Being a vintage loving gal this particular challenge is a pretty easy one for me, however, actually altering a vintage pattern isn’t always quite so easy. Back in the 1940s rationing was very much in force and people had little to eat. I know this almost first hand as I’ve been living on War Rations for over a year now. Consequently women’s waistlines were tiny! Patterns of the day were very different. Patterns were single size only, cut to shape already and basically full of holes. These holes are a code that I will go into more detail about a bit later on. It’s all very far removed from the printed sheets of tissue paper we spend ages cutting out before we even get near a piece of fabric in todays home sewing world…
I have already made a few vintage patterns that have been reproduced by the original creators. In light of the recent Vintage apparel fashion revival many pattern houses have reissued patterns (I have pretty much all of the Vogue Vintage Collection already) but the pattern in this post is a direct copy of an original that I’ve chosen as a possible dress to make for a 1940s dinner dance. The pattern came in a size 38 bust which I am not! Some serious pattern adjustment needed! As it turned out I adjusted a little too much but it is much easier to take fabric away than it is to add it in 😀
So here we go… This is the pattern… I don’t normally buy these ‘reproduced’ patterns as they are rather expensive (nearly £20) and I’ve never been sure of the quality. In all honesty I don’t think I will buy another unless I really have to. Granted the paper was quite thick but in my head it would be thick white quality paper and not the brown ‘parcel’ type paper I received. Whilst it was possibly ‘professionally printed’ it appeared to me that the original pattern pieces had been laid on the paper and simply drawn around with a pencil. The instructions on how to make the garment appeared to be ‘photocopied’ onto the brown paper and therefore not overly easy to read especially with my failing eyesight 😦 Anyway… on to the job in hand…
First things first. I cut out the two pattern pieces and traced around them on to my pattern paper. As I plan to alter the pattern size rather a lot I’ve used paper that is already marked out in inch squares to make things both easier and clearer for you to see what I’m doing and how.
First you need to work out what you need to alter and where. For instance if you need to add 4 inches to the bust line and you have two pattern pieces then you need to 2inches evenly to each piece however you can’t just add an inch to each side… if only it were that simple! Think carefully about the placement of darts and the shape of the body you want the garment to fit. Fortunately this is a simple pattern to illustrate the technic with. Being rather large busted I had to add a lot of inches so I chose to expand the pattern at two points. Two inches I would add down the centre section of the dress and the other inch I would add across the actual bust gathers. This I hoped would add fullness to the bust area in the front and widen the back of the dress to match. I also measured the torso of the dress (nape to waist and waist to hips). I wanted the gathers over the hip to be a little lower so as to flatter my body type more. You will also notice a line across the bottom of the pattern piece… this is because I’m vertically challenged and needed to cut at least 5in of the bottom off the dress to account for the fact I’m a short arse… and that was even before I added 2inches to the torso area of the dress!
As you can see I’ve traced off the original pattern pieces and marked off 4 lines. 2 running down the length of the dress to widen and add more width and 2 horizontal to add length to the bodice. I started with these 2 horizontals. Cutting along the full length of the line and then adding in an inch wide strip of paper. Then repeated with the second horizontal line. In the first photo you can see a little clearer where I have marked the waistline and the measurements I want to add at which points.
Now to the vertical lines. These lines need to be opened out in a manner that adds width to the bust area but doesn’t had width to the shoulders. I also have to ensure the correct amount of inches are added to the right area of the dress. To do this cut your line from the bottom to the top of the shoulder but do not cut right through. It may help to put a piece of tape across the top of the pattern piece to stop it tearing. Next I cut a small piece of paper 2in wide and inserted that into the hip cut out and taped it in place so the pattern has been ‘splayed’ out by 1 in. Now tape in another scrap of paper a little higher up the splay to secure. Now cut the second vertical line in the same manor without cutting all the way through the shoulder seam. This time I need to put a 3in piece of paper at the bust point exactly where I need to add 2in and tape it in place securely. Let the pattern lie naturally in place and secure it at various points all the way down. Now repeat with the second pattern piece and pray it works!
At this point I would highly recommend you make a toile with any cheap fabric to check your alterations. Usually when I’m making a toile I only bother with the top half of the garment where the fit is critical. The bottom of my dresses are usually flared out and loose fitting and don’t need a toile. As you can see I gave myself rather more room than I actually needed. It helps a lot if you have a friend to hand as they can see the back of the garment and pin in or mark the bits that need to be altered. Me… I have a mirror and a biro, which as it turns out works better for illustration photos. I needed to remove a large chunk from the centre seam and to extend the gathered section under the bust moving the gathers in. I also took out a little of the back fabric, Not too bad all things considered. Rather than altering the actual toile and refitting I transferred the adjustments to the paper pattern and went ahead and cut out my fabric. If this were for a customer I would definitely alter and re-fit the toile first but this dress is for me and if I mess up I only have myself to blame!
I’ve chosen some navy blue crepe du chine as I wear far too much black and I thought it would set off my dress clips rather nicely. The crepe was easy to gather (Gathering tips will be added here later) and stitched together well however, when I later tried the dress on it had a tendency to cling to every lump and bump. I was not happy at all. The overall fit was great except for my alteration to the bust gathers. I had rather too much fabric above the gathering line (red line drawn over the photo) but it was a simple unpick and cut a wedge out about 1 1/2in above at the side seam tapering in to the point.
The dress looks fine on my dress makers dummy but looks like a marquee when on a hanger! I decided to try the dress again using a 2way stretch fabric which should hang better and be more forgiving to my ‘not so 1940s figure’ but when tried the dress on a few days later it didn’t look quite so bad and I ended up wearing it to the dinner dance after all. I even had time to make the accompanying Topper from some lovely embroidered crush velvet I was given by my lovely sewing buddy Alexandra. I did purchase a small black cord ‘frog’ toggle type fastening for the collar of the topper but I ran out of time. I did intend to stitch it on in the hotel room but I’d managed to leave it on the kitchen table in my haste to leave. I did take a few pieces of jewellery with me so I fastened it on the night with a dual dress clip/broach. In this photo I have used a rather sweet butterfly clip chain I found in a junk shop. The topper definitely isn’t my best work but I shall pull it apart and re-do it much better when I have more time..
I treated myself to a trip to the wonderful Sarah Dunn of Sarah’s Doo Wop Do’s to have my hair and make-up done. Then finished the whole look off with an old bracelet across the back of my hair and an old broach in the front… A real ‘make do and mend’ affair… All in all I think Sally and I certainly looked the part and had a ball at the ball!
Thank you for reading and Happy Sewing ….