How To Sew Your Wedding Dress (Part 1): Choosing A Pattern

The time has finally come! After lots of fretting, faffing, and decision making, I’ve actually begun the process of getting my wedding dress made. I had never anticipated being in a position where I would feel even close to confident enough for such a commitment. I started sewing 18 months ago – about a year and half after I got engaged. But it really wasn’t until recently that I started entertaining to possibility of using my (relatively) new found skills on my wedding dress. I won’t lie, I’m still pretty terrified! I’m so critical of everything I sew and when all eyes are inevitably going to be on you and what you’ve made, it’s bound to invite an extra level of self-scrutiny. However, I thought I could channel all of these anxieties and concerns in the most productive way by writing about the whole process on Sew for Victory.

Now, I’m more than aware that a series of posts about wedding dress making might not be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s a very niche project. But I’m hoping it will provide insights that will extend beyond just a wedding environment. I think the same sorts of decisions and challenges that come with making a wedding dress are ones that accompany making garments for any kind of special occasion. The questions of ‘what pattern?’, ‘what fabric?’, and ‘oh my goodness, why do I hate everything I’ve done?’ are ones that pop up all over the place. So I hope that you’ll find something to gain from these posts. For my part, I’m so delighted that you’re here because it makes you a part of this really exciting time in my life!

This first post starts at the beginning, with the process of choosing a pattern.

1. Making an event-appropriate garment

When I started out looking at patterns, I had so many different ideas. I was looking at an incredibly diverse range of dresses: short; long; formal gowns; flirty and simple dresses. I was totally all over the place and desperately needed to narrow things down. I found that the best way to do this was to keep my mind totally on the nature of the event itself. Every wedding is different and your pattern choice should reflect that nature of the occasion, as well as your personal tastes. In my case, this meant making some compromises. Part of me was so inclined towards a full-length vintage gown. You all know that I have such a love for ’30s and ’40s Hollywood glamour. I came across some divine patterns, particularly the gorgeous Decades of Style 1930s Evening Gown.

3301-web-pic_1024x1024

Picture from Decades of Style

But a wedding in Missouri, in the height of summer (it’s usually very well over 30 degrees Celsius), doesn’t lend itself so well to silk fabrics (hello sweat) or fitted, full-length gowns. The formality of this kind of dress would also run a little counter to the type of occasion we’ll be having. The visa process is (as with all bureaucracy) a complicated one and means that there is a huge amount of unpredictability about when the wedding will be. We don’t know when I’ll be in the US but, once I am, we have an incredibly short window to actually get married. Most people do a quick paper-work marriage and arrange a bigger, more formal event later. But we decided that we’d rather do it in one go. So to fit with the tone of this, we’re shooting for a fun ’50s vibe – small, simple, and with a lot of cute vintage detail.

Once I thought a little more about the sort of day we’d be going for, it was actually very easy to narrow down my pattern choices. I started looking at shorter dresses with a gorgeous ’50s silhouette – fitted bodices and full circle skirts. Not only does this sort of dress really suit the spontaneity that’s pretty inherent in our situation, as well as the time of year in which the wedding will be held (vital), but it also reflects my love for ’50s fashion. Any excuse to wear a petticoat really.

2. Finding Inspiration

Even after settling on the style of the dress, there are still SO many details to be decided upon. Think about ’50s dresses – while there are certain key features that we might identify as central to the fashion of the decade, there is a huge amount of variability. Remember that Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, and Audrey Hepburn were all key fashion icons in the ’50s, but all with incredibly different styles. The pattern choice will be impacted by the sorts of key details that you want to have be a part of your final design. For example, do you want a square, sweetheart, or plunging neckline? A full circle skirt or a more fitted skirt style? Sleeveless or sleeved? Even something like wanting buttons over a zipper might impact the sorts of patterns that you can work with. So even though I settled on a ’50s style, short dress, I still had to look around for inspiration in order to figure out the key details that I would need to have be a part of my final pattern choice.

The most valuable source of inspiration for me (aside from Google, of course) is ‘Vintage Details: A Fashion Sourcebook’ by Jeffrey Mayer and Basia Szkutnicka. My fiancé bought this for my birthday last year and it is such an amazing resource. I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in vintage fashion. I delved into the photos of the various ’50s fashions and, although it doesn’t feature any wedding dresses, it gave me a much more solid idea of what I was looking for.

Seriously, I can’t recommend this book enough. The chapters beyond the Visual Index (which the photos below are taken from) provide close-up shots of the various details of the garments. This is incredibly useful when you’re trying to settle on things like necklines, sleeves, or embellishments.

By the time I was done with my research and inspiration search, I settled on some key things. I needed a pattern with a square neckline, fitted bodice, and circle skirt. I also wanted something that would work well with longer sleeves. After I’d figured these details out, it was surprisingly easy to make a decision about the pattern I wanted!

3. The final pattern choice

Here we are. A relatively short post but a decision process that took me SO long. And the pattern I finally settled on…

IMG_4465

The Sweetheart Dress from Sew La Di Da Vintage! I’ve been lurking on their website for months – they have some incredibly gorgeous patterns. But this is the first pattern of their’s that I’ll be making. I was definitely nervous using a pattern from a company that I’d never sewn with before. But I was reassured by their great customer service and the fact that they run a sewing school (so I figured that with any desperate emergencies, I could just email or phone for advice).

Pictures from Sew La Di Da Vintage

As you can see from the photo, the dress comes with a sweetheart neckline option, in addition to a square neckline. Plus a gorgeous skirt and perfectly tailored bodice. It ticks all of my boxes!

So, to summarise, my key pieces of advice on picking that vital pattern…

  1. Always keep your event in mind (time of year, location, will there be DANCING?!).
  2. But don’t let your personality get lost!
  3. Look for inspiration wherever you can.
  4. Make a list of those key garment details that are important to you. What has to be there? Use this as a reference point while searching through patterns.
  5. Most importantly, really try to enjoy this part of the process. Look at some gorgeous patterns. Dream about yourself in beautiful dresses. And make some tea because I promise that will help when the stress sets in!

The next wedding dress post will be about choosing the right fabric. Mine arrived today and I am SO excited to share it with you. After a lot of searching around, I also have a tonne of resources to throw your way. Stay tuned for that and some other (non-wedding related) posts that I’ve got lined up!!

The Cocktail Hour Sew-Along

cocktial hour - blogger header

I’m so excited to let you all know that, this year, I’ll be taking part in The Cocktail Hour Blogger Tour! Once again, we’re raising money for The Eve Appeal – an incredible charity that works to raise awareness of, and fund research into, the five gynaecological cancers. It’s an amazing cause and this year’s Sew-Along offers such a fun way of making your own contribution!

This year’s theme focuses on The Cocktail Hour. With this specially chosen collection of Vogue patterns, you can make sure you’re suitably dressed for sipping that evening cocktail while also helping out a great charity. The selection of patterns is gorgeous and really wide-ranging. There are some super cute dresses, divine separates, and even a beautiful pattern for making your own purse! I had such a hard time choosing my make – but choice is always a great thing when it comes to sewing!

I mean, look at those options! So fabulous! There are some amazing bloggers lined up to show off their makes and the pictures have already started coming through. Go to Sew Direct’s special The Cocktail Hour section to take a look at all of the patterns, blogger makes, and dates! My turn will be coming up on 17th November (so quite a while yet!) but I promise it will be worth the wait. I already have some ideas percolating and, thankfully, it’ll be post-wedding so I’ll be able to give all of my sewing focus to this amazing project! Sadly, you’ll have to wait until my post date for a reveal of what pattern I’ve made. It’s all very hush-hush and mysterious!

In the meantime, please consider taking part. Every pattern purchased helps to support The Eve Appeal! If you decide to join along with us, be sure to post some pictures of your makes on Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram. Use the hashtag #sipandsew and tag @mccallpatternuk so we can celebrate your amazing cocktail wear!

I hope to see your makes popping up soon!

1950s Skirt (Simplicity 8250)

Happy February, beautiful friends!

I’m having a wonderfully productive month of sewing. With my lovely fiancé now back in the US, I’ve had a lot more time to spend working on my projects. Sewing for self care is real, my lovelies. Nothing’s been quite as helpful to my wellbeing as sewing. I’m so grateful to have such a wonderful creative outlet, particularly when times get a little tough. And I’m so grateful to have all of you too! In related news, I’ve picked out my wedding dress pattern so you can look forward to lots of posts about that coming soon!!

Back to business. In my previous New Projects post, I previewed the vintage Simplicity patterns that I would be working on over the next couple of months.* After a fortunate encounter with some tartan flannel fabric in my local craft shop, I settled on the Simplicity 8250 1950s flared skirt as my most immediate sewing adventure. It made for a gorgeous and super speedy project!

dscf2663

This skirt is a super cute take on the traditional 1950s circle skirt. It offers a quirky scalloped waistband and a centre line that is top stitched to give a sweet little fold. I adore circle skirts – they offer a fabulous vintage silhouette but require really minimal effort to put together. And I whipped up a quick and easy neck tie with my fabric remnants just to enhance that 1950s feel! I particularly love the versatility of Simplicity 8250’s final product. Previous circle skirts I’ve made have always struggled to keep a flattering shape when worn without a gauze underskirt. They look beautiful when filled out with a petticoat but otherwise sit crumpled and flat. This is the first 1950s pattern I’ve come across that creates a skirt that retains a great shape even when worn with no supporting structure underneath.

For comparison, the right-hand picture is the skirt worn with no underskirt. It keeps a beautifully flattering shape.

An inevitable problem for any vintage sewcialist is creating garments versatile enough to be worn in every day situations. This skirt is definitely one that you could consider throwing on for a trip to the shops or otherwise. The tartan fabric definitely adds to that everyday feel – I’d definitely recommend using something similar to make the pattern pop! I did create a deeper hem than that suggested by the pattern – I took the skirt up by 3 inches total. This was really just a matter of personal preference. I wanted something that fell mid-calf because, to me, it’s a little more flattering and adds to the versatility.

Simplicity 8250 is slightly more complicated than traditional vintage skirt patterns, given the construction of the waistband. However, it is totally within the proficiency of anyone who would consider themselves an advanced beginner or beyond. It remains an incredibly simple pattern with enough unique features to make it incredibly interesting. The scalloped waistline is a gorgeous detail. However, be warned that the scallops on my skirt came out much deeper than those seemingly intended by the design of the pattern. This wasn’t intentional – I matched notches and seam lines without any issues, but somehow ended up with some dramatic curves. Fortunately, I like this far better!

Cute, cute, cute! These close-ups also give a clearer idea of how the centre line looks, with its fold. The tartan fabric somewhat obscures that detail in the photos, but it’s definitely a stand-out part of the pattern. The skirt fastens with a simple 9-inch zip on the back – again, nothing too troublesome (unless you’re like me and continue to struggle with zip insertions!).

Overall, this pattern is definitely one that I would recommend. It is an incredibly simple and speedy make but with some gorgeous details that separate Simplicity 8250 from other 50s-inspired skirt patterns. I’ll definitely be making up other versions of this in some different fabrics. I could see this pattern working for office wear or more formal occasions.  If pockets are your bag, the pattern also offers a version of the skirt with some dramatic front pockets and a straight waistband. So there are plenty of options to meet all of your needs! Simplicity 8250 also comes with a cute bolero pattern that I’ll be making up soon, so you get 2-for-1!

As tradition, I’ll finish off with a couple of petticoat pictures. I just can’t resist giving them a ruffle whenever they’re on. I really need to consider expanding my collection so I have a full colour rotation for all my makes!!

* This pattern was provided for me by Simplicity in exchange for an honest review.

Update: New Projects

Happy Monday, sweet ones!

I hope that you’ve all had a wonderful weekend. I’ve had a beautiful couple of days. My lovely mum has been visiting from the US, giving me an opportunity to indulge in a few of my favourite things. A trip to the Charles Dickens Museum and an afternoon watching Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap were highlights, providing an excuse to take my Objet d’Art dress out for a period-appropriate outing!

After posting about my most recent make – V1043 – I thought that I would stop by with an update on my upcoming projects. Simplicity Patterns approached me and asked whether I’d be willing to give my own take on some of their amazing vintage patterns. They expanded their range pretty recently so I was obviously delighted to take a look through and pick out a couple of my favourites. And, oh boy, they’re so gorgeous!

img_3735

I’m super excited by these patterns! I really wanted an opportunity to make a couple of separate pieces since I’ve been pretty heavy on the dresses recently. The 1950s bolero and skirt (Simplicity 8250) will hopefully function as pretty stand-alone garments. But obviously I couldn’t resist the beautiful 1930s dress (Simplicity 8248)! First on my agenda is the skirt. This was a matter of chance, rather than conscious choice, because I happened upon a gorgeous tartan fabric that I thought would work perfectly for a bright and beautiful 1950s circle skirt.

fullsizerender

I’ve got a pretty distinct vision for the way the whole outfit should look. Fingers crossed it’ll come out the way I’m hoping. Stay tuned for these makes and a few others I’ve got in mind already. Plus I’ve got some other great content coming your way!

Have a wonderful week, lovelies!

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.

image

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!

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.

objet d'art dress

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.

Fabric

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

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!

#mmmay2016

image

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!

Paul Flato: Jeweller To The Stars

Happy May, sweet ones!

I am currently back in the US for a visit and, unsurprisingly, spent the first few days making trips to my destinations of choice. Among them was my favourite antique mall – a huge but hidden shop in the middle of an inconsequential strip mall. Were it not for the AMAZING bubble tea place a few shops down, I wouldn’t even have stumbled upon it in the first place. But thank goodness that I did! It’s been a fabulous resource for vintage magazines, old sewing patterns, and some amazing crafting manuals from the 1950s (more posts on this to come).

Most recently, I made a trip to try and hunt out a vintage compact. Being somewhat financially constrained (hello PhD lifestyle), I really can’t afford to spend much on searching out authentic accessories. But, every so often, I find a gem that even my budget can accommodate. After investigating a few different options, I found a compact that I totally fell in love with. The information alongside it wasn’t particularly generous – the vendor’s label told me only that the compact was “Flato – 1920s-1940s”. Thankfully, we live in the digital age and a quick Google search told me that I’d stumbled on a really amazing find.

Paul_Flato_Signature

‘Flato’ refers to Paul Flato, otherwise known as the jewellery designer to the stars. Born in 1900, Flato began his career in New York, opening a small jewellery store near 5th Avenue. With a definite sense for his craft, it wasn’t long before Flato became known for his unique jewellery designs. In 1937, Flato expanded his business to Sunset Boulevard in California, and from here he capitalised on a growing relationship with Hollywood’s most famous stars. His pieces were worn by the likes of Greta Garbo, Rita Hayworth, Joan Crawford, Ginger Rogers, and Katharine Hepburn. Flato’s designs were known in particular for some fantastically unique features, including shells and scrolls, as well as their art deco style.

Art_Deco_style_jewelry,_1915-1930,_designed_by_Paul_Flato_-_National_Museum_of_American_History_-_DSC06240

Just one example of Flato’s art deco jewellery designs.

Unfortunately, this golden age didn’t last long for Flato. In 1943, he was convicted of fraud, after illegally pawning $100,000 in jewellery. This got Flato a 16 month sentence, served in Sing Sing penitentiary. The rest of his life continued to be marred by accusations of forgery and larceny, with Flato moving to Mexico in order to avoid conviction. Flato died in 1999 and, despite his unfortunate legacy of criminality, is largely remembered for his contribution to the style that dictated 1940s Hollywood glamour.

Given everything I’ve read about Flato and his designs, I feel extremely lucky to have come across a fantastic example of his weird and wacky style (particularly for a steal of $29). Just take a look at this gorgeous thing:

IMG_2521

I absolutely adore it. And what an opportunity it has given me to learn more about one of the key figures in 1940s fashion. No doubt this little compact will be a key feature of many vintage outfits to come!

New Projects: A Birthday Surprise!

Hello sweet ones!

First of all, I’m sorry for my lengthy absence from the site. It’s been an insanely busy couple of weeks with sewing-unrelated tasks (mostly PhD stuff, now that I’m coming up to my final year!!). I’ve barely even glanced in the direction of my machine, which should tell you something. Fortunately, I have a trip to the US coming up this week and will be with family for a month. I’m hoping that will give me some time to recuperate and tackle my backlog of sewing projects,

That said, I have one project in particular that I’ll be dealing with over the next couple of days – my first, albeit easy, venture into the world of menswear. As a birthday surprise for my little brother (I say little but he’s only 18 months younger than me), I’ve decide to whip up a couple of bow ties.* As you might have guessed from this, I’m not the only member of my family with a love of vintage style – my little bro has a definite penchant for a good looking neck tie and matching pocket square. So I figured that my sewing skills could be put to use in making him something unique (not to mention that it saves this impoverished student a few pounds).

After a bit of online venturing, I found a couple of fabrics that I love and should suit the summer in New York vibe that my brother will get to enjoy in a couple of months!

IMG_2486

I’ve done a bit of searching around and have found a couple of free bow tie patterns that look reliable. However, I’ve struggled to find a detailed step-by-step guide for putting the bow tie together. So I’m planning on putting a tutorial up on here – logging my successes and (hopefully not too many) failures. This promises to be a quick and relatively easy make that could be a great option for anyone looking to create something for birthday or christmas presents. So I will return shortly with some tips and lessons learnt.

And just to prove that my brother has been a lover of bow ties since his infancy, enjoy this adorable photo of him with my dad!

10473612_10205797251324746_1867349187322885035_n

* This post is a testament to my conviction that my brother doesn’t read Sew for Victory. But obviously, if you know him, don’t give me away!