Button & Snap

A dress… as time goes by

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Front 1Sophomore year of high school, I made a short film for French class with a group of three girls. We set our film in the 1940s and wrote a script inspired by Casablanca. As an avid sewer and a lover of all things vintage, I took it upon myself to make the costumes – four dresses whipped up in less than a week, if I remember correctly.
The most spectacular of these was a strapless red satin dress for a bar scene, which one of the girls wore while she sang a solo sitting on my Grandma’s grand piano. I’ve long since lost track of it, as well as two of the other costumes. But the final dress remains in my wardrobe to this day… a maroon dress with tiny cream flowers and pale blue dots.Side 1This dress, made from Simplicity 5591, was one of my first attempts at pattern alterations. I added six inches at the side seams of the skirt to make them fuller in an attempt to make the modern pattern more vintage – never mind fabric rationing during WWII, it didn’t occur to me to do any research.Pattern Simp 5591My pattern alteration was less than professional, especially since I hemmed the skirt without trying it on. As a result, it dipped a couple inches longer at the sides – and not the same from left to right.
The dress had several other idiosyncrasies, and I stopped wearing it after high school because the poor sewing embarrassed me. However, in 2011 I took the whole dress apart, and since then I’ve put it together again from scratch. It has taken a couple years to finish because redoing an old dress just isn’t as fun as making a new one. Front Closeup 1The original covered buttons and piping under the bust my first attempt at either. They were lumpy and covered using thin polyester lining fabric – so thin that the piping and the metal buttons sewed through. I bought some thick satin and replaced the piping with bias tape. I also re-covered the buttons – longtime readers may remember one of my first tutorials on how to cover buttons without a covered button kit. I used the same technique here.Covered buttonsThe zip at the back bowed out several inches across my upper back because of poor fit. I’ve improved the fit somewhat and moved the zipper to the side. Back Closeup 1Also, the neckline facing refused to stay hidden. In fact, it had collected several rusty safety pins over the years to keep it from popping out. I decided to replace the facing with a partial lining. Since I didn’t have matching lining, I  removed the old facings, sewed them on to the black fabric, and then treated that as one piece to make the lining.Lining FrontLooking at the alterations, I can see how my sewing has changed to suit my circumstances – all these bodice alterations were done a couple years ago when I was struggling financially and it was worth it to me to put the extra time into re-covering buttons or attaching facings to mismatched lining fabric to save a couple euros. Now that time’s more of a premium than small amounts of money, I’d probably do this differently.

Back LiningI’ve also made a few design changes. I narrowed the skirt and re-hemmed it. Using the scraps, I added ruffles at the shoulders. Side Closeup 1


Front 2Off-topic for a moment: have you seen the TED talk where the model, Cameron Russell, talks about how beauty isn’t everything? She has a point. However, she mentions that at photo shoots, she just hops from one foot to the other and smiles while the photographer shoots, and this isn’t really a skill. I’ve now tested it and I’ve come to the conclusion that looking good while hopping isn’t easy.

Jump 1Eat your hearts out, Vogue cover photographers.

Have you ever stopped wearing clothes you’ve made because you were unhappy with how you sewed them, or is that just me? Have you also gone back and redone old projects? And do you notice changes in your sewing over the years?

Jump 2*hop*

  • Margaret

    Amazing that the fabric and design still stand!

  • Kait

    I remember those video projects! So much fun.

    Your photos are beautiful, and the dress is cute with the ruffles! I wouldn’t have the patience to remake something like you have, but I do keep everything I have made, even if I am too embarrassed to wear it!

    • Helen

      I don’t remember enjoying actually making the videos, but you’re a good actor and I’m really, really not. I’m glad I’m not the only one can’t throw out the things I’ve made

  • elise//honigdesign

    What a great story, you can tell the dress has been remade with love! You look terrific in it 🙂

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