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My 1950s vintage dress is complete! This post is part TWO, where I make the skirt and finish up the bodice. I suggest you read part ONE before getting stuck into this post. You can find that post here.
1950s Vintage Dress Video PART TWO:
My 1950s vintage sewing journey continues in part two of Making a Vintage Dress from 1959.
The Skirt of the 1950s Dress
Now this pattern, Vintage Simplicity 3274*, didn’t include pockets so of course I had to improvise some myself using a pattern piece for inseam pockets from a different pattern. I used the markings for the CF skirt opening as a guide and stitched the pocket pieces on with right sides together and with the bulk of the pocket facing away from the opening.
I creased back the seam allowances with my fingers and then cut the skirt panel open between the stitching lines, getting as close to the point at the bottom as I could to make sure that when I turned the pocket inside it would lie nice and flat.
Then I joined the two halves of the pocket bag with a french seam. To do this I pulled the pocket sections back to the right side and then pinned them wrong sides together before machining around the edge with a narrow seam allowance.
I then notch all the way around the curved edges of the pocket before turning the pocket wrong side out and pushing it back around to the wrong side of the skirt. I rolled the seam allowances so that the seam line is right on the edge and pin in place. Then the pockets are stitched again, this time with right sides together.
Next the skirt panels got a good press and realised I had these raw edges that still needed neatening. I wasn’t sure of the best way to do that so I carried on with the rest of the skirt so that I could mull it over as I sewed.
Instead I worked on the centre front placket opening. Reinforcing the opening with a line of stitching and cutting it open.
I then pinned on the bias binding, matching the folded edge to the line of stitching I just did. It was quite tricky to manoeuvre the binding around the acute angle of the V shaped opening. To get it to work I ended up opening out the V and added some extra ease in the binding at that point.
Then I carefully machined the binding in place before folding the binding around to the wrong side of the skirt and hand stitching it in place with a felling stitch. I had to put a few tucks in the binding at the point of the V to get it to lie flat, and kept adjusting the binding as I stitch to keep everything nice and neat.
Joining the Skirt Panels
I then joined the long skirt seams with a french seam. With hindsight I wish I had done french seams on the bodice as well as you shall see later.
With the panels joined together, I started on the hem. This meant I had to partly undo the french seam I had just sewn to reduce the bulk in the hem fold. I found a stanley knife the best way to do this. Once partly undone I could iron the seam open below the hem fold.
I then turned under the bottom edge of the skirt by 2 cms and pressed in place.
Then, I realised that I needed to undo even more of the seam allowance so I got my knife back out for more unpicking and pressed the rest of the seam open. I could then measure the skirt to check it was the correct length and pinned and pressed it in place.
Eventually, I made a decision on how to neaten the raw edges of my pocket and turned them under ready to be felled in place by hand.
I’ve been trying to incorporate more couture techniques into my sewing after reading Claire Shaeffer’s book* so I chose to finish as many seams as possible by hand.
I felled the edges of the pockets in place and used a slip stitch to sew the hem of the skirt. As this is such a deep hem the slip stitch will help to stop the weight of the fabric pulling the hem down.
Pleating the Skirt
With the skirt hem in place, it was time to pin in all those pleats. I got the pattern piece back out so that I could follow the direction of the arrows and matched up all those balance marks I had tacked in earlier. This cotton pleated really nicely.
I had a little bit of a job getting the CF placket to lie correctly with the pleats as I had to get my dyslexic head around left and right and which way the buttons go and all that stuff. Eventually I got there and then tacked all those pleats in place.
Joining the Skirt to the Bodice of the 1950s Vintage Dress
I then could join the skirt to the bodice of the dress. I did this by matching up the centre fronts and centre back. Due to this being a 3 panel skirt the side seams didn’t match so I had to eyeball it slightly.
I then machined the two together with the skirt section on top so that I could make sure all those pleats were going to lie nice and flat.
When I got to the pockets I stopped sewing and restarted on the other side of the pocket to avoid sewing the pocket down in one direction.
Once joined together, I tried the dress on only to discover it was too long in the torso. I didn’t take my usual 3cms out of the waist length on this pattern. I had thought that I wouldn’t need to because it was a Misses pattern. But it was still too long by about 1.5cms. So I unpicked the waist seam and moved up all the waist pleats by 1.5cms, pinning and sewing them in place as before.
I then trimmed off 1.5cms using the previous sewing line as a guide. Then I reattached the skirt and bodice which gave a much better fit.
It was then time to move onto all the finishing touches. Using the pattern piece I marked the placement for the buttonholes. I had to adjust this slightly due to my newly shortened bodice.
I changed to my manual buttonhole foot and made a sample. As every machine is different, I won’t go into too much specific detail about buttonholes. Just make sure to make as many samples as necessary until you are happy.
Mine turned out pretty perfect on the first try as I marked up my fronts with chalk and started sewing.
Before cutting my buttonholes open I used a little fray check* on them to stop them going too ragged once cut.
The Vintage Belt
It was then time to make a belt. I have quite a collection of vintage haberdashery so I raided my drawers for a 1950s style belt buckle. This circular blue one was my favourite so I started to make the belt to the correct size.
I Machine tacked a strip of interfacing to one half of the belt. Then joined the two halves together with right sides together, leaving the short edge open. I then trimmed down the excess seam allowance and graded the point before turning the tube of fabric right side out. I rolled the edges of the seam between my fingers to get a crisp point. Before installing the buckle by threading the end through the centre of the buckle, turning the raw edges under and pinning in place.
Finishing Touches and Fastenings For the Dress
I then retired to the garden to enjoy the last of the evening sunlight and began on all the hand finishing I had to do. Firstly I slipstitched the edge of the belt in place. Then, once the fray check had dried, I cut open the buttonholes.
Next, I decided to remove all the hand basting and tailor’s tacks. This always takes much longer than expected. I left the marks for the centre fronts in so that I could properly set the buttons. I do this one at a time by matching the centre fronts and the waistline, inserting a pin through the buttonhole and then using this pin as a marker for where the button needs to go.
Using a doubled thread I sew on the button through all the layers of fabric and keep a pin between the fabric and the button so that I don’t sew the button on too tightly. I then remove the pin and create a little thread shank by wrapping the thread around and around the stitching. I then secure the wraps in place by pulling the thread through the middle before finishing off my thread on the wrong side.
You know how I said I wish I had done french seams on the bodice? Yeah that’s because I ended up having to hand overcast all the raw edges on the bodice seams. I am glad that I took the time to do another couture technique on this dress but I can’t help but feel that french seams just look neater.
Next came a skirt hook and bar at the waistband. I had hoped to finish the dress that evening but the light quickly faded and I decided that the last few touches could wait until the morning.
Poppers and Belt Loops
Then I added some poppers to the skirt opening. I have a variety of vintage styles and sizes in my collection but I went for the slightly larger 00 size. In my experience vintage poppers are of much a superior quality to modern ones. Modern ones have rough edges and wear through the threads after a couple of wears, so I only use vintage ones these days.
The final piece of hand finishing was to create a little thread loop to act as a belt carrier. This is essential a crochet chain but if you aren’t familiar with crochet, you make a loop out of thread and then pull the tail of the thread through that loop to create another loop. And so on and so on until your chain is the desired length.
Then pass the needle through the final loop and sew the chain in place. Make sure it’s not too tight otherwise you won’t be able to fit the belt through!
And then the dress was complete.
The Finished 1950s Vintage Dress
The fabric, the buttons, the buckle, and the poppers are all vintage, something I’m really pleased I was able to achieve. The only new elements are the thread, the interfacing and the skirt hook.
All in all, I think it turned out pretty great. I like that it has a really authentic 1950s feel thanks to the vintage fabric. And I’m really pleased that I took the time to go for a really high level of finish.
There are some things that aren’t so great like the fact that I put the pockets in the wrong place so they’ve ended up too far around to the back. The belt also doesn’t want to stay cinched so I think it needs a hook added.
But it definitely passes the ‘swoosh test’ so really what more do you need?
I hope you like my new 1950s vintage dress,