Sewing,  Vintage

I Made a … 1950s Vintage Dress – From a Vintage Sewing Pattern Simplicity 3274 – Part One

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My latest vintage sewing project is a 1950s vintage dress. I used a vintage pattern that I bought from Wave of Nostalgia in Haworth; Simplicity 3274. I wanted to try and create a really authentic feel for this dress by using vintage fabric, notions and techniques. This post details the making of the bodice. The making of the skirt will follow in my next post.

The 1950s Vintage Dress Part OneVideos:

If you’d like to watch the step by step making progress. I have two videos now on Youtube that will walk you through my entire process. This is the video for the bodice and the video for the skirt can be found here.

Making the 1950s Vintage Dress Part One:

I am making view 2, with the short sleeves but am leaving off the skirt bands and detachable collar, as this dress already has one hell of a statement collar. At first I thought it might be too much but it is one of those details that help to give that 1950s feel. You can buy a copy of this pattern on Etsy*.

1950s Vintage Dress Sewing Pattern Simplicity 3274

I almost always trace my patterns as I normally make several fit adjustments at that stage but as this was a Misses pattern, my 163 cm self matched the size guide almost exactly so I skipped that step and just cut the pattern as is. However, I did end up having to alter the bodice later. More to come on that in Part Two.

I transferred all the markings for the pleats, darts and balance marks using tailor’s tack, as well as tacking in the centre front of the bodice. This is really important for garments where the closure has an overlap as these need to match up exactly for a good fit.

White tailor's tacks stitched through the pattern paper for the bodice pleats

The Bodice

I then started work on the back pattern piece by following the directions indicated in the instructions. This was the usual stages of stay stitching, sewing in darts and pleats.

Sewing in the pleats at the waist on the back pattern piece

With the back pieces prepped I moved onto the front. I started by hemming the front facing edge, turning it under by ¼” or 6mm and stitching in place.

Turning under the front edge of the facing

Then I machine basted in place the strip of interfacing that reinforces the centre front and the buttonholes, trimming it down to match the neck curve.

Trimming down the strip of interfacing to match the neck curve

Next I repeated the same process as the back for the darts and pleats.

To mark the sewing line for the darts I used a tracing wheel and a piece of cardboard to protect my table. This leaves a little pattern of indentations that will disappear when ironed. This is a great way to mark in a sewing line when you can’t use chalk.

Using a ruler and a tracing wheel to mark in the stitching line for the darts

I tie off the threads of my darts and trim them down before removing as many of the tailor’s tacks as I can from the darts and pleats. 

I then took the fronts to the ironing board and give everything a thorough press: The hemmed facing edges, the waist pleats and the darts. I press the darts over a tailor’s ham to make sure I get a neat point. 

Pressing the point of the dart over a tailor's ham to get a sharp point

The Collar

I pinned the interfacing to the wrong side of one layer of the collar and then machine tack it in place around all three edges, trimming down the interfacing close to the stitching to reduce bulk.

Trimming down the interfacing after it had been sewn onto one half of the collar

Then with the right sides together I pinned the two layers of the collar around the outside edges. That is the edges without balance marks. I then machine them in place, pivoting at the corner for a sharp point. 

Next, I trimmed the seam allowances of the main fabric down and notch the curved edge so that the collar will lay flat once turned inside out. I also trim the corners to reduce bulk and help with that essential sharp point. 

Trimming and notching the seam allowance of the collar once the two halves were sewn together

Then back to the ironing board for a good press. I turn the collar right side out and use my fingernails to crease the seam open before using the steam of the iron to help roll the edge into shape and give it a firm press.

Pressing the curved edge of the collar

Inserting the Collar

I joined the shoulder and side seams making sure to match the balance marks, and then pressed them open.

Pressing open the side seam of the bodice

I then overlapped the two halves of the collar at the centre back, matching the circles, and then machine tacked them in place sewing all the way along the open edge of the collar.

Then, I pinned the collar to the neckline, matching the markings and tacked that in place, making sure to keep adjusting the angle of the bodice to prevent puckers. 

Machine tacking the collar to the neckline of the bodice

Once the collar was tacked on I then folded back the front facings with right sides together and tacked those in place.

Machine tacking the facings in place once they had been folded back into position

Next it was time for that bias strip that I had cut earlier. I pressed a fold into one side and matched the fold to the tacked sewing line overlapping the edges of the facing slightly. I now think that I should have pinned the bias on the other way around because trying to press the other edge under once it was already on was really tricky. But hey that’s a lesson for next time.

I then tacked the bias strip in place by hand. This was definitely needed as there were some points on this collar with 9 layers of fabric and it was becoming distorted with the pins. 

Tacking the bias tape onto the neckline by hand

Finally, I stitched the whole thing together in one go. This had to be done very slowly with lots of smoothing and adjusting on the way. To neaten the short edge of the bias strip I simply folded them under as I got to them. 

The Sleeves

With the collar on it was time to set in the sleeves. I have a separate sleeve tutorial that explains this in much greater detail so I will be brief here.

I make up the sleeves by running gathering threads around the top of the sleevehead and then joining the sleeve seam making sure to match the balance marks.

Then I ease in the sleeve in two halves, making sure the underarm sections match smoothly, and evenly distributing the excess ease around the top of the sleevehead.

Pinning in the sleeves

I then machine the sleeve in two halves, starting with the underarm, and then returning to my starting point and working from the inside of the sleeve. This way I can smooth the excess as I go with my fingers preventing tucks and puckers.

Sewing in the sleevehead from the inside on the sewing machine

I then hem my sleeve with bias tape. This probably would have been easier to do before I set it in but of well. I pin the bias tape in place matching the raw edges, leaving a little excess to neaten the raw edges, and then machine the tape in place. 

Pinning the bias tape onto the sleeve hem

Then using my sleeve board, I pressed the bias tape around to the inside of the sleeve and folded the remaining raw edge under for an even hem. To neaten the join, I rolled the raw edges under so that they just met at the sleeve seam before I pressed the top edge in place.

Hand Finishing the Bodice

For the bias neck facing, I ended up having to fold the bias tape under around a tailor’s ham to get it to lie correctly. I pinned it in place before steaming and pressing it over the ham to retain the curved shape.

Shaping the bias tape around the neckline using a tailor's ham

Then I hand stitched the bias tapes in place. For the sleeve hems I used a slip stitch but for the curved neck facing I decided to use a herringbone stitch as I still wasn’t sure it would lie completely flat and that extra bit of movement from a herringbone stitch might cover a few sins.

Hand sewing the bias tape in place whilst crosslegged on my bed

The Finished 1950s Vintage Dress Bodice:

Close up of the finished polka dot 1950s vintage dress bodice with wide collar.

If you’d like to see the rest of the making of this dress I shall leave a link to Part Two here. The bodice turned out really well and I can’t wait to show you the finished thing.


Claude x