Sewing a Katy Keene Inspired Valentine’s Day Dress

If you’re a fan of the Archie comic’s, you will already know that when it comes to fashion and styling, no one can compete with Katy Keene. Created by Bill Woggon in 1945, Katy Keene is a character that has appeared in several comic book series published by Archie Comics. She is a model, actress, singer and was dubbed as “America’s Queen of Pin-ups and Fashion”. With Bettie Page inspired looks, Katy Keene became quite popular as she allowed readers and fans to submit fashion looks to magazines with the best being illustrated in the next edition. All designs were given full credits to their creators which must have been incredibly exciting for readers and with so many incredible designs, there really is a plethora of sewing inspiration out there.

Last year for Valentine’s Day, we sewed a dress inspired by a Valentine’s Day card and I was going to do the same this year but when I saw this design for Katy Keene I knew I had to turn it into a reality. As there are quite a few names around the illustration, I can’t quite tell who the original designer was but I hope they are doing well. I am determined to challenge myself a bit more this year with my sewing so I will hopefully be attempting my first ever boned bodice.

When analysing the dress, we will be making a strapless sweetheart neckline with a boned bodice. I will be making a circle skirt to complete the look. Hopefully I find a good quality cotton as I want the dress to have a bit more of an evening feel. I can’t quite tell what the pattern on the top of the bodice neckline is but I’m guessing it might be a special ruching such as a honeycomb smocking. In saying this, I could be completely over thinking it and it could just be a fancy kind of lace; towards the end of the dresses completion I will see how certain trims look on the neckline and decide what would go best. The skirt has quite a scattering of red hearts so I will see if I can find a similar fabric or perhaps an overlay skirt with a heart pattern (I wish I had a cricut machine where I could cut out as many hearts as I need from a felt and attach them myself). To finish, the skirt has a pink lace trim and some horsehair braid to add a little extra volume. What could possibly be difficult about all that?

Materials needed
3 metres of pink cotton
2 metres of red heart tulle
Charm Pattern; Lamour dress
Steel boning and casings
Boning supplies: metal cutters, boning caps or teflon tape
Basic sewing supplies; machine, thread, scissors, rulers, markers and pins.

The pattern I have decided to go with for the bodice is Gertie’s Charm Pattern Lamour Dress and I will be making a strapless version. For the bodice I will need the main fabric, lining and underlining fabric (calico or muslin) to ensure the garment is really secure once I add the boning.

The first major issue i had was that I decided to challenge myself by making a boned garment and I’ve never done boning before. After a chat to a few sewing friends, all of them said I shouldn’t waste my time with plastic boning and go straight to steel boning. This seems a little frightening but how hard can it be really? The main challenge is that there is no steel boning available for purchase in my state. I have called every fabric, corset, dance and costuming shop looking for steel boning or a lead to a shop with it available and everywhere is sold out due to stock issues. Oh dear. I then turned online and many places had the same issue or the shipping would take over a month. Oh dear. I eventually found an online store in Sydney with some boning (albeit 7mm instead of 6mm but I was desperate) so I ordered than and realised I may not reach my deadline. Oh dear. But let’s get everything else ready in the mean time.

Charm pattern owner Gertie very kindly put her extensive ‘sew-a-long’ guide for this particular pattern online during the first major lock down to encourage people to ‘stay home and sew’ so I am very happy that I have a visual guide on how to make this dress. The videos also make me feel like I’m sewing with someone so it’s a little less lonely. As I am making a seamless version of the dress, I made a few modifications to the pattern and it was time to cut. My lining and outer fabric were the same pink cotton I purchased but my underlining was just plain calico. As for my skirt, I opted for a circle skirt and I used this guide here to ensure a perfect waist measurement (this is the same guide we used for my Halloween spider skirt). I also cut out a layer of the tulle heart fabric I found here as an overlay for the skirt. This tulle fabric is so pretty I kinda want to go back, get some more and sew another dress. I let the skirt hang for a few days to allow it to droop on the bias and then I trimmed it.

I assembled the bodice as best as I could without the boning or the casing. I stay stitched the calico to the outer fabric layer then attached the front to the sides and back. I did the same to the lining pieces and then patiently waited for my other supplies arrived. I was able in the waiting time to dye my white lace which was pretty straightforward. In a pot of hot water I added salt, detergent and my desired amount of dye; the lace was submerged and stirred for 30 minutes. I then rinsed the lace and left it outside to dry which was a quick process as it was over 40 degrees outside.

Alas the day arrived where my steel boning supplies were left on my front door and I could continue making my dress. My first stop was a visit to Bunnings (my local hardware store) to pick up some teflon tape and some metal cutters. Upon closer inspection of my new supplies I was surprised to see that the boning casing was just bias tape, albeit thick bias tape but I for some reason thought it would be more of a tube. If you’re knowledgeable on this topic please let me know if boning casing is just bias tape or if I’ve been duped.

On with the sewing; I was able to sew my boning channels to my lining fabric and then attach the lining to the odice front piece. I then put my new metal clippers to goo use and cut myself up some steel boning and I went ahead and added the boning caps to the end. Much like Gertie said in her video, the boning caps didn’t stay on very well no matter how hard I crimped and tried to attach them to the boning. I took Gerties advice and added some teflon tape to the ends instead which was a lot quicker and easier than the caps. To finish up my skirt pieces I sewed my cotton skirt pieces together and then did the same to my tulle layer. I made sure to stay stitch my tulle layer to my cotton layer to stop them slipping whilst sewing.

The rest of the dress making process was straightforward as I had to attach the skirt to the bodice, add a zip, hem and final trims. I didn’t realise that my bodice was wider than my skirt waistline so it took me a bit of fiddling to attach my skirt pieces to my bodice. I just attached my skirt waistline a little lower than than I would normally and it evened out after a few goes. I then went ahead and attached the bodice to my skirt. Although I followed the steps for a lapped zipper, my zipper wasn’t lapped which was disappointing as it’s something I’ve tried to do many times and it only works out sometimes. No idea what I’m doing wrong.

I was now able to attach my horsehair braid to the hem of my skirt. I sewed to to the front of my skirts hem on my machine, flipped the braid to the back and ironed it flat. Now the fun part, hand sewing the top of the braid to the skirt using an invisible stitch. This took me quite a while but I was quite happy to be able to sit on the couch, watch some netflix and relax.

As mentioned above, I wasn’t sure what to do about the bodice neckline trim. I pinned various trims such as ribbons, lace and fabrics to the neckline but none really looked good. At least in my opinions. I ended up cutting a strip of the heart tulle about 4 inches thick and about 48 inches long which I pinned to the neckline at various thicknesses. I really liked how it looked as it added the original hearts from the original design back in. I hope you like how it looks. I went back to the couch and hand sewed the tulle to the neckline; I ended up leaving the extra strands at the back of the dress which I now tie up as a bow which I think is a cute touch.

The final touch left to add was my pink lace to the bottom hem. I pinned my lace onto my hem and then realised I didn’t like the way it looked. I’m not sure if it was the colour, the thickness or something else but the lace just wasn’t hitting home for me. I wonder if the lace made the dress look a little like the petticoat was hanging out the bottom of the dress which I’m personally not a fan of but I decided after a few friend’s opinions to remove the lace and leave the dress as is. If you get a chance to watch my youtube video on this dress you will see what the lace looked like as a trim so if you really love it on the dress please let me know. To finish the dress off, I trimmed the tulle layer to be the same length as the cotton skirt layer and she was done!

I am so happy with how this dress turned out. Upon her completion, I wasn’t happy with her and thought it was just another dress that was mediocre. When I had some sleep, tea and got a bit dressed up, I realised that she looked great and fit perfectly. I probably could have brought in the waist about half an inch but as my endo belly can be unpredictable, a bit of wiggle room is always welcome.

I am so proud of my bodice and my first ever attempt at adding boning to a garment. The process took me a little time as I had to trim the boning a few times as I forgot that once I attach the bodice front to the lining the channels will shrink so I’ll need shorter pieces of steel boning. Oops. I was so happy to see that the bodice stayed up, didn’t look bulky and there were no ripples or puckers anywhere. I’m really happy with my neckline trim in the end and I’m glad I didn’t go for the original lace idea. I did think about cutting out some hearts and adding them to the neckline but by adding the tulle, it really brought the dress together.

The skirt length was perfect and I love how well she twirls and flows especially whilst spinning around. Looking at the dress now, I kind of wish I made a ruffle trim out of the heart fabric to add to the hem. I’m still able to add this layer so let me know if I should. I think adding the horsehair braid was a great idea as the skirt has a beautiful flow to it and looks stunning even whilst still.

To accessorise this dress I added some earrings and bangles from the current Splendette Valentines day collection which I purchased from Fluro Sugar. I added some red patent heels with heart shape from Kitten d’Amour which my mother fell in love with. These shoes are a bit steep for me to wear for long periods of time but the ankle straps make me feel stable and secure which I appreciate.

I feel a bit silly to say that I’m proud of myself for making a dress that was a bit out of my comfort zone. I had often avoided sewing patterns that required boning but now I’m keen to try a few more to work on my skills. I’m really hoping to challenge myself this year with learning new sewing skills and trying new things so this dress was a great way to kick off my little goal. I think sewing a Katy Keene inspired dress was a lot of fun and I hope it brings her into the spotlight a little more. I would most certainly be keen to try making some of her other incredible fashion pieces brought to life and of course, if you have a design you love, please send it to me and I’ll see what I can do.

Making these dresses from vintage illustrations is quite a challenge but I am really loving it. I am currently in the process of renovating so my house is a mess which has stopped me sewing but I’m glad I pushed past my comfort zone to sew in a bit more of a chaotic environment. I like to have my house clean and organized and now it’s just manic so I’m hoping as the renovations come to a close hopefully soon, I will get my sewing mojo back.


Note: This is not a sponsored post. All opinions and thoughts expressed are solely my own and not influenced in any way. There are no affiliate links and I do not benefit from any link clicks or purchases made.


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