This is a dress from deep in the vault! I made it in late summer of last year and never photographed it, although I’ve worn it a bunch, but the timing seems right to share it now after last week’s blog post about a pattern that I had to work really really hard to make right for me. My process with this pattern was very similar, but took even more time to get right (it actually sat on my dress form for about a month as I schemed up ways to fix all the problems it gave me).
The dress began as a pattern from Gertie’s Book for Better Sewing, an alternate version of her Shirtwaist Dress which I had successfully made before. Most of the pattern blocks for the two dresses are the same, but require a bit of re-drafting for the neck and sleeves and omission of certain of the original elements like the shirred back bodice.
Seems simple enough, right? Yet somehow my version went downhill VERY FAST. My mistakes can usually be attributed to the wrong fabric choice, and this dress was no exception, but it was definitely not the only thing that went wrong. I spotted this blue floaty cotton fabric at one of my fav online retailers LA FinchFabrics some time ago and immediately purchased it because- well look at it! It’s just so cute! Tiny bees??? Come on! The fabric did not disappoint when it arrived at my door days later. The cotton is incredibly soft and light, but it has the teeny tiniest nubbly texture to it which makes it feel great against your skin and keeps it from being too transparent. Gertie’s 1940’s Zip Dress (above) is made with a firmer silk, which probably weighs down the gathers of the skirt a little bit and supports the silhouette more than my fabric choice.
Because I made this dress so long ago I don’t remember every obstacle I ran into, but the bigs ones were the sleeves, the neckline, and the waist. Which I guess makes sense since those were all the parts of the pattern that got changed from the original one. The ruching for the back bodice looked bad with the soft flowy fabric, so I omitted it and left it loose. The sleeves are supposed to be petal sleeves with a slight gather in the top and the gentlest flutter at the curve, but I looked like a linebacker in them and I have no idea why. I inserted and removed the sleeves two times before finally just giving up deciding that no sleeves was a better look. Part of the issue with the sleeves was getting them to hit the right place on the shoulders, which was dependent on getting the width of the shoulders correct, which also proved to be difficult.
The shoulders are supposed to be slightly gathered but I had way too much fabric at the shoulders, even with excessive easing, and this, coupled with my bulky, fussy-looking sleeves (and the ruching, which I eventually abandoned), just didn’t look right. After omitting the sleeves I ended up cutting the extra material out of the sides of the front bodice, which interfered with where the neckline landed. And the neckline! UGH! There were no clear instructions on how to finish the neckline of this alternate pattern since the original pattern had a button band. I tried to insert a zipper on mine as the 1940’s Zip Dress calls for, but it looked terrible, maybe because of the delicate hand of the fabric. So then I had to go back to buttons and basically Frankenstein the leftover scraps of material to create a sufficient button band. It was a mess. The whole process was a mess, but I still persevered because bees are cute and I refuse to buy additional cuts of fabric after original purchase because I am stubborn as hell.
To be honest, I have no idea what actually made this dress work out in the end. Most likely it was just an acceptance that this garment was going to be less-than-perfect and a commitment that I would love it anyway- which I do! I omitted the gathers in the waist and decided not to try and make it fitted, instead leaving it loose and blouse-y in the hopes that a belt would do the job I wanted it to, which it does- it also hides the unsightly unevenness of the waistline and the waist gathers. I used black bias tape for the neckline which just kind of stops abruptly when you get to the buttons, but you can’t tell how ramshackle it is from the outside. One thing that I think is noticeable is the “hidden” snap I stuck at the V of the neckline to keep the dress closed, since my button placement wasn’t very effective. But the snap doesn’t bother me as much as I thought it would, and it certainly hasn’t kept me from wearing it.
This dress is a piece of heaven in the summer when it’s a hundred degrees outside and I want to dress up- the sheerness of the material allows breezes to flow through and cool you off pretty quickly, and since it’s not fitted at all, it feels comfortable. The rich blue of this fabric is also pretty phenomenal- the bees just put it over the top! This is actually my second attempt at making this 1940’s Zip Dress, and I still haven’t successfully achieved it. Maybe third time’s a charm? Next time I promise to make it in a textile suitable for the pattern!
all photos © Claire J Savage