I’ve always liked shirtwaist dresses. I don’t even know what is about them; perhaps it’s that they’re an easily wearable “vintage” look, along with the fit-and-flare silhouette that suits me so well. Regardless of the reasons I’ve always wanted a wardrobe full of them. Before I started sewing, they just weren’t available to me – the only ones I ever saw ran at about $200+ which was well out of my student clothing budget.
I have tried sewing them twice before. The first, my Gertie’s Palomino Dress, was one of my favourite items for a while, but it has some serious fit issues; I successfully tackled the broad shoulder issue, but the bust darts are crazy. And I have several issues with the back – there is way too much fabric gathered into the yolk, and the shirred lower back results in some extremely unflattering gathers. I do still love this dress and get plenty of comments (including one elderly patient telling me that it took him back to the 60’s), but I don’t want to make the base pattern again.
I then tried to use my princess seam bodice sloper and the Gertie’s pattern to draft a better-fitting version, seen here. The bodice of this one fit well, but for some reason the collar (which was borrowed from the Gertie pattern) is way too short; I dislike the buttons that I chose; and it ended up with an a-line skirt because I didn’t buy enough fabric. Looking at the photos, it isn’t as bad as I remember, but I think I gave this dress away.
It’s taken me a while to get the courage to try again… and I think I’ve almost cracked it
I would go so far as to say I drafted this myself; although it’s based off several different patterns, I had to alter them significantly and have ended up with “my own” pattern. The bodice front used a combination of the Gertie Shirtwaist, La Sylphide, and my princess seam sloper. It started off with just one (vertical) dart and I ended up adding in a bust dart, by figuring out how much needed to come out of the side, marking my bust point on the muslin, and aiming the dart there (finishing 1″ before).
I then rearranged both darts to make the center of the dart parallel and perpendicular to the grainline (does it annoy you when the dart pulls funny when you’re forming it? I’d never thought about it before but figure the reason is that they’re off grain). The bodice back is the La Sylphide/my bodice sloper back piece, cut on the fold. Sleeves are from my sloper.
The collar is my only issue with the dress (GUYS THERE’S ONLY ONE THING I DON’T LIKE). I used the pattern piece from the Negroni shirt, as I think the Gertie dress uses a one-piece collar. It hasn’t worked and makes the back neckline gape weirdly. Although it’s not ideal, though, I’m perfectly happy with the whole thing because it still looks awesome and now I know. Next time I’ll draft or find a collar stand and collar.
I’ve never really done much pattern matching before – I used to not even be aware of it, and I often just bypass it on smaller print stuff. After my accidental-matching on my lobster dress, I realised how gutted I would have been if it was way off. So I decided to bite the bullet and do it.
I did it! Because it’s buttoned up and not just a regular seam, I had to work out where the two patterns would actually meet. I marked the center front on the pattern piece, then cut out one piece (on the flat). I then folded the fabric under at the center front and laid it on top of the fabric, lining up the pattern – then lair the pattern piece down (in a mirror image), removed the first bit of fabric, and unfolded the center front. If you like pictures, Sewaholic and Bind The Seams both have pictorials. I’ve just clicked that “pictorial” probably means picture tutorial.
Because the dress is only buttoned to the waist, I added a lapped zipper to the side seam. This also meant that the buttons would be non-functional, so I decided to sew most of the front shut and sew the buttons straight onto it. The top button is still functional and I had a hell of a time with my automatic buttonholer, as it wanted to make a buttonhole 3x shorter than I needed (it’s funny how a malfunctioning convenience tool makes you so much madder than if you didn’t have it at all).
Like my last few dresses (and another one almost finished), the skirt is an a-line gathered skirt, and for this version, both the front and back skirt were cut on the fold. And the hem is my first actual ever blind hem. Oh my glob guys, it is amazing – why have I never done one before? It only took a little bit more fussing with the iron and pins, and it’s such a nice finish. I’m going to be doing them a lot more.
Wowow I like this dress a lot, and apart from the collar it’s really comfortable (I keep finding myself tugging it forward a bit). It doesn’t even use up much more fabric than any other dress, so I’m hopefully going have my dream of a wardrobe half filled with shirtwaist dresses!! Just need to find the fabric for them first…
I’m also going to count this as a Sew Dolly Clackett entry. She has made a few similar shirtwaist dresses, and although it’s not her classic style I did buy the fabric because of her inspiration.
Pattern: Self-made, details in post
Fabric: Quilting cotton from fabric.com, about $30 after shipping
Notions: Buttons, 50c each. Thread, interfacing and zip from stash
I’d also like to show off another make: the Thetis Undershirt by Thread Theory.
After some cheeky pointed emails to Morgan from Thread Theory, I was lucky enough to be able to test a soon-to-be-released pattern, the Thetis Undershirt. It’s designed to be a loose, v-neck for wearing as is, or under other clothes (such as a dress shirt – so many of those need a singlet to maintain modesty), and it will be released as a FREE pattern.
It’s a straight-forward top that uses very little fabric (I used an 80cm scrap piece of cotton-spandex). It is meant to be a loose style and I prefer Mr. Guy’s tops to be a bit more fitting so I did take it in at the sides a bit – Morgan recommends going down a size from your measurements if you prefer it fitted.