Hello! Didn’t I say you would be seeing some posts of our 1940’s formal dresses? Mine will be the first of the three posts we girls are devoting to our gowns this week.
The evening we took these photos our garden looked so inviting to me that I specifically asked Charlotte if we could choose that space to be my backdrop. She agreed. I am so glad we did! The verdancy of the dress mingled with the green plant life behind me was almost too perfect–it’s like I could melt into the flower beds… And just look at how the movement of the taffeta mirrors the ripples in the leaves! Ah! It’s so lovely!
So. The story behind this dress: Yes, there is a bit of a story. Nothing too exciting (yawn), and nothing catastrophic (so pleased about that), but nothing boring about it either (I’ll let you be the judge of that).
Way back in the middle of Summer, Charlotte and I finally made up our minds to make ourselves some taffeta, 1940’s styled formal gowns for the Remembering WWII event. We both chose different patterns, and different colors of fabric (view the Etsy shop here) but I’ll let her share her own dress details later in her post. For now, I’ll let you in on a little secret–I used a 70s pattern (Simplicity 5616), and as you can see it actually worked for the 1940s! (Even the back zipper was accurate, or so said Charlotte. I was so happy about that because even though side zippers are the typical closure for 40s dresses, there is nothing like getting into a dress with a back zip. Ah, love fuss free dresses!) The only hang-up was that the dress pattern was one size too big, so I decided to make a mock up to figure out what needed to be adjusted before I cut into my 3 precious yards of hunter green taffeta.
Wow! A mockup, eh? Don’t I sound like a pro! I have to laugh at myself sometimes because the only reason why I am able to sew at all is because I have three educated seamstresses in the house who actually do know what they’re doing and who are willing to lend a brain or two! Ok, I’ll give myself a little bit of credit here; I am learning a lot, and truly beginning to own the knowledge the girls and Mom have been teaching me. 🙂
The mock up turned out beautifully! And if you have ever used thrifted, good quality cotton sheeting, you will understand that the mock up was immaculate. The crisp cotton was nice and stiff, but due to the wear it had previously been through it also possessed a soft touch. I was so pleased with it that I decided to make it a wearable mockup. Oh happy day! Well, the oh happy day came after the adjustments–nipping in the side seams and sleeves, and nearly everything else construction wise for the bodice. It had to be done so I could make a proper go at it with the taffeta sans taking out seems.
*Cue Brigid coming to the rescue*. My problem solving, puzzle loving, genius sister helped me redraft the bodice pattern to fit my measurements. With her help I could at last get to work on the taffeta.
Dress: Made by Me / Shoes: ThredUp / Headband: Made by Me / Necklace: c/o Chronically Vintage / Hair Net: Amish Country / Purse: Charlotte’s from India
One thing about taffeta that is quite annoying–it wrinkles like anything when washed! Do not ever to attempt to machine dry it! Instead, use the lowest setting on your iron to heat dry it. As a first timer with taffeta, I was a little nervous just getting the fabric ready for the pattern layout and cutting process. It took a lot of ironing, washing again to get the ironed-in wrinkles out and re-ironing before it was of an acceptable smoothness. Whew! (When the dress was finally all put together, finishing touches included, you might have seen a very pleased, very proud, and very relieved expression come over my face.)
Back to the story…
Besides sizing down the bodice pattern pieces, Brigid had been working on a new little addition pattern to accompany the armscye to give ease to the sleeves of nearly every bodice you can think of that doesn’t possess good sleeve ease. She learned how to draft it, and after using it herself on a little project you will see later this week, I decided to use it to give my gown’s sleeves some much needed ease. With the mock up I could only lift up my arms to a 45 degree angle, which would not be good for my formal gown if I ever wanted to dance in it (which I do). I can see it now–rip, rip, Rip! And a pair of shredded armscyes. So, using Brigi’s little pattern was the only way to save my dress from such a calamity. And it works, too! I can lift my arms up a full 90 degrees with little strain on the bodice! 😀
So now that I had all the pattern pieces figured out, and only two weeks to finish the dress, I got down to business laying and cutting out the pieces. I have no idea if my yardage shrunk after the two washings I gave it, or if I didn’t buy enough, because no matter how I laid out the pattern, I still had some skirt pattern ends coming off the fabric. It was a frustrating hour for sure, but then I recalled that the mockup I made had inches and inches of hem on me, so I didn’t have to worry about a few inches not making it into the skirt pieces. Being short comes with its blessings, I suppose. 😉
Sewing a garment the second time around is so much more fun to do than the first time. You know the pattern instructions like the back of your hand, you know what to watch out for, and you can work on mastering the fidgety bits to get them to your liking. And that is exactly what happened. It was so wonderful. But more wonderful was the feeling of slipping on my green “work of art” after its completion. Satisfying; that’s the feeling.
With the bits of scraps I had left over, some jewelry wire, matching green silk ribbon, and hot glue, I put together the little leafy headband. I’ve never attempted a vintage inspired hair accessory before, but this one turned out pretty well. I only wish I had had more time to wrap up the exposed wire stems.
The last details I think I should mention about the construction of the dress, would be the fact that both of the bodice “yoke” pieces, the waistband and center front band, are faced. All of the rest of the seams were zig-zag stitched, so there’s no chance of the edges fraying into little spider-webs of thread. Also, because the fabric is period correct acetate taffeta, I chose, along with the girls, to tack in some removable sweat guards to protect the armholes. These are the little details that, although they made for longer construction time, in the end made my dress that much more valuable, and worth my while to make. I know that this gown will hold its own for many years to come, and Lord willing, will become an heirloom to my descendants. And with that lovely thought, I’ll end my story.
Have you ever attempted to use acetate taffeta for a garment?
What do you think of the details put into my gown?
Do you like to make things of good quality to be passed down to the next generation?
Jessica, the Eldest Sister & Singer