I love vintage patterns. I have been obsessed with 50s silhouettes since I was a teenager, and when I discovered vintage paper patterns, I couldn’t get enough.
I find that if I follow my high bust measurement and add a bit to the waist, vintage patterns usually fit me to a T. I also love that you can find patterns with special details that you don’t always find in today’s patterns. I tend not to shop (modern) Big Four (Simplicity, McCall’s, Vogue, Butterick) because the huge selection overwhelms me, and they can be expensive in Canada if they’re not on sale. I love Indie patterns, but lately they have been trending towards more relaxed looks. Vintage patterns really hit that fitted and feminine sweet spot for me, and, if you do it right, vintage patterns don’t have to make you look like you stepped out of a pin-up (if that’s not what you’re into) – Allie J. does a great job making vintage patterns look fresh and modern.
Anyways, sometimes I get sucked down a vintage pattern rabbit hole, and last summer I spent FIVE HOURS one day searching for the perfect pattern. I found McCall’s 5142 for sale on Etsy in the LastPixie’s shop, and I fell in love with it. I hadn’t seen a similar dress anywhere else, it was in my size, it had a sleeve length that I loved…but it was a bit pricey, once shipping from the States was included. I tried looking and looking for a pattern that I would love just as much, or another seller that had the same pattern (I found another, not on Etsy, selling it for 50 USD). I couldn’t. Somehow, though, I managed to convince Eitan to let me order it.
A few weeks later, it was mine.
I made some adjustments to get the fit just right, but I needed to find the perfect fabric. I was really in love with the envelope illustrations (I mean, isn’t that half the reason we buy vintage patterns?), and I spent a long time looking for just the right print. I needed a crisp cotton, and it needed a little more heft than cotton lawn. Also, the print needed to have a vintage floral vibe, and finding cottons (non-quilting cottons) with lovely prints on them in general is tough.
I finally found the perfect fabric on Minerva Crafts (uch, why does the UK have such a good selection of fabrics to shop from!) and once my birthday rolled around, I had the casheesh to order it. It is lovely – soft, slightly crisp, opaque, and with a vibrant floral print.
The dress pattern didn’t require lining, and while I almost always line my dresses, I felt that lining this one would add unnecessary bulk in the bodice. Instead, I followed the directions pretty faithfully. People often say about vintage patterns that they have very few instructions, which makes them difficult for beginners to sew. I’ve actually found that, at least with patterns from the late 50s onwards, they have really detailed, helpful instructions.
Without the lining, I felt the seams needed some extra protection. The instructions tell you to stitch some seam binding along the clipped seam of the kimono sleeve, just under the armpit. I actually carefully basted the binding along the entire seam (sleeve hem to waist), and neatly topstitched close to the seam on both sides. It doesn’t look that great on the inside, since I used purple bias binding (I wanted to use what I already had, and it happened to be vintage bias binding).
The only part of the instructions I didn’t follow was the zipper placement, which places the zipper at the middle of the back, with the back seam near the neck closed. I was skeptical that I would actually be able to get the dress on if I did it that way, so I sewed a handpicked zipper (one of my favourite vintage sewing techniques) the “normal” way instead. I also pattern matched the seams in the back, which wasn’t too tricky because the print is on the bigger side.
I finished the all the seams with pinking shears, again because it has a bit more of a vintage look. I hemmed the skirt using a folded hem and took a few hours to stitch it by hand.
Since it wasn’t lined, apart from sewing the hem by hand, it actually didn’t take me very long to finish this dress! I love putting it on with a crinoline underneath and some red lipstick and high heels. I just wish I had some white gloves to complete the look!