Anatomy of a 1950s Vintage Dress


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This beautiful 1950s strapless dress was loaned to me by a dear friend (who is 90 years young) . It belonged to his late wife and is saved as part of the inheritance of true vintage dresses I’m sure his three daughters and two granddaughters will squabble over. There’s evidence of a label that has been cut out, so I can’t identify who the maker was. His late wife, like myself, found labels to be intolerably itchy.

1950 Turquoise dress 01

Its made of heavy, dark turquoise taffeta. The pleating of the crossover bodice just astounds me.1950 Turquoise dress 02

The corded and topstitched lines on the 3/4 circle skirt help it stand out.1950 Turquoise dress 03

Here you can see underneath how the cords were applied. They were simply sandwiched between the fashion fabric and a wide strip of mid-weight muslin-type fabric that was cut on the bias.1950 Turquoise dress 05

There’s an underskirt of un-hemmed, stiff cheesecloth-like fabric.1950 Turquoise dress 06

The bodice is boned on all the seams with most of the bone casings applied with hand-whipped stitches.1950 Turquoise dress 081950 Turquoise dress 10

It has a side lapped zipper, a metal one which is very typical for the era.1950 Turquoise dress 11

These tiny hooks helped to keep the zipper hidden. Such incredible attention to the details!1950 Turquoise dress 25

It appears the underskirt was attached after the main body of the dress was constructed. It’s edged with bias strips to keep it free from the zipper with a snap to close it. I want to try that technique on my next lined dress. Also notice they didn’t bother with a stay tape around the waist. The dress doesn’t seem to have suffered much without one.1950 Turquoise dress 14.JPG

It’s difficult to see here. The pleated bodice has a lining which is not attached at the top edge. I’m attempting to pull it open here so we can get a look.1950 Turquoise dress 20

And lastly the hem is a tiny rolled machine stitched one. They folded it once, stitched it, then folded it a second time and stitched again.1950 Turquoise dress 12

I hope you enjoyed this dissection of a vintage dress as much I did!


Vogue 7488 Men’s Vests – construction



Why, why, why do I do this to myself!?! I have an impending deadline and I have to go and choose the most difficult version in the pattern envelope. I have got to remember to check online if other seamstresses have tried a particular pattern and what, if any, difficulties they encountered. Vogue 7488 vest B is one such pattern I should have checked first [pounds forehead against the sewing room wall here].

My husband and I are ballroom dance instructors and are participating in a fundraiser hosted by our local library. It’s based on the “Dancing With The Stars” or BBC’s “Strictly Come Dancing” premise of taking a non-dancer (a notable community “star”) and teaching a routine to perform but minus the snarky judging panel. My husband and his “Community Star” are going to do a tango to “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” from Evita. The theme of this year’s fundraiser is “Dancing On Broadway”. And as with most local community fundraisers, costuming is on a very tight budget and we performers have to come up with our own. My inspiration for hubby’s costume:

AYME OLIVO as EVA PERON and DAVIS GAINES as JUAN PERON in Musical Theatre West’s Pruduction of EVITA.

Easy enough. I don’t need to come up with a full tux or Argentinian Military uniform. Just a nice tux shirt, white bowtie, a fancy vest and a blue & white sash. So I pulled my never used Vogue 7488 out of the pattern stash. I thought the design lines of View B would be elegant with it’s fancy lapels. I used a lovely white on white jacquard remnant I had in my fabric stash, always a plus to use something I already had. Assembly was going along with no hitches even though the instructions for attaching the under lapel piece to the front are unclear. The illustration just shows the end result and not how to get there. But I am comfortable with stitching pivot points. The trick is to stitch from the pivot point out one side, then manipulate the fabric so you can stitch again from the pivot point out the other side.

First is some stitching to reinforce the pivot area.

Yay! Looks just like the illustration. So far so good. Then OMG the pivot point on the notched collar when attaching the the lining/facing to the main body of the fabric. ACK!!!!! This is all you get in the instructions to do this VERY complicated step:Huh?!?! REALLY?!? You’ve got to be freakin’ kidding me! So here is how I did it:

I am not happy with the end result. There is a big lump under the pivot point area and it’s not a very sharp “V”, but more of an inelegant “U”. I am out of time, patience and out of fabric. Thank goodness no one is going to see it up close. Next time I’ll stick to the simpler vest without fancy lapels! I was so frustrated this pattern went right into the fireplace and up in flames.

Match Your Shoes Pattern Review Challenge – Finished Dress


Wow, brocade is a pain to sew. It frays if you even breathe on it. I got the royal blue rose jacquard satin fabric used for this project from and it was described as a “lightweight satin”. It is more of a mid-weight bordering on the heavy side brocade with the traditional long threads in the rose design, hence the terrible fraying. To stop the immediate fraying, each pattern piece had to be sewn as it came off the cutting table around all the edges with the 3-Step-Zigzag stitch.

I used a vintage pattern, Hollywood 945 and besides grading up 2 sizes, I had to make some adjustments to the fit, since my waist is not the same circumference as my neck as apparently women’s waists were during WWII. 

I took in the shoulders by 1 inch and skipped the shoulder pads. I already have broad shoulders and padding them makes me resemble a football (American Football) player. I also fully lined the bodice rather than the typical facings they always seemed to use then. I think they had to do that because of rationing to save fabric or maybe that was just the way dressmaking was done then.

I hemmed it above my knees because I’ll have to dance in this dress and will be doing a couple of high kicks. The shoes I matched for Pattern Review’s challenge are a pair of ballroom dance shoes. Low heels because my dance partner for this number is of short stature.

I skipped the bodice bow because I wanted to wear this beautiful pair of vintage rhinestone dress clips.

I not really pleased with the dress because of the fabric. It’s fairly stiff and it doesn’t show the side draping effect. I had to tame the side drape pleating by ironing it down with lots of steam. Otherwise it bumped out in a strange lump at my waist and not even the bow could hide it. I also made a change to the pattern by putting in a center back seam zipper with an anachronistic invisible zipper. I hate having to struggle into my dresses and the original keyhole back neck with a side seam of hooks or snaps just won’t do it for me.I would like to try this pattern again in a rayon challis, the kind of flowing, draping fabric this pattern seems to have been designed for. Here is the matching hat I made for the dance demo:Blue facinator

I just love any opportunity to wear my vintage Weiss rhinestone jewelry.

I think Jim did a remarkable job for a man who has NEVER danced before:

Pattern Review’s Match Your Shoes Contest 2018

Pattern Review’s Match Your Shoes Contest couldn’t have been more timely. The annual Dancing With Our Stars, a local library fundraiser show, is coming up in March. I’m the choreographer/trainer for my “Community Star” and I have two pairs of gorgeous royal blue ballroom dance shoes to chose from that I’ll need to make a costume to match. My number is set in the 1940s and is a tribute to the Film Noir, hard-boiled detective genre. So I’ll be using one of my vintage patterns from the WWII era.

Royal Blue dance shoes

Pattern Review describes this sewing challenge as, “We have all been there … sew a great outfit, but you have no shoes to match! So let’s approach it from the other direction. If you sew your outfit to match your shoes, you will be ready to step out the door as soon as you have tied off the last thread! The object of this contest is to sew an outfit to match a pair of shoes.”

Hollywood 945 & Blue Fabric

The pattern is Hollywood 945 from one of my favorite vintage pattern suppliers on Etsy, Vintage4Me2. The royal blue rose jacquard satin fabric is from It has a little heavier hand than I thought it would, but I think it will drape the way I want it to. That’s one of the drawbacks of buying fabric online, you can’t feel the fabric or test the drape in person before you buy. But the color matches the shoes perfectly so I’ll just have to make it work. My inspiration is bad girl Joan Bennet in “Scarlet Street” 1945.

Joan Bennet Scarlett Street

I plan to make a fascinator hat to match with supplies from Etsy’s Petershams Millinery.

Blue Hat Supplies

I hoping to be a dangerous dame in royal blue!


Film Fashion – The Time In Between (El Tiempo Entre Costuras)

Here’s another film series about a Seamstress circa WWII. “The Time In Between” is about Sira Quiroga, a young Spanish dressmaker who is engaged to a solid upstanding, if not very exciting, young man. She meets a suave, sweet-talkin’ typewriter salesman who sweeps her off her feet and upends her life. The film is in Spanish, so if you don’t speak it, you’ll have to read the subtitles.

It is set in the time when Spain is being torn apart by a civil war and the new regime’s growing alliances with Nazi Germany. Sira, smart, gutsy and resourceful has the  ability to whip up designer duds on a moment’s notice. She is a skillful seamstress who learned to sew at her unmarried, single mother’s knee. And then starting as a teen, works with her mother (Dolores) in a haute couture workshop.

After Sira jilts her fiancé, she runs off with her cad of a lover, and is callously abandoned by him in Morocco. She has to quickly scramble to raise some cash and agrees to run guns to raise the cash to return to Spain and start her life anew. She opens her own atelier and becomes couturier to the Nazi wives stationed in Madrid. Urged on by her new friend, the real-life British spy Rosalinda Fox, Sira too becomes a spy to aid the British cause.

The costuming is pretty freakin’ fabulous in this film. Even the day dresses are lovely and spot-on!

Here are Sira and Rosalinda on a picnic:

I just dig Rosalinda’s sunglasses:

And everyone wears hats or headscarves:

Here are some of Sira’s coats with fur accents:

Oh yeah, of course there are the evening gowns:

Here is Rosalinda in a “Fortuny” gown. As mistress of a powerful man, she can afford to wear such an expensive gown:

I love the embroidery on the collar of Sira’s cocktail dress:

The series is based on the book by Maria Duenas. Binge watch the series on Netflix even if it’s for nothing but the orgy of time period costumes!


Film Fashion – The War Bride

I have a fondess for films about seamstresses. “The War Bride” (2001), is a little known film about a plucky English War bride who marries and has a baby with a Canadian soldier and moves to his family’s farm in Alberta.

The War Bride 7

The story begins in London, where Lily (Anna Friel) working as a seamstress meets Charlie (Aden Young), a Canadian soldier who is about to enter into the fight. In short order they fall in love and marry. Then Lily has a baby while Charlie is off fighting at the front.

The War Bride 5

Lily likes to keep her sense of style even while London is bombed out around her.The War Bride 1

Lily, to escape the bombing and protect her daughter, travels to Canada to live with her new in-laws.

The War Bride 6

She meets her new mother-in-law, Betty (Brenda Fricker) & sister-in-law, Sylvia (Molly Parker) at the train station, and whoa! They are less than welcoming and don’t hide the fact that they are not pleased to see her. Here Lily and baby Lindy wear smart matching red hats while her in-laws wear a pair of dowdy brown coats.

War Bride

She also finds that the sprawling homestead/estate Charlie exaggerated about is actually a barren farm without running water and miles away from the nearest town. Lily attempts to make the best of things but is met with hostility at every turn. Sylvia and the other women in town don’t much care for the way that glamorous and cosmopolitan Lily dresses. Sylvia is disabled and dresses very plain and dowdy until Lily breaks out the sewing machine and tries to prettify Sylvia.

The War Bride 4
Lily also tries to win over some of the local town’s womenfolk by sewing very pretty lingerie. I wish I had photos of the pieces Lily sewed up in what looks like peach rayon, which would have been very typical for its time. Lily’s courage and sense of humor carry her through all the ups and downs in the story which concludes with a happy-ish ending.

This is sweet, touching film just right for a rainy day. I saw it on Amazon.

The War Bride 8


Vintage Window Shopping

Have you seen  #thevintagefashionchallenge happening right now on instagram? Wow! I am inspired to go “window shopping” for vintage dresses. Like this 1950s battenberg lace gown, with a boned bodice and grosgrain waist cinched. The sash crosses the bodice and forms a rosette at the hip that then trails to the hem. Stunning!

Or this glam 50’s gold sequin wiggle dress with ruched chiffon waist and waterfall in back at Butchwaxvintage on Etsy.

gold sequins

Or since summer is just around the corner, this Hawaiian cocktail dress.


This black dress with the illusion netting a stitched appliqué rose is from the 1940s. It has that quintessential sweetheart neckline so popular in the WWII era. The side hip row of gathered poofs is a nice detail. I like how they were able to add pizzaz with these kinds of details even though fabric was rationed.

This pretty gown was well loved. It’s rayon with a taffeta lining. The lovely, drapey attached shawl on the back looks floaty and feminine.

Or how about a pretty day dress like this rayon floral novelty print from the 1940’s. What an unusual pretty print!


Ah ha! And a red dress similar to the one Kate Winslet wears as “Tilly” in “The Dressmaker”.


If only I were a thin slip of a girl, I could make my dreams of a tight red wiggle dress come true. Sigh.

Film Fashion – The Dressmaker

I just watched “The Dressmaker” on  Amazon Prime.  This black comedy, starring Kate Winslet, just oozes with Haute Couture confections. The heroine “Tilly” (Winslet) returns to her baked dry, detestable Australian outback town in 1951 to wreck revenge on the vicious townsfolk for ostracizing her and her mother. She comes armed with her sewing machine and her fabulous haute couture style.

The film had two costume designers, Margot Wilson (won AACTA Award for Best Costume Design), who worked exclusively on Winslet, and Marion Boyce, who costumed the rest of the cast. Here, “Tilly” looks so cool and put together while she smacks golf balls into the town. The detail on her hip for holding golf tees almost looks like something for holding bullets.

Here’s Tilly in a rich, scarlet moire silk dress she wears to distract the boys during a rugby match. Costume designer Wilson said she had this fabric in her stash that she bought 25 years ago in Milan. Hey, I knew there had to be a good reason why so many of us sewists have our fabric stashes. We will use that gorgeous fabric someday!
I think this is my new favorite red vixen dress. Previously it was one of the “Joan” dresses on Mad Men.

This mustard colored bodice has really nice design lines/seam details. Here’s “Tilly” getting closer to handsome “Teddy” (Liam Hemsworth).

In the story, Tilly’s magic at the sewing machine reveals her incredible creativity and the power of costumes to change someone. The biggest transformation she does in the film is for  “Gertrude”, the shopkeeper’s frumpy daughter, and turns her into a glam doll so she can catch a husband.

And so “Gertrude” becomes “Trudy”.

The other malicious women in town also turn to “Tilly” to glam them up as well.

Tilly, about to set fire to her childhood home (behind her on the hill), is ready to leave this one-horse town in a richly tailored New Look-inspired mustard coat and feathered hat at the end of the movie.

And. Well. Just because, here’s one last look at handsome “Teddy”, as he strips down to get his measurements taken by “Tilly” for a custom suit.

New Look 6156 in Sequins for a Dance Show

Here is my disco dress for the dance number I choreographed for my “Community Star”, middle school math teacher Mark G. I seem to be getting recruited annually for the Atascadero Library Fundraiser “Dancing With Our Stars 2017”. I may as well enjoy it while I can. It’s great fun. Looking at my calendar, Mark and I logged 120+ hours training in the dance studio.

New Look 6156

New Look 6156 is a dress with darted bodice with a slightly dropped waist and 5 gore flared skirt. I used the size 12 with just minor alterations for fit. The fabric is sequins on polyester net fabric. It is fully lined with black rayon bemberg. I did make a mock-up in muslin to test the fit and style changes I made. There was going to be no room for alterations once I starting working with the sequined fabric. Wow, is sewing with sequins is time intensive. I didn’t give myself nearly enough time to make this dress. I had to remove all the sequins from all the seam allowances with a seam ripper. This is what took FOREVER to do!!!New Look 6156 bThen I had to hand sew them back to fill in some of the bare spots along the seams. But hand sewing the sequins was taking way too long. I finally had to resort to gluing them on because I was rapidly running out of time. New Look 6156 dE6000 glue held like cement. I didn’t lose a single glued-on sequin.New Look 6156 cIt took days longer to sew this dress because of this. I made the mistake of not allowing the extra time, so I was hemming the dress in the afternoon to wear it to that night’s performance. I’m sure there are lots of you seamstresses out there who can relate. And speaking of hems, I used “Seams Great” in black by overlapping 1/4 inch on the right side of the fabric.

Seams Great

Then using a denim needle, sewed it on right through the sequins. I didn’t bother to remove them from the hem edge. I had read somewhere online not to bother with sequin removal there. Then the hem was folded, ironed with a pressing cloth and hand stitched with basically a running stitch. It turned out just fine.

NewLook6156 hem

New Look 6156 f

Style Changes: This pattern has a very wide neckline. I brought the shoulders in and made a U shaped neckline. Since I was using this dress for a dance show, I needed it to stay on my shoulders. Plus I wanted to cover up the bra straps. I also shortened the hem to above the knee.New Look 6156 e

 This dress was very time-consuming but it was worth it. It shined like crazy in the stage lights.

Mark & Christina 6

Tear-Off Costumes with Burda 7057 & McCalls 9235

I needed a pair of tear-off costumes for my dance routine for the Atascadero Library Fundraiser “Dancing With Our Stars 2017”. This year I had another middle school math teacher for my “Community Star”.

Our dance routine starts out with the overture to “The Sound of Music”, so I needed a couple of Alpine looking outfits. I used Burda Young 7057 for the dirndl dress and McCalls 9235 (a re-issue of Kwik Sew’s 3422) for Mark’s shirt.

I did some research about tear away costumes (mostly by male strippers) and it was the general opinion that it is easier to have the tear away section on the back of the garment and pull it off by grabbing the front rather than popping it open from the front and struggling out of the sleeves.

McCalls 9235 a

Mark’s shirt is a cotton gingham from I cut a size medium even though Mark has a very slight build. The shirt needed to cover up his disco shirt underneath, so I deliberately made this shirt roomy.

I cut the back pattern piece into 2 sections down the center back and added an inch to the seam allowances so I could overlap the center seam with 2 inch long Velcro strips, for tearing off quickly. I sewed the velcro pieces about 3-4 inches apart. I had to make the collar in two overlapping pieces at the center back as well.

It worked great for the dance performance and Mark was able to get out of it in 2 seconds flat.

Burda 7057

Burda 7057 bSorry the photo is so overexposed. It is a bright sunny day. My dress was a bit more complicated. The fabric I used for the bodice and dirndl is quilting cotton “Bryant Park” by Exclusively Quilters, which I also used to line the bodice. The blouse is an embroidered eyelet with scalloped borders on both selvedges. The apron is organdy. The laces and the lace eyelets are just a package of double fold bias tape. I have a set of decorative metal eyelets that I got from an Etsy vendor in Germany, but I decided not to use them since this is a costume that will be worn for 3 shows and then donated to my local dance studio.Burda 7057 a

I altered the neckline of the blouse to a round neckline for more coverage. I cut the sleeve hems right on the edge of the scalloped eyelet, which not only is a pretty detail, it saved some hemming time. I also cut the other scalloped edge off the fabric and used it as the ruffle piece for the neckline. The sleeves are super poufy, but since this outfit is meant as a visual joke, it worked for me. If I were to make this for an actual Oktoberfest party, I would pinch out some of the poufy fullness in the tissue sleeve pattern.

Mark & Christina 2

For the dirndl dress, I replaced the gathered skirt with a circle skirt. My post-menopausal waist has thickened (darn it!!!) plus I am short-waisted as it is and I do not need more fabric bulk there. I cut the center front bodice panel on the fold to eliminate the front zipper. I added width to the center back pieces so they would overlap by 2 inches, and sewed pieces of Velcro every 3-4 inches down the center back. It stayed securely closed even with all the silly spinning. I did tack the blouse and apron to the dress so it all comes off in one piece to reveal my disco dress, New Look 6156.

Burda 7057 d

You can see the Velcro strips along the back edge in the photo above. It took me about 3 days to cut and sew this dress. I deliberately took my time since I had some figuring out to do to make this work as a tear-off.

Mark & Christina 4

I would like to make an actual Oktoberfest dress sometime, but that can wait until next October.