It was tough to choose between such a plethora of gorgeous styles but I eventually settled on Vogue 9082 from the 1960s. I chose this design because whilst the idea of sewing vintage really appeals to me it's not a look I generally wear a lot of and I felt this pattern had the potential to be given a slightly more contemporary vibe. Especially that little view B crop top! I made the dress and top as I thought the jacket had too much of a distinctly mid century look to it for me personally. The only change I made to the design to better suit 5ft3" me in the early 21st century was to take a whopping 6" off the length (then using 2" for the hem) and make it above the knee. Everything else was sewn up exactly as intended.
I was really unsure about what fabric to buy as I wanted something that would work with the vintage design yet still look contemporary enough for me to get some wear out of. I wanted it to keep a classic feel but still be interesting. I was at the Knitting and Stitching Show at Olympia at the end of last year with my Mum and this bolt practically leapt off a stall at me. It's a really unusual cotton fabric which has the feel of a barkcloth about it. It's made up of a variety of monochrome yarns which give it that lovely mottled look and it has a springy, crinkled texture. It was everything I had been looking for and now I've sewn it up I could not be more delighted with my choice.
I found it on the Fabrics Galore stall and although I'm yet to make it to their shop in Battersea I really need to make the trip at some point as every time I see their stall at a show like this I am impressed by the quality and end up buying something. I'm normally tempted by their Paul Smith shirtings and chambrays. Their online shop is pretty great but tends to focus on prints (this fabric isn't on there) and nothing sells a fabric like touching it does it? I probably would have overlooked this particular fabric online as a picture wouldn't have conveyed the unusual texture.
Being cotton it was really straightforward to work with, the only thing I had to be careful of when sewing was the mechanical stretch in the fabric provided by the shrunken, crinkled texture. I think this is actually a positive to this fabric though as the spring in it gives it body and the dress in turn some shape. I really like how it doesn't cling to the figure but produces smooth, soft curves. The structure of the fabric works particularly well for the crop top as it holds it's boxy shape away from the body.
Possibly my favourite thing about the fabric is how stitches sink into it almost invisibly. Although in a way you do loose some of the beautiful design features in it like the angle of the darts on the front of the crop top and the topstitching around the hem which would be lovely on a plain linen. There's a fair bit of hand sewing involved but the texture of this fabric means that it doesn't show through to the right side (I was still careful to only catch a couple of tiny threads on the right side anyway) and this meant I could hand stitch down all those facings without a care in the world. I've decided I'm a big fan of more traditional finishing techniques and one thing that really pleased me about this outfit was that almost all the edges are finished with a facing. The facing along the top of the dress is part of bodice pattern piece and just folds down which I found really interesting. A hem facing is the best way to hem that crop top for sure as it avoids any complications with that lovely v shaped cut out at the front and also give a bit of weight to it.
I do usually just scan instructions nowadays as I'm pretty confident in the techniques I like and what will work best for particular fabrics but I really stuck to them with this one, mainly out of intrigue for how sewing techniques differed decades ago and also as the fabric felt quite authentic too. The only modern methods I veered off into were to use a fusible interfacing (although the instructions to lap and hand stitch your interfacing intrigued me) and to get my overlocker involved. As beautiful as this barkcloth is it does fray like crazy and I knew just pinking the seams probably wasn't going to hold up all that well.
There are a lot of different techniques involved in sewing this pattern, the first of which is definitely the ability to sew a nice dart! There are approximately a million and one involved in this pattern. I'm not a big fan of sewing a dart, I find them a painfully slow process when you just want to get going so had to knuckle down at the start of this one and get on with it. I remember when I first started sewing my Nan taught me how to do tailors tacks (posting me some examples!) and it's now my go to method of marking pattern pieces because it is so accurate. It sure came in handy for this. I like how on vintage patterns darts are marked with a few little circles along the sewing line. I tailors tack at each circle which means more accuracy when drawing on the dart leg. When you're just going the notches and the point there's a lot of potential for fabric to shift and give you a wonky line.
One thing which delighted me when I first read the instructions for the dress was the inclusion of a waist stay. I've only put one of these in before (to my chiffon Oscar de la Renta dress) but they are so simple to do, make such a difference to the way a garment sits on you and just give your dress that little extra something that makes it special. I used a piece of black petersham ribbon from my stash for mine and this pattern comes with a pattern piece for it so you can get the length right and where it should hit the seams with not effort at all.
Based on my measurements I cut the size 12 and there's probably just about the right amount of ease all over, it's very comfortable. If you're after a more Christina Hendricks wiggle dress look you'd need to size down though. I'm really pleased with the fit through the back, which I think is partly due to the zip being on the side and partly down to vintage pattern drafting suiting my petite frame. I really love the wide position of the shoulder straps combined with the height of the straight neckline, something about it feels very Brigitte Bardot to me! Construction wise I wasn't sure about the the straps being sewn on top of the facing. As the facing is part of the bodice rather than being attached separately you can't sandwich the ends of the straps between the facing and main fabric when you sew the neckline as I usually would. It does mean that you can get the length of your straps absolutely spot on later on and this fabric is so forgiving that you can hardly tell the ends are there but I'm still on the fence.
A real personal challenge (appropriately for the Big Vintage Sew-Along) were my first lapped zips! I put the zip into the bodice first which being only 4.5" long turned out pretty well for a first go! It's actually a much more straightforward technique than I had envisaged but I was lucky that this fabric is so forgiving. I'm sure it would have looked a total mess in something plain coloured and crisp! I initially somehow managed to get mixed up with the dress zip and had the back edge overlapping the front. This looks terrible as from the front you could see inside the lap to the zip so out came the quick unpick. My stitching was pretty wobbly on that first try so it actually worked out for the best because even having just one practice attempt made my second one so much better! I understood what I was trying to achieve the second time and it's much tidier. I'm looking forward to trying to improve on this technique now and will be busy today flipping through my sewing books and googling tutorials for tips!
One last thing that I liked about the instructions is that they very clearly tell you which type of hand stitch to use and where and that there is a lot of hand basting involved. They are so thorough with a mind to achieving beautiful and long lasting results. It was really nice to invest some time in sewing a pattern which involved some different construction techniques and therefore required me to really concentrate, slow down and follow the instructions. It felt like 'proper' sewing and has made me really proud of the final garment as I know just what went into making it. Slow sewing often makes the best sewing don't you think?
Many thanks to McCalls Pattern Company UK for providing me with the pattern and fabric for this project and for the girls over at The Foldline for inviting me to challenge myself and take part. I hope the blogger tour has been getting you inspired to join in with the fun and sew up one of these beautiful designs!