Thursday, 17 April 2014

1960s dress

This is the first of my Vintage Pattern Pledge projects - the one I actually started on before signing up! I had originally intended to make this with a (supposedly) wool-mix suiting fabric, but decided against that as I was concerned the check pattern would look terrible with the combination of darts and diagonal seaming across the bust. Ideally, I wanted to make this up in a light suiting weight fabric, preferably a pretty colour or small pattern. The only thing I seemed to have in my stash that was appropriate and had enough of was this linen-rayon mix. Not ideal, but it actually looks quite nice.

Pattern description

Vintage Simplicity 5237: Dress with close fitting bodice with diagonal seaming, short or 3/4 length sleeves, and flared skirt with gathers and box pleat.

Pattern sizing

18 1/2 (39" bust). This is their sizing for petite. I un-petited it as described below.

Fabric used

Linen-rayon blend, lined with cotton batiste, all from (the bodice and skirt lining look slightly different colours in the photos because they are different fabric - I ran out and had to order more halfway through!).

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope when you were done?

Actually yes, quite a lot.

Were the instructions easy to follow?

Yes. Although the instructions are much more succinct than those you get in modern patterns, I think they are generally much better. The diagrams are clear, and also indicate the stitching direction - this is something I was always taught was important, but often isn't mentioned in modern patterns. One thing I particularly like about these instructions was the way of stitching the sleeves: when sewing them in, they have you start at one notch, stitching towards the underarm seam. You stitch all the way around the seam, then when you reach the first notch again, you keep going, sewing a line of reinforcement just outside the the seam line to the notch the other side of the underarm. You can then trim this area quite closely. Neat!

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?

Apart from the un-petiting, and ignoring the sleeves, the bodice required minimal fitting - no FBA here! The shape is very flattering, and quite timeless.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made

This was sized for petite. In order to un-petite it I added length across the top of the bodice, front and back, in the top third of the armscye (I didn't alter the skirt to un-petite it between the waist and hip, as I figured the A-line shape was fairly forgiving). I made my usual alteration to the bodice back for swayback by rotating the shoulders and neckline down, and lowered the front neckline slightly.

The sleeves drove me a bit crazy - as drafted, they looked ok-ish with my arms by my sides, but I couldn't lift my arms. I eventually solved the problem by extending the shoulders, raising and reshaping the armscye a little, removing the ease from the sleeve cap, and shifting the shoulder point forward.

Apart from adding in-seam pockets and shortening by about 10cm, I made no changes to the skirt.

Construction details

In order to keep the vintage vibe of this dress, I chose to use a lapped zipper, with the overlapped side hand-picked. I'm really pleased with how this turned out. The hand stitching is much more unobtrusive than machine stitching, and retains the flexibility of the zipper much better. I added a hook and thread bar at the top of the zip.

The neckline is faced, with the bodice lining attached to the facing. The skirt lining was a bit made up on the hoof. In order to give weight to the pleat, I included the lining in it, but made small pleats at the front waistline instead of gathers to reduce bulk. I think one of the layers is a bit off-grain as the skirt hangs with a bit of an odd a fold on one side, but this isn't super noticeable when the dress is being worn and I'm moving around. The lining has a narrow machine hem, and the skirt is hemmed by hand.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others?

I have already sewn the bodice part of this again (you'll have seen a sneak peek of it if you follow me on Twitter or Instagram). It's nice having a bodice that fits really well, although I'd like to find another one with less distinctive seaming - I'm going to look at the vintage half size ones again!


I was really satisfied when I finished this dress, but I haven't actually worn it. Having sewn the second version (which I altered to be sleeveless), I think this is because of the sleeves. I really love the look with sleeves, but it's just not a good combination of fabric weight and fit/style for me. I think I will mull it over a little more, but I'm pretty certain I'm going to take off the sleeves, I really think this alteration will turn it from a dress that may look lovely but languishes in the wardrobe, into a dress that will get worn a lot, which is really what I need more.


  1. I love how sleek and sharp this is while still having a girlish look. Nicely done!

  2. So Cute and Flattering. I really like the drape of the fabric.

  3. It's beautiful! Love the pattern and fabric, you look charming and elegant with this dress.

  4. Classic dress, fits great and so well sewn. Beautiful

  5. Beautiful dress, and so flattering and great fitting :)
    Well done!

  6. Love this. It's well made, elegant and figure flattering. What more is needed?