A new version of an old favourite
One of the first dresses I ever made when I first started sewing as a teenager was an old Simplicity prom dress pattern. It had a basic princess line top with a ruched bust drape, a gathered skirt and halter tie straps. I loved that pattern – it fit me perfectly, was easy to make, and (although it’s not a vintage pattern) had that classic 50s style. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with mum learning how to cut the pieces, and sew each step (thanks mum!). I learned a few good lessons from this pattern – how to bone and line a bodice, how to gather a skirt, and how to turn and press self fabric straps. Needless to say, I made it up in a few incarnations over the years. Unfortunately, I eventually grew and the dresses and pattern sadly no longer fit. I still have them folded away in my wardrobe though – too much sentimental value to throw away.
I’ve always meant to make a new version of that dress, as it’s such a lovely and classic style. When I spotted this delicious floral print dotted swiss at a Cleggs sale a while back, I immediately knew it was the perfect fabric for the job.
I self-drafted the pattern for a”new and improved” version of my old dress. I wanted the same look – full gathered skirt and ruched sweetheart bodice- but made a few adjustments for the new dress.
I started with a self-drafted princess bodice with a sweetheart neckline. In the original pattern, the bust ruching was just a gathered rectangle of fabric topstitched over a princess bodice. Very quick and easy to sew, but the gathers never sat quite right over the bust (particularly with a fuller bust) and the topstitching tended to come loose in the wash. So instead, I added an under-bust seam which allowed me to stitch the drape securely into the seam. Instead of a plain rectangle, I slashed and spread the upper bodice pieces to make a shaped drape which (after a few attempts) sits smoothly across the bust.
I also swapped the rectangular gathered dirndl skirt in the original pattern for a circle skirt, since bulky gathers at the waist tend to make me look wide. Using a circle skirt with a very lightly gathered waist allowed me to get the look and fullness of a dirndl without the waist bulk. I really like how this turned out, though it ate up a lot of fabric (I only just managed to fit everything on 3 metres of 150cm fabric).
Once drafted, the pattern was pretty straightforward to make up. The swiss dot was an absolute breeze to work with. Since it was slightly sheer, I lined the whole dress in crisp white poplin. I also underlined the bust drape with cotton voile to give the ruching some body and avoid any droopiness. Nobody likes a droopy bust drape! I decided not to bone the bodice so that the sundress would be comfortable and easy to move in.
I finished the dress with a hand picked lapped zipper and narrow rolled hem – something my teenage self would never have had the patience for! It took a while, but I love the finished details.
Overall, I’m really happy with how this dress turned out. It’s cool and comfortable to wear and can be styled lots of different ways.Worn with a flouncy petticoat and peep toe heels it has that classic vintage look, but with a chambray shirt and chunky heels I can add a modern twist.
If I make it again (which I think I will!) there are a few things I would change:
- There is a bit more bulk in the centre of the bust drape than needs to be there – I might trim the drape down next time.
- The shoulder ties are a little short – an extra 5cm would make the bow ends hang better.
- Next time I might try invisibly stitching the bust gathers to the underlining so that there’s no chance of them bunching or shifting out of place over time. It’s fine on this dress, but with a heavier fabric it could be an issue.