Front of my 1951 vintage Simplicity dress
pattern. I'll be making the style on the left.
Over the next few days, you're welcome to watch my progress. I could easily fail, since as I said, I've never worked from a pattern before. My sewing machine is basic but reliable, and despite living with a fashion major whilst in art college, my limited command of sewing vocabulary requires frequent consultations of the internet for definitions, diagrams, and how-to videos. But I have faith! So, let's get started.
Make Yourself a Dress, Part 1: Get Your Shit Together
This is the crucial, duh step my younger, more now-now-now! self would have fudged, but thankfully I've matured enough (and have been taught about the virtues of patience in abundance by the publishing industry) to realize that before you begin every project, you need to gather your materials.
1. The pattern. Most important by far (well, that and a sewing machine). As I said, I ordered my pattern from Etsy, from a site with quite a selection of vintage patterns. I actually bought two party dress patterns: a 1956 Butterick, and 1951 Simplicity. The one I'll be making this weekend (barring a hurricane-related power failure) is the Simplicity. (If you order vintage or pre-owned, make sure the seller specifies that the pattern is still "uncut".) While browsing, I had the additional step of figuring out what size I would have been, sixty years ago. The Gap thinks I'm a 6 and H&M thinks I'm an 8, but Simplicity says I land right between a 16 and an 18 in early 1950s sizing, going by my bust-, waist-, and hip-measurements. I went with the pattern for the 18, since it's far easier to take a dress in than to add to one.
|The back of my Simplicity pattern's packaging, with helpful sizing and materials info.|
My dorky owl fabric, ordered from the highly
searchable and addictive Fabric.com.
- 5 yards cotton, linen, rayon, or other non-stretch fabric (I ordered 5½, to be safe)
- 2½ yards chiffon, satin, or tulle (amount suggested by the helpful lady at Joann) to fill out the skirt; not included in the pattern, but I wanted this lining for both volume and aesthetic
- 12-inch invisible zipper, color to match the dress
- 2 yards wide satin ribbon, for belt / bow at waist, in contrast color to main dress
- 3 spools thread, color to match the dress
- seam binding (I actually skipped this, on the advice of the sharp little old lady stationed in Joann's pattern department, who said it's more trouble than it's worth)
3a. Tools. Most of these I already owned, but here's a basic list, all available at a fabric store like Joann:
- Sewing machine, with various basic accessories
- Hand-sewing needles
- Many, many straight pins and a handy cushion in which to stick them
- Tape measure (best to have this before you settle on a size)
- Fabric scissors (or just sharp, clean everyday scissors)
- Water-washable white pencil (for marking dark fabrics)
- Seam ripper (dear God, do not forget this one)
- Ironing board and iron
3b. Pattern tracing tools. For tracing your pattern onto your fabric, for accuracy. I'm actually doing this step the old fashioned way, cutting slits in the pattern for marking the fabric (I'm using a dark, chocolate brown fabric, so tracing carbon wouldn't help me much, hence the white pencil). But here's the shopping list, just to be helpful:
- Pattern tracing paper (this is for if you want to make a copy of pattern, to preserve the original)
- Tracing carbon (sometimes included with the pattern, also easy to find at Staples)
- Plastic, non-serrated tracing wheel
4. Other essentials. Some equally important steps and materials:
- Coffee or similar stimulant
- A well-lit room with plenty of space to spread things out on the table or the [recently swept] floor
- Comfy clothes, as you'll likely be kneeling and bending and leaning over a lot
- A good mood; don't attempt this when feeling impatient or irritable
- Hours of calming-but-upbeat tunes (I used to sew and knit exclusively to Tori Amos and Nine Inch Nails, but luckily I've since graduated to Martin Sexton, Neko Case, Joni Mitchell, and the Mystery Jets)
|All my materials, ready to go!|
So that's Part 1. In the next step, I'll tell you how to prepare the pattern and the fabric, before we actually begin the hardcore sewing of the damn dress.