I’ve stumbled down the sewing rabbit hole and it’s become my safe space after a hard day of work. This year, I’m attempting to cut down my consumption which also includes sewing materials unless it’s for a very specific project. Because of this I’ve been “shopping my stash” often and going through the fabric and patterns that I’ve hoarded over the years. Upon a recent browse of my patterns, I looked through my true vintage patterns and realised that although I’ve loved buying them, I’ve never actually sewn one. I’m not sure if it’s the fear of the sizing being wrong for my body shape, the instructions being unclear or the knowledge that some pattern pieces are simple punched out holes with no other details. There was one that caught my eye, I think it was one of my first true vintage patterns, but I found Simplicity 8398 and it was too beautiful to just let it sit in its envelope forever so today’s the day it finally gets turned into a dress.
This vintage pattern comes from 1951 and it’s a really stunning pattern. The bodice of the dress features a straight neckline and slashed shoulder sections which give a cape-like effect. A full skirt is gathered onto a yoke below the waist and it’s styled with a belt. The pattern includes two styles; Style 1 is trimmed with lace and small self-bias bows and style 2 features larger soft fabric bows. The joys of true vintage patterns come from the fact that you never know what’s inside until you open it. I originally bought this pattern on Etsy back in 2018 and I only just decided to open it to see what’s inside. The pattern had already been cut out by the previous owner and they even added little notes written in pencil. I noticed that some pieces had an extra half-inch added so I’m guessing the previous wanted to extend the pattern or perhaps it just made attaching the pattern to the fabric easier. Amongst the factory pattern pieces was a single pattern piece clearly cut out of old newspaper with a note saying to cut on the fold. I guessed this piece was some kind of facing and upon further inspection, I noticed that the pattern piece wasn’t a replacement of an original piece and was simply added by the previous owner. All the pieces had cuts and marks which were used to make notes on the fabric. I liked knowing that this pattern had been made by someone and whilst sewing, I liked to imagine all the adventures the dress had.
I struggled to find any copies of this dress for sale online but I did find just one. It’s a size ‘Bust 32’ making it one size smaller than the pattern I had. My pattern was a size 16/ Bust 34 and I was worried it would be too small. I measured the pattern pieces, especially around the waist and bust and according to my measurements, the pattern should fit despite technically being too small. See what I mean by the joys of true vintage patterns? At this point, any proper seamstress would tell you to make a muslin out of some calico but you know what? Life is too short and I like to live dangerously. But in all seriousness, a calico muslin is the best way to check the fit of a pattern without ruining your good fabric and it should be done but I wanted to trust my measurements and just get on with it. Do as I say, not as I do.
Speaking of fabric, let’s shop the stash! After I pulled out a few options, I put back the ones where I didn’t have enough fabric for the pattern pieces to fit and I eventually narrowed it down to two options. One was a white-based cotton floral print with large spread out flowers with bold purple, orange and pink tones. The second was silk cotton with a grey base and orange and purple toned flowers densely decorated together. After gathering a few opinions, I decided on the silk-cotton blend and I had 3 and a half meters to toy with. I originally purchased this fabric many years ago whilst shopping in Kuala Lumpur. The fabric district there is a magical place and some pieces I’ve held on to for too long so it’s time they finally got turned into a pretty dress. One very special thing about this particular fabric is that it had little rhinestones attached to the pattern which give it just a little bit of extra sparkle. I remember being in one fabric store and the gentleman helping me noted the fabrics I had chosen and asked, “would you like to see these same fabrics but with sparkles added?” I think I said “YES!” to that faster than to my engagement proposal but here we are with some very pretty sparkly fabric and my first vintage pattern.
Sew, let’s get started! I always start with the bodice as it’s generally the more complex part of the garment. I went ahead and sewed in my darts into the lower bodice front pieces before moving onto my shoulder pieces/upper bodice front pieces. I was really intrigued y how these pieces came together as originally I thought they were only gathered, but it turns out there was a slit in the shoulder which came out rather lovely. The bodice, without including the shoulder parts, is really simple to put together and it came into being rather quick. After attaching the shoulder seams I could tentatively try on my bodice to check the fit and so far so good. I added my facing to the edges of the bodice to close them off and I added the extra back neck facing piece that the previous owner had made up themselves after the shoulders were attached and it fits perfectly. Thank you, previous owner! Without this facing piece, there would be an open back neckline seam so I’m wondering what went wrong in the pattern design that this was omitted.
The bodice was attached to the skirt yoke which then had the skirt attached. I stayed true to all the dress construction instructions so, despite the urge to add a fuller skirt and some pockets, I went ahead and gathered up my skirt pieces and then attached them to my skirt yoke. I’ve never sewn a skirt yoke before and I’m not sure how I feel about the way they look on my body shape as they can really emphasise my Endo belly. I think in future if the dress doesn’t look flattering on me, I will just omit the yoke and add a full rectangle skirt, or at least lengthen the skirt pieces by a few inches.
The last big feature I had to add to the dress was the front shoulder bows they were basically a rectangle sewn up and they were to be attached at a certain point to the bottom of the shoulder pieces. This is where I’m not sure about the pattern; it might just be my fabric choice but the bows looked a little sad, to be honest. I think a thicker fabric that could hold its shape or at least add some interfacing would have been better for the bows. I lightly hand sewed the bows to sit up but honestly, I’m thinking about removing them altogether. The bows look cute on the pattern envelope and were a big reason I bought the pattern but in real life, they take the dress from classy to home crafty. They don’t look absolutely awful, but they don’t really need to be there. I’d love to know what you think.
The final thing I had to do was finish my seams by hemming them. I did a lot of hems on the overlocker before finishing with a rolled hem. There was quite a lot of skirt to hem but it came together rather quickly. To complete the dress, I added in a side zip and although it’s not my neatest, I’m rather happy with it. I really need to get better at adding zips to my dresses as when I started sewing, I was really good at them but now, not so much. Somehow my skills in zip sewing are getting worse the more I try and learn. Weird.
I love my fabric choice for this pattern and it reminds me of a previous fabric we used for Butterick 5209 as it had similar colours and tones (Butterick 5209 blog coming soon). They could definitely be related. This fabric was a dream to sew with as it wasn’t too slippery and it was just soft and delicious to work with. I love the flow and movement it gives the skirt and the pattern is a lot of fun too. I think this fabric was too soft for the bows but in general, I’m pretty happy about the overall finished product.
Fit: the dress fits great! I did have to sew the back bottom bodice seam in by about half an inch as it gaped a tiny bit but that was it. I found the bust a tad on the smaller side but I do think I was wearing the wrong bra when I put her on the first time. The waist is perfect and even though I’m not sure about the skirt yoke, I’m getting used to it and trying not to feel self-conscious about my Endo belly. I absolutely love the shoulders on this dress as they are really stunning and unique. Although this pattern was a little intimidating at first glance, it was super simple to make. Trying out a true vintage pattern was daunting and although the instructions were not as clear as modern-day patterns, through the help of their diagrams, I think I followed them pretty well. There were a few steps that I had to read a few times over but eventually, I’m sure I got exactly what they wanted me to do.
Unlike modern patterns, vintage patterns require you to have a wealth of sewing knowledge and skills so things such as ironing seams as you go just weren’t mentioned and I made sure to iron whenever I could. At times I felt the instructions were written in a foreign language which I know would have scared me as a younger sewer but with a bit more experience, I think I got all the points. I am absolutely in love with these sleeves and I want to find similar patterns to test out. I want to make this dress again but perhaps leave out the yoke just for personal preference. Oh and just like the image on the pattern, the dress looks great with a belt.
My first vintage sewing pattern was daunting at first but came out probably one of my favourite pieces I’ve sewn this year so far. The success of this project has made me want to try another pattern sooner rather than later and I think I know what my next one will be. This dress is cute, summery and light to wear. It grabs people’s attention and I felt great in it. Oh, and it twirls rather lovely too but still not full enough for me! I’m still thinking of removing the bows though.
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