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Brand-new vintage

Two days ago, I completed one of what I think is the coolest of my recent projects. I basically made a brand-new 38-year-old dress, using some fabric that had once been my Grandma’s.

As some of you might know, my grandma died back in June and I’ve really missed her a lot. It seems weird not being able to call her up and just chat about whatever – about the hummingbird incursions, about the time my uncle Frank, in his toddler age, poured out an entire bottle of baby powder in their bathroom, about renovating hand-me-down dresses in Shanghai. Anyway, this fabric came in the Christmas box from my mom – she meant for me to have it, and used it as part of the packing material. There was quite a lot of it – probably about 6 yards, but it is narrow at 42″.

Grandma had, herself, given me a bunch of her old sewing patterns when I was in college. I have patterns Grandma used to make clothes for herself, as well as my mom and her sisters when they still lived at home. Another time, she unloaded some oddments of her fabric stash on me. This piece of flower-printed cotton turned out to be absolutely perfect for making up a cool dress pattern I’ve been hanging on to for ages and ages.

Simplicity 8775 front
In the fall of 1996, I was a sophomore at Chadron State College. I was bored, single, and a little lonesome. A lot of my friends from my Freshman year either didn’t return due to poor performance, or had transferred to different schools. I was living in an uncongenial situation in the dorms; thanks to the powers that be, I was put in with three roommates, and they hadn’t planned for a fourth and were less-than-welcoming (in fact, they eventually “voted me out of the room,” and I forked out for a private room for the remainder of the school year).

Anyway, this one day, I was very, very, very bored, and so I did what I often do when I am bored; I went for a bike ride. I was just randomly cruising around town on my old Huffy, and I came across a yard sale. I was looking for a portable sewing machine at the time, since I didn’t own a sewing machine, portable or otherwise. When I wanted to sew, I used my mom’s temperamental old Remington portable.

This lady didn’t have any sewing machines up for grabs, but she did have a nice-sized boot-box full of patterns from the 1960s and 1970s. She said they would go for either $0.10/ea or $5 for the whole box. I rifled through them and realized the excellent bargain I would get if I just sprung for the whole box rather than cherry-picking out my favorites, and so I handed the nice lady a fiver and rode off with the beginnings of an addiction.

The dress pattern you see above was one of that first batch of patterns I ever bought. Back then, I was less-than-excited about this specific pattern; it wasn’t funky or outrageous enough for my 1996-era tastes, but now in 2009, I think it’s just about perfect. This was a style aimed at a little older market than a 19-year-old. It’s perfectly appropriate for a 30-something, however.

The fabric I inherited from Grandma turned out to have been from the same era as this pattern – circa late ’60s or early ’70s. It is a big, splashy floral print: a little bit Lily and a little bit Liberty, and all the way perfect for this 1970 Simplicity pattern.

best foot forward?

Although this pattern is a Simplicity, and Simplicities very often run large, I found absolutely no problems with the sizing on this particular pattern. It is true-to-measurement, which was incredibly convenient, considering that this design would have been a real pain to re-size. The only modification I made was to narrow the neckline about 1.5″, as it gapped out over my collarbones initially. This dress was meant to be interlined, which, for the non-dressmakers, means that a lining is cut from the same pattern as the dress itself, and the dress and lining are handled as one thickness and sewn together at the same time. How I treated the fabric & interlining was to zig-zag the two layers together along the raw edges of each piece, then sew the pieces together as instructed. This will result in an incredibly durable and tidy-looking garment inside and out.
Here is one of the side-seams of the skirt for illustration. This pattern calls for a 2.5″ hem, so I turned the bottom of the skirt up .5″ & pressed it, then turned it up another 2″, pressed, pinned, and hand-stitched it. A deep hem like that is another element that tends to lend to garment longevity.

Even the zipper is vintage!
I didn’t happen to have a zipper that would really co-ordinate with the fabric, but I did have a vintage (salvage) zipper in white with stainless steel teeth, so that’s what I used. It’s period appropriate, so I guess I have a brand-new vintage dress. How crazy is that?

I’m very happy with how this dress turned out. It’s much more curvaceous than I expected; most dresses of that era weren’t so shapely, but I am not complaining. I feel rather smartly turned out in this crazy-flowered dress from another era.

I thought I had a necklace that would go really well with this dress, but when I tried them on together, I realized that it was too much. The fabric itself makes such a statement that accessorizing is best kept to a minimum. I had a green, flower-shaped hair clip which I decided was sufficient ornamentation, and some white lace tights that seemed appropriate.

Among the many realizations I had during the making of this dress is that interlining RULES, and I will probably interline many future dresses and/or skirts. It’s less fussy than doing a proper lining and results in a garment with which you don’t need to wear a separate slip. I kind of hate slips, but I hate it worse when my skirt clings to my tights, so I wear slips whenever I am wearing an unlined dress or skirt. However, I plan on incorporating either a lining or an interlining into most future skirt or dress projects.

8 Responses to “Brand-new vintage”

  1. MD says:

    That dress is AWESOME. And looks so so great on you. Well done!

  2. sewuptight says:

    You did a great job on the dress. It’s adorable.

  3. SewDucky says:

    How cute! I love the fabric!

  4. meetzorp says:

    Thank you! I’m very happy with how it turned out.

  5. meetzorp says:

    Thanks! I will definitely be using this pattern again. I think I may look for a nice, black shantung & finally make myself a LBD.

  6. meetzorp says:

    Thank you. So do I. Because of its provenance and just because I dig whacky prints. I’d love to find something similar, but in a warmer palette. I don’t really look very good in blue, but I’ll wear this anyways.

  7. Gayle says:

    Oh, this is WONDERFUL. Gramma fabric, vintage pattern, perfectly made… you look fantastic in this. What a great piece to have!

  8. meetzorp says:

    Thank you! I’m looking forward to springtime when I can actually wear it!

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