It’s absolutely crazy how fast time is flying by these days! It feels like only a couple of weeks ago I was starting placement and now I’m almost finished my first semester – it’s been a very busy year so far and at times exhausting, but on the whole, I’m definitely enjoying it 🙂 On top of that, I’m also continuing my French studies, planning an overseas trip, and helping prepare for our up-coming house move (seriously cannot wait to set up my new sewing space!). On top of THAT, I just recently celebrated my 21st birthday! It was a pretty fabulous affair, a big party with both friends and family (and I have quite a lot of both!). I don’t think anyone who knows me was surprised to find: 1) there was a theme, 2) the theme was ‘Decades of Style’, and required everyone to dress up in classy vintage garb and 3) obviously, OBVIOUSLY I had made my outfit for the occasion! I’ve been posting little teasers of my progress on Instagram for a while, so without any further ado – my 1950s birthday bombshell dress (ft. incredible Singer birthday cake, courtesy of my incredibly talented grandmother)!
I don’t think anyone reading here will be surprised to know that I’d been planning my outfit for my 21st for quite a while. I think I made my first original sketches mid-last year – as you can see, the design evolved quite a bit from then!
As my birthday drew closer, I decided that I didn’t actually want quite such a ballgown – I’m not shy of being overdressed, but the cost in both time and money for this style of outfit seemed a bit much. Then at the start of this year, we took a holiday to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands (which you might remember from some pretty cool location shots that I got!), and I stumbled across some absolutely amazing fabric, which instantly got me thinking about a classic Shaheen-inspired tiki dress. I got to sketching again, and came up with this design:
Now THAT’s starting to look familiar, isn’t it? 😀 I hadn’t originally intended this design for my birthday frock, but as soon as the thought occurred to me I knew it was exactly what I wanted: elegant enough to make me feel like a birthday princess, with unmistakable retro flair. I also knew exactly what patterns from my stash could achieve this design – a combo of Gertie patterns, the halter top from Gertie Sews Vintage Casual and the pencil skirt from Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing; and seeing as I’d already made up both patterns before, I knew how they went together and how they fit. Finally, WeSewRetro is currently hosting the ‘I Dream of Tiki’ dress sew-a-long – I desperately wanted to participate and here was the perfect opportunity. Three weeks before my birthday, I decided it was time to get cracking!
Firstly, I had to make my pattern alterations for the design features – the neckline band and the faux-sarong overlay. The neckline was pretty straightforward – I just cut out two strips of fabric double the width I wanted and a bit longer than the upper bra cup piece, to leave me some wriggle room. The skirt overlay was drafted using the original front skirt piece, with a bit of length chopped off the bottom (as it wouldn’t be hemmed the same way as the skirt), and some width taken off one side, to help create the wrap effect. I then slashed and spread to create three wide pleats:
I also decided to include a pocket, because all dresses need pockets – fitted or not 😛 I could then begin construction! This baby was sewn almost entirely on my gorgeous vintage Singer, with Janome input only for the shirring and zip insertion. One feature of my Singer was especially helpful – the bias binding foot! Previously, I’d only applied binding using the two pass method; with the foot, the binding is fed in and wrapped around the fabric edge for you – soooo much faster! This made it really easy for me to finish all the edges with bias binding before I started construction, which really sped things up and made for a wonderfully neat finish 🙂 The skirt overlay was also finished with bias binding due to its curved edge, but that was flipped completely under so as to be hidden from view.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing, however – I made more than a few careless mistakes with this dress! First I accidentally cut a hole in the middle of one of my finished bust cups – good thing I had so much fabric to spare. Then I realised once I put the skirt together I had been way too enthusiastic in altering it to be smaller after the last version, and had to let the seams out as much as they could go (good thing it was supposed to be a very fitted dress)! I made so many of these little mistakes – however they were all fixable in the end and I am very glad that none of them ruined it or spoiled the effect 🙂 The dress also has bodice boning and a waist-stay, both for structure and for an added dose of retro charm. I finished off the ensemble with a matching bolero made from the same free bolero pattern I used last year to go with Butterick 5882, again omitting the facings and using bias binding to finish.
Now, for what I’m sure we’ve all been waiting for – pictures of me all dolled up! 😉 On the night of my birthday, I wore the dress with my What Katie Did Glamour Merry Widow and back seam stockings, with a vintage 1950s costume jewellery set given to me by my parents as part of my present (vintage jewellery sets are the best because they are waaaaay more likely to have screw-on earrings – no pierced ears here!). My very talented sister did my hair, and also very generously got me my make-up done as part of my gift. I think I might do a separate post on some of the amazing sewing swag I scored for my birthday, but for now, and without further ado – the photos from the night!
And finally, I’ve actually already had a chance to wear this outfit again! I went along with mum to hear the author of The Dressmaker talk (and got the book signed and outfit complimented by the author, no less!), and there was a 1950s dress code for the evening. So here it is styled slightly differently, and with the removable straps I made for it (which can also be worn halter style)!
Well if you’ve made it to the end of this post, I commend you both for your perseverance and your indulgence! I’m only a couple of weeks from the end of my semester now, so I’m hoping I’ll be posting again soon enough – hopefully about my new sewing space!
Until next time,
Miss Maddy xx