Learning From Vintage Fashion Illustrations

Hello lovelies!

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been dipping in and out of the various vintage magazines that I’ve collected since I started sewing. I love these magazines for the insight they give into daily life of bygone eras and the general concerns of women that lived through these decades. But there are also so many great tips related to sewing, knitting, and crafting your own fashionable garments by hand.

Since my era of choice is the 1930s-1940s, most of my magazines and vintage fashion manuals date from that period. One of my favourite things to peruse when I’m looking for inspiration are the great fashion illustrations that populate regular style features. Since a lot of you email and comment about the general lack of non-contemporary vintage inspiration, I thought that it would be useful to post about a few of my favourite genuinely vintage fashion pictures from the 1940s.

Both of these images come from an issue of Woman’s Illustrated published on 1st April 1944 and show some great ideas for detailing on day dresses. The two dresses on the left offer fantastic examples of small additions used to turn relatively simple garments into unique pieces of 1940s fashion. C20,161 is – according to author of the feature, Sarah Redwood – a dress where “the lines of frilling and the front gathered skirt are responsible for quite seventy percent of its charm.” C20,293 offers fabric ruffles attached to the neckline and demands being made in a printed fabric. With my favourite line from the whole feature, Sarah Redwood suggests that: “Like the first swallow, the first printed crepes make one feel happy at the thought of summer just around the corner.” I have to agree with Sarah on that one, although I’m all about recapturing that summer feeling by wearing bright prints year round.

In the right-hand image, we have some great examples of how effectively gathering can be used to capture that vintage style. Both C20,635 and C20,519 use gathers at the neckline to really great effect. This isn’t something that I’ve come across in any vintage reproduction patterns but with some small modifications to the neckline of contemporary patterns could be pretty easily added in. I especially love the scalloped neckline on C20,519 – so gorgeous.

These two illustrations are taken from separate 1944 issues of Woman’s Illustrated and are particularly great for showing the importance of the wrap-style dress to mid-1940s era fashion. These are good examples of evening dresses, particularly when combined with the suggested accessories. I’m not sure bows have truly made their comeback yet but who knows? Perhaps we can be pioneers of the trend. Of CM20,777, on the right, Sarah Redwood says: “The frock that answers a thousand and one different calls is a treasure indeed, and that is the claim we make for this dress. It is a nicely balanced mixture of extreme elegance and extreme ease, comfortable, smart, and undating.” The fact that this dress could be worn pretty inconspicuously today pretty much proves her point.

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My final favourite fashion illustration has to be this one. I adore the shirt dress in particular. And since I have Sew Over It’s Vintage Shirt Dress in line for an upcoming project, its good to see that this contemporary pattern effectively captures a classic style. I also love the neckline of C20,215. Paired with a sparkly vintage brooch, it would be an easy vintage standout.

Hopefully this short journey through some of my favourite 1940s fashion illustrations has given you some food for thought. Perhaps the shape of the garments inspires you, or maybe the pictured accessories and fabric ideas feed your imagination.These gorgeous pictures always help me when I’m trying to get out of a sewing rut or otherwise plan some unique touches to patterns I’m working on. And if these few pictures aren’t enough, I’ll be making sure to write more vintage inspiration posts in the future. So stay tuned!

Inspire A Style: Jacqueline’s Tea Room

Welcome to (almost) autumn!

I’m very excited that we’re now in September. As much as summer is a great opportunity to get out and about in the world, nothing beats the feeling of cool autumn weather and the chance to cosy up with a book (or sewing machine) and cup of tea. Autumn is absolutely my favourite time of year and I can’t wait for when it gets cold enough that pressing my fabric no longer gives me heat exhaustion.

Since I’m celebrating the on-coming autumn, I thought I would share one of my favourite places to wile away autumn afternoons and gather some inspiration for my next sewing project: Jacqueline’s Tea Room!

Who?

Those of you familiar with Colchester will know that it’s a pretty stereotypical English town: streets filled with shoppers and chain stores everywhere. Fortunately, its history (Colchester is the oldest recorded town in Britain) means that it’s a place full of hidden gems. There’s a great castle, fantastic park, and some beautiful buildings. But one of my favourite jewels at the heart of an otherwise pretty stereotypical British town is Jacqueline’s – a fabulous 1940s tea room with enough authenticity to make you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time.

I actually stumbled on Jacqueline’s when I was out on a trek with my fiancé, shortly after we moved to Colchester. I was feeling pretty miserable after upping sticks from a gorgeous countryside village to be nearer to my university. I was missing the fields and the peace and quiet and, without a car to get around, we were pretty restricted to visiting places that were within walking distance. When we found Jacqueline’s, it felt a lot like coming home. It’s set up to give a truly authentic ’40s vibe, not to mention an incredible selection of teas and cakes. Beyond that, it has given me a huge amount of inspiration when it comes to my sewing expeditions.

Why?

As long-time readers of Sew for Victory will know, my Inspire A Style posts are usually restricted to people. But places can often be just as inspiring when it comes to thinking about sewing projects. Soaking up the ’40s ambiance always places me in a different headspace – listening to period music while surrounded by decor that gives off the era always gets my mind churning over fabrics and patterns.

I would highly suggest that if you find yourself stuck in a sewing rut, you get yourself out into some inspiring places. You’ll spot people, colours, and designs that trigger a lightbulb moment. Or you’ll find yourself reminded of films you’ve seen and books you’ve read that similarly inspire you.  Visiting Jacqueline’s has given me back my motivation on numerous occasions, so trust me and give it a go!

What?

So quite how has this perfect little tea room inspired my sewing? There are so many projects that have drawn their inspiration, in one way or another, from my trips for tea and cake. All my ‘home style’ 1940s creations feel as though they wouldn’t be out of place in this setting. Both my Great British Sewing Bee Vintage Blouse and my recent Big Vintage Sew-along make suggest the kind of atmosphere you find at Jacqueline’s. Jacqueline’s was also the direct inspiration for my version of Sew Over It’s Joan dress, which I made for a special Valentine’s High Tea with my gorgeous boy!

 

And there are so many patterns that I have rolling around my mind that draw on the war-time sitting room feel that I soak up every time I step through the doors. The B4790 Walkaway dress would be an easy way to achieve that ’40s style.

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Or what about the gorgeous V1019 suit dress? So perfect! I think I might have to add this one to my list of projects.

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So much sewing, so little time! But what a good position to be in.

If you end up in Colchester, definitely make some time to stop at Jacqueline’s. And don’t forget to invite me because I’m always looking for an excuse to drink more tea and think about new sewing projects!

Make Your Own Shoulder Pads: Tutorial

Happy Wednesday, sweet peas!

I thought that I would take a break from working on my newest sewing projects to write up a short tutorial on how to make the queen of all retro garment features – shoulder pads! Don’t make the mistake of thinking that shoulder pads live and die with ’80s fashion. Journey back a few more decades and shoulder pads were all the rage, as evidenced by my recent Big Vintage Sew-along make. V9127 was, in fact, my first run-in with real life shoulder pads and, despite my fears that they would give me an American football player vibe, they elevated the 1930s silhouette to a totally new level of authenticity. And, believe it or not, they are so easy to make from scratch.

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I worked with a pattern provided through V9127. But after measuring up and reading through my various sewing manuals, I’ve managed to condense the process into a few simple steps that should be workable for any garment.

What You Need:

  • Cotton Batting – I got a pack of 45″ x 60″ from Sew Essential which worked perfectly.
  • Lining Material
  • Thread and an embroidery needle

1. Measure Your Seams and Make Your Pattern

The key measurement that you’ll need for this project is the length of your shoulder seam – from neck to arm hole. You’ll want to take about half an inch off of this measurement as the total width of your shoulder pad (so, if your shoulder seam is 4.5 inches, you’ll be working towards a 4 inch wide shoulder pad).

Once you have this measurement, you’ll need to construct your pattern pieces. The first thing you’ll need is a circular base – draw a circle that is twice the length of your intended shoulder pad width (so, using the measurements above, your circle would have a diameter of 8 inches, and a radius of 4 inches).

Now for the confusing bit. You will need 4 semi-circles of decreasing size, with the first the same diameter and radius as the circle you’ve already made. The next three will be 1 inch smaller in diameter (essentially taking 0.5 inches off of either side of the diameter – when we place the pieces together, you’ll see the importance) and 0.5 inch smaller in radius than the previous.

So working with the above measurements, your first (and largest) semi-circle would have an 8 inch diameter and 4 inch radius. Your next largest would have a 7 inch diameter and a 3.5 inch radius. Your next semi-circle would have a 6 inch diameter and a 3 inch radius. And your final, smallest semi-circle would have a 5 inch diameter and a 2.5 inch radius.

Ultimately, you should wind up with a set of pattern pieces that looks something like this:

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2. Cut Everything Out

Pop your pattern pieces on the cotton batting and cut out. Remember that you’ll need two of each piece, since you’ll (hopefully) be making two shoulder pads!

You’ll also need to cut out two pieces of lining fabric that you will use to cover your shoulder pad. You can use the large circular pattern piece to do this but will want to make these pieces of fabric a little bigger than the base piece. This is because the lining will need to cover the shoulder pad and be stitched down (so essentially, you need a seam allowance) – I would suggest adding about 0.5 inch total to the diameter of the circle for this purpose.

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3. Pin Your Pieces Together

This is super easy. Start with the circle as your base. And proceed to place each semi-circle along the diameter of this circle, lining them up so that they are stacked pretty centrally. You’re basically constructing a tower out of your pieces. Once pinned in place, it should look something like this:

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4. Stitch The Pieces Together

You’ll need a thickish needle and any spare thread that you have lying around. Then work your way around the outer-edge of each semi-circle, stitching it down to those underneath. You can use any kind of stitch that works for you, as long as it’s secure. I used a basic cross stitch.

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5. Fold And Cover

Now you need to fold the loose half of the circle over and place the padding on top of you lining fabric, ready for stitching.

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6. Machine Stitch The Lining Over The Padding

Fold the lining over the top of the padding and pin down. You’ll then need to stitch around the edge, keeping nice and close to the padding, using whatever seam allowance you gave yourself when cutting out the lining fabric. I would suggest doing an additional line of stitching close to the edge of the seam allowance, for extra security. You could also use a bias binding on this outer edge if you’re concerned about fraying.

The finished product should look like a cornish pasty!

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7. Insert Into Your Garment

Place the shoulder pad along your shoulder seam so that the width of the pad runs centrally along the seam. You can then hand stitch along the seam, securing the shoulder pad in place, and keeping the stitches invisible by using the ditch that already exists. It’s also a good idea to tack the corners down somewhere – this will depend upon the shape of the garment, but tacking to the armholes is a good method. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t want to do this, it’ll just mean rummaging inside your dress/jacket when you put it on so that you can get the shoulder pads in the right place.

8. Be Bold, Bright, and Very Boxy!

Wooohooo! You’re done! And now you can rock that vintage style with appropriately square shoulders. Enjoy!

New Project: 1950s Unique Chic

Happy Thursday, sweet ones!

Thank you so much for all of your wonderful comments on my dress for the Big Vintage Sew-along. I couldn’t be prouder of how it turned out and hearing such super kind feedback has been incredible. As long-time readers of Sew for Victory will know, I have a true soft-spot for late 1930s style and Vogue 9217 was the perfect make to really show off what the era has to offer in the way of fashion.

Working so hard on the Big Vintage Sew-along dress has left me a little drained. Managing such a big project on top of the PhD and general life tasks (eating, sleeping, and talking to my fiancé are obviously important things) was definitely a challenge. But I’m also determined to capitalise on the momentum I’m feeling and have been trying to seek out the perfect project to reinvigorate me with sewing energy. Fortunately, I went to my most faithful source of incredible vintage patterns and found just the right make – Decades of Style’s Objet d’Art dress.

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Beautiful, right? I’m really excited to give this pattern a go and I think it will result in a real statement piece, similar to the company’s Belle Curve dress.

I also had some really good fortune in July, winning a prize via the July Vintage Pledge organised on Instagram by Stitch Odyssey and Kestrel Makes. My darting detail on the Belle Curve dress won me a £30 gift voucher for The Splendid Stitch – an incredible online shop, stocking gorgeous fabrics and sewing knick-knacks. Searching through the stock of fabrics, I happened on the perfect fabric for the Objet d’Art dress – a blue, white and navy shirting that will really help accentuate the collar and pocket detailing on the pattern.

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I’m really excited to get started on this one. Stay tuned for the finished product!

Big Vintage Sew-along: My Make

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The day is finally here. After many hours of plotting, planning, and making, I can actually reveal my make for the Big Vintage Sew-along! Presenting my version of Vogue 9127:

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When browsing the selection of patterns for the Big Vintage Sew-along, this 1939 design immediately struck me as the most interesting and unique. I adored the structure of the garment and the fabulous panelling. Although I anticipated that this might be quite a complex make, I figured that it would give me a valuable opportunity to learn some new skills and put my own twist on the pattern.

I knew immediately that I wanted to make this pattern in a way that emphasised the unique shape of the dress. The examples provided by the drawings on the pattern sleeve and the photos on the website were all made up in one colour – although beautiful, this approach makes it difficult to see the fabulous design of the panels. I decided straight away that I wanted to have a go at using a contrast piping down the seams to really play with the shape. And I thought a sailor vibe with the colours would really give the dress a little extra va-va-voom.

Although adding the piping was pretty complex (the panels are sewn overlapping, rather than with traditional seams), it was worth the extra effort. Not only does it really elevate the dress to a truly unique piece, I think it successfully shows off those swerves and curves. I totally adore it. And I selected exactly the right fabrics, with both main fabric and piping fabric from Sew Over It’s collection of crepes (in this case, navy blue and red).

I added some extra contrast details to pull the piece together, using notions kindly provided by Sew Essential. The white buttons really bring home the sailor theme – emphasised by the fabulous 1930s dress gloves that I found in a vintage charity shop. I also put in a red zip to tie in with the piping. The pattern comes with a couple of options for belting – I opted to go with a sewn-in belt, so that I could cinch my waist. I found that doing this and piping the panel at the top of my back gave the dress added impact when viewed from behind.

One thing I loved about this pattern was the feeling of authenticity. Instead of a zip, the pattern gives an opportunity to use hook-and-eyes. I also got to make my own shoulder pads for the first time ever (a tutorial on this will be coming soon). I was a little concerned that the shoulder pads would make the dress look too boxy but, in the end, they gave the dress a truly 1930s silhouette. Delicious!

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My experience with this pattern had its ups and downs. I’ve only been sewing for about a year, so I’m still finding that every new pattern introduces me to skills that I haven’t yet developed. This pattern threw A LOT of new skills at me – added to which I’d already decided to take a chance with the piping. Fitting the panels together and making the front pieces symmetrical was a challenge. But I found that taking a slow and steady approach really benefitted me and allowed me to keep the patience needed to turn the piece into something great. There was nothing here that totally exceeded my abilities and ultimately the pattern turned out a gorgeously authentic 1930s dress that gives me a huge amount of pride.

I would absolutely recommend this pattern to anyone wanting to get involved with the Big Vintage Sew-along. In addition to contributing to a wonderful cause (pattern profits go to The Eve Appeal), this dress gives a real feel for vintage style. While I would caution beginners to take this piece slowly, it is well worth the extra time and effort required to develop the needed skills. So take this pattern, get creative, and venture into the 1930s!

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Inspire a Style: Gene Kelly

Gene Bow Tie

Since starting Sew for Victory, one of the most consistent questions I get is about the origins of my love of vintage style. Obviously the word ‘vintage’ means different things to different people. For me, it’s representative of various eras – although the 1940s is where I find most of my inspiration. One thing I consistently associate with the idea of ‘vintage’ as a style and a lifestyle are the classic films that brought me to a love for these periods long past. Of all the stars in all the films, it is Gene Kelly who taught me that 1940s Hollywood isn’t something that has to remain solely on my TV.

Who?

Many of you will already be well acquainted with Gene Kelly. Born Eugene Curran Kelly in 1912, Gene was not originally destined to grace Hollywood with his incredible dancing and acting skills. He studied economics and law at university, eventually dropping out to teach dance and work as an entertainer. After a stint on the stage, it wasn’t until 1941 that Gene gained a contract with Hollywood giant MGM. His first starring role was alongside Judy Garland in For Me and My Gal. From here, he eased into a lucrative film career, perhaps best known for his roles in An American in Paris (1951) and  Singin’ In The Rain (1952).

Gene’s incredible dancing skills – putting him up alongside Fred Astaire as one of the greatest dancers in Hollywood – and his easy charm turned him into a Hollywood legend. His athleticism is absolutely clear to anyone who watches his films. As the era of Hollywood musicals faded so too did Gene’s career at the heart of the film empire. But he had firmly embedded his name in the history of 20th century film. He died in 1996, aged 83.

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Why?

It is obviously a little out of left-field for me to pick a man as a style inspiration. One of the clearest principles of style from the 1940s – and other ‘vintage’ periods – is an obvious distinction between genders. However, we are now firmly in an era where these restrictions do not (and should not) apply. It is always a good idea to look outside of your conventional boxes and see what you might find!

To me, Gene Kelly is totally representative of the 1940s Hollywood fashion of the male film stars. Smart and refined, this is a style that is all about clean lines, high-waisted trousers, and accessories. The use of accessories by men (tie clips, bow ties, caps) has seen something of a resurgence over recent years, albeit by a select part of the population. When we look back to the male film stars of the 1940s, it becomes clear from where this resurgence finds its inspiration.

Beyond this, what I really love about Gene Kelly’s style is the fact that – even with its refinement and elegance – there is an easy-going fun that you can’t escape. Perhaps it is partly in the attitude of the characters he plays, or the fact that he can’t go five minutes without breaking into song and dance, but this is a style of almost lazy chicness. Gene Kelly is the epitome of ‘wear the clothes, don’t let them wear you’. And that fact is sufficient to warrant him a place as a true style inspiration.

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Gene Kelly in 1949 musical ‘On the Town’

What?

So where to start in replicating this style? Apart from whipping up your own tuxedo (no easy feat, I’m sure), there are a few key ways in which its possible to draw some direct inspiration from the gorgeous Gene Kelly.

One core part of Gene Kelly’s wardrobe is a blazer-style jacket. Made up in linen and paired with a waistcoat, this would be the perfect addition to any 1940s garment line-up. Burdastyle’s 01/2014 #125 blazer pattern is a wonderful example of a 1940s style blazer pattern, with a fabulous front chain fastening as an added vintage detail. If you decide to go this route, be sure to join Male Devon Sewing’s #blazerof2016 challenge and bring Gene Kelly’s fashion legacy fully into the modern age!

For waistcoats, you needn’t look further than Simplicity 4762 for a variety of options. If you have a penchant for knitting needles, you could go a step further and whip up a cashmere or wool slipover (also known as a sweater vest). Free Vintage Knitting provides a variety of vintage knitting patterns for men’s vests. Worn with a collared shirt and a pair of wide legged trousers, you really don’t get much more 1940s!

Finally, make sure to take a look at my bow tie tutorial for a quick and easy route to making up your own personalised bow ties. Bow ties are such an effective way to add that vintage style to any outfit and are definitely the fastest way to replicate Gene Kelly’s fabulous style with your own crafting skills.

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So whether you’re searching out this style for your fella or yourself, be sure to remember that everything should be done with a light touch and a light heart. Watch Singin’ In The Rain while you sew and I guarantee that lightness won’t be far beyond your reach.

“You dance love, and you dance joy, and you dance dreams. And I know if I can make you smile by jumping over a couple of couches or running through a rainstorm, then I’ll be very glad to be a song and dance man.”

– Gene Kelly (1912 – 1996)

New Project!

Happy Monday, lovelies!

What a rainy couple of weeks it’s been since I last checked in. The lack of proper summer weather has left my most recent makes relatively untouched. Here’s hoping that July brings us some sunshine and a chance to whip out my petticoats and circle skirts!

I thought it was about time to check in with you all and clue you in on my current projects. Unfortunately, information will be limited since I’m working on my dress for the Big Vintage Sewalong! While I can’t show you the pattern until my final product post on August 5th, I thought I would give a sneak peek of my beautiful fabric!

Right now, I’m working on a wearable muslin of the dress – made using the brown polka dot cotton you can see in the photo (purchased at Walthamstow). This is by no means the ideal fabric to use a- it’s a little stiff for the pattern. However, it’s more than adequate to gauge fit and should turn out a cute dress.

The finished and featured dress will be made using the navy blue crepe, with the red crepe serving for some piping detail. As you will see from the finished product, this is a pattern with truly unique features and the piping should (hopefully) help to highlight the shape of the dress. The crepe fabrics were both purchased from Sew Over It.

While you wait to check out the finished garment on August 5th, take a look at the Big Vintage Sewalong website in order to see all of the available patterns. You can also look at the back catalogue of Love Sewing magazine for their feature on the Sewalong!

I’ll be back in a few days with a new Inspire A Style post. In the meantime, have a wonderful week!

The Veronika Skirt

Happy Sunday, sweetpeas!

I’ve been spending the past couple of weeks sorting through my current/future sewing projects and figuring out how I’m going to get to everything. For the next month or so, I’ll be devoting myself to the Big Vintage Sewalong project – the post will be coming on August 5th. In the meantime, I’m hoping to get a couple of simple makes done, but will keep the Sew for Victory posts regular with a series of vintage-inspired blogs. So keep your eyes out for those!

Since wrapping up the Betty dress, I’ve been looking to make another circle skirt. Partly because they’re gorgeous, but also because I wanted more excuses to wear my petticoat! After searching around a bit, I stumbled upon a free pattern (subject to signing up for the site newsletter) from Megan Nielsen – the Veronika skirt. The pattern comes with a variety of options, including a fabulous scalloped pocket detail. But, with my limited fabric, I decided to go with the simplest option – a normal circle skirt with a narrow waistband.

This was insanely easy to make and was done in a matter of hours. The only time consuming part was, once again, the hemming. Just take a few breaks to make sure that all that steaming and pressing doesn’t make you faint! The pattern itself was easy to use, with clear instructions, and the final product is exactly what you would expect from a circle skirt.

I actually found that the skirt came out much fuller than the one on the Betty dress, which makes it work excellently as a separate piece – although this could be a consequence of using a starchier fabric. In this instance, the skirt was made up from a cotton poplin that I bought from Walthamstow Market. The floral design works well with a simple, plain top – I have a Vogue pattern for a simple sleeveless blouse that I’m planning on making to pair with this skirt.

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So head over to Megan Nielsen’s website and have a browse of the several free patterns. Then make a circle skirt and spend even more time annoying your partner/friend/child/stranger by refusing to do anything but spin around! Trust me, your life will be infinitely better for it.

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The Betty Dress

Happy Wednesday, sweeties!

I spent the bank holiday weekend in a real bout of sewing productivity. With two months still to go until my Big Vintage Sew-along post, I’d been searching around for a relatively quick project to whip up before getting started. Fortunately, I had some fabric left over from my trip to Walthamstow market and so I decided to have a go at the Betty dress from Sew Over It. The final product is just gorgeous!

I’ve paired the dress with these gorgeous heels from ModCloth.

I’ve worked with Sew Over It before and found their patterns extremely easy to use. The instructions are incredibly clear, with a helpful glossary of terms at the front to help any sewing newbies. The Betty dress was no exception to this. The pattern was flawless and easy to modify sizes (I graded out at the waist slightly). The only issue I had with sizing was a lot of gape at the top of the back. This was easily fixed by removing the zip and bringing the fabric it in a bit. I’m not sure whether I hadn’t cut the pattern pieces out correctly – I’ve never had a problem with sizing the bust before. But it was a problem easily solved and the back came out perfectly, with a gorgeous deep V.

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I used a simple cotton fabric (you can see the heart detailing in the photo above). Cotton was perfect to work with on this garment – it made the whole piece really easy to sew and meant that I whipped it up in no time.

Having never made a circle skirt before, I had no idea how much fabric it would take up. And of course, this means that hemming is a pain in the neck. But it’s so worth it.

I bought an underskirt from Amazon for £10 and it totally transformed the dress into a true 1950s look. The dress looks great without it, but I would definitely recommend adding a net petticoat to take advantage of the volume of the skirt. It also means you can swoosh around and ruffle the dress while pretending to be a can-can dancer (not that I did this, of course).

I have so much love for this dress and I’ll definitely be making other versions of it in future. For now though, I’m off to ruffle my skirts some more!

 

#mmmay2016

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It’s Me Made May! I know I’m a little late to the party – blame my trip and last minute packing adventure. Only 10 days left, so don’t forget to dig out your most beautiful handmade pieces and take a snap in them!

In this photo, I’m sporting my Great British Sewing Bee vintage blouse. To read about this make, just hop on the My Makes page!