Is there any satisfaction greater than completing a project with a deadline before the deadline? I don’t always quite manage it (finished my sister’s birthday present at 2:30AM the morning of her birthday), but man, isn’t it a great feeling when you do? Case in point, the outfit I made for my sister’s birthday party: Butterick 5882, and a matching bolero!
I fell in love with this pattern as soon as I saw it online, and had the good luck to snatch it up during a 3 for $10 Butterick sale at Spotlight. The fabric is vintage and very special: a light blue Swiss dot that my great-grandmother bought years ago, and was given to me by my grandmother at the start of the year. To me, it was a pattern/fabric match made in heaven – all that remained was to find an excuse to make a party dress. So when my lovely little sister decided to have a fancy high tea, I finally had everything I need: means, motive and opportunity 😉 I got myself some super cheap white polycotton for the lining, a zip, boning and thread, and set to work!
I should probably start off by thanking my other grandmother for her incredible cutting skills, which left me with about a metre of spare fabric in both the blue and the lining. I decided to cut a straight size twelve – although according to size charts, my bust measurement is a 14, the 12 fit my waist, and I was suspicious about the amount of ease. And I was right! As soon as I’d basted the bodice pieces together to check the fit, it needed to be taken in an extra centimetre at each side seam, and at the centre back at the waistline, which then tapered to almost nothing at the top. Construction could now begin in earnest!
This was the first time I’d worked off a commercial clothing pattern in quite a while (as you may already have realised, this is my first time posting about one!), and I have to say, it was nice working with something that was not the result of my own (very dodgy) drafting skills. I generally followed the order of construction, making changes only to the attachment of the outer to the lining; I’d chosen to use an invisible zip instead of a lapped one, so I attached the lining to the outer only around the top of the bodice, and not also at the waistline as instructed. I later tacked the two layers together at each seam line around the waistline, just to make sure they sat against each other nicely.
The most complex part of the dress was easily constructing the “bra cups” that sit in the neckline of the shelf bust; the pleating was a bit fiddly, and basting separately all the layers of the outer, the bra cups, their lining and the neckline/straps piece was a bit of a pain. All these layers presented a bit of a challenge too when it came to attaching the lining to the bodice. I won’t lie there was quite a bit of unpicking going on (and some rather strong language), after I’d ploughed through all that bulk, only to find some little puckers or a trapped layer. But I got there in the end! And I’m so delighted with the result. The dress is fully lined, the bodice is boned, and there is a waist stay inside – all lovely vintage features which I think add not only to the design and style of the dress, but also to its character. The only part of the design I find fault with is the strap piece; it’s cut on the bias, to allow for the curvature as it bends around the front, but this has meant the straps have already stretched out a little. Still, it’s not a hard fix to shorten them, and the neckline and bust is one of my favourite parts of this pattern.
And so, having finished my dress well in time (a full two days before, no less!), I turned to the left over fabric. What else could be put together in the time I had left? A few months ago, I had stumbled across a pdf pattern for a chic little bolero – which was also completely free! I’d pinned it at the time, knowing that I’d want to give it a go; now the perfect opportunity had arisen. It didn’t come with any instructions, which isn’t super surprising, given that it cost me nothing (although it is a multi-size pattern, which I was quite impressed with), so I kind of made it up as I went. Fortunately, it’s a very straightforward pattern, made even simpler by the fact that I omitted the included facings and opted to finish with bias binding instead. There were a few reasons I did this: one, time being of the essence; two, the fabric has a good amount of body already and I didn’t think it needed it; and three, I thought the white bias binding would give a really nice contrast and also tie in with the white contrast on the dress.
It came together wonderfully quickly. Here’s my construction order for anyone interested (although I think it would be fairly straightforward for anyone who’s sewn a top before!):
- Sew in darts on back pieces, and press towards centre back
- Sew back pieces together at centre back, press seam open
- Attach front pieces to back at shoulder seam
- Sleeves – these you could do either the proper set-in way…or like I did them (never having set in a sleeve before and not really wanting to try when time was short) sewing them in flat
- Finish with bias binding (if not using included facing pieces)
The pattern doesn’t come with fabric recommendations or seam allowance specified; I just used the standard 1.5 cm and it worked fine. The sizing is pretty spot on – I made an 8, the smallest size (going from the waist measurement, not the bust, as I thought it would end up too big then) and the shoulder seams sit perfectly. The sleeves were a little long for my taste, but I discovered when I folded them up to try a shorter length that I really liked the look! They’re now secured at that length by the little buttons I sewed on (which I would have put on anyway, I think they’re the cutest). This was also the first time I’d used bias binding, and I’m in love! I don’t know if I’d use it on everything (I’ve definitely seen some bias binding addicts!), or if I could be bothered making my own, but it’s great to have another clean, easy finishing option in my skill set.
I had such a vision in mind for this dress, and I’m so happy it came out like I imagined! And it’s nice to know I’ve got a lovely dress pattern that I know works next time I’m making something for an event 🙂 (also, this whole outfit cost me less than $30…just sayin’). What I’m most excited about though? I know when I’ll be wearing it next! A friend’s costume party is coming up, and with a few accessories (which I’ve yet to make), this ensemble will be making another appearance. So keep an eye out!
Until next time,
Miss Maddy x
PS For those interested, to complete the retro look I wore my What Katie Did merry widow and back-seamed stockings, and my lovely pink Hell Bunny Petticoat 😉 Pretty vintage underthings are important too!