Mad Men Dress Challenge #2: Finished project!


Well, FINALLY, I’ve managed to finish my Mad Men dress. As I mentioned previously, I was inspired by Jane Sterling’s pale blue dress:


This is my darker, sleeveless version:


I even went a little crazy and did a 1960s style makeup, complete with false lashes, to go with my 1960s updo, based on The Freelancer’s Fashion Blog big twirl updo tutorial.



Overall, I am extremely happy with the final results (and I love the cute fabric belt!), especially considering the fact that this is my first fitted dress. The outfit was a hit at the Mad Men Costume party I attended last night.


To summarize, I learned a heck of a lot about pattern fitting and garment construction in general:

  • Making a muslin;
  • Small bust adjustment;
  • Narrow back adjustment;
  • Narrow shoulder adjustment;
  • Redrawing shoulder facings;
  • Working with facings;
  • Waist stay;
  • Hemming a full gathered skirt;
  • Fabric covered belt.

All things considered, it was an excellent learning experience.

Looking back at all the modifications I had to make due to my measurements, I’m starting to wonder if I shouldn’t try to locate “junior miss” vintage patterns, seeing as my measurements aren’t quite as voluptuous as the “miss” patterns call for, though I still have da booty. In modern reproductions of vintage patterns, I could cut a small size for the back and front bodice pieces, but for one  size vintage patterns, I’ll just have to make friends with pattern adjustments…and possibly splurge on a dress form?

One can always dream…

And now…what’s the next project on my list???


Mad Men Dress Challenge #2: Putting the pieces together

mmc27After a few days’ hiatus, I jumped right back into my Mad Men dress by putting together the bodice. One thing I learned at this point was the importance of using transfer paper to get the markings just right. I spent far too much time fiddling with the new redrawn pattern pieces, trying to match them to the fabric and making sure the markings were in place.

I also discovered my sewing machine hates all purpose thread. Really, really hates it. Just sewing in the darts was a giant stress-fest because my machine would attempt to chew up my fabric and spew out balled up thread. Yuck. Next time, I won’t be cheap on thread!

Once my bodice was put together, I added in the collar:


Then the neck facings were put together and sewn in:


This part wasn’t so bad, even though it was my first time working with facings. I had a few more arguments with my sewing machine, who also had some kind of ethical issue with sewing through a single layer of my beautiful crepe fabric.

When I got to the armhole facings, it dawned on me that I needed to redraw them completely having changed the armscythe a few times. Oops.


Once redrawn, it was a breeze to add in the armhole facings to my bodice:


My one comment regarding the facings on this dress is this: despite having tacked them down at the shoulder and whenever possible at the darts, I still felt that they didn’t lie flat or stay inside the dress enough, especially when I danced. I found myself having to tuck in the right armhole facing back into my dress a few times during my Mad Men Costume Party. If I remake this dress in another fabric, I may just line the entire bodice and forgo facings altogether. Of course, it means I’ll have to learn how to line a bodice…

In the end, this is what the bodice looked like when mostly completed (sorry for the cell phone pics…):




Overall, I’m very satisfied with the fit in the bodice, both in the front and back. I did have to adjust the side seams while putting together the bodice because I felt I needed a bit more ease at the waist. Also, I felt the waist was a bit too high, so if there is a next time, I’ll have to lengthen the waist by an extra half an inch.

Adding the skirt wasn’t too difficult though I discovered my cuts for those pieces were all crooked, even though I pinned like mad, my slippery crepe fabric had made cutting a challenge. Another learning experience: use a rotary cutter and a large self-healing mat. The one I own isn’t nearly large enough to cut a skirt piece. *sigh* another purchase ahead! Once I straightened my cuts, gathered the skirt pieces and lined them up with the bodice, the skirt went in without a hitch.

Once I tried on the dress, I realized how heavy the skirt fabric was, despite having used something relatively light and flowing. Before putting in the buttons (which I chose to “fake” by adding in snaps and sewing decorative buttons over top), I wanted to add a waist stay to help stabilize the waist seam and prevent stretching. Sewaholic’s excellent tutorial on sewing a waist stay guided my steps here.


Once this part was done, it was much easier to sew in the hook and eye to close the skirt opening, as suggested by the pattern instructions. I also added an extra hook and eye to the left side of the bodice and the waist stay, thereby making sure that bodice piece lay straight and flat. Adding in the decorate buttons and the snaps underneath just required a bit of hand sewing. Another lesson learned: the button area on the bodice never lay flat enough for my taste. Perhaps the solution would be to omit the buttons altogether, sew the bodice front shut and add a hidden zipper to the side of the bodice…

Then came the requisite 24 hours of hanging, to let the fabric stretch out.  The next day, with the help of my generous mother, I went about hemming the dress. This is where I learned that short of buying a dress form, I REALLY should have gotten my hands on a chalk hemming tool like this one:


It would have made the whole hemming process a lot less stressful (aside from the fits of frustration I experienced when my machine tried to eat my fabric again, at 7:30 p.m. on the night of the fateful Mad Men Costume Party!).

At the last minute, I chose to add a fabric covered belt in a cute contrasting cotton fabric I had in my stash, making good use of Coletterie’s fabric covered belt tutorial. I didn’t find a kit allowing me to cover the buckle with fabric, but all in all, it came out looking great. Also, I didn’t have the hole punch tool and eyelets (it was Saturday night, on Easter week-end…), so I just punched a hole through the belting material and covering fabric, covered everything in Fray Stop, and promising myself to “fix it later”.


Mad Men Dress Challenge #2: Seemingly endless pattern adjustments!


I should probably mention the fact that even though I’m organizing these blog posts sequentially as well as thematically, I had already finished my Mad Men dress by the time I started writing. I was on a deadline for Tango Social Club’s Mad Men Costume Party, slated for Saturday, March 30th.

After spending hours online looking at sewing blogs, I was forced to admit I’d have to make a muslin for this dress, as instructed on the Sewaholic’s blog. Even though the whole process looked lengthy, I knew I’d need to go through it because though my measurements are close to the hourglass figures depicted in vintage pattern art, I am definitely NOT a perfect match. Some modifications would definitely be required…

The Simplicity pattern I used (Paris Fashion 4950) was a size 14 Misses; the measurements for that size are as follows:

  • Bust: 34″
  • Waist: 26″
  • Hips: 36″

Having read all about vintage patterns before, I knew I’d have to make some adjustments, but how many, I simply had no idea!  My measurements, as previously mentioned, are close but not quite a match to this pattern’s size 14:

  • Bust: 33″
  • Waist: 26″
  • Hips: 35″

Looking at those numbers and at my rather complete collection of padded and push-up bras, I thought I’d simply be doing a small bust adjustment (as opposed to the standard full bust adjustment which is documented all over the place online), because, uh, when God was handing out goodies, I was short-changed in the bust area. Yes indeed, Marilyn Monroe, I am not. Thankfully, I found Moonbeam’s detailed tutorial explaining the slash and pivot technique:

small bust adjustment

Using this technique, I modified the original bodice pattern piece quite a bit:


I shifted the side piece inwards 1.5″ and removed 5/8″ off the center seam. I ended up keeping the bust dart even though it was narrower after the small bust adjustment. I also redrew the waist dart, as per the instructions in the tutorial. Then I lengthened the waist by an half an inch, to make sure my bodice wasn’t too short. And *finally*, I also had to redraw the armscythe, both to accommodate the pattern modifications I’d made and to make the shoulders narrower…can I just say how much of a challenge it was without a French curve on hand (which I eventually went to buy out of total frustration). Here’s what my redrawn pattern looks like now:


Thinking I was out of the woods, I made the muslin for the bodice and found that I had tons of “poof” in the back, which also happened when I made my Walkway dress.  After doing some research, I discovered that I needed to measure my back to see if it matched up remotely with my back bodice piece. I found a few pages from the “Perfect Fit” book that were quite enlightening.back measurement

When I had my back measured, I discovered my shoulders aren’t the only narrow part of my body. Turns out the pattern measured 15.5″ across the back, while I measure 13″. Oops. Obviously, I needed to make an important adjustment to the back bodice pattern piece as well! The Perfect Fit book gave me some hints as to how to do make such an adjustment.

Narrow back adjustment

I followed these instructions exactly and slid the middle section inwards for a maximum recommended amount of 1″ (on each side). This narrowed the back bodice piece to 13.5″ from arm crease to arm crease. I figured the extra 0.5″ inch would be required for some ease in the fabric. I lengthened the bodice the same amount as for the front bodice (0.5″). And then, with my trusty new French curve (love.that.thing) I redrew the armscythe as well to match up with the front bodice pattern piece. So I went from this:


To this:


I ended up with a muslin that looked like this:




Overall, I was satisfied with the fit of the bodice in the front, but when I looked at the back, I realized that the shoulder are looked too wide for my body, so I narrowed the shoulders a little more by redrawing the armscythe again but kept the shoulder darts intact in the back..

Phew! Did you manage to keep up with my endless fiddling? I barely did! By the time I had the modified pattern pieces for the bodice, I needed to take a break from the dress!

Mad Men Dress Challenge #2: yeah baby!

Having missed the first one entirely seeing as I wasn’t *yet* retro sewing obsessed, I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon for this year’s Mad Men Dress Challenge, hosted by magnificently talented Julia Bobbin.


After perusing perused last year’s amazing creations, I decided to get my inspiration from Jane Sterling’s pale blue dress.


I loved the tie at the neck as well as the fact that the dress didn’t look super tight, like some of Joan’s outfits. Also, keep in mind that I was preparing this dress for an Argentine Tango Mad Men costume party, hosted by one of my favourite milongas Tango Social Club. For the uninitiated, a milonga is both a very upbeat style of tango as well as an evening of dance. I’ve been involved with Argentine Tango for nearly 9 years now, to the point where most of my free time revolves around learning, practicing or dancing tango. So, if I was going to make a retro-inspired Mad Men dress, I had to take into account the large backsteps and embellishments we generally do when we dance tango.

Like another blogger who was inspired by this dress last year, I chose to use the Simplicity Paris Fashion pattern, which I thankfully found on eBay for a steal! I did however choose to use the sleeveless model, because…one sweats A LOT when dancing tango:


As for the colour, I wanted something that was a bit more suited to me darker skin tone, so I chose a royal blue crepe which I found on sale at my local big box fabric store:


So, all this excitement lead me to believe that it would be an easy-peasy project, especially after having made done the Walkway dress sew along at Edelweiss Patterns. Little did I know I’d be fiddling with the bodice for DAYS trying to successfully complete a narrow back adjustment and a small bust adjustment (insert scary movie music here). But that adventure, I’ll save for my next post!

Adventures in vintage sewing: the walkway dress

So, I’ve been wanting to learn how to sew something more complex than the tango shoe bags I made last year:

Sac doré/gold shoe bag

The first one was just an experiment, which turned out rather nicely. Then someone suggested I make a bag for two pairs of shoes, since I always carry more than one pair with me (one with lower heels and one with ridiculously high 3 inch heels):

Sac rose/pink shoe bag

So the pink shoe bag was born, with some handy shoulder straps and pretty ribbons to close up the bag.

But bags are just straight lines and embellishments. There’s no real fitting involved…so I started looking online  for an easy project to start with. That’s when I happened on this:


The envelope drawings looked so deliciously vintage, and yet it looked so easy to make…until of course I read the pattern reviews online. Ugh. Apparently, the Butterick pattern redraft wasn’t fitted quite so well, and quite a few seamstresses had experienced a great deal of frustration with the “modern fit” of the pattern. Boo-urns. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.

Then, I found the sew along at Edelweiss Patterns. Thank the lord. Katrina’s sew along was so clear and easy to follow, that after pouring over it for days on end, I decided to try it out.

The first thing I did was sew the foundation garment: the crinoline.

My crinoline

This part was relatively easy though perhaps I will add some ribbon to the tiers next time, to make sewing through the crinoline smoother, much like Sugardale instructed in her petticoat blog post. A few times, my machine decided it was on a crinoline diet and went to town. Aieeeee!

Next I went to town on fitting the pattern, as Katrina instructed in week 1 of her sew along. I’ll spare you the pictures of me in my undies with my mom helping me pin the tissue paper properly.

What this exercise helped me discover was the fact that though I generally measure close to the standard vintage pattern measurements for the waist and hips (I’m 26 inches in the waist and 35 inches in the hips), my upper body is far more slender. I measure 33 inches in the high bust and my shoulders are super narrow. How narrow? I didn’t think to check at that time. I simply found that there was far too much sleeve hanging off my shoulder, and I needed to widen the bust dart to pinch away all the fabric hanging off my chest. Yeah, dead sexy.

I redrew the armscye a bit, but VERY conservatively. Next time, I think I’ll fork out the money for a French curve and really go to town, because I clearly have a narrow back and shoulders, and very little chest (thank you Asian genes).

Once that was done, I started cutting my fabric, a yellow gingham that I underlined with white broadcloth, as per the instructions I found on the Sewaholic blog. Damn I love the internet. You can find everything there.

Walkway dress in progress

Afterwards, following Katrina’s instructions for week 2 of the sew along, I sewed in my dart on the bodice and back of the dress.

Walkway dress in progress

Things were coming together nicely!!

Finally, I sewed the shoulder seams and as per Katrina’s instructions, I let the dress hang for…a long while. I know you’re supposed to let the dress hang for at least 24 hours before hemming it, but mine’s been there for several days…because I dread having to hem it! I have no dress form and I assume that the process will take quite some time…

Walkway dress in progress 2

And that’s how far my walkway dress has gotten. Having modeled it for my mother who told me she thought the thing was “far too big for you”, I realize that I might need to rework the shoulder seams (because of my darn narrow shoulders!). Beyond that, I consider the experiment VERY educational when it comes to tackling the basics of dress making.

Next blog post: the finished product!