Sunday, October 20, 2013

#5 - Vintage Challenge - Channeling Lucy Ricardo!

I am also linking up to Patti's Visible Monday!


Rules for Challenge 5

Sewing a garment from a vintage pattern is challenging. The pintucks, pleats, and precise fit can be difficult to master. Choose a vintage pattern and modernize the piece. You can modernize your piece with styling, embellishment, or fabric.

You will be judged on difficulty, craftsmanship, how fashion forward your look is, and FIT!

Take your time, you will have two weeks to make it perfect!

What Makes a Vintage Pattern Vintage?

When this challenge was assigned, I asked the folks at FabricMart to define vintage. I was told that any pattern more than 20 years old qualified as vintage. Given that this is 2013, any pattern created before 1993 qualified. I own plenty of patterns from the 80s and early 90s, particularly by Issey Miyake.

I was pretty sure that the judges had something different in mind, based on the reference to "pintucks and pleats" and the emphasis on fit. (Can you imagine trying to judge someone based on the fit of most classic Issey Miyake patterns? lol)

I decided to focus on a 1950s pattern, so I jumped onto Etsy and started searching. I found a pattern in a classic design from 1953, Simplicity 3931, that had never been used.

(Bless my pattern hoarding fore mother!)

I was born in the late 50s. Growing up, I enjoyed the show "I Love Lucy". This dress reminds me of what Lucy Ricardo might wear in that show.

This pattern features six partially sewn shoulder tucks. These tucks are echoed in the six pleats of the front skirt into the bodice, and are also echoed in the ruching at the bottom of the sleeves. For fitting, there are two back shoulder darts, two back waist darts, and three darts in the back of each sleeve. I also added side-seam bust darts.

Lots of opportunities for fit and fiddly sewing!


I think that most people know that there have been several shifts in pattern sizing since the "olden days". My Simplicity pattern, which was from 1953, uses these measurements, in inches:

  10 12 14 16 18 20 40
Bust 28 30 32 34 36 38 40
Waist 23 24 26 28 30 32 34
Hip 31 33 35 37 39 41 43

For comparison, here are modern measurements used by the Big 4, in inches:

  10 12 14 16 18 20 22
Bust 32.5 34 36 38 40 42 44
Waist 25 26.5 28 30 32 34 37
Hip 34.5 36 38 40 42 44 46

Note that they renamed size 40 to size 22.

I choose patterns for the top-half of my body (including dresses) based on my upper bust measurement and then I do a full bust adjustment (FBA). My upper bust is 36", so I buy a size 14 in modern patterns, but I bought a size 18 in the vintage pattern. My full bust is 41", hence the need for an FBA.


On most modern patterns, the grainline is parallel to the center front and center back of the pattern. Unless the garment is on bias, in which case the grainline is at an angle of 45 degrees from the center front or center back.

But this pattern surprised me. The grainline for the back bodice is parallel to center back, as is the norm. But the grainline for the front is not parallel to center front. The grainline is not on the bias either. It is closer to (but not quite) parallel to the neckline, which puts it at an odd angle. There are two advantages to this. First, the neckline will be less prone to stretching. Second, the tucks at the shoulder lay more gracefully (especially in a woven fabric) when a bit off grain.

Very interesting.

First Attempt - FAIL!

After making four muslins of the bodice, perfecting the fit, I cut my first version of the dress. For this version, I used an interesting polyester chiffon I found locally. This unusual fabric is a bit uncharacteristic for me, but I wanted to try it. The red polyester chiffon is a mottled red color, with bits of yellow mixed in. And it is stenciled with enormous metallic gold designs. I believe it is hand stenciled, as each stamped image is a little bit different. I thought I could use the stenciled designs in an interesting way by fussy cutting them.

I was wrong.

I am documenting this fail for a couple reasons. One is that I know my readers love to see my fails. That's ok. No hard feelings. ;)

The other reason is that I'd like to share some of the construction techniques that I used.

I didn't want any of the gold motifs on the front bodice, so I fussy cut to avoid the stenciled areas.

Tailor tacks galore, especially as I cut each layer separately.

I couldn't avoid the golden stenciled areas on the sleeves, the back, or (of course) the skirt.

I placed the stenciled motifs at the bottom of the sleeves. The sleeves also feature 3 darts at the back. You are instructed to work a tiny round buttonhole, by hand, in the center of the sleeve, several inches above the hem. Once the sleeve is completed and hemmed, you sew a tiny bias tube and insert it through the button hole. You draw up the string and it creates a ruched effect.

The sleeve pattern, showing the back darts and the location of the buttonhole.

I actually like little fussy details like this.


I draw the line at working a tiny hand buttonhole in chiffon.

I experimented with my Prym grommet maker. (I love that thing.) I ended up inserting gold-tone grommets in the location for the buttonhole.

I did make tiny bias tubes, each one about a foot long. (The pattern didn't specify the length, only that the width of the cut bias strip should be 1".)

After the sleeve was constructed, it was time to sew the hem. I decided to make a tiny 1/16" hem, by machine:

  1. Sew a row of stitching 1/4" from the raw edge.
  2. Turn the raw edge to the inside, pushing the row of stitches just to the inside.
  3. Stitch another row of stitches, 1/16" of an inch from the edge.
  4. Trim the raw edge as close to the stitching as possible.
  5. Turn the edge to the inside, enclosing the raw edge completely. Make this turn as narrow as possible.
  6. Stitch another row of stitch, 1/16" from the edge.
Step 4: Trimming the raw edge as close to the stitches as possible.

The tiny hem completed. You can also see the installed grommet and the bias tube.

Finis. A thing of beauty!

Once the sleeve was completed, I sewed a row of ease stitches into the sleeve cap. I used the technique where you firmly hold one finger behind the presser foot as you stitch this row of stitches.

This trick causes the fabric to bunch up a bit under the presser foot. Once you remove the sleeve from the machine, the sleeve cap already has shaping - making it much easier to set the sleeve into the armscye.

Finally, I wanted to stabilize the waistline of the bodice. I started to use a twill tape, but it showed through the chiffon so I used a strip of the fabric selvedge.

For this version of the dress, I modified the skirt a bit. I shortened it by about 10" and I removed the front pleats. But cutting out the skirt proved to be a real problem. I could not find a way to cut out the motifs that looked good. I tried a lot of things, but I didn't like any of them. I finally cut the skirt panels on the bias, and the motifs were symmetrically positioned at the bottom and at the top of the skirt panels. I didn't love this either, but it was better than anything else. It wasn't perfectly symmetric, as the motifs were not perfectly registered and stamped.

By this time it was Sunday night of the first week. I sewed the skirt together and attached it to the bodice. It was late, after dark, and I wasn't too happy with the dress, but I try to withhold judgement until the light of day, so I went to bed, grateful that the project wasn't due on Monday.

I woke up Monday morning, took one look at the dress form and I knew it was a complete fail.



This was a Tim Gunn-style "make it work" moment and I knew I had to start over.

I re-read the challenge instructions and ran to the local fabric store at lunchtime. I decided that, this time, I would modernize the pattern by using a knit. I found a beautiful teal blue rayon knit. I brought it home and threw it into the washing machine.

That evening, when I took it out of the dryer, I knew it would not work. It was too lightweight. It would cling to every lump and bump.

Back to the drawing board.

Monday night, in the dusky light, I started combing through my stash. I was starting to feel gun shy about this pattern, but I was too far down the path to try and obtain a new pattern.

I was starting to feel desperate and I came upon this great fabric in my stash. I had purchased it locally some months ago, as did several of my friends. In fact, Jillian just made a jacket using this fabric, and you can see a sneak peek on her blog.

And, just so you can enjoy the atrociousness of this first effort, here are some pics.

At least it fits!

It's no better as a duster. In these pics, I am wearing the dress over a tank and tights, but I was planning to make a slip using a vintage slip pattern I had purchased

Modernizing the Pattern

The fabric that I ended up using is a very beefy, stable ponte knit. It has a rubbery feel to it that is most unusual. In fact, it feels a bit like neoprene, which is being used more and more in very high-end, very $$$$, RTW. It is a very unlikely fabric for a dress, but I played with it, seeing what would happen if it were tucked, pleated, and darted.

I realized that it would work and that I might actually like it. I was never sure that I would wear the red dress (or had any idea where I might wear it), but I knew I would wear THIS dress. And it fit the challenge instructions, which suggested that we modernize the pattern with styling, embellishment, or fabric. How much more modern can you get than a neoprene-like KNIT?

And please don't think that, because I used a knit, that I didn't fit this puppy. I fitted it like crazy. More about that in the next section.

Alterations and Modifications

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I made 4 muslins of the bodice.

Original pattern piece. I've drawn the lines for the FBA.

When I ordered the pattern from Etsy, I thought that the detail at the shoulder consisted of gathers. I twould be a trivial thing to rotate a bust dart into gathers. When it arrived, I realized it was not gathers, it was three carefully positioned, partially sewn, tucks.

These bust tucks are positioned in such a way as to remind me of a suspension bridge.

How appropriate. :)

The muslins I made were as follows:

  • The first muslin was straight out of the envelope. I wanted to know what I was dealing with.
  • Muslin #1, made from 99cent lining fabric. It is snug through the bust and the waist, and too wide in the shoulders. (Hey, you can see my new green iPhone 5c!)
  • For the second muslin, I decided to add a dart for the FBA and then rotate the dart into a 4th tuck at the shoulder. Because the pre-existing tucks were angled very specifically, I re-angled them a bit, to accommodate the new tuck.
    Fourth tuck.
    Wow, this failed.
  • I started over. For the third muslin, I created another side seam dart and this time I rotated it to the pre-existing tucks - increasing each one.
    Increasing the pre-existing tucks.
    This approach worked, after a fashion. But I felt that the resulting tucks became too bulky and less elegant than the original version. Sigh.
  • For the fourth muslin, I finally accepted that I was going to have to leave the dart as a side seam bust dart. This approach worked, but lacked elegance and finesse.
    Side seam bust dart. The waist has also been increased by 1" and the shoulder has been narrowed by 1-1/4"

The alterations I made to this pattern were actually fairly minimal. This surprised me. In the end, I only added a 1" FBA, increased the front waist by 1", and narrowed the shoulder by 1-1/4". I also lengthened center front by 1-1/2". That was it! I constructed the skirt (with pockets) exactly as designed, with six front pleats. I even used the length of the skirt, as designed.

Front, sans belt, so you can see the fit
Back, sans belt
The red version used standard Prym grommets. The beefy ponte required a heavier grommet, so I got out my heavy-duty grommet setters and did some experimenting. I ended up using my size 00 grommets and setter, which makes a hole that is approximately 3/16" wide. For this dress, I sewed the strings that are inserted into the grommets using 1" strips from a solid black rayon lycra knit.


I am so glad that I made this dress using this fabric. I wore it today and received several unsolicitations. It is very comfy and it does feel like "me", despite the fact that it is made directly from a 1953 pattern. And, I have to admit it, I really enjoyed using a vintage pattern. I can see the appeal. For one thing, it is *beautifully* drafted. There are such subtleties in the drafting that I do not generally see in modern patterns.

I may even make more vintage patterns in future! (And no one is more surprised than me, to say this!) :)

More Pictures

I am wearing the necklace I made in the first challenge as a bracelet


Look Ma! It's a suspension bridge!!