactly what I did!

I adjusted the pattern, cut it out, and sewed it up.

I wore it the weekend after I finished it to visit a historic mining site with my boyfriend.

I was a little short on fabric, and didn't have enough to fully line the waist ties, oops.

I figured out a way to still face the waistband on the inside of the dress, as I felt that was important to the structure of the garment, but the ties themselves just got a narrow hem along the edges.

This worked, but it would be nice if the ties had a little bit more structure to them - so next time I made this dress hopefully I would have enough fabric to fully line the ties like I was supposed to do here.

Speaking of next time. . . As I mentioned above, I did a full bust adjustment to account for the pattern supposedly being too small in the bust for me. The finished bodice is actually a little large on me, so next time I'm gonna un-do that full bust adjustment and just make this dress a straight size 34. It appears there's plenty of extra ease worked into this pattern so that should work out just fine.

The cross-over bodice kept trying to fall open in the front. So on my first wearing of the dress, I added a quick tacking stitch to keep the two sides of the bodice properly overlapping in the front.

The bodice also felt a little too blousy at the sides. I fixed this sometime after the first wearing of the dress by removing the arm hole binding and doubling the depth of the side bust darts.

After sewing the binding back on and wearing the dress again, I was pleased to discover the fit had improved.

However, the bodice still just feels too big in the bust, so hopeful eliminating the FBA next time will fix the issue.

I know I could test out pattern adjust and double check fit by making a mock-up, but honestly? I just can't be bothered for an every day dress.

The other thing I'll be messing with next time I make this pattern is the back overlap. 

It's definitely on the low side, so I'll be figuring out how to raise that.

Hopefully my next version of this pattern happens a little quicker than this first version did!

It's a pretty quick sew - there was no reason to put off making this dress for two years!

Despite the minor fit issues, I love this dress, and have worn it plenty since finishing it!

It's a fun, interesting, design, and easy to wear.

Just what a summer dress should be!

Friday, October 23, 2020

A Red Linen, Non-Stretchy, Dress from a "Stretch and Sew" Pattern

After months of not going out into the world, I finally ventured into a couple of antique malls at the end of July, and I left with armfuls of patterns. Old sewing patterns. When I find them at antique malls and I think there's even the slightest chance I will use them, I buy them. With an average price of $2 per pattern, they are not to be passed up!

Usually I find "Big 4" patterns from the 1940's through 1980's this way, but every once in a while I'll come across something else as well - such as a 1920's child's dress pattern, a 1980's Folkwear Pattern, or more recent out-of-print historical costume patterns. These are exciting finds! In comparison, this old "Stretch and Sew" pattern I brought home from the local antique mall this summer is positively boring. It's very similar to many, many, modern patterns and isn't really "worth" anything. For some reason, however, it appealed to me. So, for $1, I bought it. I brought it home, and made it up right away, first thing, before any of the older and more interesting patterns I bought at the same time.

I completely disregarded the fabric recommendations and decided to do my own thing with this pattern. The results? No regrets! Patterns are only starting points anyway!

It was view A on the pattern envelope, the dress with the yoke and the buttons down the front, that caught my eye. Surly, with the loose silhouette and buttons this dress could be made just as easily from a woven fabric as it could be from the recommended knit. I decided to give it a shot with a red linen/rayon blend I picked up at Joann's over the summer when their linen was on sale. 

I pulled the pattern out of the envelope to find the pieces I would need. The pattern sheets were printed on both sides so cutting out the pattern pieces was not an option. Tracing was required.

I grabbed a handy piece of paper and started tracing off the pattern pieces in the size I measured. The view A dress I was interested in was made without a waist seam. This wasn't quite what I was wanting for my dress. I wanted a waistline and a full skirt. So, I just traced the top "bodice" section of the front and back pattern pieces, ending them at approximately waist level.

To get the silhouette I wanted, I added a narrow waistband and cut the skirt as two full widths of fabric to be gathered down.

Of course, I added pockets to the side seams, because one must have pockets!

The dress was fitted with the bodice being gently gathered into the waistband, and the skirt being tightly gathered into the waistband. The resulting shape reminds me of 1850's and 60's dresses, which makes me happy!

The full sleeves were supposed to be finished with an elastic cuff, but I decided to do a plain fabric cuff instead. I'm not a huge fan of elastic cuffs.

I had 3 yards of fabric and that was just barely enough to cut this dress out of. I would have actually preferred to cut the skirt a few inches longer, but since that wasn't possible, I decided to conserve fabric by doing a contrasting hem facing rather than lose another inch in length by doing a turned up hem.

After much internal debate over whether to trim this dress or leave it plain, I decided to trim the sleeves and skirt with some black cotton lace, acquired on a past antique mall trip. 

I'm glad I decided to add the trim - it's just what this dress needed!

Trim on, it was down to the buttons to finish this dress off! I contemplated a few different options, and ultimately decided to go with matte black buttons to match the black lace.

None of my sets of matte black buttons had quite enough buttons for the entire front of this dress. Thus, I used one style for the yoke and waistband buttons, and another for the bodice and skirt buttons.

I'm ridiculously pleased with how this dress turned out!

It is amazingly comfortable, and was one of my go-to garments to wear during quarantine.

It's pretty loose overall, and completely non-constricting, but still has enough shape to make me happy.

Something else I love about this dress is the sleeves - I don't have very many sleeved dresses in my closet so this helps to fill that gap.

The sleeves make this dress a wearable garment for most of the year! I certainly can't complain about that!

Comfortable, cute, historically inspired, and very versatile. 

Not bad for an old Stretch-and-Sew Pattern! Especially one made from non-stretchy fabric!


Saturday, October 17, 2020

"Felicity's Work Dress" - Making and Wearing a 1770's English Gown for Exciting Things

 When I was between the ages of 9 and 12, I loved dressing up like my American Girl Dolls, or like Laura and Mary from Little House on the Prairie. Cotton Dresses my mom either made for me herself or found for me on Ebay, worn over an elastic waist white cotton petticoat I made myself, and a sunbonnet, was my go-to day-to-day outfit. 

My very favorite dresses were the ones my mom made me to match Felicity's dresses. Felicity was my very favorite American Girl Doll. She was the eldest of 4 kids, and helped her mom with her younger siblings, just like me. She had a horse and I desperately wanted a horse. (My dad vetoed the horse idea, but a few years later he did let me get goats!) Felicity had red hair, and I wished I had red hair. (Thus, once I reached my 20's, I dyed my hair red!) On top of all that, I absolutely loved Felicity's 1770's wardrobe. I wanted every one of her dresses, and my mom made me quite a few of them - her "Meet" dress, her school dress, and the dress she was wearing in the short story when her baby sister Polly was born. 

It's no surprise, I decided to wear this purple striped floral dress from the short story, on the day we took new born photographs with my brand new baby sister. These "Felicity Dresses" were already part of my every day wardrobe at the time, so I didn't feel like I was in costume for these pictures, just wearing clothing appropriate to the occasion. 

Sometime over the last few months, my pregnant sister-in-law was looking through our baby books and found the pictures of me in my dresses and bonnets welcoming my new baby sister to the world. Half way laughing, she said I had to wear a dress and bonnet when I met her baby, because these pictures were the cutest thing. Now, I'm not sure if she was entirely serious here, but she definitely got the wheels in my head turning. 


I have long wanted to re-create all of Felicity's dresses for myself. I am far from the first historical costumer to do this, but just because others have done it before me doesn't mean I can't do it to. Over the past couple years I've been keeping my eyes open for appropriate fabrics for this project. I assembled a few fabrics, but did I start on the project right away? Of course not! I've been a little nervous to cut into these long-hoarded fabrics, which I have limited amounts of, to try an era I'm still relatively unfamiliar with. I needed a lower stakes way to start. And I found it. 

While scrolling through Instagram one day, I came across a picture someone shared of their Felicity doll in her "Work Dress". 

Picture from American Girl Wiki

The stripe pattern on this work dress (which I never did own for my Felicity Doll by the way), reminded me very much of a striped cotton I had in my stash. A striped cotton I inherited from a church basement and had a ton of. There was only one difference, the official work dress was green, and my fabric was blue, but that wasn't a problem. On the cover of Changes for Felicity, Felicity is wearing a blue striped dress. Theoretically, the doll's "work dress" is based on the dress Felicity wears in that book, so I decided my blue striped cotton was perfect.

From the moment I saw that picture on Instagram, the blue striped cotton was destined to become Felicity's work dress - for me! Of course, me being the procrastinator I am, I did not get started on this project right away. It remained in the back of my mind, until my sister-in-law mentioned I should wear a bonnet when I greeted her child for the first. In that moment, I decided I was going to get my Felicity work dress done in time for the birth of the baby.

Did this mean I got started on the dress right away? Of course not! In true procrastinator style, I began this dress exactly one week before my sister-in-law was scheduled to be induced. I used the Larkin and Smith English Gown pattern, a birthday gift from several years ago, and it worked up amazing fast!

Despite having owned this pattern for several years, and having a length of silk in my stash earmarked for it, I'd never made it before. Thus, I started by making a quick bodice mock-up. I used linen, left over from my shift, for the mock-up. This was a time-saving decision. As long as it didn't require too many adjustments, the mock-up would also serve as my bodice lining.

The mock-up only required some minor adjustment to the shoulder straps and front opening, and I was good to go! I pulled all the basting stitches out of my linen mock-up, ironed my pieces flat, and began construction on the actual gown. 

Following the instructions, I tore large rectangles of fabric out of my blue striped cotton yardage to make the back and skirt panels of my gown. I used the included pleating template to pleat the back of my gown. This turned out to be easier than I expected!

Following the lines I traced onto tissue paper, I pinned the pleats in place. I made sure to use glass-headed pins for this so I could then press the pleats, and remove the pins so I could remove the tissue paper intact and use it again to pleat the other half of the back.

Once the tissue paper was removed, I then re-pinned the pleats, pinned the back panel to the back lining piece, and took it to work with me that afternoon.

While the kids played on the play ground, I sat in the grass watching them and hand sewing those back pleats into place. 

The instruction booklet for this gown tells you how to make the whole thing by hand. As I had a very limited time frame, I only did the visible stitching by hand. All internal seams are done by machine.

Once the back pleats were done, I cut out and constructed the remainder of the bodice. In the process I decided I wanted my stomacher to have a chevron pattern like this 1770's striped cotton gown in the Philadelphia Museum. Before cutting the stomacher, I took a look at the museum website to read the details on this gown. Turns out it was not an open robe with a separate stomacher and petticoat like the Larkin and Smith I was making, but a round gown with a compare front and decorative robings.

Once I realized that, I decided to make my gown a round gown as well.

I'd been worried that I wouldn't have time to make and hem a separate petticoat to go with this dress, and a round gown would solve that issue! I'd only have to hand hem one skirt, not a gown skirt and a petticoat! I referenced Koshka the Cat's website and figured out how to adapt this pattern to be a round gown by essentially just adding an extra front skirt panel. Super easy!

The skirt front is sewn to the back skirt panels along the side seams, with the top 10" left open for pocket access. The top edge of the front is attached to a piece of twill tape which is tied around the waist like a petticoat would be before the bodice, attached to the back skirt, is pinned in place.

None of the extant round gowns I could find online had stomacher fronts, they all had compare fronts. Changing my gown to a compare front however would have required doing another mock-up and re-making the entire bodice front.  I did not want to go through that hassle, and I didn't think I had the time for it either, so I kept the stomacher front from the original pattern on my gown.

 To get the chevron effect like my inspiration gown, I cut the outermost layer of the stomacher on the bias with a center front seam. The linen lining and interlining are cut on the straight of grain to keep things from being stretched out of shape.

Bodice, skirt, and stomacher done, the final thing was the sleeves!

I made the sleeves and and sewed the underarm to the bodice, leaving the sleeve head free.

I then tried on the gown and had my mom pleat the sleeve head in place to fit my shoulders.

I sewed the sleeve cap in place, stitched on the robings, and my gown was pretty well done!

The final step was hemming the skirt - which I did on the day my sister-in-law went into the hospital to be induced.

I was stitching away, sitting with my mom and sister, anxiously awaiting news from the hospital.

Finally, the text came. The baby had arrived. I was an aunt!!!!!!!!!!!

I wore my new gown, with my cap, kerchief, sleeve ruffles and a white linen apron, all day on the day the baby was set to come home from the hospital.

I wore this ensemble to milk goats. I wore it to run errands. I wore it to pick up kids from school (embarrassing the oldest two kids I nanny horribly! It was fun!). I wore it to make a raspberry cobbler with the youngest (got some raspberry stains on the apron, oops! Oh well, now it looks worked in, and it is!). And yes, I wore it that evening when I met my niece for the first time.

My dress and cap made my very tired sister-in-law smile.

Wearing this dress all day was actually surprisingly comfortable! I wore it over my shift, stays, red linen petticoat, matalasse petticoat, and pockets. I had no issues doing everything I needed and wanted to do that day.

The one "modern" thing I wore was my cowboy boots. 

As much as I love my buckle shoes, I just take my shoes off and on too many times during the day to make them practical for daily wear.

This dress actually made me want to make allllllllll the 18th century stuff! And wear it somewhat regularly!

I'm so excited to actually have made a "Felicity Dress" for myself! Now I can't wait to make more!

Since this gown celebrates a few things - My niece's birth, learning how to do the pleats on an English gown, and finally starting a project I've long dreamed of - I'm using it as my entry for Historical Sew Monthly Challenge #8: Celebration.

What the item is: 1770's English Gown
How it fits the challenge: I made this gown in celebration of my niece's birth. It also celebrates a new skill for me - learning to do the pleats on the back of an English Gown, and finally using a pattern I've had in my stash for years!
Material: Cotton shirting and linen for the bodice lining.
Pattern: Larkin and Smith English gown, altered to be a round gown.
Year: 1770's
Notions: Thread and twill tape.
How historically accurate is it? The pattern and construction methods are for the most part, accurate. I did use the sewing machine for the unseen parts of construction however, as I wanted to get this done fast! I used whatever cotton or polyester thread I had on hand, linen would be the accurate choice. Striped linen would be more likely than striped cotton, but cotton is plausible. The color and stripe pattern are good as far as I can tell. I'm not sure if it's accurate to have a round gown with a stomacher, a compare front would be better.
Hours to complete: Not sure on hours, but it only took a week to make, which is considerably less than most of my gowns! If I had to guess, I'd say around 20 hours - it was fast!
First worn: 10/14/20
Total cost: The pattern was a gift. The fabric was free to me. The linen for the lining was left over from making my shift. Figuring in the cost of the linen originally and the cost of thread and twill tape, $7ish total that I spent on this.