Today I'm joining the ladies at Skirt as Top and Craftiness is not Optional for Vintage May. You'll find vintage sewing inspiration of their blogs all week long.
I grew up on a dairy farm that has been in my family for a long time. My siblings and I are the 5th generation to live in the house my 2nd great grandfather built for his family. As is the custom in our family (and many farm families) after my Grandfather died, we moved into the big farmhouse with my Grandmother. She had her own chocolate chip cookie filled kitchen, and living room with the only TV in the house. She told us stories about the time their buggy horse got struck by lightening and they had to drive a work horse to church, or about stopping at a favorite neighbors house to warm her hands when she walked to country (one room) school in the winter. Naturally, we spent a lot of time with her.
My Grandmother got married and had her family (especially my dad) relatively late. She was always much older than any of my friend's grandmothers and her side of the house with its ancient books and family heirlooms was a relic of days gone by. She had the aura of being completely unaffected by popular culture. Everything about her was sensibly old-fashioned, and based on the unselfconscious act of running a household.
I feel very lucky to have lived with such a tangible connection to my family's history and culture. I've had a thought flurry of a Grandma inspired belted shirt dress for a while, Kristin's invitation to join Vintage May is the perfect opportunity to get that thought out of my head and into a dress. To be clear, I never saw my Grandma sew. Based on her era and upbringing I'm sure she could, but I never saw her do it. I suspect it didn't suit her temperment. I saw her garden a lot, but never ever sew.
That's the background, now about the dress. The photo my dress is based on was taken in the mid-fifties at a family picnic. The key elements are the open collar, the tucks along the shirt front, the skirt shape and length, and the printed cotton fabric. I tried to remain true to as many details of the dress as you can see in the photo. The one conspicuous omission is a svelte man in button down and trousers. My svelte man is behind the camera, so I'm giving him a pass on posing as my vintage better half.
The glasses are actually an old pair of my Grandma's that we used to play dress-up with. She isn't wearing them in the photo, but I remember her with them on, so I included them.Alder Shirt Dress mixed with the Archer Button Up. For the sleeve addition I used the Grainline Studio Alder + Archer tutorial. It defies logic that you can make a sleeve opening smaller and still get the original sleeve into it, but it worked like a dream. I really intended my alterations to stop there, and depend on pretty fabric, and styling to make it look convincing. Once I got started, each individual alteration didn't seem like that big of a deal. One thing lead to another and before I knew it I had a completely different dress than the pattern.
Basically, I used the Alder View A as a pattern block for the bodice and a reference for the size/shaping of everything else. I made the sleeve short, and added a pointed cuff. I separated the top and the bottom at the waist, and cut apart the front bodice to add tucks. I left the back as designed on the top. I added 6 1/2" to the skirt length and used that point to straighten the hem. I measured the resulting waist circumference and the hem circumference divided both making 4 panels in the front with the right and left center panel seams aligning with the edge of the last bodice tuck. The result is an 8 panel skirt (4 front, 4 back). I used the original neck opening, but created a front facing rather than the button band, and drafted my own collar without a stand to make the open neck. Because the final fabric was rather precious (see below), and I had no idea how it would turn out, I made two muslins.
This dress is almost unrecognizable as the Alder. The whole time I was hacking the pattern to bits and reconstructing it with scotch tape and copy paper, I was wondering whether it would have been faster to draft it from scratch. I have concluded that drafting something this complex from scratch is way beyond my skill level at this point. Having a starting point for things such as ease, and basic sizing, eliminates a lot of variables that I would have slowed me down. It took a well designed pattern that I knew fit me well as a starting point to get to the dress you see above.
Liberty of London Tana Lawn Heidi C from Fancy Tiger Crafts. I don't have to tell you how nice this fabric is. So smooth, so drapy, so fine! The only snafu was that I procrastinated the order and could only get 2 yards, rather than the 2 1/2 yards I needed. For a few terrifying minutes I thought I wouldn't be able to squeeze all of the pieces out of it. I realized if I folded the whole cut of fabric in half lengthwise, and made the skirt the exact length of the half, I would have enough. I was cutting it very, very close with the amount of fabric and had to cut very, very carefully. I cut scraps of bias tape for the hem to make the skirt as long as possible. There is barely enough fabric left to accent my next bias bound neck opening.
***Skirt as Top and Craftiness is Not Optional blogs for more Vintage May action. Be sure to check out the Sew a Straight Line Vintage May post today too!