The Pair of Vintage Sew and Sews next project is …jumper dresses! Not the snuggly knitted kind though, the vintage layering kind which is more commonly known as a pinafore dress in the UK. The pinafore dress has been in fashion in one form or another since the 14th century!
In the last 100 years the pinafore has evolved from calf length, straight dresses in the 1920s, to ultra feminine frilly strapped versions in the 1940s, and mini dress style in the swinging 60s.
Lisa and I loved the idea of creating a stylish cold-weather look with our dresses, made of a thick material layered with some warm knitted tops and tights.
The fabric we chose to use was a lovely supple corduroy from the online fabric shop, Sew Anonymous. I chose the ‘old pink’ colour way (predictable!) and Lisa chose the snazzy teal leopard print cord.
Now, on the surface this seemed like a fairly straightforward project as these dresses don’t have a lot of fancy techniques or anything but Lisa and I both came across our fair share of problems with each of our projects! We wanted to share the problems with you as much as showing the finished dresses just to keep it real and honest.
My version of the pinafore dress has a flared, knee length skirt, bib style front and back bodice, and cute tie straps on the shoulders. I didn’t have one set pattern but used a vintage skirt pattern and then created the bodice and straps free hand. Much of my design was decided once I had the fabric, as the width and stripe directly dictated some of my ideas.
The first hurdle that I came across was totally avoidable but just one of those things… I didn’t order enough fabric! For once I didn’t check the width of the fabric and I was expecting it to be wider than the 111cm that it was, and the 2 metres I bought didn’t quite stretch as far as I was hoping, so I had to consider my pattern carefully to ensure everything fitted on the meterage.
I could have made things slightly easier for myself if I had chosen to just have the cord stripe running horizontally but I really wanted my stripes to be vertical, so this massively restricted the pattern pieces I could fit in the right direction. I spent along time laying different pattern pieces out, moving them around and consulting with Lisa on what could work!
For the skirt I used vintage 1964 pattern, McCalls 7650, which is lightly flared, just below knee length, and with front and back darts. I just about fitted the skirt pattern pieces onto the fabric when both sides of fabric were folded into the centre. Check out the photo below to see how close it was!
For the fastening I used a side zip, and a button as the waistband closure rather than the suggested hook and eyes, just because I love an excuse for a fun button. The zip I used was a coral/orange colour rather than pink but for the most part I’m still working my way through my haberdashery stash. (Despite a year of the charity shops being closed I’m still bursting with supplies from previous shopping trips).
This vintage pattern comes with a really cute booklet for the sewing instructions. The skirt sewed up a dream and fitted perfectly without adjustment which was a relief after how much time I had taken before even starting to sew on this project. After attaching the front and back skirt pieces I attached the waist band but not the waist band facing as I needed to attach the bib pieces first.
So, here’s when I made a design and fitting error!
To make my bodice pieces I measured my waist and cut two rectangles half of my waist measurement plus seam allowances. I did this thinking that the bodices would meet at the sides when attached to the skirt waist and give the impression of a full dress bodice even though they wouldn’t be attached together at the side/underarm area. The height of the bibs was decided for me as this was all the material I had left. I would have liked the bibs to be an inch or two higher as I think they look slightly too short for my body but the more I look at it now the more I’m feeling like it’s OK actually.
For the straps, I cut 4 lengths, each 1 inch wide and I lined them with a plain pink cotton that I had in a very similar shade of pink – which was a lucky stash find. When the straps were sewn and turned right way out, I basted a strap to each top edge/corner of the front and back bibs before attaching the lining to the bibs (so the strap was sandwiched between the bib front and lining as I sewed). I lined the the bibs in some gorgeous pink floral cotton lawn I had left over from a Minerva ambassador project. I turned the bibs out and carefully top stitched them.
I attached the bibs and skirt by layering the waistband, bib and waistband facing together. Stitched it all together and folded the facing to the inside so the linings were all complete.
Fitting and alterations
Now, up until this moment I thought that the triangular shape on the back of pretty much every pinafore dress I’d ever seen was just a design choice, not a technical practicality. I learned then that this is for a very important reason. As the top of the bibs were the same width as half my waist, it was way too wide at the top and so the corners were trying to snuggle into my armpits. The straps did nothing to help the matter as they were fighting to stay on my shoulders so creating a massive gape in the front and, mainly, the back of the bodice pieces.
At this point I put the project down and had to walk away! When I come back to it, I had to unpick my super neat waistband, detach the bibs, unpick my top stitching, unpick the bib and lining and then re cut to size. The back I cut into the clever triangle shape and re attached my straps at the peak before re attaching to my waist band in the same method as before.
For the front bib I did take a short cut which some people won’t approve of but I just couldn’t bring myself to do any more unpicking! I folded in the outer edges of the front bib so it shapes around my bust and the top is central on my chest rather than the edges trying to hide round the side. The shoulder straps are secured inside the fold.
I wasn’t necessarily feeling the vibe when I added this label but I know for sure it was true when I did eventually finish this dress – it’s the very funny sweary label from Kylie And The Machine (which I also bought from Sew Anonymous).
For Lisa’s dress she used the Charm Patterns Night and Day dress with the square neckline which she decreased, although she only remembered to do this after having started sewing which caused it own problems! Lisa is a fabulous dressmaker and does everything by the book included adding her stay stitching but somehow the fabric still stretched around the neckline while sewing. Lisa managed to add some tiny tucks which managed to successfully re shape the edge without the need for anything more drastic.
Lisa self drafted a box pleated skirt to go with her bodice and I absolutely love how it turned out. The fun print looks fab layered on the black top and tights but would also look perfect in the warmer months with lighter colours too. We both love a full skirt so I am fan girling Lisa’s whole look.
I really wanted to add some little patch pockets to this dress but I waited until I had completely finished before cutting them just in case there was no fabric left. As you can from the teeny weeny size of the pockets, it was touch and go! I do think they are too small in proportion but I was adamant that I wanted them, so here they are! Big enough to fit one small chocolate in each pocket I think. They edges are simply folded under, the top edge is topstitched and then the pocket stitched to the skirt.
Despite the set backs, I love this dress turned out. Different from what I imagined to begin with but then sometimes being forced to come up with creative solutions to problems makes us discover things we love but wouldn’t have set out to make. I love the colour of this dress, I love the fancy floral lining and I love the whole vintage outdoorsy vibe the corduroy fabric and layered up look give it. I don’t love it the most of all my makes yet, but even just styling for it for these photos I’m feeling it even more. I’m going to give it a few wears and I think it might end up being a winter classic in my wardrobe!
If you made it this far, well done! It was a meaty one but there was so much to say and I didn’t want to scrimp on detail. Did you enjoy hearing about the lows as much as the highs? If you’ve had any sewing/crafting disasters I’d love to hear about it so I know I’m not alone!
Thanks for reading and happy sewing!